Everyone who has ever researched living in France has probably been made aware of the fact that everything here is done in what seems to be the most round-about way possible (bureaucracy is a French word). Before I left Portland, I knew things would be slow and frustrating, but had the mindset that it was just a cultural difference and I needed to just let it roll. I felt like I was mentally prepared to deal with it.
I was not mentally prepared. The way things are done here are not really comprehensible to anyone other than the French. Most of the important things you need to do upon arrival (find lodging, open a bank account, and get a phone and internet) have ridiculous policies surrounding them. The bank was my first introduction to la vie en France.
In France, to open a bank account, it is necessary to make a ‘rendezvous’ with a ‘conseiller’ at the bank of your choosing. Based on my own experiences, most banks are not interested in making an appointment with you the same week. Since my banking needs are small, I was decided on just choosing the bank with the soonest appointment. Crédit du Nord had an appointment available for me 2 days after I arrived. Perfect – gave me time to get my justificatif de domicile from the school. Make my appointment, all is well. Except for 2 hours before the appointment when I get a call canceling said appointment. The soonest they can reschedule is FIVE days later. Okay, so I reschedule. I also go around to several other banks and find the next appointment slot (which is almost an entire week away). Regardless, I now have 2 bank appointments just in case.
I go to my rendezvous at Crédit du Nord, bringing my passport with visa, my contract, and my justificatif de domicile from the school. While waiting for my meeting, I count – 6 conseillers meeting with nobody (something tells me I could have been seen way sooner). The appointment goes well, over and out within 30 minutes. I sign all the documents, ready for my RIB (basically your routing/account number needed to get paid, set up a phone, and internet). The conseiller tells me she will email me when it’s ready later that day as she has to put it all into the system. Seems reasonable – I leave knowing I will have a bank account later that day with a debit card and checking account for the price of 5 euro a month (a couple euros a month is standard if you want a card).
Except at the end of the day, I don’t have an email. So, I reach out. Almost a whole day later, she responds saying that it actually isn’t possible for me to open an account at their bank. UHHHH WHAT?!
Literally eternal strike on Credit du Nord (I’m in France, after all. Le grève is a part of la vie française). In fact, at our orientation later that week I learned that there were a lot of issues this year with assistants finding a bank – many banks were not interested in small, short accounts. The tip from the Rectorat (i.e. the regional school administration): have your prof référent call their bank and set up an appointment for you. Most banks would not say no to an existing client. This way, your PR will also go with you to help you with all the bank jargon.
Okay, so I am starting to get a little stressed here. It has been a full week since I arrived in France, and my next appointment was a week away. Fortunately, it was at la Banque Postal – the bank run through the post office which generally accepts everybody (although service is worse, and more time consuming). Still, I am unwilling to wait a week for my bank account. My roommate was able to open her account at Société Générale without an appointment, and we discovered one a little out of the way in Haubourdin. So, I went there FIRST THING in the morning. Really crucial to arrive as soon as they open, because the French don’t get going early and you can beat everyone.
Happily, they were able to see me right away. (!!!!!!!). I met with a conseiller who was super nice and helpful, and set up my bank account right then and there. I needed my passport with the visa, the attestation of my salary and position from the Rectorat (received at the orientation), and my justificatif de domicile. She was very helpful, explained everything clearly, was able to get me a special deal with no fees, and gave me my RIB right there. I also got renters insurance (assurance de domicile) – necessary for everyone! I have to wait a week for my ‘carte bleue’ (debit card/carte bancaire) and I made sure it will be a Visa (100% necessary to be accepted throughout Europe).
Another plus is that the branch is in Haubourdin. The conseiller with whom you set up your bank account is the same person you do everything through. For instance, my roommate went all the way to Lille to set up her bank account. This means to pick up her carte bleue, to close her account, to get extra copies of her RIB, etc. she has to go there each and every time. The branch you open your account at makes a big difference. While the wait for opening my account was frustrating (it took me 2 weeks!!), the plus is that I have a personal banker. Every time I need help or have a question, I can contact my conseiller by email or phone or make an appointment.
To make this process easier, I would have done the following differently:
- Since I already had housing secured through my school before arriving, I should have made appointments from the States over the phone for the week I arrived and had the school prepare my justificatif de domicile before I got there.
- Make more than one appointment. This might be dishonest, but the reality is if your first bank doesn’t want to open an account for you, you will have to wait even longer for another rendezvous at a different bank. If you already have a back-up appointment, then you have your bases covered.
- Ask every single bank in your town if it is possible to open an account today. Even after you’ve made 1 or 2 appointments, continue going to each and every bank and see if there is one who has availability for the same day.
- Ask my prof référent to help. At the end of the day, probably would have run smoother if I had asked for help. At the same time, it feels pretty satisfying to be able to open a bank account in another country in another language and actually understand what is going on by yourself.
The truth of the matter is, la vie en France is working through all of the ridiculous policies that make everything take the maximum time possible BUT la vie en France is also accidently buying 4 delicious baguettes instead of 1 and HAVING to find a way to eat them before they go bad 😉