No one said it would be easy to open a bank account in France. Research suggested that at a minimum it would require leg work and tons of paperwork to open a simple checking account. In reality our situation barely requires the need to suffer through the process but there’s an important fact that motivates us to embrace the challenge. American credit cards don’t always work in France. This doesn’t cause much concern for the casual traveler as they generally work fine in hotels, restaurants and other tourist destinations, but they don’t work well or at all in certain automatic machines – including at train stations, gas stations and the auto-route toll booths. This can be a real problem on a Sunday when everything that would normally be manned by a person is closed. And so, to make life a little easier for the next year we decided brave the French banking system.
After researching various options on the internet we decided that what we wanted was a non-resident account. While various English information websites mention this option we found few actual French banks that offered this service without having to give them your entire life savings. Finally, Don talked to someone at Credit Agricole and, yes, we could open an international account if we would come to Paris or spoke French well enough to go to a local branch. Desperate to put my French to the test, I dove in, perhaps too fast. The young woman who graciously listened to my halting French and suffered through my lack of vocabulary carefully explained that they were a regional branch and since we would not be living in Ille-sur-Tet for our entire stay in France it just wouldn’t be practical to open an account with them. Perhaps we could try the bank across the square that serves the entire South of France? Face to face with another pleasant but equally discouraging young woman who explained that in order to open an account with Banque Populaire we would have to deposit our entire monthly pay check with them, not a concession we were ready to make. So back to Credit Agricole. What about the international account that her colleague in Paris told Don we could open? Non. The answer was still non. That was just too difficult for their simple regional bank to manage.
I think we learned something here today. I need to do some serious work on my French. While I was quite happy with my comprehension (I understood perfectly why the answer was non, non, et non) my ability to explain the situation and what exactly it was we were looking for was definitely lacking. Would better French have changed the results? I’m not sure, but I’m up for the challenge and am planning round two in Perpignan for when we return from Turkey. Any advice?