It is so easy to see just how many parts of our daily lives we take for granted when we are living in a new country. I have discovered that my Canadian bank account is one of them.
While I am still grasping at the math of using euros over dollars, having access to a French bank account is a necessity. It is required for most everything necessary to Parisian life – securing lodging, getting a cell phone number, receiving any kind of salary or refund, and also as a security for many things. French taxes are linked to bank accounts, as is any French insurance. In short, there are a few things a Frenchman needs in life, and a French bank account is one of them.
Today I walked into Société Générale, one of the three largest banks in France, to sort out this bank account problem. I say “problem” in that I didn’t have a bank account, but also that getting a bank account in France is a hassle in itself. If one word could describe a nation, for France, it would be: paper. The French are obsessed with paper, it’s like a national sport. I have never signed so many in all my life before moving to Paris. Just take a look at my confirmation of my new bank account. The bank itself is currently holding many, many more yielding my scribbles on them.
But how does one get to own these special confirmation papers? Well in hopes of helping anyone else in the future, welcome to French Banking 101.
Select a bank
I didn’t put a whole lot of thought into this, and I can’t say for certain if one is better than the other. The top three seem to be pretty much everywhere, and I’m sure that thanks to the competition, the rates are pretty similar. These are the top 7 banks in France that you will likely choose to bank with.
- BNP Paribas
- Crédit Agricole Group
- Société Générale
- Group BPCE
- Crédit Mutuel Group
- La Banque Postale
- HSBC France
Obviously, anyone Canadian or American who is already banking with the British-owned HSBC, which I recognize as also being also present in North America, is going to have a really easy time.
Make an appointment
English may have borrowed the word rendez-vous from the French, but we do not use it nearly as often as the French do. Everything in France starts with a meeting; you won’t get anywhere without one. Of course, no one does anything electronically or by telephone in France really either, so you will have to make a trip to the bank in order to plan another trip to the bank later. It sounds tedious and time consuming, but c’est la vie!
Prepare to meet with your new agent
Assuming you’d rather get it all done in one meeting, make certain you have all the necessary papers in hand or you risk needing to make a second appointment. And you do need a lot of paperwork. I just brought every piece of paper and ID I had on me, just in case. In the end, this is what was required of me:
– Internationally recognised ID (your passport)
– Proof of person (your birth certificate)
– Proof of legal status in France (your visa)
– Proof of your permanent address (a rental contract or electricity bill will do, but this may be difficult considering a bank account is often required in order to get permanent housing)
– Proof of a cell phone number (again, this may be difficult, although I managed to get my phone plan using my Canadian credit card)
– Proof of housing insurance (see above)
– Proof of personal insurance (and again)
– Proof of acceptance to a university as a foreign student
– Plus translated copies of all documents if the originals are not already in French (I have never been so happy in my life that Canada is officially bilingual!)
Actually meet with your new agent
Get your pen ready! Here comes a lot of writing. And I don’t mean just signing your name. The banks may only require your signature for most papers, but at others they will ask that you write out phrases in French alongside your signature, some of which weren’t the shortest sentences either:
Bon pour accord sur l’opération d’assurance. Faite à Paris, le 3ème septembre, 2015. (Signature).
Do that a few times and your writing gets pretty sloppy. The agent even told me that I needed to come up with a new signature because “Danielle Moore” written in full was apparently taking too long. After you have signed your name a few too many times, be prepared to make a deposit of at least 100€ on the spot. It’s required to finalize your new account. You will now receive a few dozen sheets of paper, they will keep the rest, and off you go, 100€ less and so far only a stack of papers to show for it.
Wait for the mailman
Yes, you will have to wait to get a letter from the bank, who will have sent it to the address you provided earlier. This letter will hold your “secret code” (or PIN), but no card. Where is your card then? Why, at the bank of course! But don’t think you can just waltz in there unannounced and pick it up. Instead, take your letter with you, along with your passport, back to the bank. Then, make an appointment for sometime later to meet with your agent again and get your new card. Once you receive your new card, you are officially the holder of a new French bank account.
For me, the whole process took about two weeks or so to complete, from start to finish. As I didn’t want to pay the transfer fees to put all my Canadian money into my French bank account, only to transfer the remaining sum again when I left France, to be honest I never used my actual card once to buy anything. But, as I’ve mentioned earlier, you do need an account to receive so many benefits, such as CAF, that the account itself was truly necessary.
Can’t figure something out?
Ask below and I will try and pick my brain for you. Good luck!