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A guide to French banks

Updated: Sep 13, 2022

This introduction to banking in France helps expatriates understand how the French banking system operates, what options are available to them, and how to pick a bank to deal with.


The financial sector in France is highly developed, and the country is home to some of the most respected institutions found anywhere in the globe. There are specialized bank accounts in France that are designed to meet the requirements of non-residents and non-citizens who are working or living in France but are not French citizens. These accounts are offered by French banks and include French mortgages and a variety of other borrowing options.


N26


N26 is a bank that you will like using since it allows you to establish a bank account in as little as eight minutes and without any paperwork. Get a handle on your money with a single app that enables you to monitor limits, create a PIN, lock and unlock cards, and conduct transactions with no additional fees, no matter where in the globe you are.


The banking system in France


When compared to banking systems in other regions of Europe, the French financial system is more regionalized. Although there are a few banks with well-known names, they are not quite as prominent as the "big four" main street banks in the UK. In addition to national high street banks and local financial institutions, you may also find French branches of foreign banks, online banks, and mobile banks in France. All of these banking options are available in addition to mobile banking and internet banking.


There are now 266 banks functioning in France, and in addition to them, there are over 300 additional credit institutions in the country. These other institutions include mutual banks and municipal credit banks. Although online banking is becoming more popular, traditional banking is still widely used in France. There are still slightly more than 37 bank branches for every 100,000 people in the country (down from 46 per 100,000 in 2006).


The Banque de France, which is also known as the French Prudential Supervision and Resolution Authority, serves as the country's central bank. This authority is responsible for regulating the French banking system (Autorite de Controle Prudentiel et de Resolution – ACPR).


Currency in France


The franc was France's national currency until it was replaced by the euro, which is denoted by the symbol €. France is a member state of the Eurozone and now utilizes the euro. The conversion rate of one euro to one pound sterling (GBP) is now 1.11, while the exchange rate of one euro to one dollar (USD) is currently 0.89. Eight distinct coins may be used with the Euro (1, 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50 cents, plus 1 and 2 Euros). In addition to it, there are seven distinct notes (5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, and 500). In general, main street retailers will not take notes worth more than one hundred euros.


Cash machines and ATMs in France


In France, automated teller machines may often be found in the lobby of banks, on busy streets, and even in airports. If you have a major credit card, such as Visa or Mastercard, finding an ATM won't be difficult for you at all. Availability, on the other hand, is much lower in rural locations. Cards issued by foreign financial institutions are accepted, and the majority of ATMs do not have a daily withdrawal restriction, although your financial institution may impose one. You may locate the closest ATM that accepts Visa, Mastercard, or American Express by using this finder.


Banks in France


National retail banks


France is home to several high street retail banks, each of which operates several locations around the nation. There is often a regional disparity in the prices and offerings of certain services. Larger banks in large cities are more likely to cater to the needs of foreign customers and may employ staff members who are fluent in English. The typical opening and closing times for banks are between 08:30 and 09:00 and 17:00 and 17:30 respectively, with most institutions closing for an hour for lunch. Many financial institutions are open on Saturdays until noon or one o'clock in the afternoon.


The following are some of the largest and most well-known national banks in France:


● BNP Paribas

● CIC

● Societe Generale

● La Banque Postale


Regional banks in France


The financial services offered by regional institutions in France, which are often referred to as mutual banks, are comparable to those offered by the main French banks. These, on the other hand, could have fewer offerings that are catered to expats. Mutual banks are not autonomous financial institutions; rather, they are owned by bigger banking organizations. The range of services offered and the cost of those services by regional banks in France might be drastically diverse from one area to the next.


The following are France's three most important regional cooperative banking groups:


BPCE Credit Agricole Credit Mutuel


International banks in France


In France, there are a great number of well-known global banks with local branches. These are located mostly in the country's larger cities and function like French banks. The majority of our locations will feature staff members that are fluent in English.


The following are examples of some of these banks:


● Axa Banque

● Barclays

● Citibank

● Deutsche Bank

● HSBC

● JP Morgan


Online banks in France


Residents of France also have the option of conducting their financial transactions with an online or mobile bank, which may provide them with fast access to their accounts around the clock, the ability to make mobile payments, and affordable services.


The following are examples of online banking options accessible in France:


● bunq

● Hello Bank

● LeoPay

● N26

● Revolut


Banking services in France


Products offered by financial institutions in France might vary from one source to the next. On the other hand, banks often provide the following services:


● Current accounts – The French banking system provides customers with a variety of current account alternatives for managing their day-to-day finances, such as credit and debit card choices.

● Loans and overdrafts – Many financial institutions provide customers with consumer loans and overdraft facilities, which may be used toward items like the purchase of a vehicle, home improvements, or vacations.

● Mortgages – Those who want to purchase property in France may choose from several different mortgage programs offered by French banks.

● Savings and investments – Among the available choices are regular savings accounts, French investment funds, pensions in France, and stock market alternatives offered by several French institutions;

● Insurance – Life insurance, property insurance, auto insurance, and medical insurance are some of the types of coverage that may be purchased as insurance products in France;

● Digital and internet banking - Internet banking is now available at the majority of the major national and international banks in France, making it simpler for consumers to take care of their financial matters from a distance.

