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The best banks for Americans living in France

Many foreigners in France - particularly pensioners - need to keep a bank account in their home country, but not all banks will offer accounts to people living abroad.

The best banks for Americans living in France
A photo taken on February 5, 2013 in Marseille shows credit cards. French police has arrested, early this morning in Paris and in several French and overseas departments, 22 people in connection with the trade of credit cards numbers on internet. AFP PHOTO / ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT (Photo by ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT / AFP)

Most people who move to France get a French bank account – but many also maintain accounts with banks in their home countries to receive income in the form of pensions, property rentals, salary, or to hold savings and pay bills.

Americans can have problems opening a French account because of the Fatca legislation – here’s what you can do if you are having issues with French banks. 

But having a US bank account can be vital too, especially for pensioners, as some pension providers will not pay into a bank account in another country.

Others just prefer the convenience of having a US bank account and debit card to use on visits home in order to avoid extra transaction fees.

Here are the options.

International accounts

Many banks offer ‘international accounts’ aimed at those who have moved to other countries.

The major drawback is the cost; many accounts have a minimum deposit level or stipulate a minimum annual income, so they may not be suitable for pensioners, people on a low income, or those who just want to use their account for a few basic functions while keeping most of their income/assets in their French account.

Most expat/international accounts also charge a monthly fee and some charge transfer fees on top of that. 

They’re really aimed at ‘high net worth’ customers (ie rich) so they’re often not suitable for people who have lower means or have retired to France.

Internet banks 

The last few years has seen a proliferation of new internet banks, which offer online-only services and operate across Europe.

The advantage of these is that you can sign up with a French address and then carry out transactions in another country.

Many people use internet bank accounts – Wise (formerly the money-transfer service Transferwise, now set up as a bank), Revolut or Starling are notable examples – when they first move to France before they set up French accounts.

Internet banks can offer a long-term solution for people who struggle to open a French account, but the further advantage of these is that customers can set up accounts in different currencies and depending on the bank and its licencing you may also be account to get an account number and IBAN for your home country as well as a European IBAN.

It means you can use the account for business back home, but also transfer money quickly and easily to/from France. It might give a better deal on exchange rates than receiving a pension in dollars and then spending in euros in France.

The disadvantage for some people is their lack of a physical presence so in case of a question or a problem contact can only be made by phone or – more usually – via email or chatbot. Many internet banks also do not issue cheque books or accept queues, which can be a problem for some customers.

READ ALSO The best UK banks for Brits in France

There’s a tendency to assume that internet-only banks are less secure, which isn’t necessarily the case, but if there are problems it can be harder to get redress. 

French banks

Most people living in France already have a French account for daily life, but can you use this for all your financial affairs?

It depends on your situation. Pension providers may only pay into a home account, while if you still have financial liabilities in another country, such as a mortgage, you may need to keep an account in that country. 

Keeping a home address

Many non-EU residents in France get around the problem by using a ‘care of’ address back home in order to retain their bank account – usually either the address of a property that they own or the home of a relative.

Whether this is allowed is a bit of a grey area. Opening a new account may be difficult, but existing accounts may be kept open. Some banks – especially British ones – seem to be keen on checking whether their customers are permanent residents while US banks don’t seem to care as much.

Basically you can’t lie to your bank if they ask you outright where your full-time residence or tax residence is, but not all banks ask this. 

Member comments

  1. I enjoy the site immensely but I have to say this is one of the few useless articles I’ve ever seen here. The headline STRONGLY suggests that a few honest-to-god banks will be mentioned by name. In terms of why an American might need a French bank, I don’t think on-line is worth much (though my Wise account is invaluable for US-Euro transfers between US-French banks. I’m just surprised, I guess, that BNP-Paribus would not have been called out for Americans. Granted they have only one branch, in Paris, that does this (to my knowledge but they were a life saver for me, since my condo fees, Bouyges, and electric bills (as well as my cleaning service) absolutely require an ISBN from a French bank. BNP-Paribus was the only one I found (in 2021) that would oblige.

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