Brexit: How to avoid bank account closures by opening a French bank account

You’ve decided to make France home. Who wouldn’t want to? However, before you start enjoying the food, culture and people, there’s a few things you will need to organise - including a bank account.

Brexit: How to avoid bank account closures by opening a French bank account

Over recent weeks, some British banks have made the decision to start closing the accounts of customers who permanently live abroad, in countries such as France.

This will have a significant impact on those who have made the decision to settle in France – many will have to transfer their banking to French institutions. 

Together with the French bank for English speakers, Britline, we give you an overview of banking in France and how to avoid the most common obstacles when opening your first French account.

Banks in France

The first thing that those arriving in France will find is that there’s a lot more choice. 

Unlike, for example, the United Kingdom, there is a wider selection of ‘big banks’ with good coverage across the nation, in addition to a number of regional banks. Furthermore, there are many smaller credit institutions offering specialised services.  

Like the majority of nations, French banks offer savings and checking accounts, in addition to other services such as personal loans, overdrafts and mortgages. Generally, whatever kind of account or service you have previously used, you will find it offered by French banks. 

Now, this is where things differ. Don’t be afraid, you won’t find banks in France to be too different to elsewhere, but there are a few points to be aware of. 

Firstly, while France is steadily becoming more digital, many French prefer doing their banking at a physical location. This preference also extends to transactions themselves – there is much greater use of cheques, for example than in the UK.  

What this means is that some interactions tend to be completed in person, with bank staff. While there may be English-speaking staff on hand at some banks, don’t count on it – you might have to dust off your French textbook to access certain services.

Talk to Britline about how those from the UK can set up an account in fifteen minutes, with English-speaking advisors to assist at every step

Secondly, many French banks require a lot more information to open an account than you might be used to. French citizens have set documents that make opening accounts a breeze, whereas internationals need to provide more documentation to meet legal requirements. 

To successfully open an account, you will need to provide proof of identity, such as a passport, and proof of French residence such as a carte de Sejour or visa. Depending on your situation, you may even need to supply evidence of your marital and employment status. In fact, many relocation services tend to recommend taking as much as you can to prove who you are and what you’re doing in France! 

If you’re an American citizen, there will be an additional hurdle. 

The FATCA law means that banks across the globe need to report information about accounts opened for US citizens to US authorities. Designed to combat money laundering, sending information has long proved a hassle for banks, and some French banks have refused to open accounts for Americans as a consequence. A new French law comes into force on June 13 to help Americans if they’ve been turned down due to FATCA, but you may still experience some difficulties or delays in opening an account. 

French banking is a little different than you may expect. That’s why Britline offers convenient, personalised banking to those moving from the UK to France. Open your account today

Save time banking with Britline, so you can have more time enjoying your new life in France. Photo: Getty Images

The Britline alternative

Whether you don’t think your French is up to the task, or you have specific requirements of a bank account that you have questions about, there is a specific option for UK citizens who wish to get settled in France. 

A subsidiary of French bank, Crédit Agricole Normandie, Britline was set up to offer banking services to UK citizens, who have either relocated to France or are who are planning on doing so – you don’t have to have a secured address in France to set up an account. 

Everyone opening an account with Britline will have access to a team of English-speaking advisors – most of whom have gone through the process of moving to France themselves. As a consequence, they are familiar with the situations encountered by new arrivals and know how to navigate them with ease. There are also further financial services available to anyone resident or planning to reside in France. 

Britline customers have a choice of account and banking packages– EssentielPremium or Prestige, each with their own level of service offered and a VISA or Mastercard debit card. Whatever your circumstances, there is a package that will meet your needs and give you fast access to the experts. 

Online banking is also offered to all Britline customers, as well as a fully-featured app through which many everyday transactions can be completed. A wealth of information about French banking can also be accessed through the Britline website, for those times when you need the information at your fingertips. 

Banking can be challenging for those in France without the language skills or an understanding of the key differences in how banks work here. Using a specialised bank like Britline can help smooth the way and establish new arrivals financially, quickly.

