They told me it would be nearly impossible. They told me it would require herculean efforts and a large stroke of luck to get a French bank account as an American in Paris.
In reality, it wasn’t too difficult. Then again, I expected the worst, so maybe that’s why it didn’t seem so bad after all.
Today I am going to share my experience opening a French bank account as an American in Paris since many people seem to get flustered by this process.
I decided to open a bank account wherever someone would take me to get it done as quickly as possible. I did a bit of research beforehand to familiarize myself with the different types of accounts.
Types of French Banks
Bank accounts must be paid for here in France, which I wasn’t too happy about. You may see ads for low-cost online bank accounts like Boursourama but these are typically off-limits to foreigners. You usually need to have a traditional bank first before you can open an account with an online low-cost bank.
You could go with an international online bank like N26, Revolut or Transferwise Borderless, but these will only get you so far as many French companies require a French RIB to make transactions and go about your daily life.
RIB stands for relevé d’identité bancaire and it’s the French way of communicating someone’s bank account details to send and receive money.
You need a traditional French bank account with physical branches to get by in France so that’s what I set out to do.
I started by making a trip to the local banks around my neighborhood. I walked in and asked them if it was possible to open a bank account as a non-French citizen.
I learned that the majority of banks in Paris accept foreigners at one specific branch so that’s where you’ll have to go. It may be on the Champs Elysées or elsewhere.
I happened to go with Société Générale for my bank account because the branch that accepted foreigners was not far from my home in Saint-Germain-des-Près and they recently launched a low-cost bank account for just 2 euros per month.
I walked into the SocGen branch nearest me and asked to open an account saying I was a foreigner with a long-stay visitor visa. The bank teller told me to visit the branch on Rue Bonaparte so that’s exactly what I did one Friday morning.
64 rue Bonaparte
This Société Générale branch is centrally located in a nice area of the left bank.
The Rue Bonaparte branch manager gave me a card with his email and asked me to email him two documents: a recent proof of address (justificatif domicile) and a scan of my Passport.
I promptly emailed him my Quittance de Loyer and passport scan. I believe he originally wanted me to print these out, but when I told him I didn’t have a printer, he said that email would be fine and the branch could print them for me.
He also gave me an appointment for the very next day at 10 am to open my account.
On May 30, I attended my appointment with another banker. The appointment was uneventful and I had to sit there for around one hour as the banker entered my information, verified the type of account I wanted to open (Kapsul) and had me sign some documents. We got stuck at the part which asked me to declare my fiscal residency. We ended up going with declaring me a US fiscal resident.
Waiting for the Account to Open
When the meeting was over, it was time to wait for the account to open. I received a letter in the mail very shortly after my appointment asking me to fill out a W9 form. That was easy enough and I sent the form back on June 12.
On June 16, I received a text message saying my new debit card had been sent by mail. I guess that was the confirmation I needed that my French bank account had been successfully opened!
The next day, June 17, I received the actual card in the mail. The following day I got my online PIN code sent to my mailbox (6 digits). This code is used to log into the app and the website portal. The following day I received a kind welcome letter from the bank branch. I had to wait a few more days before I got the 4-digit PIN code that would allow me to deposit, withdraw and make purchases using my new French debit card.
Once I did, I made a deposit right away and began using my new French bank account!
That’s how I was able to open a French bank account in Paris as an American citizen. Even if FATCA presented new regulatory problems for foreign banks, it seems like the French ones have gotten them sorted out and allow Americans to open accounts easily once again!