TAPIF Tip/Lectrice Lesson: How to Open your French Bank Account

After you find a place to live and set up your cellphone plan, the next big task to conquer is setting up your bank account. (You need to have a bank account in order to get paid!)

There are many banks all around France, the Major ones being Banque Populaire, BNP Paribas, Caisse d’Epargne, Crédit Agricole, Crédit Lyonnais, Crédit Mutuel, HSBC, and Société Générale. Here’s a hint to all of you: they are all the same.

I’ve found that overall, the bank you choose does not make a huge difference; all of these banks are found all around France in each and every city. I would just recommend choosing to set up your initial account at a bank either close to where you work or close to where you live. Additionally, you might want to ask your school where past assistants have set up their accounts– it might make things easier for you if there is a bank nearby that is used to working with assistants.

Here is what you should know:

I chose a random bank, gathered up all the documents required (copy of your passport, copy of your work contract, copy of your lease, copy of an electricity bill, etc.) and simply made my way over to the closest branch. FYI, required documents may vary slightly from bank to bank, but these are usually standard. Additionally, I made sure to choose a bank (Caisse d’Epargne) with no fees when closing my accounts! No strings attached–this is definitely something to ask when setting up your account.

-Usually you need to make an appointment with a bank to set up an account, which you can do over the phone or in person. (Here’s a hint: if they make you await more than a few days for your appointment, then simply choose another bank). Appointments usually take about an hour and a half. Do not be afraid to take a native speaker or a friend with you if you feel intimidated, and do not be afraid to ask questions or get things repeated!

-As of July 2014, Americans are now required to submit a W-9 form when opening up a bank account in France. It is basically a federal tax document stating that you are legally required to file US taxes and claim any foreign bank account with more than $10K (note, dollars, not euros), and giving the Feds access knowledge to your account. (It basically just makes it harder to hide foreign income in overseas bank accounts.) Make it easier on yourself and print this form in advance (click on the link provided). The bank will also have one more form for you to sign to go along with the W-9.

-There is a small standard monthly fee for using a debit card at just about any bank in France. But, if you are under 26 and/or a student, be sure to ask about the “youth” or “student” discounts, because you may be able to avoid these fees for the first year!

-You should to ask for them to print several copies of your RIB, which is basically a piece of paper with your routing number. You will be asked for this paper over and over again, such as when you set up your permanent cellphone plan, purchase Internet, or register with Social Security. It will save you so much time in the long run. You can also find these on the internet.

-Most banks have smart phone applications now. Download this. I use mine constantly!

-Credit and debit cards in France have a special square chip on the cards. The United States is sort of behind when it comes to this concept. Fortunately, there is (usually) a place on each machine to slide international credit cards at most major stores– but make sure you check first!

– It usually takes a few weeks to receive your debit card. Funnily enough, you’ll probably receive the pin first (by mail, of course) and then a second letter stating that your card is ready to be picked up by the bank. It’s one of those things that’s really annoying and so, so French.

-Consider purchasing renter’s insurance and multimedia insurance with your bank. It’s required to have renter’s insurance in France and it can be easier and cheaper to purchase it through your bank. I also pay 6€ per month for multimedia insurance (theft, breakage, damage, loss, etc.) You can even cover your US purchased items if you have the receipts!



16 thoughts on “TAPIF Tip/Lectrice Lesson: How to Open your French Bank Account

  1. Hi Dana! Thank you so much for your blog!! Do you think this information (i.e. the bank and tax filing info) is still current for 2018? Cheers!

  2. Hi Dana! I realize I’m a couple of years late to this post (LOL) but I am a current assistant going through this process. For the W-9 form (and I know this is probably a stupid question), do I put my permanent American address aka my parents’ address, or my current French one? I realize there’s a good chance you won’t see this, either way, thanks for keeping a great blog that has been such a helpful resource for me and other assistants!



    1. Hi Katherine!

      No problem!

      I actually can’t remember which address I used! I know I’m rubbish .. I think you can use either one. Have you posted on the assistant page? If so, can you report here to let me know what they say! Good luck 👍🏼🍀

      Thanks so much for your kind words !

