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Banking in France

This section discusses various banking topics:

  • Mortgage. Available for French property from both French and English banks 
  • Carte blue. A single bank card that acts as a debit card, a credit card and a cash withdrawal card.  
  • Cheques. Differences between UK and France.  
  • Direct debits and standing orders. Easily set up, and save a lot of time.
  • Bank charges. Choice of bank makes a big difference!

Mortgages

Mortgages for French property can be obtained from a French bank without difficulty (provided one meets the normal requirements, such as sufficient income for the monthly payments). There are also a number of large UK banks (and building societies) that have expanded into France and will provide a mortgage on a French property. The advantage of the latter is that you can do the arrangements in English, which is possible only at some French bank branches.

Click on French Mortgage for help with any of the following topics:

  • Finding a cheap French Mortgage
  • Obtaining Euro mortages, Sterling Pound mortgages or mortgages in other currencies for property in France
  • General advice or assistance on mortgages in France

Carte Blue

When you open a French bank account, you will almost certainly want a carte bleue, which is a bank debit card. You can pay for almost everything with a carte bleue, although small family businesses (e.g. your local baker) do not always accept them or may accept them only for purchases over a minimum amount. The carte bleue has both a debit facility (your bank account is debited more or less immediately when you use it) and a credit card facility (e.g. visa or master charge) which you can use abroad. You can also use the carte blue to withdraw money from cash machines. Some banks charge substantial fees (over 100 euros/year) for their bank cards, so it is wise to compare fees when choosing a bank.

For security reasons, each carte bleue has a PIN (personal identification number) which you will need to type in when you use the card. This means that if your card is lost, in theory it cannot be used by someone else. Of course if the thief has the PIN number as well (e.g. if someone has been foolish enough to write their PIN number on their card) they can use it. Also, if a thief takes the card abroad, he may find some stores that use a signature rather than a PIN as verification. Despite these limitations, the PIN is a useful security device.

Cheques

The format of a French cheque is slightly different than a UK cheque. The parts are:

  • Amount (words). On UK cheques the first item is the name of the person (or organisation) that the cheque is being made out to and the second is the amount. On French cheques this order is normally reversed, so the first field is the amount and the second field is the payee. If you don't know any French, it is useful to put a piece of paper in your cheque book with the French numbers. If you don't have these, feel free to print out the copy at French numbers.
  • Payee. The part of the cheque preceded by "A" (literally "to") is where you put the name of the person to whom the cheque is being paid.
  • Amount (number). Same as in the UK, except that the cheque will normally be in euros. Note that for numbers the meaning of "," and "." is the opposite from the UK. For example, in the UK one would write "10,000.45" for ten thousand euros and forty-five cents whereas in France one would write "10.000,45".
  • Where the cheque was written. In France a cheque has a field "fait à" (literally "done at"). Here you write the name of the town or village you were in when you wrote the cheque. For example, if you are in a store when you write the cheque, you would write down the name of the town that the store is in.
  • Date. As in the UK, you must put the date on the cheque. This field is labelled "le" (literally "the", but short for "the date").
  • Signature. As in the UK, you must sign the date. The place where you sign is labelled "signature".

In France, writing a cheque without sufficient funds in your account is a serious matter. It should not be compared to the UK, where a bouncing cheque merely incurs a small bank fee. In France you can become immediately blacklisted with the Bank of France. If the matter is not sorted out within one month, you can be fined and banned from holding a cheque book for up to 10 years. While these are worst case consequences, they show the seriousness with which overdrawn cheques are considered.

In France it is also illegal (at least technically) to write a post-dated cheque.

Direct Debits and Standing Orders

Direct debits (prélèvement automatique) and standing orders (virements permanent) are easily set up and for regular bills (e.g. phone, water, electricity) are convenient. When setting these up, you may be asked to provide a RIB (relevé d'identité bancaire), which is a form printed with your bank account details (name, account number, etc.). Your cheque book normally includes a RIB which you can detach; alternatively your bank can provide a number of these.

Some bills come with a TIP (titre interbancaire de paiment) attached; you can sign these and return them in the post (normally with a RIB attached) to set up a direct debit.

Bank Charges  

If you are transferring money on between an English bank account and a French bank account on a regular basis, the bank charges can add up to a sizable amount. You can be charged by both your English bank and the French bank for transfers, and if they do not have a relationship then you can also be charged by a third party which moves the money between them. In this case you end up pay three times for a single transfer.

These costs vary greatly from one bank to another, so it is worthwhile looking around to find the best deals. As there are so many banks, the fastest way to find a reasonable deal is to check bank groups that own a bank in the UK and a bank in France. They can generally transfer money without the use of third parties and in some cases have relatively low fees by the banks themselves for money transfers.

If you use a UK bank card in France to make a purchase, or to withdraw money from your UK account using a French cash machine, you can incur substantial charges. These charges take two forms: a flat fee for each time you use the card and the other is a "foreign currency fee". As an example, a number of the major banks would charge £4.25 to withdraw £100 and would charge up to £17.75 to purchase £100 of groceries. Other banks would only charge £0.75 for the same transactions. Consequently, if you will be using a UK bank card in France frequently, you can save a lot of money by using a card from one of the banks with reasonable charges.


 
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