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You need a French bank account as an American Expat

You need a French bank account as an American Expat

How to open a French bank account as an American? Is a French Bank Account As An American Expat Worthless? These were the questions lingering in my head as I pondered my options. Trust me when I say, “You need a French bank account as an American Expat.” Now, to get a French Bank Account as an American can be tricky. The looming anxiety of endless bureaucratic French paperwork can put even the strongest willed people to rest. I heard Americans and other Expats’ horror stories alike turning in the towel after the third failed attempt. I was determined to not be another lost statistic. Keep reading to find out how you, too, can succeed in securing your French bank and the coveted Carte Bleu (CB = Debit Card).

Why Americans In France Need a bank account today?

Why Americans In France Need a bank account today?

I said it once, and I’ll repeat it, “You Need a French Bank Account as an American Expat.” No French bank account equals endless headaches down the road. Want to rent an apartment, have a French phone number, or get a paying job? Well, all those items require a FRENCH bank account.

When I first arrived in France, I thought I could continue to use my American checking account until I officially got a job. Well, the French bureaucracy quickly bopped me in the face. I wish it was something I could have set up from New York before moving, but that would have been near impossible. You see, to open a French bank account, you need an entire list of goodies. We’ll get into that list in a moment.

The critical takeaway here is if you plan on moving to France or just staying for more than 6 months, you’ll need this coveted French bank account as an American citizen.

You Need a French Bank Account as an American Expat


The harsh reality of French banking as a US Citizen

I think we all went through a moment of excitement when we first arrived in France. You’ve made a move, eaten a fresh baguette, and are now on the hunt for a nice bottle of red French wine. But alas, reality has struck you in the noggin.

The harsh realities of living in France as an American Expat quickly came into view. In my mind, all I want to do is get a french bank account as an American. I worked in banking throughout my college years and never imagined it being a big thing to do. Perhaps the little bird forgot about her good friend, the IRS.

FACTA? How it Affects Americans wanting to open A French Account

Bum bum bummmm! FACTA! Meaning Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act and was created by, you guessed it, the IRS. Long story short, it means you need to report your income to Uncle Sam for tax purposes. Which OK, I understand. America wants its money regardless of whether or not you still live there. Luckily, if your assets don’t exceed $50K, you can avoid the headache of a Form 8938.

With all the different forms and compliance protocols required for an American citizen to get a French Bank account, it’s no wonder some French banks don’t allow American Expats to open accounts with them. But that doesn’t change the facts! You need a French Bank account as an American Expat.

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What The French Toast?! 

I know. It’s annoying as all hell. Been there… done that. However, the bright light is around the corner. Don’t let the FACTA deter you. To be honest, I filled out my little tax form very quickly. The same way I fill out my W-9 or I-9 tax documents.

Deep breaths… it’s on to the fun part. How to open a French bank account as an American.

How to open a French bank account as an American


How to open a French bank account as an American
for the first time?

It can seem so daunting to have to open up an official account in a foreign country. You may not know the language, and even if you do, you’re scared of not understanding or not being understood.  There’s also the struggle of knowing which bank to use.

List of documents needed to open a French bank account for an American citizen

Peep, so here’s the skinny… this is the legit list my banker gave me at my first appointment, BUT I ended up having to go back for “follow-up” appointments..

I guess they enjoyed seeing my pretty face or, more likely, seeing Jeanne’s. In all seriousness, though, I indicated with (**) which items you should bring to make the process quicker. They may not ask for it at first but provide it to make sure the backend of the bank will process your information quicker and thus give you your CB “carte bleu,” aka debit card.

Required Items need to open a French bank account as an American citizen.

  • Required: T-40 Recent USA Tax Statements
    • To be safe, bring your two most recent taxes. Printed… the French love their paper 😅
  • Required: “Justification Domicile” basically your  Proof of address of your USA home and French home.
    • Pain in my tushy!! Okay we had just secured our French Apartment ( which I’ll tell you all about in another blog post) HOWEVER they wanted my proof of address from my old home in the United States. Like What The Actual French Toast.
    • I didn’t have my old electric or gas bills because all my bills came paperless. When I tried to print off my old invoices, it was a whole problem. I was “no longer a customer” and therefore couldn’t access the portal to get the documents. I called the companies, but they were of no help. The little bird had to use an old Sprint mobile bill and my old NYC lease. I also submitted my French lease, French gas, and insurance bill. ** I tried to submit just my French info, and they WERE NOT HAVING IT** You really need to submit your USA documents as well unless you’re instructed otherwise.
  • Required: Numero Securite Sociale de l’USA (Your United States Social Security Number)
    • I think this is pretty obvious…
  • Required: Passeport  (US Passport)
    • Bring your official passport, and don’t mess about with other forms of ID
  • Required: Livret de Famille (‘French’ Family Book)
    • If you’re not married to a French citizen, then you won’t have this document. If you only got married in the States or elsewhere and never registered your marriage in France… chances are you won’t have this either. BUT don’t worry. Talk with your banker! A PAC agreement or an “Intent to Marry” should be okay as well. 

