Banking in France, like many things French, is a baffling mixture of the ultra-modern and the antiquated. Online banking is widely available but most banks charge you to use a service that saves them man-hours and facilities. New cheque books are issued automatically but you’re expected to collect them from your branch and must ask for them to be posted to you. The following are some of the main characteristics of French banking.
Bank charges – If you want an overdraft (découvert) facility, you must normally pay a monthly ‘service’ charge of around 5, and there may be a charge to bank online (part of the French antipathy towards faceless communication). Most banks charge around 30 for you to have a bank card (carte bleue); otherwise day-to-day banking is free.
Bank managers – French bank managers are generally personable and approachable – many know most of their clients by name and personally monitor their accounts. On the other hand, they have limited authority and must refer to regional or national offices for major decisions such as granting mortgages.
Cash – At many banks, cashiers don’t handle cash (except small amounts) and you must deposit and withdraw cash using a machine.
Cash machines – Instructions are usually available in English and other languages. If you make a cash withdrawal from a machine that doesn’t belong to your bank there’s usually a charge.
Cheques – There are no cheque guarantee cards in France, where cheques include your address. Once a cheque has been sent, there’s no way of ‘stopping’ it unless it’s lost or stolen. If you don’t have sufficient funds in your account to cover a cheque, you can get into big trouble. Many retailers have cheque-printing machines, so all you have to do is sign (after checking the amount). When you pay a cheque into your bank, you must sign it on the back; no one has any idea why.
Credit cards – Credit cards (cartes de crédit) are an unfamiliar concept to the French, where most bank cards are debit cards. Foreign credit cards with a magnetic strip – and often ‘chip and PIN’ cards – cause consternation and distress – to you as well as the French.
Deposits – When depositing cash with a cashier, you may have to ask for a receipt.
Opening hours – Bank opening hours in towns are generally Tuesdays to Saturdays 9 or 9.30am to 5.30 or 5.45pm with a lunchtime closure between 12 or 12.30 and 1.30 or 2. Village banks may open for only a few hours a week.
Excerpted from “Culture Wise France” which can be purchased from Survival Books