Buying a house in France: part 20: french banking practices

French banking practices are very different from those in the UK in several key areas and it’s those differences that we’ll concentrate on here.

Conseilleurs

In the UK, a bank advisor is there to do things like advise you what to invest your money in and to sell you insurance but in France Conseilleurs don’t do anything as complex as that and are required to do really simple stuff like changing a direct debit or opening a savings account. This wouldn’t be so bad but you always need to make an appointment to see “your” advisor because, for reasons which escape me, the others that may be there on the day you go in can’t do that kind of simple task for you. Of course, this approach means that each advisor is clogged up with work at the trivial end of the scale. If you want to open a savings account in the UK, you fill in a form, hand in ID and cash and the cashier opens it there and then. Here it can take several weeks to open even the simplest account. So, ’tis best to develop a relationship with your advisor here as you’ll be making untold numbers of appointments to see them.In the UK, a bank advisor is there to do things like advise you what to invest your money in and to sell you insurance but in France Conseilleurs don’t do anything as complex as that and are required to do really simple stuff like changing a direct debit or opening a savings account. This wouldn’t be so bad but you always need to make an appointment to see “your” advisor because, for reasons which escape me, the others that may be there on the day you go in can’t do that kind of simple task for you. Of course, this approach means that each advisor is clogged up with work at the trivial end of the scale. If you want to open a savings account in the UK, you fill in a form, hand in ID and cash and the cashier opens it there and then. Here it can take several weeks to open even the simplest account. So, ’tis best to develop a relationship with your advisor here as you’ll be making untold numbers of appointments to see them.

Overdrafts in the UK are “permanent” in that there is no problem in running an account that is constantly in the red. In France, you can only be overdrawn for 10 days per month and for the rest of the month the account must be in credit. That said, you can get a permanent overdraft facility from some of the proper banks. They all seem to implement this by giving you a credit card which is linked to your current account; when you are overdrawn outside the 10 day limit an automatic cash advance from this card takes you back into credit. French banks don’t charge cash advance fees so in practical terms this gives you something that works very like a UK overdraft.

Debit cards come in two basic varieties: immediate debit or deferred debit. Immediate debit operates just like a UK debit card ie purchases are charged to your account right away. With deferred debit, your purchases are charged to your account at the end of the month. In both cases there is a spending limit of around EUR 3000 per month and a withdrawal limit of EUR 300 per week.

Credit cards are quite rare in France at the moment but operate much the same as in the UK with the exceptions that there is no cash advance fee and they charge per transaction for all international purchases. Interest rates are generally higher than in the UK too. The other difference is that the amount you repay per month isn’t a set percentage but goes in bands eg EUR 15 or EUR 30 per month.

Store cards are available but usually require proof of your French income so can’t be obtained until a year or two after you get here. The one exception that we’ve found is Auchan which offers you it’s store card about a year after you sign up for it’s loyalty card and doesn’t require anything beyond a passport.

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