Over 18, a UK resident and seeking to move to France? Britline will help you get settled with everything you need and your account can be set up in as little as fifteen minutes


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What you can expect to pay in charges to your French bank

'Free banking' is a rare exception rather than the norm in France. Here, we explain the charges that you can expect from your French bank.

What you can expect to pay in charges to your French bank

French bank charges are a topic almost guaranteed not to set pulses racing, but with a range of fees regularly charged, it’s worth knowing what to expect.

Account maintenance fees

This is the annual fee to simply have an account with a French bank – it doesn’t cover things like a bank card or chequebook, never mind any extra services.

Those account maintenance fees for regularly used current accounts have jumped nearly 180 percent in a decade – from an average of €7.24 per year at the end of 2012 to €20.23 per year in June 2022, according to a report from the observatoire des tarifs bancaires (OTB), an official body linked to the Banque de France.

Over the same period, the OTB noted the number of banks – its study looked at the accounts offered by 101 network banks and eight online banks – offering ‘free’ current accounts had fallen from 45 to 11.

The high street banks generally charge between €12 and €36 for day-to-day running of an account, while two establishments list their fees at €71.80 per year.

Fundamentally, the rule is if you want to open a bank account in France, you’ll just have to accept that there will be charges. 

Other charges

On top of the account maintenance fee, it’s also common for banks to charge for certain services, particularly anything involving international banking, which foreigners in France are more likely to use.

Here are some of the services that are likely to attract a fee;

  • Authorised overdraft;
  • Annual fee for an international deferred debit payment card;
  • Annual fee for an international payment card with immediate debit;
  • Annual payment card fee with systematic authorisation;

It’s not uncommon for foreigners in France to need to carry out international banking transfers, either transferring money between their own accounts in different countries or receiving money from their home country.

These usually attract a fee, but Single Euro Payment Area (SEPA) payments – or those made within the eurozone – are usually cheaper than non-SEPA transfers. Among the things you can be charged for are;

  • Cost of an occasional SEPA/non-SEPA transfer carried out in a branch / or internet;
  • Fees for setting up a SEPA direct debit mandate;
  • Charges per payment of a SEPA Direct Debit;

French banks were slower to move into the world of online banking than many others, but these days most have at least some online services on offer. Again, however, you’re likely to be charged for them;

  • Subscription to remote banking services (internet);
  • Subscription to a product that provides account status alerts via SMS;
  • Payment card with systematic authorisation (CPAS);

Some banks – although not all – also charge you to use the ATM of one of their rivals when you need cash;

  • Charges for cash withdrawals at an ATM of another bank;
  • Number of ‘free withdrawals’ per month from an ATM of another bank;

There are also some random extras including insurance, and you should definitely expect your bank to periodically try and sell you products such as life insurance or home insurance. You don’t have to buy them.

  • Intervention commission (including unauthorised overdraft etc);
  • Contribution to insurance for loss or theft of means of payment.

You can compare a range of tariffs at banks in your departement on the government’s tarif bancaires comparison site here.

Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire has reached an agreement with the country’s banks to limit the increase in bank fees in 2023. “Some French banks will freeze their banking fees throughout 2023 on very common services, such as bank cards,” he said in September. 

How much

The OTB said a basic account package at a French high street bank – bank card, account management, account transfers, chequebook – would cost an average of €92.71.

A study by banking comparison site Panorabanques early in 2022, however, put the same average costs at €219.90 per year.

Online banks

If you’re looking for a lower-fee option it might be worth checking out online banks.

In its study of bank charges, the OTB found that six of the 11 banks to continue offering at least some free bank account management services are online banks, while online banks that did charge fees were routinely cheaper.

While some people prefer to have a ‘bricks and mortar’ bank where they can visit a branch if necessary, online banks tend to offer simplified services and cheaper fees, while the online banks that offer accounts in multiple currencies – such as pounds and euros or dollars and euros – can be particularly useful for foreigners in France.

However you should be careful that the bank you chose has a banking licence in the countries you are using it in, otherwise you could struggle to recover your money in case of fraud or hacking.

You can read expert tips from a financial adviser HERE.