Archive for the ‘Moving to France’ Category

Buying a house in france: part 18: banking & finance: French banks

BNP Paribas

Most French banks are what would be termed building societies in the UK and consequently the banking scene is fairly different in nature in France.

There are only two proper banks, Societe Generale and BNP Paribas. These both operate nationwide networks but their branches are largely confined to the towns so they may not be entirely practical if you live in an isolated village.

As in other countries the Post Office and co-operative movement operate their own banks offering some advantageous accounts which we’ll be covering separately.

The majority of banks are effectively small regional building societies. For example, the Credit Agricole you see in Normandy is a totally different outfit to that which you’ll see in Paris. Although it is possible to open an account in one region and operate it via the branches in another region, this will entail delays in having your deposits credited and limits the facilities you have access to. So, I can’t use the deposit machines in Perpignan with the card from my account in Normandy.

The other banks worth looking into are those of the various supermarkets. By and large these are re-branded versions of some of the banks covered above but not always, for example Auchan operates its own bank. Generally speaking, the charges for these accounts are lower.

The main postal banks are those operated by Axa (a full-service bank) and Ing (savings accounts only).

One difficulty that you will have in opening any of the accounts is that you are usually required to provide proof of income. If you are living in France, they will ask for proof of a French income and this can take several years to acquire so it’s generally better to open an account with one of the banks before you move here or very shortly after you get here.

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.

Buying a house in France: part 17: Offshore banking

Offshore banks are banks that operate in various tax havens around the world. The most familiar in the UK are the Channel Islands and the Isle of Mann but there are many based in small islands in the Carribbean.

If you’re moving abroad, it can be useful to have an account with one of these banks both to simplify your taxes a little and for the additional services that many of them offer to the expat community. None of the legitimate centres offer tax-free interest on your accounts these days but offer you two options for the interest on your accounts: 1) a withholding tax roughly equivalent to the tax that you would normally pay in your country of residence and 2) no tax but they report your income to the authorities in your country of residence.

Although no longer taxfree, the additional services that many of these banks offer can still make them worthwhile. Even the simplest of them are much more familiar with international bank transfers than a normal high street bank could be expected to be but most go beyond that offering multi-currency accounts, debit cards in a range of currencies and often expat advisory services.

On the whole, the range of services on offer increases in proportion to the increase in the minimum income that the banks ask for. A reasonable compromise with this seems to be Abbey International which offers accounts and debit cards in pounds, euro and dollars for an opening balance of £5000.

Most people will think of Switzerland in terms of “offshore” banking, but is there anything special about it? The banks there are generally more aware of the needs of international clients but this generally comes at a price. By and large, unless you have fairly sizeable amounts of money (say 25,000‚€ upwards) to deposit or invest, they probably aren’t worth it. However, even the post office in Switzerland is geared up for international clients and in this case a relatively modest amount of money (about £3,000) will get you quite economical banking.

We’ve included a list of the main banks operating in this arena in the directory which should let you choose the perfect combination of prices and services for you.

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.

buying a house in France: part 16: banking & finance: the UK

Even if you are intending to live the rest of your life in France, you should resist the temptation to close any UK bank accounts or credit cards. The only exception to this is, possibly, for those accounts/cards which have an annual fee.

In addition to the accounts which you already have, you may find it useful to open others as the international dimension changes how you use accounts. For instance, if you have a holiday home in France you’ll obviously be transferring money from pounds into euros much more than you were previously.

The range of accounts in the UK is massive and therefore we can only give an indication of those that you might find useful here; the reference version of this guide will be more comprehensive.

The Nationwide Building Society Flexaccount (cheque account) is a must. It gives you entirely free transfers from pounds to euro and, at the moment, is the only truly free currency exchange service. Their credit card comes close behind with free exchange on purchases.

Beyond that, if you are going to live in France, it’s useful to open credit cards with a number of card issuers. In general, you will not be able to do this if you are living in France and neither can you easily get credit facilities in France so it’s useful to have a number of UK cards as a fallback should you need it. The main issuers are Capital One, the Co-Operative, GE, Halifax, HSBC, LloydsTSB, MBNA, Nationwide and Royal Bank of Scotland (most other cards are rebranded versions of these eg Sainsbury is really Halifax). It’s worth getting an American Express credit card too as you can transfer the account to France, although as the charges in France are considerably higher you may not want to do that right away.

Cheque accounts are also useful to have. If you qualify for the HSBC Premier service, they’ll open an equivalent account with HSBC France for you which has the additional advantage that you get free transfers between your UK and French accounts with them. Barclays and LloydsTSB offer a similar (but more expensive) service though their branches are largely confined to Paris and the Cote d’Azur. The Barclays account offers withdrawals with no transaction charge at BNP-Paribas machines in France (you are still charged 2.75% on the exchange rate). I used to recommend Citibank a lot but they have increased their charges substantially and it’s not as clearly a useful account for expats as it once was.

The Nationwide account is excellent if you are in France and need to transfer relatively small amounts of money from the UK but the £500 per day (about 750‚€) limit means that it’s not practical for large amounts such as for your house purchase. You can use your own bank for this but the charges are generally quite high and the exchange rate isn’t particularly good either in most cases. To transfer more than a few thousand euros you are best to open an account with one of the specialist companies such as moneybookers; if you are going to be making regular transfers (eg paying for a French mortgage from a UK account) then HIFX offers a facility for this.

