The best banks in France for expats (and the types of accounts you can open)

Settling down to your new life in France? Why not take control over your finances, too? Find out about the best banks in France for expats, the banking fees, the types of accounts you can open, and how to set up an account there.

Xe Consumer Europe

July 5, 2021 11 min read

Young woman checking her mobile bank account in France

If you’ve moved to France for studying, working, or spending your golden years of retirement, you need to be able to make local payments easily.

We know, we know, you’ve got international banks for that. But for certain things, like buying a property in France or renting a place there, it may be obligatory to have a French bank account. Even if a French bank account isn’t necessary for your planned purchase, having a way to keep local currency and avoid foreign transaction fees will make you much happier.

We’ve prepared a short guide explaining the types of bank accounts you can open in the country, the kinds of fees you should keep an eye out for, the best banks in France for expats, and how to send money from the US or any other country to France.

What does the French banking system look like?

With national banks, mobile banks, internet banks, local financial institutions, and branches of international banks, the banking system in France is highly developed, although not as dominant as in other parts of Europe.

In spite of the buzz around digital banking, you’ll find physical or face-to-face banking is still more popular in France.

More than 200 banks and credit institutions (including specialized ones and municipal credit banks) currently operate in the country. The Banque de France regulates and supervises the country’s banking sector by way of being the French central bank.

What’s the currency in France?

Earlier, the franc used to be the national currency for France. However, being a member of the Eurozone, France has replaced the franc with the Euro (EUR).

The country now has 7 different Euro notes (500, 200, 100, 50, 20, 10, and 5) and 8 coins (1 and 2 Euros, plus 50, 20, 10, 5, 2, and 1 cent).

As of June 2021, the currency exchange rate of the Euro is 0.83 against the US dollar (USD), 0.63 against the Australian dollar (AUD), and 1.16 against the British pound sterling (GBP).

What banking services can expats get in France?

You’ll usually notice the following products and services offered by French banks for expats:

  • Savings and investments
    Apart from standard savings accounts, many French banks may also provide stock exchange options, pensions, and investment funds.

  • Current accounts
    For managing your day-to-day expenses, current accounts at banks in France offer debit and credit card options, along with other services.

  • Mortgages
    If you want to buy a home or any other property in France, you can get a variety of mortgage options at several French banks.

  • Insurance
    From health insurance and home insurance to life insurance and vehicle insurance, there can be a wide range of French insurance products for expats.

  • Loans and overdrafts
    You can get overdrafts and consumer loans through many French banks for buying a car, renovating your home or apartment in France, holidays, or other things.

  • Business banking
    If you want to start freelancing in France, or you hope to start a business there, you can check which French banks offer banking services catered towards businesses, professional clients, and organizations.

  • Mobile banking
    You may find some banks in France that offer all or most of their services through a mobile app, with little to no hassle of visiting a physical branch. All you need is a smartphone to access services, make payments, and manage your money, on the whole.

  • Online/digital banking
    A key feature of most modern French banks is their digital or online banking facility. You should be able to access loans and other products and services online. In case of any issues, you can reach out to the bank through their live online chat systems.

  • Expat services
    Some major banks in France provide services tailored towards expats, such as multi-currency accounts.

What types of bank accounts are available in France for expats?

Livret (general savings account)

A bank account for storing your money to access it whenever you want to, along with transferring it to and from your current account. You might also come across Livret A, or a tax-free savings account (TFSA) option at some banks.

Compte d’Epargne Logement or Compte a Terme (long-term savings account)

It’s a high-interest French bank account where you can save money for a large purchase, like buying a property in France.

Compte courant (current account)

These are everyday banking accounts, with some banks offering basic packages without any fees. At some French banks, you’ll find non-resident accounts, student’s accounts, and other specialist accounts, too.

Offshore bank account

If you transfer money between countries quite often, or you have to spend much of your time in more than one country, opening an international offshore bank account might be helpful. Offshore accounts at many major banks in France usually offer lower fund taxation, cross-border services, and other distinct advantages.

What banking fees do expats have to pay?

The fees may vary, not only among different French banks, but also among different branches of the same bank. You can use this rough guide for reference:

  • General account maintenance fees - You may have to pay an annual fee of about €10 EUR (or approximately $11.92 USD) for a current account, although some French banks offer this account for free. Higher-level and premium accounts, of course, charge more fees.

  • ATM charges - Taking money out of ATMs located at banks in France is mostly free, even when you use a foreign card. But the charge may be up to €2 EUR ($2.38 USD) per transaction at a privately installed ATM.

  • Credit card fees - Though the annual fees may start from €40 EUR ($47.71 USD), premium credit cards may charge up to around €100 EUR ($119.29 USD) per year.

  • Debit card (carte bleue) fees - The fees would depend on the type of debit card you hold, but usually range between €30 EUR ($35.78 USD) and €40 EUR per year.

  • Standing orders and direct debits - Some French banks may charge a small nominal fee for these services, while others may not charge anything at all.

  • Penalty charges - When looking for a bank in France, you should be able to find a list of charges for defaults, late payments, and so on, so you’ll know right away what to expect, if, say, you overdraw your balance without authorization, or your checks bounce. For example, the fees for bounced checks may sit anywhere between €30 EUR and €50 EUR ($59.64 USD), depending on the bank.

  • Mortgages and loans - Charges for loans and mortgages will obviously depend on the Annual Percentage Rate Charge (APRC). There may be additional fees, as well, from lenders, so be sure to ask them directly about it.