● Mobile banking – The use of mobile banking in France is growing in popularity, and a number of the country's most prominent banks have begun offering mobile applications and payment services.

● Business Banking - If you are thinking of establishing a company in France or becoming a freelancer in France, you should check out the services that French banks often give to companies, organizations, and professional customers so that you can see what options are available to you;

● Expat services – Expats living in France may research the most prominent financial institutions in the country to learn more about the individualized services that are available. These may include more affordable international money transfers or accounts that can hold many currencies.


Opening a French bank account


You may establish an account with the majority of banks in France either in person at a branch in your neighborhood or online through the bank's website. In most cases, you will be required to give evidence of your identification, as well as your address and your legal status to live in the country. If you can provide the relevant papers, certain financial institutions are prepared to assist you in opening an account before you relocate, while other financial institutions provide non-resident accounts that may be created from outside the country.


Payment methods in France


Cash


Cash is still widely used as a mode of payment in France; however, as of recently, there has been a rule that restricts the amount that may be purchased with cash to a maximum of €1,000 to crack down on untaxed transactions. A little more than half of all transactions in France are still conducted using cash, although the majority of them are for sums that are far lower than €20. Cash transactions make up 15% of the total value of all transactions in France.


Checks


Checks are still widely used in France, in contrast to a significant number of other nations in the EU, and a significant number of banks still produce chequebooks. Despite this, the use of cheques as a method of payment is becoming less common. Check transactions made inside France are not charged a fee, but those made outside may incur significant fees and should be avoided if possible. Checks are acceptable forms of payment for both shopping and bill payments in France. It is a criminal crime to pay with a check that doesn't clear, so you could be requested to provide identification if that happens. Additionally, when you write a check, you should check to make sure that your account has enough money in it to cover the amount of the check. You run the risk of receiving a monetary penalty from the bank in addition to any extra costs they may assess.


Debit cards


The carte bancaire, or CB, is the card that is used the most often in France. The carte bancaire is an inter-bank card that is supported by all of the major French banks as well as Visa and Mastercard. According to research conducted in 2014, more than 94% of the population in France aged 15 and older have a CB card. According to more current statistics from 2018, 56% of all online payments made in France are carried out using either a debit or credit card. When you create a bank account in France, you are given a CB card as the basic form of identification. The chip and PIN technology are used to make payments, and smaller payments (those that are less than €30) may be done using contactless payment systems.


Credit cards


Credit cards allow you to make purchases in advance and then pay off the balance of the transaction at a later date, while debit cards only allow you to spend money at the moment. These may be obtained from almost any financial institution or credit card company in France; but, in most cases, you will be required to have a solid credit history. In comparison to debit cards, credit cards are not nearly as common in France. However, credit cards such as Visa, Mastercard, and American Express are often used for making bigger purchases and payments made online. You will ordinarily be required to make payments on your bill at regular intervals (such as monthly or quarterly) and will typically be given a spending restriction, the amount of which may change but does not typically exceed €5,000 unless you have made previous arrangements with the bank.


Direct debits and standing orders


Direct debits, known in France as prélevements, are often used for the payment of rent and utility bills, and businesses typically make this option available to customers as one of the available payment methods. These provide approval for other parties to make recurring charges to your bank account, which may be for a variable amount. Direct debits are not to be confused with standing orders, sometimes known as virements, which are instructions given to your bank to make a recurring payment of a certain amount to a third party (often used for things such as membership subscriptions). Direct debits and standing orders may both be easily set up with your French bank, and either one can be terminated at any moment without any hassle. It is against the law for a landlord in France to require a tenant to sign a direct debit arrangement, and the tenant must be offered the choice of paying using another method to comply with the law.


Online and mobile payments


Smartphone applications that allow users to make payments using their mobile devices may facilitate mobile payments and are thus accessible to consumers. The use of these has been on the rise in France over the last several years, with PayPal, Google Pay, and Apple Pay being among the most dominant players in the industry. For further information, please refer to our guide on mobile banking in France.


Local money transfers


SEPA, which stands for "single euro payment area," is an acronym for the system that French banks may use to process local money transactions. Because of this arrangement, financial institutions located everywhere in the Eurozone may send and receive monetary transactions with one another. When dealing with quantities of less than €50,000, these transactions are often free of charge or cost less than €5 in fees. They typically take between one and two days (working days) to complete. You will need the banking information for the French bank account in question to complete a money transfer into that account. You will need the International Bank Account Number (IBAN) and the SWIFT/BIC (Bank Identifier Code) for the bank that will be receiving the payment if you are sending money to a country outside of the Eurozone.


International money transfers


Because French banks are allowed to set their fees, international money transfers to and from countries outside of the EU and EEA are more costly there. You must investigate the fee schedules offered by your French financial institution. Transfers usually take between three and five full working days to complete.


