First of all, I’m not sure that you actually need to open a bank account in France, especially if you’re only staying for one semester. I have a Thomas Cook travel money card, which you can use to withdraw money from ATM and pay with in shops and restaurants. It can be topped up online from a UK bank account. I genuinely think you could use this if you were just studying here for a semester.
For me there are three reasons why I need a French bank account:
1. CAF The French government allocate a sum of money to students to help with their accommodation fees. To claim this, you need to have a French bank account for the money to be paid into.
2. Imagine R There’s a railcard for students in Paris called the Imagine R Card, which if you’re here for the year is really good value. The payment needs to come from a French bank account.
3. Work I’m about to start a part time job (more on that later) and again, wages need to be paid into a French bank account.
If you can avoid opening a French bank account, I suggest that’s what you do!
While my Dad was here we set about the task of opening a bank account. I’d read on a blog about an international branch of Crédit Agricole in Paris. This seemed like a great idea to me, as I’d heard about all the bureaucracy associated with opening a bank account and thought it would be really helpful if it could be explained to me in English! We walked straight into the offices, and had to be redirected to the branch, via the staff canteen. It then turned out that nobody there spoke English, and I didn’t have the necessary paperwork with me. The woman I spoke to didn’t even offer me a seat, so clearly she wasn’t even entertaining the possibility of me opening an account then and there!
We then went to go to an international HSBC, where they actually didn’t even let us in the door. I got as far as an intercom, where I explained I’d like to open a student account, and the woman who was speaking sent me outside to look at a poster detailing how to make an appointment. There was a Barclays next door, so we went in there too, and they did actually sit us down but said they couldn’t do it.
At this point we stopped for a Haagen Dazs ice cream break, which was directly opposite an LCL. We went in there, and after waiting for twenty minutes to speak to someone he said that they couldn’t open it then and there, but if I went to a branch nearer to where I live or study then it should be possible.
So on the Friday we went to an LCL just five minutes walk away from me, and they were incredibly helpful. Someone who spoke English sat in with the bank manager as we set up the account, and she explained everything in English and told me what I was signing. The whole process took about an hour and a half, as there was so much to sign and initial. I needed my passport, proof of being a student (they wanted a student card but my letter of acceptance from Diderot was fine) and proof of address (ideally a bill, but I emailed them my insurance certificate for the studio and that was alright). They set up the account then and there, and then said they’d send me a letter with my PIN telling me to go to the bank to collect my card, which I did yesterday so I’m all good to go now!
The banks all seem to work on an appointment basis. In the UK you can just walk in to do your personal banking, or to open an account, but that doesn’t seem to be how it works here. If I were to offer any advice it would be to look up the contact details of branches near you, email or call in advance, say you’d like to open a student account and if possible could this be done with an English speaker. It was so helpful going through the process with someone who could explain it to me properly, as I signed probably 30 pages and I would have had no idea what for otherwise!