This is the first of a series of articles about general stuff that I wish I’d known when I first moved to France. This week - Banks.
You will need to open a bank account, and this will involve a ton of paperwork, because this is France. They will ask for proof of ID (with photo), proof of address (recent utility bill, rent statement), proof of funding (previous bank statements, wage slips or tax return if self-employed). These are just the basics and different banks have different requirements so keep your 10-metre swimming diploma and ‘O’ level certificates to hand, just in case! They will often ask more detailed questions about your other savings accounts and how much you think you will spend each year or, in the case of a business account, how much you think you will earn. Feel free to ‘guesstimate’ as it just seems important that they have something to fill in the boxes.
If you are opening a joint account be sure you know how you want the account to operate. If the account is in the name of M. et Madame Clooney it means that both account holders have to sign cheques or other documents; but if it is M. ou Madame Clooney, only one of their signatures is required so Mrs Clooney could clean out the account!
There is no such thing as ‘free’ banking in France and charges can vary wildly and for all sorts of different things, whether it is for the cheque book, debit card, internet transactions, standing orders, and/or the little gadget they give you for internet banking that you stick your card in to receive a confirmation code. Check around but you are highly unlikely to pay less than 100€ per year.
Once you have your shiny new debit card, do not be tempted to rush out and spend all your money at once - there is a limit to the amount that you can spend each month, even if you have the funds available in your account. You can draw cash out of the ATM or pay by cheque, but can only use your debit card up to a certain limit. I have no idea why.
DO NOT, under any circumstances, spend more than you have in your account. Bouncing cheques is not just ‘frowned upon’ but is a criminal offence and you can be black-listed from banking for 5 years. In reality the bank will most likely honour the cheque but charge you an arm and a leg in interest and fines.
Talking of body parts you will often be asked for a RIB when setting up direct debits or arranging transfers to your account. This stands for Rélévè d’Identité Bancaire and is a slip of paper which gives the coordinates of your bank account and branch details. It’s a good idea to carry a copy of your RIB in your wallet as you never know when you will feel the urge to open a mobile phone account. You will usually find this slip tucked away at the back of your cheque book, or you can print one out at the ATM, or if you are clever enough to negotiate Internet Banking you can download copies from your client account page.
PS. I have no idea why the man withdrawing money from the ATM is wearing a dressing-gown - this is not obligatory.
PPS. To open an account with a utility company you will need a bank account, and to open a bank account you will need to show proof of your account with a utility company. Welcome to France!