There are a variety of alternatives to banks that may be used to carry out international monetary transfers. Some of these alternatives include the following:


● CurrencyFair

● Moneycorp

● Remitly

● Wise

● WorldRemit


You may also utilize the online comparison tool that Monito provides to save money on fees, discover the best exchange rates, and choose the most cost-effective choice for making international money transfers.


Banking costs in France


It is not simple to get one's mind around the fees associated with banking in France. For instance, there might be a significant amount of variation amongst the many suppliers and varieties of banks. It's even possible for this to take place amongst the many regional branches of the same bank. You will need to make sure that you shop to obtain the best price, and if you are comparing French banks, you can use this free public bank fee comparison website as a tool to assist you.


Here is a rough guide for fees:


● General admin fees – may range from being completely free for basic current accounts to costing around ten euros annually, while premium and higher-level accounts may charge more;

● ATM usage – Almost always free at ATMs situated within French banks, even for cards issued by other countries. However, privately placed machines may charge as much as around €2 for each transaction;

● Debit cards – The annual fee ranges from around thirty to forty euros, depending on the kind of card used;

● Credit cards – typically begin at about forty euros per year, while premium cards may cost more than one hundred euros per year, on top of the APRC (annual percentage rate fee);

● Loans and mortgages – will rely on the APRC, and lenders may impose extra costs on top of that;

● Direct debits and standing orders – often free, however, some institutions may impose a minimal or even insignificant fee;

● International money transfers – depend on where the money is going, how much is being transferred, and how quickly you need it to arrive. Fees for minor payments are typically at least €10, whereas fees for bigger payments may be anywhere from €20 to €30 (or even more);

● Penalty charges – Every bank needs to provide a comprehensive list of the fees that will be assessed for things like missed payments and defaults. A single instance of being overdrawn without authorization might cost around ten euros, and the overdraft fee for an entire month can go up to one hundred euros. Fees ranging from €30 to €50 may be assessed for checks that are returned as unpaid.


Before you create an account with a bank in France, you should be given information about the fees they charge. Websites of banks often provide information on fees and are thus accessible to users.


Offshore banking in France


Those who are residing in France as ex-pats may discover that the most convenient method to handle their money is to set up an account with an offshore international bank. Those who often move money between countries, work in a foreign nation, or spend a significant amount of time in more than one country may find that having an offshore bank account offers several distinct advantages.


Offshore accounts are those that are held outside of the holder's place of residency and often come with several unique benefits, such as a greater selection of services that are offered across international borders and a reduced rate of taxes on the cash held in the account. Offshore banking in France is offered by a significant portion of the country's main financial institutions.


Banking security and fraud in France


Over the years, the sophistication of banking systems has been paralleled by an increase in the sophistication of fraudulent financial practices. Clients of banks in France, just like customers of banks everywhere else, have a responsibility to exercise caution so that they do not make themselves susceptible to fraud. Phishing and other forms of fraudulent email communication are examples of this. Research done in 2016 found that France had the third largest proportion of fraudulent card transactions compared to other nations in the EU. This indicates that card fraud is an issue in France.


You may help safeguard your assets from fraudulent activity in the banking system in France by doing the following:


● Never reveal critical or secret personal information in an electronic message or over the phone;

● Never go to the website of a bank after clicking on a link in an email from that bank. Always insert the whole website URL into the box designated for that purpose;

● When making payments online, you should always use reputable and secure payment services;

● Never input your identification number (PIN) anywhere online;

● When possible, use a personal device for mobile or internet banking rather than a shared one.


Lost or stolen bank cards in France


You can call the interbank emergency line, which is 0892 705 705 if your bank card is lost or stolen. You may find further contact information for reporting missing Mastercard, Visa, or American Express cards by consulting our guide to emergency numbers in France.


Making a complaint about French banks


It is recommended that you get in touch with the complaints department of a French bank if you are dissatisfied with how you have been handled by the bank. The bank or the bank's website should be able to provide further information on this. The response from the bank should come within two months. If you are not satisfied with the decision, you have the option of filing a complaint with the ACPR, which is France's governing body for the banking industry. You always have the option of bringing the bank to court if you are still unsatisfied with their service. If you lose, you will very certainly be responsible for paying for your legal representation.


Alternatives to using banks in France


There are two primary choices available to you if you are seeking alternatives to the French banks that were discussed earlier:


● Municipal credit banks – These are public credit organizations that specialize in providing social loans to borrowers based on the value of the borrower's possessions that they pawn to secure the loan. In addition to that, they provide a few more services such as payment services. These financial institutions are controlled by the local governments, and there are now 18 of them functioning in the country of France.

● Specialized credit institutions – These many financial institutions provide a wide variety of goods and services, such as loans, asset management, and consumer credit, amongst other items and options. At the moment, 185 of these types of institutions can be found functioning in France.


Useful resources


● Banque de France - the central bank of France

● Autorite de Controle Prudentiel et de Resolution (ACPR) - is the French government agency in charge of regulating financial institutions.

● Tarifs Bancaires - a public website that allows users to compare the fees charged by various banks.


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