Law change makes it easier for Americans to open French bank accounts

Opening a French bank account has been challenging for Americans in France for quite some time, but now a legal change will make access (slightly) easier.

Law change makes it easier for Americans to open French bank accounts

A lot of French administrative tasks are tricky or time-consuming for foreigners, but opening a bank account is frequently very difficult – especially for Americans.

The US law known as FATCA obliges all banks that have accounts for US nationals to share information. It was intended to stop money-laundering but for Americans living abroad it has meant that many banks simply don’t want the hassle and refuse accounts to US citizens.

Numerous readers of The Local have reported being repeatedly turned down by French banks, making daily living very difficult.

But a new law that comes into effect on June 13th will make things a little bit easier.

It’s not a perfect solution, however.

The changes to the Droit au compte bancaire (right to a bank account) state that if a person has requested an account from a French bank and not received a reply within 15 days, they can appeal directly to Banque de France.

Banque de France will then designate a bank near to the person’s home address and request them to open an account for the person.

The bank is not obliged to open the account – but it does have to explain why to Banque de France if the account is refused.

The designated bank will be expected to provide the following basic services:

  • opening, maintaining and closing an account;
  • issue of bank identity documents on request;
  • a monthly statement of transactions made to the account;
  • cashing of cheques and bank transfers;
  • deposits and withdrawals of cash at the bank’s counter or at its cash machines;
  • direct debit, interbank payment or bank transfer;
  • means of remote viewing of the account balance;
  • a credit card 

The new process does not cover people who do receive a reply within the designated 15 days – but the reply is a refusal.

Previously those refused a bank account did have the right to appeal to Banque de France, but the process was more complicated and required an attestation de refus d’ouverture de compte (certificate of refusal). Now just evidence of your request is enough.

The law states: “This procedure is open to all persons residing in France or in a Member State of the European Union, to all French citizens resident abroad and also to applicants who are banned from banking.”

Article 58 of the Banking Law of January 24th 1984 states that all French citizens and French residents are entitled to a French bank account. 

However, French banks are not obliged to open an account for you, meaning that many people whose situations are ‘non typical’ such as foreigners in France find themselves repeatedly turned down for an account.

In addition to the Banque de France route, other advice for foreigners is simply to shop around – different banks have different policies on foreigners – or opt for an international account or internet banking account. 

READ ALSO What are the biggest challenges for Americans in France?

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What second-home owners need to know about 2023 French property taxes

Autumn in France is property tax season - and for second-home owners there are some important changes to know about this year.

What second-home owners need to know about 2023 French property taxes

Every year in September and October, households in France receive their property tax bills – which have historically included three things; taxe foncière, taxe d’habitation and the redevance audiovisuelle (TV licence).

For main properties, two of these taxes have all-but disappeared, but for second home-owners the situation is a little different.

Taxe d’habitation

This is the tax paid by the householder and it is being gradually phased out in France and most households no longer need to pay it – the exception to this, however, is maisons sécondaire (second homes).

Local councils set the rate for this tax, and in some areas this can include an additional surcharge on taxe d’habitation on second homes.

This usually applies in areas that have a housing shortage, and although the surcharge has existed for several years it has recently been expanded to include new areas.

Taxe foncière

This is the tax paid by the property owner and this remains in place, and in some areas has increased. Some local authorities, faced with the shortfall in overall taxe d’hab funds, have increased surcharges on the tax for second homes, while most local authorities are also increasing taxe foncière charges to offset the drop in revenues.

This tax is calculated based partly on the size and value of the property you own (which is why if you do any major renovations or add a swimming pool you need to tell the tax office) and partly on the tax level decided by your local authority. 

This means that the actual rate varies quite widely between different parts of France, but in some areas it has gone up by 20 percent.

Redevance audiovisuelle

This is the TV licence and this has been scrapped this year – including for second homes – so your bill will no longer have the €138 per household TV charge. 

Waste collection taxes

Some communes, especially in rural areas, also charge a taxe d’enlèvement des ordures ménagères (TEOM) or la redevance d’enlèvement des ordures ménagères (REOM) to cover rubbish collection. These are also payable in the autumn, although dates and amounts vary from commune to commune.

Renovation projects

If your property is what real estate agents refer to as an ‘opportunity for renovation’ you may be exempt from taxe d’habitation if your property is uninhabitable.

This is this is strictly defined in France as meaning a property is unfurnished, is not connected to utility services, and/or needs work costing at least 25 percent of the value of the property to make it habitable.

Other information

The amount of both taxe foncière and taxe d’habitation varies across France, but you should be informed in the sale details of the amount of the taxe foncière, and you can also request to know the amount of the taxe d’habitation when you buy a property. 

READ ALSO Why French homeowners face higher property taxes in 2023

Second homeowners are not eligible for most reductions or exemptions available on taxe foncière, with the exception of over 75s who are on low incomes. Be aware this is not automatic for second homeowners and must be specifically requested by those who are eligible.

Be aware, too, that authorities can charge an additional 10 percent for late payment without good reason – though you may get this removed if you write a polite formal letter asking for a remise gracieuse de la majoration. You can search for model letters on the internet.