Money and Banking in France

UK credit cards are accepted almost everywhere, with one notable exception (although this situation is changing) and that is petrol stations (often at supermarkets) that use automatic card-reading pumps to provide 24hr availability of fuel, outside manned kiosk hours. Don’t rely on them accepting non-French cards. UK cards can also be used everywhere (in our limited experience) to obtain cash from cash machines (distributeurs de billet) many of which have an English language option.

The key French banks are

  • CA Credit Agricole, which is actually a collection of regional banks all owned by CA.
  • CA has a specific British-oriented English-language service called Britline aimed at British people who are relocating (permanently to one degree or another) to France. Through Britline it is possible to open an account from the UK but there are requirements that need to be met for the application to be successful.
  • CA also owns LCL, which used to be known as Credit Lyonnais
  • Caisse d’Epargne and Banque Populaire, which merged in 2009
  • BNP Paribas
  • Societe Generale

There are distinct advantages in opening a French bank account but negotiating the inevitable set of rules is not always straightforward. Like so much else in France, the best way is to obtain a personal introduction to an individual branch manager. This was our own method and she opened an account for us quickly, easily and without undue red-tape, with our long-standing port de plaisance berth accepted as being our permanent address in France. A foreigner who is (or is going to be) resident in France for more than three months may open a French bank account (compte bancaire). A foreigner who is not (nor is planning to be) resident in France may open a non-resident’s account (compte non-résident). Documents required to open an account may vary but generally include proof of residential address (a recent utility bill) and proof of identity.

Apart from a French credit card, which you may or may not want, the usual portfolio of bank related items comprise:

  • CB – Carte Bancaire / Carte Bleu – the debit card, used everywhere
  • Cheques – are accepted as a cash payment. French law makes a cheque equivalent to cash; it is therefore illegal to write a cheque if there are not sufficient funds in the account to cover the payment. If you find yourself in the situation where you have written a cheque that your account cannot cover, it is likely that you will receive a letter forbidding you to write another cheque for 5 years. This happens regardless of the amount on which the cheque was drawn. Because a cheque is the equivalent of cash, under no circumstances write a cheque, especially for a large amount, and give it to someone you do not trust implicitly to give to a third party payee – irrespective of the payee details on the front side, the cheque can be countersigned on the reverse and paid into the holder’s account as cash. This is a peculiarity of French banking law.
  • RIB – Relevé d’Identité Bancaire These are pre-printed tickets with your account details on, that you give to suppliers with whom you are entering a contract (for example a mobile phone network) and/or making regular bank transfer payments. Each ticket contains the numéro de compte (account number) the code de l’établissement (bank code) and the code du guichet (sort code).