Bonjour, tout le monde!
Perhaps you’re finally in France and have settled into your flat (if not, you can find out in this post). You’re still getting adjusted to the environment, possibly the time difference (especially if you’re coming from overseas), but at the same time, you know that you still have a lot of other details to take care of before you can consider yourself completely settled in France.
Now that you’ve gotten the hardest part out of the way, i.e. housing, the next step is to open your French bank account. Under your assistant(e)/lecteur/lectrice contract, the only way you’ll get paid is by having a bank account in France. It might seem daunting at first, but if you know which documents you need to bring (and then some), it’ll make your experience at the bank less stressful.
During my first year as an assistante, I opened a bank account in the small town I was teaching in, but closed it when I left after my contract ended. In hindsight, it wasn’t the best decision, considering that I would be returning for a second year a few months later and it would’ve been better just to keep it open and save the hassle of opening a new one. But at the same time, I didn’t know if I would be able to return the following year, so choosing to close my account was, in that moment, the right thing to do. No regrets!
That said, I’ll have to open up a bank account again when I return to France this academic year, so this post will not only be a guide for assistant(e)s/lecteurs/lectrices, but also for me to refresh myself on what to expect (again) from the bank. Allons-y!
1. Pick a bank. Just like in the U.S. with big banks such as Chase and Bank of America, there are also big ones specific to France. From Crédit Mutuel to HSBC, the options seem limitless, not to forget intimidating. However, the popular ones that many assistant(e)s, lecteurs and lectrices choose to open their bank accounts in are BNP Paribas, Caisse d’Epargne, Crédit Agricole, or Société Générale. It really doesn’t matter which one you choose from: you’ll most likely get similar benefits as others and in the end, it’s just a way for you to get paid.
During my first year as an assistante, I chose to go with BNP Paribas. While there were other banks in my small town (Crédit Agricole, Société Générale), I went with BNP because it was an international partner with Bank of America, which I have back in the States. The benefit to going with an international partner is that you can withdraw money from an ATM that is under a “global alliance,” without incurring an international ATM access fee (although foreign exchange fees still might apply).
*TL;DR* In recent years, however, Bank America and other global alliance partners have started to charge a 3% foreign transaction fee, which makes the “global alliance” aspect null, in a way (you can find the article on it here). So it’s not much of a benefit anymore, but regardless, I had a pleasant experience with BNP last year, and will probably get it again this year.
2. Schedule an appointment. Once you’ve decided on your bank, it’s time to make an appointment to open your account. Personally, it’s best to go in person to the bank to schedule it, so you know for certain that you’ll be expecting it later (you can also call, but things might get messed up or lost on the line, so it’s better to be safe than sorry). Try to make the appointment for the following day or the next business day; if the bank keeps you waiting for a week or more, then it’s not worth it and go find another bank to open up your account; it’s important that you get it opened as soon as possible for your first paycheck to come through.
For me, I actually just walked into the BNP Paribas in my small town and had an appointment right then and there (granted, it was a small town, so it wasn’t overwhelmed with customers or anything). I had brought all that I needed at the moment with me, so I could open up an account that same day!
3. Gather your documents. The specifics of what each bank wants for you to have will vary, but generally speaking, the two essential items that pretty much every bank wants are 1) a copy of your work contract, or arrêté de nomination and 2) a copy of your lease. Banks want to make sure that you have the funds to open an account, as well as enough money to put into it, so it’s important to show them that you have those documents so as to not waste both of your time. Those were the only two things I was asked of, which made the experience not very overwhelming.
*However* I did run into a small problem when setting up my bank account, because I didn’t have my housing documents with me (considering that I hadn’t moved into my flat yet)! Definitely put a slight wrench on things, but my banker was super nice to call up the school that I would be staying in to inquire about the lease and said that it was okay for me to give it to her later. Until then, we could still complete the opening-the-bank-account process, which was good!
4. Inquire about “under-26” discounts. Like with many banks all over the world, there are monthly fees to keeping your account open. However, some banks might not require you to pay them, or at least at a discounted fee, if you’re under 26 years of age. I am less than 26 years old, and I believe that BNP had this feature in which I didn’t need to pay the monthly fee, although I don’t quite remember. Either I did or didn’t, but in any case, it doesn’t hurt to ask!
5. Ask for copies of your RIB. Short for “relevé d’identité bancaire,” the RIB (pronounced “reeb”) is a document which contains your routing number. The bank only gives you a single sheet of this, but don’t hesitate to ask for another copy or two, as you’ll be needing this for a variety of things, including when you get a cellphone/Internet box plan and for stage training (more on that later) when you’ll probably be asked for it to be processed for ensuring your monthly paycheck goes through; after all, you won’t want to be working with no pay!
6. Receive your credit/debit card. Well, this isn’t something you can do yourself, but expect it when it comes! After opening up your bank account and applying for a credit/debit card, you can have the card either mailed to you or picked up at your town’s branch.
As I had written above, I had some problems getting my housing paperwork to the bank in order to get my credit/debit card. It got a bit complicated, as my banker had told me that I hadn’t given her the “official one” or something (don’t quite remember) and so that delayed the time I was to receive my card in the mail. I don’t think I got it until three weeks after I had opened my bank account, which definitely stressed me out, but it all eventually worked out.
I had also opted to get a checkbook, in case I needed to send money and whatnot. Never used it, but it didn’t cost anything, and could be useful to have!
- Choose a bank that is in your town. Might sound commonsense, but it’s important to have easy access to it, especially near your home or school, so that if you have any problems, you can go in easily to discuss it with your banker.
- If you feel uncomfortable opening up a French bank account on your own, i.e. your French isn’t top, then consider going in with your prof référant or a French friend who can help you ask questions and get details about the bank. I went with my dad (who actually doesn’t know French) during my first year as an assistante, and even having him helped me understand bank logistics. For once, it’s okay to set aside your pride in order to get your bank open.
- Expect to set aside a good amount of time in the day to have your appointment. Opening a bank account can take anywhere from 90 minutes to 2 hours, so make this your priority for the day.
- If you aren’t liking the bank, the banker, or how the appointment is going, then you’re not obliged to go through with it! Fortunately, my bank experiences were pleasant, but I’ve heard of other assistant(e)s who had terrible ones when opening up an account, which was often due to bad customer service. You don’t have to deal with that crap, so save yourself the trouble and find another *nicer* bank to open with.
- …and of course show up on time! Even if the bankers are running late with the appointment (usually the case in France), they still want you to be there on time. Also, you’ll be able to get in and out of the appointment sooner than later.
I hope that I covered most of the things about opening a French bank account. Again, another great resource to find out more about banking in France is through Dana’s post here, which goes into more depth about what other documents you might need and whatnot.
Have any questions or anything to add to this list? Let me know!
À plus tard.