In this guide we will help you setup your first French bank account, covering everything from setting up an appointment with a bank, to the necessary documents needed to open an account and finally selecting a card.
Opening a bank account
If you are an expat moving to Paris, one of the first things you will need to do is open a bank account. Having a French bank account will make it easier to manage your finances, receive wages, pay utility bills (some only accept French bank accounts), and carry out everyday transactions. It will also help your credibility when applying for apartments, as you will look like someone who is planning on staying.
Opening an account in France can be difficult and your first experience with French bureaucracy if you don’t speak French. However with the right information you can avoid a lot of headaches.
To open a bank account in France you will need:
- A valid passport or national ID card from your home country or the EU
- A proof of address in France, such as a rental contract, a utility bill, or a certificate of residence (“attestation d’hébergement“)
- A proof of income or employment, such as a payslip, a tax return, or an employment contract (it can be from your home country)
- A French phone number and email address
Some banks may also ask for additional documents, such as a visa, a residence permit, or a tax identification number (“numéro fiscal”), however most will not.
Attestation d’hébergement – Certificate of residence
An attestation d’hébergement is a document that serves as proof of residence for someone who is staying with another person in France. It is a declaration made by the person providing the accommodation (the host) that they are housing the person at their residence.
Many expats ask a friend or colleague in Paris to provide an attestation d’hébergement while they are apartment hunting and without a fixed residence.
Open a bank account online
One of the easiest ways to open a bank account in France is to do it online. There are many online banks that offer low fees, convenient services, and English-speaking customer support.
Online only banks
Some of the most popular online banks in France are:
- Boursorama Banque (owned by Société Générale) – An online bank popular with a lot of young Paris professionals
- N26 – A German neobank that offers FR IBANs to its customers
- Revolut – A UK neobank that offers many convenient features like bill splitting and cryptocurrency investment. Since 2022, they also issue FR IBANs to their customers
- Monobanq (owned by Crédit Mutuel) – Another popular bank with Paris professionals
Not banks but offer accounts and money transfer services:
- Monese – A British-Estonian based money app that offers a suite of features including current accounts and instant money transfer
- Lydia – A Paris born fintech app that nearly everyone uses to pay each other back and split bills. It is highly recommended you open a Lydia account as it can be an easy and fast way to get a FR based IBAN for temporary needs without submitting documentation
Steps to open an online bank account
These are the typical steps to open an online bank account:
- Choose an online bank that suits your needs and preferences
- Fill out an online application form with your personal and financial information
- Upload scanned copies or photos of your documents
- Verify your identity by video call / recording or by sending a selfie with your ID
- Receive your bank card and PIN code by post
It can take up to a week to receive your pin code and card.
Some online banks may also require you to make an initial deposit or to use your card within a certain period of time to activate your account.
Open a bank account in person
Another option to open a bank account in France is to do it in person at a branch of a traditional bank. It is important that you choose a bank branch near where you are living or working because some branches may reject you due to not living in that area.
Banks with physical locations
There are many banks in Paris that have physical locations and offer various services and products. Some of the most common banks in France are:
- BNP Paribas – A French multinational bank and financial services company formed in 2002 following a merger
- Société Générale – Another multinational bank with headquarters in central Paris
- Crédit Agricole – A French based bank formed in 1894
- La Banque Postale – The official bank offered from the French postal service
- HSBC – A British bank headquartered in London with many branches in Paris
Steps to open an bank account in person
These are the typical steps to open a bank account in a bank branch:
- Make an appointment with a banker in your area over the phone
- Bring your original documents and copies with you
- Fill out a paper application form with your personal and financial information, either with the banker themselves during your appointment, or before you meet with them
- Sign a contract and receive your bank card and PIN code
It can take up to a week to receive your PIN code and card.
Transfer money from another country
If you need to transfer money from another country to your French bank account, you can use different methods depending on the amount, the frequency, and the currency of the transfer. Some of the most common methods are:
You can send money from your foreign bank account to your French bank account by providing the IBAN (International Bank Account Number) and BIC (Bank Identifier Code) of your French account. This method is usually fast and secure, but it may incur high fees and exchange rates from both banks.
Online transfer service
You can use an online platform such as Wise or XE.com, to send money from your foreign bank account or debit card to your French bank account. This method is usually cheaper and faster than wire transfer, as it uses mid-market exchange rates and low fees. You will need to create an account on the platform and provide the details of both accounts.
Cash transfer service
You can use a service such as Western Union, MoneyGram, or Ria to send cash from your home country to a location in France. This method is usually convenient and quick, but it may have high fees and exchange rates. Note, you will need to provide the name and location of the recipient and show your ID.
Which bank should I pick?
The best bank for you depends on your personal situation and what you intend to use the bank account for.
In some neighborhoods of Paris, there are very few anglophones living in the area. As a result some bank branches won’t have bankers that speak English. It is recommended you open your bank account in a branch that is as central as possible (arrondissement 1 to 11 approximately).
A lot banks only have their websites and mobile applications in French. Generally speaking, online banks have better English language support on their website and apps. You should choose a bank that you can communicate with easily. HSBC offers all of it’s services in English including English-speaking customer service.
Banks may charge monthly fees for maintaining your account. You may also be charged for insurance on your debit card. Some banks also charge fees for transactions, withdrawals, transfers and overdrafts. You can compare bank fees in 2023 here.
Some banks offer more services than others, such as online banking, mobile app, customer support, insurance, savings accounts, credit cards, loans, or investments.
Some banks have more branches or ATMs than others. You should choose a bank that is convenient for you to access.
Overall, I recommend to open two bank accounts and a Lydia account.
- An online only bank account of your preference for your day to day purchases and bills. They provide live account balance updates and easy access to other banking services. Revolut is a good option for this.
- An account with a physical bank that speaks your language and has plenty of ATMs, like HSBC. From this account you can receive your salary, and issue your IBAN to services that require it like Ameli for reimbursement of your public health services.
- A Lydia account so you can easily split bills and send Parisian friends and colleagues money.
Debit & Credit Cards
In France, most people do not own a credit card, but instead use a debit card, often written in shorthand as CB (“Carte Bancaire”). There are some credit card providers like American Express which offer credit cards of different limits and benefits to customers. However for most Parisians, debit cards are enough for their day to day life and financial needs.
Personal debt is not a part of most Parisians life.
When opening a bank account, you will be offered a selection of potential debit cards to choose from. These cards vary in color, perks and price. Some banks will also let you customize the look of your card with personal photographs or graphic art.
Remember to update your bank of your new address when you move apartments, as most banks still do important communication through post only. The bank will require physical proof of a change of address, so make sure to share a copy of a utility bill or similar.