How to open a French bank account as a foreigner?

Gert Svaiko

Planning a move to France from the UK? You’re not alone, as the country is a popular destination for expats from the UK. It’s easy to see why, as France is world-class when it comes to culture and cuisine in particular.

If you’ll be living in France for a decent length of time, you might find it useful to have a local bank account. Read on for a full guide on how to open a French bank account as a foreigner, including what documents you’ll need and info on the top banks in France.

We’ll also show you a smart alternative to a bank account from the money services provider Wise - the Wise account. It lets you manage your money in 40+ currencies in France, the UK and worldwide.

Moving to France and want to take your savings with you? With Wise, you can send secure and trackable large amount transfers to France and 160+ countries worldwide for low fees* and mid-market exchange rates.

Learn more about the Wise account 💰

Table of contents

Do you need a bank account in France?

It’s not a legal requirement to have a local bank account when living in France, so it isn’t absolutely essential to open one after your move.

You may be able to manage without one for a short time, making use of multi-currency solutions such as the Wise account to send, spend and receive money.

But you might find that day-to-day life in France is more difficult and complicated if you don’t have any kind of local or international current account. You’ll find it tricky to get paid, pay your bills, rent or buy property and even sign up for a mobile phone contract.

Can you use your UK bank account in France?

Want to avoid the hassle of opening a new bank account in a foreign country? You might be tempted to keep using your UK account while you’re in France - but is it possible?

Generally speaking, the answer is no - but it all depends on who you bank with.

Major British banks such as Barclays have closed the accounts of Brits living overseas in Europe.¹ It’s related to Brexit, with regulations requiring banks to have separate authorisation in every EEA country they operate in.

There are some exceptions, such as for UK Crown employees and people who are only planning to live abroad for less than 6 months.¹

But not all banks are affected by the change in regulations after Brexit. For example, Spanish-owned international bank Santander says it will continue to service accounts when the holder moves abroad.²

So if you’re an existing customer, you should in theory be able to continue using your account in France.

Santander does have a presence in France, but it mainly offers loans - so you may not be able to access branches, ATMs and banking-related customer support.

Another important thing to bear in mind is the currency. If you’re using a UK bank account, it’ll likely be denominated in GBP. You’ll be spending in EUR while in France, so you could lose out when it comes to currency exchange.

So, it could be a better idea to close down your UK account and get a fresh start when you arrive in France.

📚 Read more: Best debit card to use abroad: Top 6 UK picks

Can you open a bank account in France as a British expat?

Yes, the banking system in France is open to foreigners and expats as long as they’re living in the country.

You should find it reasonably straightforward to open an account as a new arrival from the UK, especially if you choose a bank with a digital application process.

However, bear in mind that customer service staff in branches may not speak English, and many documents may be in French.

Can you open an account as an international student?

Yes, most of the major banks in France offer dedicated student accounts, many of which have reduced or no fees. Some may offer other perks too, such as discounts and additional products.


What documents do you need to open a bank account in France?

To open a bank account in France, you’ll usually need to provide the following

  • Proof of identity
  • Proof of address in France
  • Proof of residency status.

Proof of identity

To verify your identity, you’ll need to provide your passport or another form of acceptable photo ID.

Proof of address in France

A recent utility bill or rental contract should be acceptable to prove that you have a French residential address.

Proof of residency status

As a foreign national, you’ll also need to show proof of your French residence permit and/or visa when applying for your bank account.

Additional documents

Some banks may also ask for any or all of the following:

  • Proof of employment or student status
  • A reference from your employer.

And if your documents aren’t in French, you’ll need to have them translated and the translation certified by a notary with an Apostille stamp

How to open a French bank account as a non-resident?

It may be possible to open a French bank account if you’re not living there, as some banks offer non-resident accounts (known as compte non-resident). These aren’t generally advertised on bank websites, so you’ll need to contact the bank to find out your options and what the process is.⁴

Most other types of bank accounts in France are only available to people who are resident in the country for tax purposes and who have a French postal address.

Can you open a French bank account online as an expat from the UK?

If you’re trying to get a head start on things before you move to France, you might be looking into whether you can open a new account while you’re still in the UK.

Unfortunately, you may find it difficult. This is because most banks require you to provide proof of a French address. If you already have accommodation sorted, you may be able to apply online depending on the bank. Otherwise, you might need to wait until you arrive in France.


Best French bank accounts for expats

Now it’s time to start researching French banks. There are many to choose from, but a good place to start as a newcomer is the country’s biggest banks. These will be used to dealing with expats from all nations.

Let’s run through a few of the options below, along with the accounts they offer.

BNP Paribas

BNP Paribas is one of the biggest banks in France, with over 200 years of experience in the industry.

It offers individual current accounts, as well as a range of savings options.

The bank is also pretty expat-friendly, with an English version of its website available.

