Contrary to my love of most things French, I am not a fan of French banking (so I’ll share photos of German food with you today).  

Here are the key differences:

  • Online-Only Banks: They exist; however, they’re not accessible for Americans.  You can’t submit the IRS-required proof of your social security number for FATCA, so this is a no-go.
  • (No) Free Banking: There is no such thing as free banking in France, at least that I’ve been able to find.  Sure, you might be able to get a basic account for free . . . with no bank card . . . and potentially no checks?  So, if you can live strictly on cash payments and wire transfers, you’re good to go.  Otherwise, get used to paying a fee.
  • Account Withdrawal Limits: There are limits on virtually everything that involves your bank card.  If you didn’t receive your PIN for TWO MONTHS like me, then have a lot of things to buy due to an International move, your card will simply stop working.    There is also a limit on cash withdrawals.  I could only guess at the other limits, but I don’t seem to have hit them yet . . . you do begin to understand why people still pay for groceries and gas with CHECKS though.  If you hit the limits, you then have to contact your personal banker to raise the limit.
  • Personal Banker: Which brings me to the next item – you will have a personal banker.  Mine seemed very nice and friendly at first, even helping me largely in English (which, considering the bank advertises itself as having English-speaking services, is not that surprising).  Since then, he’s been a total pain in my butt.  Primarily, I suspect that it is not his fault, but all of these ridiculous rules that France seems to have . . . however, when I again couldn’t use my card and requested an appointment to resolve the issue, no appointment was ever made.  It was finally fixed, without the documentation I was told was MANDATORY, after I threatened to close my account if it wasn’t resolved within 24 hours.  My card is AGAIN not working consistently (and not at all for online purchases) and his response was completely unhelpful.  He also ignores any communication I send in English . . . why advertise your bank as serving the needs of English-speakers if my banker will refuse to communicate in that language?
  • Paperwork: You will spend 90 minutes signing your life away just to open a bank account.  You will then receive notifications roughly every other day that some other random thing has been sent to your online message system.
  • Even More Paperwork: Forget about opening an account without proof of address.  I you’re lucky, like me, you can provide the insurance attestation (it’s good enough for the prefecture to issue a Residence Card, so it should be good enough for the bank) . . BUT, when you move and provide the updated attestation, be prepared for them to tell you that this is not adequate proof of address.  Really?!?  It’s adequate proof for immigration purposes, but not banking?  When you then inquire if a water bill is adequate, you’ll be told that only an electric bill is sufficient and it needs to be sent within the month . . . for a utility that only sends a bill every two months.  I wish that I were joking.
  • Interest: You can pretty much forget about any sort of interest-bearing account.  The banker opened something for me called a “savings” account, but the only purpose appears to be to stick 30 Euro in there to reduce my monthly maintenance fee.
  • Credit Cards: From what I’ve seen, a French credit card comes with insanely high interest rates and no grace period, so you’re charged interest from the day of purchase.  While this still seemed like a good deal with the discount it would get me on the purchase, PB warned me that they come with all sorts of fees and generally should be avoided.  There does not seem to be credit cards of the US variety, where you have no annual fee and can collect points . . . so that my US card actually pays me for using it.
    • Credit Score: This could be because there are no credit scores in France.  It seems that you’re extended credit solely on the basis of your income.  If you fail to pay something, it’s also unclear if there is any actual recourse for them to collect the money (probably just the court system)
  • (Lack of) English-Speaking Services: Even the bank that advertised itself as having English-speaking services apparently just meant it has a single English-speaking phone line.  Once you open the account, your online portal, all documents, etc will be in French.  You may, like me, have a personal banker who refuses to respond to English messages.  While I am working on learning French, banking is a pretty complex topic and CRITICAL to understand, so the lack of ACTUAL English-speaking services is a serious challenge.