Opening a Bank Account in France
One of the first things we needed upon arrival was a bank account. A friend who had lived here for a few years gave us a tip "you should open a bank account with an international bank before moving here." Based on her experience, I learned that it would be a bit of a nightmare to open a French bank account (at least according to what we as American's are used to). Without a bank account, her mom was wiring her money for all the big, first month expenses.
Using your American bank account might seem easier, but with all of our upcoming expenses - rent, deposits, agency fees and more - the 2% international transaction fee would most certainly add up. Not to mention, there are all sorts of things that require a French bank account - i.e. a cell phone contract.
We heeded her advice and just before we left California, we opened up an HSBC account in the US.
Side note: I worked on HSBC North America at my last ad agency, so it was a little ironic to be opening up a bank account with them. Because I knew about their product offering, I walked in knowing exactly what we wanted - joint checking account with Advance, and yes, credit cards, please.
Since this post includes lots of information, I split it up into three parts - HSBC, the US and France.
HSBC offers multiple tiers of banking, ranging from free (often for students) to private banking (those with ultra high net worth). Two of their more accessible mid-tiers - Advance & Premier - have global benefits. Since Premier requires a much higher minimum balance ($200,000), we opted for Advance. The global benefits that we were interested in included free global transfers and Global View.
Global transfers meant we could just move our money immediately from our US account to our French account for FREE, No wiring money or depositing cash for us. Global View connects all of your accounts and shows them to you on one screen. It also gives you the option to do important things, like transfer money from one country to another.
I worked on a lot of the brochures for Premier and it was interesting to see them translated in French:
We opened our bank account in Santa Monica, just a few months after we were married. I was still going through the name change process, but we had to submit multiple forms of ID that said our current names. My "documents" were not cooperating. My driver's license was delayed for almost three months because of a silly mistake at the California DMV. And because we had just submitted our passports to the French Consulate for our visas, I didn't have that either. Luckily, I had a copy of my passport that could be used to finalize everything.
Our relationship manager there, Jessica, was helpful. She helped us set up our accounts and ended up connecting us to our relationship manager here in France. We chose HSBC because they are international. We were hopeful that since our info had already be processed by one part of the company, then it would be fairly seemless once we arrived in France...
We set up an appointment at the local branch less than a week after we arrived. We were informed that we needed to gather a few documents pre-meeting (this was our first encounter with French paperwork).
- Our passports
- Proof of address in France (we needed a letter from the place we were temporarily staying)
- Tax information (could come from US pay stubs or last year's tax return)
- Steve's work contract - we brought this in to show that we were planning to be here for a few years. It proved to them that money would consistently be coming into the account.
- Our officially translated birth certificates and marriage certificate
Steve brought all of our paperwork in one day, ready to open our account. Our relationship manager took all the paperwork, but told Steve that we'd need to wait for US approval. We didn't know this at the time, but the US has very strict rules for citizens opening any type of account abroad.
About one week later, we had our home country's approval and we headed back in on a Saturday to open our account. We also made sure to get an "ou" account, not an "et." This basically means that when it comes to signing checks, only one signature has to be on there, not both.
We thought we were finally in the home stretch, but not quite. Our balance was 0€ and needed to make a transfer from our US account to our French one. We couldn't do that without being able to login to online banking and sign up for Global View.
This was the most frustrating part of the process: HSBC has a VERY complicated structure for logging into your online banking account, especially for the first time. You need to get two separate pieces of mail (for security purposes), one with your user name, the other for a secret code. Then you must download the app and have it generate a special security code, twice. We waited almost two and a half weeks to get all of our mail. And it takes almost an hour to get through all those codes, questions and passwords. And for every login after your first one, you need to include your memorable answer, three randomized digits/letters of your password and generate a security code. Every. Single. Time.
We were finally, the money was transferred, and we had to go into the bank and retrieve our bank cards and checks. Je voudrais récupérer mes cartes et mes cheques, s'il vous plaît.
Long story, short. We have a French bank account. It has money in it. We can buy things in Paris.
Things I learned:
- It costs 10€ per month for us to have two debits cards for our account.
- Writing checks here is like solving a mystery. You have to decipher what every "á" and "le" means.
- Your RIB is your bank information that you will need to provide for essentially every contract you have (lease, cell phone, etc.). But providing that information doesn't enable others to take money out of your account. We were a little worried about that at first.
- It helps to be prepared with all the documents they require and then some.
- You must write "lu et approuvé" above your signature when signing important documents.
Anyone have any stories or words of advice about opening a bank account in a foreign country? I'd love to hear about your experiences.
Vocab for today:
- Carte Bleue - a synonym for a credit card; if "CB" is posted up in shops, you know you can pay with your card, similar to how they show Visa or MasterCard
- le compte - account
- la cheque - check
- en ligne - online (as in online banking)