Société Générale

Another of France’s oldest and most reputable financial organisations, Société Générale offers a standard range of current accounts.

It also has a variety of accounts for students and young people. So if you’re a student looking to study in France, then this might be a good option for you.

Credit Agricole

Credit Agricole is one of the largest retail banking groups in Europe and serves customers all across the world.

For everyday banking, you can take your pick from the bank’s Essential, Premium and Prestige packages. Plus, the bank offers accounts for 18-30 year olds, including students.

Banque Populaire

Part of the larger Groupe BPCE, one of the largest banking groups in France, Banque Populaire focuses on retail banking, providing a range of products and services to individuals, small businesses and professionals.

The bank has a range of different cards and accounts to fit your specific needs. It also has student accounts and solutions.

Caisse d'Epargne

Another part of Groupe BPCE, Caisse d’Epargne is a reputable banking group offering a range of financial products and services.

Its accounts come in ‘Initial’, ‘Comfort’ and ‘Optimal’ packages, each with a different fee. The bank also has solutions available for students and young people.

Digital banks and money management alternatives worth looking into

A high-street bank isn’t the only way to manage your money in France. You can also look into digital banks and non-bank alternatives.

Here are a few of the most popular in France:

  • BoursoBank- A digital banking solution and subsidiary of Société Générale, it’s known for its user-friendly online platform and competitive interest rates.
  • Hello Bank! - A subsidiary of BNP Paribas, Hello Bank offers a user-friendly, innovative, digital banking solution.
  • N26 - a mobile bank with no physical branches, offering a digital account, app and cards.
  • Revolut - an all-in-one finance app with a debit card and banking services.

You can also check out non-bank alternatives, which don’t have a banking licence but offer services such as accounts, payments and cards.

This includes the money services provider Wise, which has a multi-currency account, international debit card, transfer services and app available to use in France.

📚 Read more: Best online bank accounts in the UK


What are the banking fees and costs in France?

Like in many other countries, bank accounts in France do come with some fees and charges. This includes fees for money transfers, debit cards and monthly maintenance fees.

These vary between banks, but take a look below for a rough idea of what costs to expect.

Transaction/fee typeTypical fee
Opening an accountUsually free
Current account - monthly feeAround €6.90 to €21.10 EUR⁵
ATM cash withdrawalAround €1.20 EUR per withdrawal⁶
Getting a debit cardAround €48 EUR a year⁶
Domestic payments (i.e. within France)Usually free
International payments (i.e. to the UK from France)€9 to €23 EUR depending on destination, speed and payment type⁷
📚 Read more: The best UK banks for sending money abroad

Is there a free French bank account for non-residents?

It is possible to get a French bank account without a monthly fee, especially if you’re a student or only need basic banking services.

But it’s unlikely that these accounts will be available to non-residents. Typically (but not always), non-resident accounts are subject to higher maintenance and other fees.

Wise – An international alternative to a bank account

Need to manage your money in multiple currencies or send transfers back home to the UK? There are alternatives to using a bank, such as Wise.

Open a Wise account and you’ll only pay a small, transparent fee* to send money in 40+ currencies (including EUR and GBP). Better still, you’ll get the mid-market exchange rate for every foreign currency transaction and your transfers are always secured and trackable.

Here are the main benefits for using Wise to send money:

  • Fast and easy setup with no physical paperwork

  • Low, upfront, transparent fees

  • Fully trackable transfers

  • Fast transfer times

  • Two-factor authentication and real-time notifications

  • Dedicated support for large transfers

You can also get a Wise card for a one-time fee of just £7 and use it to spend like a local in France and 150+ countries worldwide. There are no hidden fees*, and you can even connect your Wise card to Google Pay or Apple Pay.

Importantly, you can open a Wise account in advance of your move to France. This means you’re not left without a payment method while you’re waiting for your new bank account to be opened.

Sign up with Wise today 💰

After reading this guide, you should be all set to start researching banks and applying for your new French account. Just make sure you have all your documents ready, including your passport and that all-important proof of address.

For more help settling into your new life, read our guides to retiring, private schools in France and selling property in France.

Sources used:

  1. Barclays - Living outside the UK
  2. Santander - Brexit and Santander
  3. Expatica - Opening a bank account in France
  4. Société Générale - How to open a bank account? Approaches and documents
  5. Banque Populaire - Open a bank account
  6. Société Générale - Tariff information document
  7. Société Générale - Tariffs

Sources last checked on date: 02-Jun-2024

*Please see terms of use and product availability for your region or visit Wise fees and pricing for the most up to date pricing and fee information.

This publication is provided for general information purposes and does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from Wise Payments Limited or its subsidiaries and its affiliates, and it is not intended as a substitute for obtaining advice from a financial advisor or any other professional.

We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether expressed or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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