how can i transfer my money from a french bank?
February 24, 2012 12:27 PM   Subscribe

How can I transfer funds from my French bank account (which I can not access online) to my American bank one?

I recently came back from teaching ESL abroad in France and did not close my bank account before leaving, since there was the possibility I would go back. My checking account is still open, from what I gather, but the French bank website isn't working. I put in my info, but it can not confirm that my account still exists. (Which made my blood pressure go up about 200 points!)

In addition, I tried to contact the branch of this bank in my current (American) city, and they told me they don't deal with individual accounts, only companies and businesses.

Should I go to my American bank and ask them for help? Do they provide that service?

Should I try to get through to the French bank by calling them long-distance and explaining my situation?

What services am I asking for here.... I would like to wire the money in my French account back to my American account.

Obviously, though, my first priority is getting in contact with the French bank and making sure my money didn't disappear.

Thank you very much in advance. I would appreciate info from anyone who knows how I can best do this-- as you might have guessed, I don't have the most experience in money matters, and just want to be able to anticipate what other obstacles might come up when transferring the money.

I am also wondering whether my American bank would be the best resource to go to for help with this.
posted by kettleoffish to Work & Money (9 answers total)
When I lived in England and still needed to pay bills in the U.S., I would go to Western Union. There, I could pay the bill in Sterling, and it would be converted to U.S. Dollars for the payment. It was basically a wire transfer. I would think that you could do the same with your bank account. You must know your account number. Just go to a Western Union, and wire yourself your money. Failing that, if there is an American branch of your bank, I fail to see why they wouldn't help you with this predicament.
posted by AlliKat75 at 2:28 PM on February 24, 2012

Why don't you just write yourself a cheque on your French bank account and deposit it to yourself at your American bank?
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 3:15 PM on February 24, 2012

It's been a few years so I can't remember exact details, but when I had to do this I was able to contact them through email. I think they agreed to close the account after I had explained the situation and provided all the information from my bank papers. They sent me a cheque, rather than wire it to my account.

I did have a problem where they mailed the cheque to my former address in France, but I was able to get them to send a new cheque to Canada after emailing again.

I believe there was a fee for closing the account, although this might depend on the bank.
posted by meadowlands at 3:37 PM on February 24, 2012

I should mention that I emailed both the branch where I had opened the account as well as the email address listed on their website, although I can't remember which one responded to me.
posted by meadowlands at 3:39 PM on February 24, 2012

Your best bet is contacting the French bank and asking what you should do to close your account and transfer the money to your U.S. account. However, it might take a few tries to get ahold of them and get them to do something.

On the other hand, I eventually gave up on trying to contact my Irish bank after I moved to the U.S., because nobody was replying to my emails. I only had about 60 euro left in the account, so I figured they might just close it down after a certain period of inactivity.
posted by Ender's Friend at 6:27 PM on February 24, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks a ton for all the responses on here!

Email, wiring money, a check (I never got a checkbook, so that's out).... these are all excellent ideas. Keep them coming, if possible! I am also wondering if anyone has had success using their foreign ATM card here... this just occurred to me, as the U.S. cards certainly work abroad.
posted by kettleoffish at 11:44 PM on February 24, 2012

My wife was able to contact her French bank (Crédit Agricole Île-de-France) by email, though it took a couple of tries to reach someone who bothered to respond. She wanted to change her address, not close out the account, but the principle should be the same.

Your best bet is to look on your bank's website for contact information for the specific agence where you did your banking in France. Contact them by email or phone and explain the situation. You may wish to change your address first, and only then ask to close the account, to avoid the situation that meadowlands describes.

If you are ever planning to spend substantial time in Europe again, though, you might consider keeping the account open, if the fees aren't too hefty. It's much easier to keep the account open than to open a new one later. Just keep them apprised of your address changes.

Depending on the kind of ATM card you have, you should be able to take money out. (Some banks issue two kinds of cards, one for domestic use and one that is also good abroad.) My wife's bank charges about a 3% fee for withdrawals in foreign currencies, but depending on the sum, that might still be less than what a US bank would charge to cash a check in euros. If you do end up getting such a check, shop around. We have two accounts, one with a bank that charges $50 to process foreign checks, and one with a credit union that charges only $5. Guess where we deposit any foreign checks we get!

Finally, if you go the ATM route, make sure you don't overdraw your French account. French banking law is draconian about overdrawn accounts.
posted by brianogilvie at 2:01 AM on February 25, 2012

French banks have gotten a LOT better at replying by email these last few years. It's really a recent thing – before you needed to either phone or go in person; even 5 years ago there was a strong chance your email would either go unnoticed, or they'd reply three weeks later or something. Now I get immediate replies from my bank.

So email should be fine – if you don't get a quick reply, try phoning them. The phone still works much better in France than email. Ask them "est-ce qu'il serait possible de virer de l'argent sur mon compte bancaire américain", and if you want to keep your account open in France, PLEASE think to keep enough money for that on it. French banks will automatically stick you on the national blacklist if you keep an empty account open that can't afford the monthly or yearly fees they charge for that. Being on the national bank blacklist in France is not a good thing... it lasts for 7 years and during that time you only have the right to open the most basic account, no overdraft, and can only get a debit card. When I was an exchange student, a couple other students were unaware of this and found themselves blacklisted for questions of 10 or 20 euros. If you want to close your account, ask them to explain the best way to do that... same thing, sometimes they require a certain amount on it to pay any closing fees (depends on what kind of contract you signed). With most nowadays, just having an account balance of 0 and asking to close it is fine, though you will also need to put that in writing and send it by registered mail with notification (you want that trace that they did indeed receive your account closure request on a specific date).

Your French ATM card, if it's just an ATM card, probably won't work in the US. If it does, be aware you'll probably get charged for it, unless you luck out and use one of your French bank's partner banks in the US. I'd recommend looking that up on their website but yeah, not accessible. French ATM cards often aren't Visa or MasterCard – those are the ones that (can) work overseas. Instead they're a national "carte bleue". If your card just has "CB" written on it, you definitely won't be able to use it in the US. If it's a Visa or MasterCard you could.
posted by fraula at 3:29 AM on February 25, 2012

I withdrew money from an ATM and just cut my losses on the transaction fees. It ends up being cheaper than doing a wire transfer most of the time. Remember that most French bank accounts charge, though, so you may need to leave a small balance for that difference. The easier way to close the account is to call them and mail the required ATM cards and checks directly to the bank. They don't let you keep either at the end.
posted by msk1985 at 11:40 PM on February 25, 2012

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