  3. Hi Dana! According to a CIEP email I just got, you need your “procès-verbal d’installation” to open a bank account. …Do I really have to wait until after October 1st when I have that paperwork to open an account? Or can I do it with just the arrêté?

  4. Hi! I’m leaving for the Academie de Lille in a few weeks to start my TAPIF adventure…I’ve been reading some of your other posts (very helpful!) and I have a question about the order of the first few tasks once I arrive. I’ve heard back from a couple teachers at my school who said that I will be “put up with” until I find housing. 🙂 My question is about cell phone plans/internet/the bank account. I’m still not sure whether I’ll be able to use my iphone as a phone (working out getting it unlocked as it is still under contract), but from your phone post I assume the first thing I should do is get a temporary sim card and temporary phone service. Then I can find housing (hopefully). Is the next thing I should do set up my bank account, before going to OFII (and before getting the permanent phone/internet plan)? You said you need the RIB for internet, social security, etc., so I assume the bank account is the next important thing. Is that the right order to go in? And if I want to get a SNCF carte jeune, should I wait until I have a French bank account/debit card? I know the chip thing can be tricky, and maybe you need a French address to send the card to? Also, how long did you have to wait for all this to happen? Do you get an electricity bill to show the bank right when you move in to your housing? I’ve left myself a couple weeks to get logistics done before Oct 1…I hope that I can get settled before actually starting work!

    Thanks for all your helpful advice! Sorry for the long string of questions…

    1. Hi Natalie! Thanks for reading! What a coincidence, I will be in Lille as well for my lectrice job!

      For your iPhone, if you have a 5 or above, it’s already unlocked. You’ll have to figure out your contract stuff with Verizon. I froze my contract for 6 months, but was charged for the additional months… but I think http://www.soyouthinkyoucanfrance.wordpress.com has some advice on cell phones. You’re right for the rest- temporary SIM, then housing, then bank account, then permanent cell phone and everything else (cause you can’t pay your bill without a bank account).

      Your carte jeune you can buy right up front in cash. Most SNCF stations and boutiques also accept American credit cards (without the chip). You just need a passport photo to validate your carte. I literally bought that the second I got to Paris– they don’t really care if you have an address or not- but feel free to wait if you would like.

      AS for your bank, it various a bit from bank to bank. Usually, if you are renting a legit apartment from a legit landlord who claims the appropriate taxes, a lease will suffice. But, if you are under the table renting, you will need an EDF bill (utilities) in order to prove validity of your lodging. If by chance you need an EDF from your apartment, just ask your landlord.

      You need to remember that things in France are SLOW. Things take a lot of time. Give yourself a few weeks. Don’t worry, it all works out 🙂

      1. Thanks so much! That’s great about the carte jeune. Maybe I’ll see you in the Lille area sometime! In the meantime, I’ll be mining your blog for all the useful tips…

    1. Educator’s Credit Union!

      But I know there are others – check out nomadic Matt’s travel blog (in my reading list) – he lists a ton as well.

  5. Hi Dana! Lately I’ve been freaking out a bit about how to open a bank account once I arrive in France. Your post was super helpful in calming my fears, but I do have a question! When you mentioned the materials you brought along to your appointment (mainly a copy of your lease and electricity bill), were these items from where you lived in the US? I have a copy of my current lease, but all utilities are included except for internet/cable so I don’t have any electricity bills! I just wanted to see if you had any more input/advice! Thanks!

    1. Hi! Don’t worry so much about it; you’ll be fine!

      I think I needed an original passport, copy of my passport, copy of my visa, copy of my arrete de nomination (proof of employment/income), copy of my lease, maybe my birth certificate. I think I remember needed an electricity bill but I’m pretty sure you need one from your new place in France. Just ask your landlord to provide you with several copies of the “EDF.”

      Maybe also talk to your school or secretary and see if the past assistants have set up their accounts at the same bank… chances are then the bank will be used to working for assistants. Otherwise do not be shy in regards to asking what you need to open an account!

      Good luck!

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