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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The best banks for Americans living in France

Many foreigners in France - particularly pensioners - need to keep a bank account in their home country, but not all banks will offer accounts to people living abroad.

The best banks for Americans living in France

Most people who move to France get a French bank account – but many also maintain accounts with banks in their home countries to receive income in the form of pensions, property rentals, salary, or to hold savings and pay bills.

Americans can have problems opening a French account because of the Fatca legislation – here’s what you can do if you are having issues with French banks. 

But having a US bank account can be vital too, especially for pensioners, as some pension providers will not pay into a bank account in another country.

Others just prefer the convenience of having a US bank account and debit card to use on visits home in order to avoid extra transaction fees.

Here are the options.

International accounts

Many banks offer ‘international accounts’ aimed at those who have moved to other countries.

The major drawback is the cost; many accounts have a minimum deposit level or stipulate a minimum annual income, so they may not be suitable for pensioners, people on a low income, or those who just want to use their account for a few basic functions while keeping most of their income/assets in their French account.

Most expat/international accounts also charge a monthly fee and some charge transfer fees on top of that. 

They’re really aimed at ‘high net worth’ customers (ie rich) so they’re often not suitable for people who have lower means or have retired to France.

Internet banks 

The last few years has seen a proliferation of new internet banks, which offer online-only services and operate across Europe.

The advantage of these is that you can sign up with a French address and then carry out transactions in another country.

Many people use internet bank accounts – Wise (formerly the money-transfer service Transferwise, now set up as a bank), Revolut or Starling are notable examples – when they first move to France before they set up French accounts.

Internet banks can offer a long-term solution for people who struggle to open a French account, but the further advantage of these is that customers can set up accounts in different currencies and depending on the bank and its licencing you may also be account to get an account number and IBAN for your home country as well as a European IBAN.

It means you can use the account for business back home, but also transfer money quickly and easily to/from France. It might give a better deal on exchange rates than receiving a pension in dollars and then spending in euros in France.

The disadvantage for some people is their lack of a physical presence so in case of a question or a problem contact can only be made by phone or – more usually – via email or chatbot. Many internet banks also do not issue cheque books or accept queues, which can be a problem for some customers.

READ ALSO The best UK banks for Brits in France

There’s a tendency to assume that internet-only banks are less secure, which isn’t necessarily the case, but if there are problems it can be harder to get redress. 

French banks

Most people living in France already have a French account for daily life, but can you use this for all your financial affairs?

It depends on your situation. Pension providers may only pay into a home account, while if you still have financial liabilities in another country, such as a mortgage, you may need to keep an account in that country. 

Keeping a home address

Many non-EU residents in France get around the problem by using a ‘care of’ address back home in order to retain their bank account – usually either the address of a property that they own or the home of a relative.

Whether this is allowed is a bit of a grey area. Opening a new account may be difficult, but existing accounts may be kept open. Some banks – especially British ones – seem to be keen on checking whether their customers are permanent residents while US banks don’t seem to care as much.

Basically you can’t lie to your bank if they ask you outright where your full-time residence or tax residence is, but not all banks ask this.