2. Which French Bank?

  1. French High Street Banks
  2. International/Offshore Banking
  3. Internet Banks
  4. Conclusion: Which Bank?

2.2. International Banking & Offshore Banking

If you wish to run your banking affairs from the UK you will find that all of the major UK banks offer an international bank account facility. These accounts may be either Sterling or Euro based.

Whilst the rules do vary, many require a high minimum balance and fees can mount. You will also find that interest rates are generally better with a Sterling account.

If you need to have access to a branch office in France, then both Barclays and HSBC have a presence in most of the major cities.

However, although Barclays Bank offers an international banking service, the branch network in France is very limited. In May 2016 the bank announced the sale of its branch network and wealth management arm to private equity firm AnaCap.

You may well find that your existing UK bank is prepared to let you retain your account when you relocate overseas. Whilst you may not have branch facilities abroad, you can still use it as an internet bank.

If you do so, you can probably open a Euro account alongside your existing home bank account. On this basis, you should be able to withdraw cash from French ATMs using a Euro debit card, without incurring a foreign exchange charge. However, expect to pay a cash withdrawal fee.

Most of the larger UK building societies also offer internet based international bank accounts, with generally attractive rates of interest and lower fees. Nevertheless, their focus is on savings, rather than day to day banking, so not all will offer a cheque book or international debit/credit card. With some building societies you need a UK postal address before you opened an account, but you would be allowed to keep it when you relocated abroad.

Finally, you may want to consider an offshore bank account, where there is the possibility of being granted a higher degree of privacy over your financial affairs, although this is increasingly now less the case.

There is also less consumer protection offshore than there is available on the mainland, so if you you do take this route you may want to stick to a subsidiary of one of the larger banks.

In addition, particularly in the case of offshore accounts in the UK (Isle of Man, Jersey, Guernsey) you will need to provide plenty of supporting evidence about yourself and your place of residence, banking charges may not be inconsiderable, and interest rates on savings are often less attractive.

With the growth in Tax Information Exchange Agreements between France and some 'tax havens', if you are subject to a tax investigation in France there are limits as to how much you will be able to protect your privacy. There are increasingly, 'no hiding places'.

Indeed, you are legally required by the French tax authorities to declare all foreign bank accounts held by you on your income tax declaration.

The form used for the purpose is Cerfa n°3916, 'Déclaration par un résident d’un compte ouvert hors de France'.

A separate declaration must be used for each account, specifying the name of the account holder, the nature of the account (savings/current), the date it was opened, name and address of the bank, and the account number.

The obligation to declare bank accounts abroad is commonly regarded as a one-off requirement.

However, strictly speaking, the law requires that they be declared each year with your income tax return. If you wish to avoid declaring each year, and the accounts remain unchanged, then best you agree the matter with your local tax office.

If you fail to declare an account you can be fined, and with the growth in bilateral tax agreements with offshore countries there is every prospect that you will eventually be found out, as the following case illustrates - Declaration of Foreign Bank Accounts.

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