I have a bank account!!!

I have a bank account! Some of you may be questioning my excitement – surely three exclamation points in the title is a bit extravagant for something as mundane as a bank account? Not so – after all of the effort it took to open an account, I’m not sure that even three exclamation points can accurately represent my triumph.

Before I left Australia, I Googled ‘opening a bank account in France’. Several sources told me I would just need my carte de sejour or visa, along with my proof of address, so a utilities bill or a rental contract.

Having signed a 17-day rental contract in my second week here, I headed to an LCL branch near my hotel. Upon announcing I would like to open an account, I was asked:

“Do you have an electricity bill?”

“No,” I said, handing the woman at the front desk my rental contract. “But I have this, and I also have my passport and visa.”

Apparently that wasn’t good enough. She told me that I needed a long list of things, the only one of which I understood was ‘electricity bill’. She also said I’d have better luck if I tried a bank closer to my address.

Scratch LCL off the list.

A few days later I went to a HSBC branch near my flat. Within a few minutes I was in an office with a staff member – this was already more promising than LCL.

I was asked where I lived, how long I would be in France, whether I had a HSBC account in Australia (no), whether I had any money (no), and whether I had work yet (at that stage, no). Unfortunately I would not be able to open an account without a work contract.

I waited until I’d signed my teaching contract before trying again. After I signed my contract, my employer recommended BNP Paribas, as it was the bank the school used and they were used to people heading straight over there with their contracts to open accounts.

I headed to the closest BNP branch and was taken to the director’s office (apparently everyone else was away or busy). She asked for my employment contract, then asked for my proof of address. I handed her the rental contract.

She shook her head, “this is only until July 9th.”

“Yes, because another girl is taking the room from July 10th, so I only had this address for three weeks.”

She sighed and said that they couldn’t do anything for me until I found a permanent address. I protested, saying that I couldn’t get paid without a bank account, and she said there was nothing she could do. She could make an exception if I knew someone with a permanent address who would be willing to receive my mail but, having only been in Paris for two weeks, I knew no one.

After complaining about my predicament in the teachers’ lounge at work, I was introduced to Mary-Louise – another teacher; and an Australian who had managed to open a bank account in Paris! She recommended the Banque Populaire (BRED), and said they had been really helpful.

Regarding the address, the other teachers said I would have to get an electricity bill from my landlord with a letter saying that I lived at that address, as well as a copy of his/her National Identity Card or passport. As my current landlord was in Russia, I would have to wait until I found my next room.

Jordane, the girl who pays the bills in my current flat, was very helpful and wrote a note on a photocopied bill saying that I lived there. The next day I went to the BRED with my documents and said that I would like to open an account. They booked an appointment for me later in the week, and I showed them my documents (my passport and visa, the electricity bill, a copy of Jordane’s passport, and my employment contract) to confirm that I had everything I needed. They said everything was fine, and I eagerly awaited my Thursday appointment.

On Thursday I was taken into an office and the woman started filling out my paper work on her computer. Then there was a problem. The number on my visa was the wrong length for her computer form. She called someone, who didn’t appear to be able to help. She explained the problem to me, saying it was impossible for her to complete the online form with this number, and asked if I had a carte de sejour. No, I didn’t, because my 12-month visa has a note on it saying it can be used as a temporary carte de sejour! She said I might have luck at another bank, but I couldn’t open an account here.

Scratch BRED off the list.

On Monday I returned to BNP Paribas with all of my documents. I was taken to see a different person this time, who looked through my documents and took the relevant copies.

“Everything is excellent,” he said, “but I need one more thing.” He handed me a form that read ‘Attestation d’Hebergement’. I needed to get Jordane, whose name was on the electricity bill, to complete the form saying that I lived there (all of the details were covered in the letter she wrote, so I’m not sure what the problem was).

“I have a problem,” I told him, “Jordane is on holidays in South America until the end of August.” (I neglected to tell him that I was renting her room until she came back.)

“Can you fax it to her hotel?”

“I don’t think so – I don’t think she has a hotel. She is working for one month and then travelling.”

Hmm – an impasse. Would I have to try another bank?

“Could your employer write an attestation?” he asked.

I thought for a moment – my employer was used to hiring foreigners, surely this wasn’t the first time this had happened? “I think maybe they will.”

“Okay – they need to write a letter attesting that you work there, and that you live in the 18th arrondissement at Mademoiselle Pineau’s place,” he kindly wrote instructions for me. We made an appointment for Thursday, and I headed back to the office to get a letter written on the official stationery.

I returned to BNP Paribas yesterday. I arrived at 8:50, early for my 9:00 appointment. As the bank didn’t open until 9, I waited inside next to the ATMs.

I could see a couple of women inside through the roller doors but, as the clock ticked closer to 9, they remained closed. At 9:01 I started to get annoyed – why hadn’t the man booked an appointment with me half-an-hour later if the bank usually opened late?

The two women inside kept running back and forth from some sort of control panel next to the side door – apparently there was a problem. I’m not sure what it was, as they neglected to tell their waiting customers (customer service – French style). This continued until 9:15, at which point all of the staff members (who had been waiting outside) were called in. I had my 9:00 appointment at 9:20.

The guy ended up being so flustered that he barely glanced at my Attestation from work – he just saved it for his files and then gave me a million papers to sign. Most f them I understood, but one had someting to do with €750 over a three-month period – don’t ask me what the €750 were for or where they came from. I’m only getting a debit card, so I don’t think it would be a limit. Maybe my overdraft amount? I hope I don’t need to pay it – I haven’t even earned that much yet.

I told him I didn’t understand, so he gave me examples with different euro amounts – 800, 900, etc. – and divided them over three months. I was fine with the maths, I just had no idea what this money was for. In the end he said it wasn’t important and had me sign another bit of paper. I left with a booklet as well as a copy of everything I signed, so I might go through it with a French-English dictionary and see what he meant.

So I now have a bank account! I have officially given my payment details to my employer and (after I follow some instructions in a letter to confirm my address – because the electricity bill, letter from Jordane and letter from my employer weren’t enough) I’ll soon have  a debit card!

For those of you who are looking at coming for France – don’t believe the websites! You can’t get an account with a visa and a rental contract.

At a minimum you need:

  1. A passport
  2. A visa (if you are staying for up to 12-months and your visa can be used as a carte de sejour) or a carte de sejour (if you are staying for longer than 12 months)
  3. An employment contract
  • A utilities bill in your name, or
  • A utilities bill in your landlord’s name, accompanied by a copy of a piece of his/her identity and an ‘Attestation d’hebergement’ – you may get away with a letter, depending on the bank, but it would be a good idea to get the official form from the bank as well as the letter

Other things that could be helpful:

  1. Copies of three months of pay checks
  2. A rental contract (as well as the utilities bill, not instead of the bill)
  3. A reference from your last bank in French

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