Law change makes it easier for Americans to open French bank accounts

Opening a French bank account has been challenging for Americans in France for quite some time, but now a legal change will make access (slightly) easier.

Law change makes it easier for Americans to open French bank accounts

A lot of French administrative tasks are tricky or time-consuming for foreigners, but opening a bank account is frequently very difficult – especially for Americans.

The US law known as FATCA obliges all banks that have accounts for US nationals to share information. It was intended to stop money-laundering but for Americans living abroad it has meant that many banks simply don’t want the hassle and refuse accounts to US citizens.

Numerous readers of The Local have reported being repeatedly turned down by French banks, making daily living very difficult.

But a new law that comes into effect on June 13th will make things a little bit easier.

It’s not a perfect solution, however.

The changes to the Droit au compte bancaire (right to a bank account) state that if a person has requested an account from a French bank and not received a reply within 15 days, they can appeal directly to Banque de France.

Banque de France will then designate a bank near to the person’s home address and request them to open an account for the person.

The bank is not obliged to open the account – but it does have to explain why to Banque de France if the account is refused.

The designated bank will be expected to provide the following basic services:

  • opening, maintaining and closing an account;
  • issue of bank identity documents on request;
  • a monthly statement of transactions made to the account;
  • cashing of cheques and bank transfers;
  • deposits and withdrawals of cash at the bank’s counter or at its cash machines;
  • direct debit, interbank payment or bank transfer;
  • means of remote viewing of the account balance;
  • a credit card 

The new process does not cover people who do receive a reply within the designated 15 days – but the reply is a refusal.

Previously those refused a bank account did have the right to appeal to Banque de France, but the process was more complicated and required an attestation de refus d’ouverture de compte (certificate of refusal). Now just evidence of your request is enough.

The law states: “This procedure is open to all persons residing in France or in a Member State of the European Union, to all French citizens resident abroad and also to applicants who are banned from banking.”

Article 58 of the Banking Law of January 24th 1984 states that all French citizens and French residents are entitled to a French bank account. 

However, French banks are not obliged to open an account for you, meaning that many people whose situations are ‘non typical’ such as foreigners in France find themselves repeatedly turned down for an account.

In addition to the Banque de France route, other advice for foreigners is simply to shop around – different banks have different policies on foreigners – or opt for an international account or internet banking account. 

READ ALSO What are the biggest challenges for Americans in France?

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Americans in France: Estate planning, cider and a trick to speed up French admin

From France's apple delicacies to inheritance taxes and estate planning via handy admin shortcuts, here's our latest newsletter for Americans who either live in France, visit frequently or plan to move here some day.

Americans in France: Estate planning, cider and a trick to speed up French admin

Welcome to The Local’s “Americans in France” monthly newsletter for members, featuring all the news and practical information you need as an American resident, visitor or second-home owner in France. You can sign up to receive it directly to your inbox before we publish it online via the link below.

Dear Americans in France,

I hope this newsletter finds you well and enjoying the beginnings of autumn. Here in Paris, the leaves are already starting to fall and the weather is a bit more brisk. In my home growing up, homemade apple cider and apple pie marked the beginning of fall.

Since moving to France, I’ve fallen in love with fresh-baked tarte tatin and drinking my Breton cidre in a bowl, as tradition dictates. (Apologies to those in Normandy, I have to side with Brittany on this regional rivalry).

As this newsletter is intended to answer the specific questions and concerns of Americans in France, we leave active a survey that you can fill out to tell us which stories you would like to see prioritised. You can fill it out here.

Last month, Jeffrey Weihl in the Gard département asked us a question I hear often from Americans, particularly those who are retired: “How do I best do estate planning to protect my US and French assets from taxation?”

Specifically, Wiehl was wondering how to approach a US-based living trust. I spoke with several experts in tax and family law attorneys based in both France and the United States to figure out what Americans in France need to know about trusts.

The brief answer, according to US-based attorney, G. Warren Whitaker, is that “trusts have a negative reputation in France.” As such, they can lead to burdensome reporting requirements and high rates of taxation once distributed. Whitaker did have some advice for how to go about reporting and what to do if you have a trust set up in the US.

On a general level, estate planning for Americans residing in France can be more complicated than you might expect. Many people conflate inheritance law with inheritance tax, and this can lead to unfortunate surprises down the line.

As for other helpful tips for Americans in France, Mary Sankey, who lives in the Herault département, gave us some helpful advice for those who have just moved or are looking to move: “Begin the “dossier preparation” as early as possible, preferably before you even arrive in France. Get a French bank account as soon as possible. Assume EVERYTHING will take way longer than you expect – be patient.” 

Americans are often surprised by how slowly administrative processes can go in France, but I am happy to let you in on one of France’s best-kept secrets: the ‘attestation’. This document helped me out a lot when I was setting up a bank account and did not have a permanent address yet, and it might be handy for you as well.

As always, feel free to get in touch or leave a comment. You can reach me at [email protected]