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French property: What are the best banks for second-home owners?

The Local France
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French property: What are the best banks for second-home owners?
(Photo by LOIC VENANCE / AFP)

If you have property in France you will have bills to pay (utilities, tax, tradespeople etc) and all of that will likely be easier if you have a French bank account - here are the options for second-home owners.

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Do you have to have a French account?

Anyone who is resident in a country that is part of the Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA) can set up payments and settle any utility bills for properties in another country.

Paying any French tax bill online or by direct debit – such as property taxes, or income tax on any rental income – requires “a bank domiciled in the SEPA [area]”, according to the tax office website.

That includes all EU and EEA countries and the UK, which maintains (for now) its membership of the SEPA zone even after leaving the EU. However, it seems that paying French bills from UK bank accounts is slower and more drawn out these days.

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US citizens and foreign nationals domiciled in the US, however, should be aware that the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) often means that their account applications in France may well be refused.

If you're paying individuals then you can send transfers from a foreign bank, but bear in mind that they will probably charge extra fees for transfers to another country. 

So which are best?

Banking choices depend on a range of individual financial factors that it’s impossible to generalise. But there are things you need to consider regardless of your personal situation.

French high street banksIt’s standard practice for banks in France to charge fees, known as frais de tenue de compte, to keep your account open, but the fees can vary and those who are not resident in France can face higher charges.

For France residents, the average frais de tenue de compte is between €10 and €30 per account per year for traditional banks. For no-fee banking, it's best to look online.

Inactive accounts, which have not had money go in or out for a period of 12 months, are charged at a higher rate up to a maximum fee of €30 per year. Under French banking law, banks can keep inactive accounts open for a maximum 10 years. Then, the account is closed and any credit deposited with the Caisse des Dépôts (CDC).

High-street banks in France tend to charge higher frais de tenue de compte to non-residents. HSBC was widely regarded as one of the best high street banks for non-French residents - it no longer operates individual banking in France but was sold to CCF and operates a broadly similar service under that name.

BNP Paribas charges the same sum, while SG has an international banking option for €2 per month. HSBC and SG both offer banking services in English, which may also be a consideration.

The tabac-based Nickel bank also offers English-language banking services, which may be useful for any second home-owner who lives in a smaller town or village in France that does not have a bank.

Be aware, too, that you may have to maintain a minimum balance that will vary based on the bank you choose. If there is a limit, it may be higher for anyone not resident in France.

Not all high-street banks will accept applications from non-residents, although those in areas that have a lot of second homes are more likely to do so.

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You’ll need numerous documents in order to open an account; your passport, proof of address and proof of income. Plus, as a non-resident you may need two recent bank statements. The best advice is to check with the bank first to find out what documents you will need. If you’ve already bought a French property but you don’t yet have a utility bill to show your proof of address, a certificate of purchase from your notaire will suffice.

Although areas with a lot of second-homes may have English-speakers in branch, the information and communication from your bank will be in French. 

Among traditional banks, SG (Société Générale), Crédit Mutuel, Caisse d'Epargne and BNP Paribas offer international services dedicated to non-residents in France.

BNP Paribas allows you to open a bank account for a non-resident remotely, with the benefit of a dedicated multilingual advisoe.

Société Générale allows you to manage your bank account remotely. However, it requires a physical presence in the agency to open an account - which is when you can choose 'international banking', which cuts costs of commissions on certain payments, withdrawals and international transfers outside the euro zone.

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You could also open accounts with Crédit Mutuel and Caisse d'Epargne, before coming to France, under certain conditions.

Online and neobanks - Many foreign residents in France use neobanks such as Wise, Revolut or N26 – the former two can be opened in your home country but used in France while the latter is built to be opened in France (including by non-residents). 

The advantage is that you can get an account in both euros and dollars/pounds, and there are no restrictions on opening one depending on whether you are resident in France or not. Internet banks typically offer better conversion rates and often charge lower international transfer fees than high-street banks.

The disadvantage is that these banks are regarded as less secure than traditional ones, and while day-to-day banking may run smoothly, you may find it difficult to find a ‘real’ person to speak to if you encounter any issues.

France-based online bank Boursorama Banque does accept applications from customers with non-resident status in France, with the routine exception of US residents. And, according to reports, it is not uncommon to see applications from non-EU residents refused.

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However a number of France-based online banks, including BforBank and Monabanq for example, specify that clients must be a tax resident in France.

Some online banks also don’t deal with cheques, which are still issued by certain French public administration bodies.  

Internet banks will usually communicate with clients in the language of the country where they set up the account. 

International banks or specialist services - the hybrid option is opening an account with a bank's international division or setting up a specialist account such as an 'expat account' or a service aimed directly at second-home owners such as Crédit Agricole's BritLine service.

The advantage to these is that they are tailored towards your needs and will offer English-language advisers, plus they don't demand proof of residency in France.

The disadvantage is that they are usually more expensive with the frais de tenue de compte normally higher than high-street banks.

Some international or 'expat' services are really designed for high net-worth individuals and demand a minimum deposit to open an account or a minimum balance maintained in your account.

If you've had experience with banking for second home owners, feel free to leave your recommendations in the comments section below

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Comments (8)

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Stephen 2024/04/04 10:50
Have also used CA / britline for the last 3 years. Service has been excellent and whilst they may be a little more expensive than others they were extremely helpful in helping me set up House and Car insurance. I have used their Debit card all over Europe. Stephen
John the Potter 2024/04/03 23:35
I echo the comments about Britline/Credit Agricole. Had an account with them for over 7 years now. Their fees may be slightly higher than others but this is compensated by excellent customer service with a prompt personal service messaging service (not a chat bot as is prevalent with UK banks) The online web services work well and we use their debit / credit cards across the Eurozone with no problem. CA ATM’s are commonplace.
Lauri Robertson 2024/04/03 16:46
Please note that as of January 1st, 2024 HSBC no longer has retail banking in France. It has been sold to CCF: https://www.hsbc.fr/en-fr/cession/ LRR
Janet 2024/04/03 16:45
As Americans, we went with BNP Paribas, as that seemed to be the only bank that would take American customers. They required a recommendation letter from our bank (and fortunately sent us a template to use) and also required that we get our home insurance through them. I've never gotten any documentation about what the monthly fees are. Setting up the account took a good six weeks of work, more involved than buying our Paris apartment!
Tony. Allen 2024/04/03 16:36
We set up an account with Credit Agricole when we moved here five years ago. Since then we have set up two further business accounts with them. We have found them to be excellent, and their presence in almost every small town also makes dealing with them very easy.
Diana Spires 2024/04/03 14:59
I now pay taxes and utility bills by monthly direct debits under SEPA arrangement from my Uk bank , and it works ok …I realise I may lose a small amount on exchange , but at least it’s easier to control ! I also have opened a Revolut account which is excellent in exchange rates when you spend ..
Danbob 2024/04/03 12:47
Brit line with Credit Agricole is very good.
Andrew 2024/04/03 11:54
HSBC has sold off its French retail bank with its customers transferred to CCF, a newly created entity using a brand name from the past.

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