  • International money transfers - Based on the amount you’re sending or receiving, the destination, and the speed with which the money is to be sent, charges for international money transfers at French banks may vary from €10 EUR for smaller payments to €30 EUR or more for larger amounts.

How should an expat choose a bank in France?

Keep up your search for the best banks in France for expats, based on these factors:

  • Ease of access - Does the bank offer telephone, online, or mobile banking services, apart from face-to-face banking?

  • Fees and charges - Compare the service costs of different French banks, along with their pros and cons, before making a choice.

  • Language support - You might want to check whether your chosen bank offers English-speaking services or has staff members who speak the language. It’s harder to find such language support in regional and smaller banks, but most online and international banks readily provide English-speaking services.

  • Services - Other than the usual basket of services banks provide, find out if the bank has French pension savings plans or foreign transactions on offer.

What are the best banks in France for expats?

Banque Nationale de Paris (BNP) Paribas

Headquartered in Paris (as the name suggests), BNP Paribas is the largest bank in France, and counts itself among the largest banks in Europe, too.

To open an account there, you simply need to reside in France - there isn’t even any condition as to how much your minimum income should be for banking with them.

The bank offers a huge variety of savings accounts aimed at different types of customers, including an Innovation Savings Account (for young innovative business owners and students), Livret A, and a Young Booklet (for people aged 12 to 25).

Sure, with the Savings Account, you need to maintain a minimum balance of €10 EUR every month, earn interest at a low annual rate of 0.02%, and pay income tax on your savings as well.

But on the brighter side, the account has no limit to the amount of money you want to save, and you can withdraw money for free, too.

With a Livret A, on the other hand, you get a much higher interest rate (0.50%) and a cap of €22,950 EUR ($27,378 USD) on your savings. More importantly, this account is tax-free.

BNP Paribas also offers consumer loans, real estate loans, insurance products, and investment funds for expats and French citizens alike.

Banque Populaire

Also based in Paris, this group of cooperative banks was founded in 1878, and operates under the control of more than 10 independent regional banks.

You can open a Livret A with this bank, too. A lot like the one offered by BNP Paribas, the Livret A at Banque Populaire is tax-free and guarantees the same rate of interest. The ceiling on the savings amount is exactly the same as well, and the minimum deposit for opening a Livret A is €10 EUR.

You can take out your money from this account anytime, without any penalty or charges. Keep in mind, though, that you can open only one such savings account, and moreover, you can’t set up this account as a joint account.

If you want to save for your kid’s education or generate extra income for your retirement, you can also set up Selectio, a monetary savings contract (basically, a bundle of fixed-rate progressive term accounts) at the bank.

Apart from savings accounts, you’ll find stock savings plans, real estate investments, personal loans, and credit financing at Banque Populaire.

Societe Generale

This bank also allows you to open a Livret A for your kids, but what sets them apart from the other two French banks is that they’ve got a plethora of financial solutions for students and young people under 29 years of age.

Whether you want to get a driving license or finance your studies in France, Societe Generale has got you covered with student loans and other options.

For example, if you’re under 26, you can finance your driving license training for A, A1, A2, and B permits with a permitted loan of €600 EUR ($715.76 USD) to €1,200 EUR ($1,431 USD) from the bank. You just need to pay back the bank up to €1 EUR per day, without any interest at all.

How can an expat open a French bank account?

To set up a bank account in France, all you need to do is visit any branch (try to find one near your place of residence, so you don’t face any issue in case of an emergency) and fill up an application form (mandat).

Taking a translator with you might be a good idea, if you aren’t fluent in French, because what if you don’t find English-speaking staff at the bank?

Here’s a list of documents you’ll generally need:

  • Your passport (a valid one, of course), or any other identity proof

  • Proof of your residential address in France, like a telephone or electricity bill

  • Your French visa or other proof of your residency status

  • Proof of your student or job status

  • Your handwritten signature

It’d be better if your documents were in French, but if these aren’t, you may need to have your documents translated with an Apostille stamp or provide a notarized translation.

Most French banks won’t take more than 7 to 14 days to furnish you with your account number, debit card, and other banking documents.

How to send money home to or from France

Transferring money globally with a French bank? Go ahead and scroll back up to the banking fees section to see how much that will cost you. You’ll face multiple transaction fees, then, but that’s not all - you might also have to work with unfavorable currency exchange rates.

There’s no reason why you should, though.

This is where an online international money transfer provider like Xe comes in. We can help you to send money to over 130 countries at competitive exchange rates, so you can save time and money on your international transfers All you need to do is follow these simple steps:

  1. Sign up for your free Xe account, or log in to your existing one.

  2. Select the currencies you’d like to exchange and enter the amount you want to send..

  3. Enter the recipient’s name, address, and bank details (including bank name, account number, bank code, and BIC/SWIFT code).

  4. Pick a payment method out of direct debit, bank transfer, and card payment.

  5. Add your payment info and confirm all the details you’ve entered so far.

So, for transferring money to your country of origin, or to your family in France (if you’re a French expat in another country), international money transfer services like Xe are your best bet when it comes to speed, price, and general ease of use.

To keep your money safe, though, and generally manage your finances, here’s to your new bank account in France!

All currency conversions mentioned are based on the EUR/USD exchange rate as on June 23rd, 2021, at 10:20 AM PT.