As I explained in my previous entry, bringing a credit card could be useful for withdrawing money or shopping, but when you land in France you will see that you will need a French account pretty much for everything. Opening a bank account in France is indispensable and will be compulsory for paying your rent, as well as basic utilities such as electricity, water, cellphone, etc.
Compared to Colombia, I must say that banking is way more developed in France and both users and sector have adopted technological evolutions faster. In Colombia, even though it is possible to do it online, many people still go to bank agencies every month for paying their utilities, and there are still lots of transactions that must be done in the agency.
This is what you can expect in Colombia when visiting a bank agency at lunch time
In France, all utilities are debited directly from your bank account monthly and most transactions and formalities can be done online. I must say that since I arrived in France for the first time, I have visited my bank’s agency 4 times maximum, I have done the rest of the formalities online, I have even had loans 100% online without setting foot in the agency. As a matter of fact, a couple of years ago I switched all my bank accounts to online banks, which have cheaper fees than traditional banks. I will go into more details below.
Types of bank accounts in France
In France, the most common bank type is the checking account (compte chèques). This is the account from which you will make all your payments and transactions.
IMPORTANT: It is important to mention that this is a current account that allows you to have an overdraft per month for a defined amount of time and up to a maximum amount set by default and that you can modify afterwards. This maximum amount must be set according to your needs and handled with responsibility, because if you go over the amount set or the maximum period, fees can be huge. In my case, since this type of accounts are not very common in Colombia it took me a bit of time (and money!) to get used to it.
Besides the checking account, there are also savings accounts or Livret d’epargne as they are known in French. These accounts are just for savings and you cannot make payments from it, you can send the monthly balance of your checking account and get a (very low!) interest on your savings.
The famous RIB
The RIB (Relevé d’Identité Bancaire) is a unique code for each account that allows to identify it within the banking system. This is the numbers used for transferring money to other banks and is the number used by utilities companies and other institutions to debit your account. You will hear these three letters the whole time and this famous number will become your second ID.
Where and how to open your account?
If you have a long stay visa in France, you will be able to open a bank account with the following documents:
- Passport (stamped with your long stay visa)
- Carte de Séjour, or Titre de Séjour (if you have already received it, but it is very likely you haven’t received it until a few months after your arrival, so passport will do)
- Domicile certificate (could be a copy or your rental agreement, your last electricity or telephone invoice)
Tip: If you just arrived in France and don’t have a permanent accommodation yet, you are staying either in a hotel or at a friend’s place, you can present a handwritten certificate from the person hosting you in which they confirm you are staying at their place. You can also ask your school or university, this is what I did, if they can help you. There were some rooms in my school used to accommodate international students when they just arrived, so they gave me a certificate which I used to open my accounts. Once I was settled in my permanent accommodation, I just updated the address.
Regarding the bank to open your account, I would recommend opening it in one of the biggest banks since they have a greater agency and ATM network. Some of these banks are:
Another interesting option is the bank from La Poste. The post office has its own bank in France and it is very useful because the number of postal offices in France is very large.
Most of the banks listed above have exclusive offers for students and younger than 26. They offer, most of the times, and account with no fees nor commissions during the first year.
Personally, I opened my account with BNP Paribas and can recommend it. This is one of the biggest banks in France, with a very large agency network, and service is generally good.
However, as I said before, since a few years ago I switched all my accounts to online banks. These banks are 100% online, without physical agencies, and most of them are branches of some of the biggest traditional banks, which is an advantage because it allows you to use their agency network without having to pay any fees for transactions or the use of your cards.
Unfortunately, to open a bank account in an online bank you will need a RIB, meaning that you already need to have a bank account open in a French bank. My advice is to open a bank account in one of the traditional banks and take advantage of the special offers for students, and once these advantages are over, if you are still in France, switch to an online bank to save on fees.
In conclusion, I must say that I am very satisfied by France banking system, as I said before it is very developed and having a bank account makes your life much easier. I am a frequent user of banking services and have no complaints so far, maybe because of my experience with Colombian banks.
If you have any question, do not hesitate to leave it in the box below. If you want to share your experience with French banks it is also welcome!
*If you decide to open an account with Boursorama, by following the link in this post, Boursorama will give me a commission for endorsing you.