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!