If you are retaining your house in the UK as we recommend, then you will probably need to change the mortgage to a buy to let one. It’s best to do this before you leave the UK as there are a relatively small number of brokers who deal with overseas clients.

The field of investments in the UK is even wider than the range of banks. However, most seem prepared to change your address to an overseas one. However, if you don’t yet have a UK broker or similar it’s worthwhile opening an account with one before you leave as few will open accounts for overseas clients. We’ll cover it in more detail later but at this point it’s worth mentioning that having a SIPP (Self-invested personal pension) account open is also useful.

If you’ve not yet ventured into this arena, a few useful accounts to have are the Halifax sharebuilder (which lets you buy shares monthly), Fidelity’s Funds Marketplace (which lets you buy numerous unit trusts) and TD Waterhouse brokerage. All are free to open.

As always, you can find links to sites we have mentioned in the Foreign Perspectives directory along with other similar outfits which we haven’t had the space to mention here and the reference version of this entry on our Living in France pages is more complete.

Although you can open offshore bank accounts after you leave, it’s best to open your choice from the above before you leave the UK as it can be difficult or even impossible to do it after you leave.

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.

Buying a house in france: part 14: housing: your house in the UK

We’re looked at French housing, but what about your house in the UK?

Even if you are absolutely certain that you are going to spend the rest of your life in France, it’s best to retain your house in the UK if you can so that you have a fall-back position in case things don’t work out in France or you change your mind about living here. Not everyone is able to maintain houses in two countries of course and it will probably make finances a little tighter in France than they would otherwise be. However, once you sell your house in the UK you can find it very difficult to get back into the housing market. In our own case, our UK house went up over 40% in less than three years and effectively beyond our reach had we sold it when we moved.

If you are lucky enough to be able to keep it, you should try to rent it out. Not only will this keep the house occupied but it will help pay the mortgage etc. without needing to rely on income from France to pay for the various bills that will arise in the UK.

If you are going down the rental route, you will almost certainly need to change your mortgage to a buy to let one as few normal residential mortgages allow you to rent out your property easily. Your house insurance also needs to change to reflect the fact that you will have tenants in the house and that it may be unoccupied for extended periods of time between tenants (don’t rely on 100% occupancy!).

Although you could try to find tenants yourself, it’s much simpler to arrange the rentals through a letting agency as they can arrange for work to be done and to inspect the house before during and after each tenancy. This service usually costs around 10% of the rental income plus advertising costs of around 100 in advance of each tenancy.

Costs will continue during periods that you don’t have tenants. For instance, you are still liable for aspects of the electricity, gas and water bills. Throughout your ownership you also need to pay council tax / rates and, of course, insurance.

It’s difficult to be definitive about this decision. Keeping a house in the UK does entail a lot of costs from insurance to mortgage not to mention the additional effort that you need to put into managing your house (even if you have a letting agent). However, selling can be quite a permanent thing to do if you live in an area where prices move quickly and, to my mind, it’s best to retain your house as a fall-back should things in France not work out as you expect.

If you do decide that selling is the best option for you, it’s best to get this in motion before you leave the UK as otherwise you could find yourself liable for French capital gains tax on the proceeds of any sale.

Separately, but related to this topic, is the issue of maintaining a UK postal address. This is one thing that is definitely advantageous to do. If you can change the address for several credit cards to that of a friend or family member before you go, this will effectively move your credit history to their address which we have found to be very useful over the years.

Next week, we move onto French banking.

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.

Buying a house in France: part 13: housing: the buying process

At the notaires In many ways, the house buying process in France is quite similar to that in the UK but there are important differences.

Once you’ve found a place, the first stage is to sign a Promis d’Achat (promise to buy). If the seller accepts this, then you have your house as they aren’t allowed to even show it to anyone else (ie no gazumping), subject to you following through with the later stages of the purchase, of course. Signing this commits you to buy the place at the agreed price but only commits the seller to sell to you if they accept this contract.

Since it commits you to buying, you MUST add a “subject to mortgage” clause if you plan on getting a mortgage for the purchase. The mortgage clause needs to include the bank that will be giving you the mortgage, the rate and the term of the mortgage so if you are hoping to get a French mortgage you’ll need to see the bank first. If you haven’t done so already, you should open a French bank account at this stage (links to the various banks are in the Foreign Perspectives directory) During the next two weeks or so the notary will draw up the Compris d’Achat which is the sale contract and will come with an inventory of what’s included in the price and a completion date for the sale. You need to pay a deposit of 10% (sometimes 5%) to the notary at this point. Although you and the seller can use the same notary, it’s best to have your own one (this doesn’t cost any extra as the notaries split the fees). Read the inventory very carefully as what is understood to be included in France is very different to what is understood in the UK. For instance, you can be left with bare wires where light fittings used to be and even gaps where there used to be doors.

On the completion date, you go along to the office of the sellers notary and sign for the property. You need to sign every single page of the contract so allow an hour or perhaps two to do this. Once completed, the property and everything in it is yours. Unlike in the UK, everything you find within the property at that point belongs to you which sometimes includes the likes of unwashed dishes in the sink but can also include furniture and the like eg in our case we acquired a very nice desk valued at 9,000‚€!

Once the sale is completed, the estate agent will arrange to have the electricity, phone, etc. transferred into your name. If you are buying a commercial property (eg B&B) you must be registered with the Chambre of Commerce before these can be transferred into your name.

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.