Optional Items need to open a French bank account as an American citizen

  • *** Optional Residence Permit (they didn’t tell me I need this at the first appointment, but … later on, I required to bring my French husband’s national ID
    • I didn’t have mine when I tried to open my French bank account as an American, but I got documents that prove I have my Carte de Séjour ( Visa) appointment.
    • At my secondary appointment, I brought my husband’s French nationality card with me so they could have it noted on my account 
  • ** Optional Proof of income  (they didn’t tell me I need this, but… later on I needed to bring it… the audacity. JK 🙂
    • OK, so… I didn’t have a job. I’m a stay at home mom, so I had no French paystubs to provide. Instead, I had to come back for a later appointment with a letter from my French husband that stated “his name, date of birth, domicile( address) and that his wife born on XX will fund her account by looking for a job…”
    • In the end, my husband funded my account to get it started… if you plan on doing something similar, be prepared to have your Mr. or Ms. French write a note promising that you will find work. 
  • **Bank statements from the USA??? 
    • Perhaps my bank was more lenient, but I didn’t submit my USA bank statements 

Patience & Willingness to speak French 🙂

Don’t trust someone who tells you it’s OK to speak English while attempting to open a French bank account.


Honey, do I have a story about that ( Greek friend, an EU citizen) was denied because they told her she shouldn’t understand the documents or the personal banker. Says she was with her French boo, and it made no difference. Soooo speak French OK 👌🏾 even just a Bonjour, Oui, Merci Beaucoup.. you know. 😇

Credit Agricole Account Opening for non EU citizen
Jeanne and I at CA for what feels like the millionth time

French bank appointment experience

I wish I could say I went to the bank and walked out with my account and debit card all in one day. That would have been ideal, but that’s not the reality of French banking. Or the existence of France in general.

My husband, a Frenchman from Montpellier, came with baby Jeanne and me to open my account, but we ended up leaving with a list of information. Keep in mind I already knew this information and came with my paperwork in hand. I worked in the banking world for many years, so this was not my first rodeo with international accounts. This little bird usually was the banker opening the account… not the one needing one.

Don’t be surprised if you need a ‘special banker’ who can accommodate opening a French bank account for you. They may say, “we need someone who can speak English,” or they may say, “We need a senior banker to open this, etc.”

Be flexible and don’t push to have everything the “American Way.” You may wind up with no account at all.

Second bank appointment at Credit Agricole

After we left with the information we needed from Credit Agricole, I had to come back the following week without Yannick since he had to work. This meant putting on my big girl pants to set up the account.

I’m an organized type of gal, so I brought a folder with my labeled documents. I think my banker thought I was crazy until I told him I use to be a banker. We quickly got to talking about the difference in the banking world between America and France. Did I mention this entire convo took place in French! I had to come to this “secondary appointment” to have an English speaking banker, but we spoke in french from start to finish.

Now… did we use the “Vous” tense. NOPE because my formal french is MERP. My banker was super cool and appreciated the TU form. He just wanted to relax a bit, and this actually played in my favor.

After he went through all my documents, he set up my account and told me I need to make another appointment for my “carte bleu,” aka debit card.

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Carte Bleue for checking account abroad
Carte Bleue as American Citizen for French Bank Account

Finally, getting the Carte Bleu “CB,” French Debit Card

LORD. OK.

So now it’s my third time at Credit Agricole. I gave all my papers, and now it was time to get my CB (Carte Bleu). Now it was time to celebrate. I could now enter the store and use my CB instead of cash, which the vendors seem to appreciate.

I got a temporary card, which was OK, and came back the following week for the 4th appointment to get the physical card. It worked for the first two times and then stopped working. I was instructed to give my French husband’s ID and a handwritten note from him that said, “I am looking for work.” Apparently, the bank needed this to unlock my French CB.

After the 4th appointment, I felt like I could have worked there. It was becoming the running joke of seeing The Little Bird in the bank. There’s one thing that secretly helped me get this account without much of my French husband’s help.

Secret to opening French Bank Account

Take notes. This is honestly the best way to secure your French Bank Account as an American citizen.

Repeat after me:

I will speak FRENCH when opening a French bank account as an American citizen.

OK.

If you have a French partner who can be there with you to open the account, cool. If you have an accountant or paid a consultant, also cool.

Perhaps you’re living in Paris, and not the real France. Speak French with French bankers. I said what I said.

I live in a small town in France, and it’s touristic, but that doesn’t mean you’re entitled to speak English for official business matters.

When you’re opening an account as an American, many French banks don’t want to deal with the hassle. The best way around this is to open the account where your French partner has there. Otherwise, where a French friend, colleague, has there’s. Use your “Bonjour & Merci.” Express your needs as best as possible in French.

Imagine being a banker and someone from abroad comes in demanding XYZ, and they don’t even bother speaking the language. NO one is going to go out of their way to help you.

You can get your French bank account as a non-EU/ non-French Citizen

Just know you CAN get your account if you come prepared with the proper papers: the appropriate mindset and the right language tools.

I personally recommend using Credit Agricole because they are all over France and very friendly.

Coming from an Ex-Banker:

Be Kind

Be Patient

Speak French

& If in doubt, hit up the little bird for help!

Comment below on how your experience went or if you need help setting up your account.

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