Banking in France

by Barclays Wealth International on April 21, 2010

Moving to France?

Your guide to expatriate banking services in France

France is the largest Western European nation and has a highly sophisticated banking system. It has coped with the global economic crisis better than most large EU economies, thanks to more resilient consumer and government spending, and a lower exposure to falling global demand. The official language is French, although English is widely spoken as the second language.

The official currency in France is the euro. As of April 2010, the exchange rate was approximately €1.15 euros to £1 GBP (pound sterling).

Banks in France

Many of the world’s major banks have bank branches in the large French cities, with many of the large provincial towns also being served. The two main types of banks in France are commercial banks and co-operatives. The co-operative banks have independent local branches, with each branch having its own shares but offering the facilities of a national operating bank.

Central bank

  • Banque de France

Commercial banks

  • Caisse d’Epargne (CE)
  • Crédit Lyonnais
  • Crédit du Nord
  • Credit Mutuel
  • Lyonnaise de Banque,
  • Société Générale

Co−operative banks

  • BRED Banque Populaire
  • Crédit Agricole

Bank opening times in France

Standard banking hours in France are from between 8.30am and 9am until 4pm to 5.30pm, Monday to Friday. Some French Banks have extended opening hours one day a week, whilst some small branches may close for an afternoon per week.

You will find banking facilities in post offices, which are usually open Monday to Friday from 8am to 6pm or 7pm and on Saturdays between 8am and 12pm.

Banking services in France

When choosing a bank branch, bear in mind that small local branches are likely to have restricted opening hours. Larger branches will typically offer a greater range of services, and are more likely to offer multi-lingual counter services.

The French Post Office offers most of the same facilities as banks, including online accounts.

Many banks in France have regional websites with English translations, English-speaking staff in branches, and services, information and facilities in English.

Almost all banks provide a range of internet banking services and telephone banking, with many having multilingual support staff.

The main types of bank account in France

There’s a wide variety of accounts to choose from. The most common accounts are private current accounts, deposit accounts and joint accounts. You can open several different accounts at one bank, but you will be required to sign a letter of ‘accounts unity’. This essentially networks your accounts, and allows the bank to locate funds in one account if another is overdrawn.

Private current accounts

This type of account is called a compte courant, a compte à vue or a compte de dépôt. These accounts are similar to current accounts in the UK. The account holder alone has the authority to receive payments and authorise withdrawals. Legally, the account holder is solely responsible for their account balance, but anyone can add funds to the account via cash payments or cheques.

Deposit accounts
Deposit accounts in France are referred to as a compte sur livret, or a Livret B (a compte à terme if it the account is not instant access). These accounts are used to deposit funds that will not be required immediately, and deposit accounts are held separately from your current account.

Joint accounts

Joint accounts are aimed at couples who live together and want to pay bills using shared funds, although the couple does not need to be either married or related. French joint accounts are flexible and the type you open will depend on whether you prefer both signatures to be required to operate the account, either signature to be required, or both signatures to be required only for certain transactions or operations.

Current account interest

Until recent EU intervention, banks were forbidden to offer interest on current accounts, and even now few banks offer any interest payments.

Opening a bank account in France

Non-French nationals who have been resident in France for more than three months may open a bank account, subject to providing either a residence permit or proof of employment.

Non-French nationals who do not intend to be resident in France can open a non-resident’s account. Non-resident accounts (compte non-résident) are generally more restrictive than resident accounts in terms of the money transfer limits, and these accounts having no overdraft facility.

To open an account, you will need to make an appointment to see a financial adviser and you will need to show proof of identity (e.g. passport), proof of residence and proof of income for all account signatories.

Opening a bank account before you arrive in France

Some banks accept applications for new non-resident accounts prior to arrival in France, using copies of official documentation (e.g. passport copy and letter of reference from your current bank) for identification. However, you may later have to visit a branch to complete the identification process and produce the originals.

An alternative to a domestic bank account in France is an international account. In addition to giving you access to a wide range of international banking services, you will also benefit from a range of other services and banking facilities. These services include tax efficient offshore account options, online banking and a debit card available in major currencies.

An international account can be used by clients living or working in France, provides a convenient and secure way to manage your finances, and is ideal when travelling between international locations.

Card facilities in France

Card payments by CB (Carte Bleue) are accepted in most places in France. You use your PIN to make payments, but you may also be asked for a signature for larger payments. A CB is a debit card (not a credit card), so your spending power will be directly linked to your account balance. A bank will typically charge around €30 EUR for issuing a customer’s first ‘carte’.

You can also use your CB to withdraw cash from ATMs, though some banks may charge a fee for this. ATMs are well distributed in all towns and most villages, with the majority having instructions in English.

Credit cards are widely accepted, and most banks will make credit cards available to new current account holders. It is worth noting that the use of credit cards in France is much lower than the UK – cheques are still the preferred payment method in France, especially in more rural areas. The French culture is very much focused on saving money and paying for goods and services in full rather than buying on credit.

Paying by cheque in France

Under French law, a cheque is the equivalent to cash, and there are no charges for cheque payments. However, it is illegal to write a cheque if there are insufficient funds in the account to cover payment. If a cheque bounces due to lack of funds, the bank is obliged to report it to France’s national banking authority, the Bank de France. This can result in the account holder being banned from using cheques for up to five years.

Post-dated and open-dated cheques are also illegal, and you can only cancel a cheque if it is lost, stolen or you suspect fraudulent activity. If you are paying in a cheque, always write your account number and bank code and sign the back of the cheque before depositing it. When paying by cheque you may be asked to show a photographic proof of identity.

Money transfers to and from France

Money transfers are usually fast and efficient and most direct debits, such as those for utility bill payments, are free. There may however be a charge of around €3 EUR for transfers to other financial institutions, and standing orders also incur a charge.


France is part of the Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA) initiative. This involves creating a zone for the euro in which all electronic payments are considered to be domestic, thereby making them simpler and cheaper. By the end of 2010, SEPA payments will become the dominant form of electronic payments, replacing all other payments within the zone by 2011.

Bank charges in France

In most cases current accounts are free, although there may be charges if you have opened a ‘package’ of services. Banks will be able to provide you with a full tariff of charges for the services and products that they offer.


Banking in France – additional information

How numbers are written

When writing large numbers in France, full stops are used to separate groups of thousands whereas we normally use a comma.

For example, one million will be shown as 1.000.000 rather than 1,000,000 and nine and a half percent would be displayed as 9,5% rather than 9.5%

French ombudsman

Unlike many other European countries, France does not have a banking ombudsman – instead, each individual bank has its own ombudsman or médiateur. There is however, a government-appointed ombudsman, known as the “Médiateur de la République”.

More information on banking with Barclays Wealth International

For further information about the benefits of opening an International Account before you move to France, you can speak to a specialist adviser at Barclays Wealth International by calling +44 (0) 141 352 3902.

Alternatively, find out more about the overseas banking services and expat banking that are available from Barclays Wealth International.

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