Monday, February 21, 2011

Managing your French bank account

Buyers of French property, whether a second home or for permanent living, need to open a French bank account as soon as possible, preferably before completing the purchase transaction. Normally up to four weeks are needed between your initial application of the bank of your choice and the arrival of your cheque book and debit/credit cards. These are essential to enable you to pay for local purchases and to settle the bills that will almost immediately arrive from utitilites (water, gas, electricity etc) as the accounts are transfered from the vendor into the name of the new owner.

Th French government has recently turned its attention towards the operation of its High Street banks, and introduced a number of reforms in response to complaints by consumers and lobbying by magazines such as Que Choisir?, a sort of French version of Which?. French banks are now required to publish clear and up-to-date information about their basic services, including tariffs and charges. Since November 2009 they are also obliged to help customers in the process of transfering their account to another bank, without charge and within 10 days of asking. The new bank should open an account within 5 days of the transfer.

In line with a European directive of 11 March 2009 - in response to the world banking crisis - the French government now guarantees all banks accounts up to a level of 100,000 euros (decree of 1 October 2010) per account, per branch. The timescale for reimbursing the client, in the case of bank failure, has been reduced from two months to just 20 days. Banks have also been obliged to guarantee greater security in the use of debit and credit cards, an important measure in view of the proposed phasing-out of cheques.

Note that cheques are still widely used in France, as cash payments are forbidden above certain levels, and it is an offense to write a cheque without adequate provision. If you overdraw on your account without authorisation, you will be penalised by the bank and possibly obliged to close your account.

Choosing your bank can be tricky and it is best to sound out friends and acquaintances about their personal experiences, as the efficiency of local branch staff can vary widely. Online banking is routinely available, provided you are satisfied with the level of internet security, although online payments currently represent over half of all banking fraud for just 7% of transactions!

Source - Maison Magazine January/February 2011