Setting up a French bank account and mobile phone
August 24, 2004 7:36 PM   Subscribe

I'm studying abroad in Paris for the year, leaving in a little more than a week. What's the best way to set up and bank account and a mobile phone service from the states?

I've been advised to get an Orange phone because the service covers almost all of France, but the site is a bit daunting. I'd rather get a monthly bill than buy thousands of rechargable cards for my phone. Is there a large selection of services / can I activate them from the U.S. before I leave?

As for the bank, I'd like something that won't give me service charges in Parisian ATMs. Any good recommendations for banks/how to get things rolling?

I'll be in Biarritz for a month before Paris, hopefully I could get the phone shipped there?
posted by themadjuggler to Travel & Transportation (15 answers total)
this might help: Societe Generale's info.

You'd probably have to show all sorts of school proof and residence stuff, but it seems doable. Email them maybe?
posted by amberglow at 7:51 PM on August 24, 2004

Unless things have gotten a lot more liberal. setting up a bank account in Paris is a lot more difficult than in Paris: they want proof of lodging in the form of a utility bill, etc.

Do they charge that much to take money from a stateside bank account with a debt card? do you really need a bank account? On the other hand, those big French checks are kind of cool.

Also, remember that in France, the amount on a check is above the name of the payee--what a pain!
posted by ParisParamus at 8:06 PM on August 24, 2004

Response by poster: I'm not sure if the costs are so so high, but it does seem that the classic French bureaucracy rears its head here... reading Société Genérale's application and interview process, it looks like all this will have to be done in Paris as well. Next step would be to investigate service charges overseas (or maybe just bringing over cash?).

As for the phone, I'm still a bit stumped.
posted by themadjuggler at 8:14 PM on August 24, 2004

You can wire money from your home account into the french one, once it's set up, or your parents can. (I'm sure there's a fee, but c'est la vie, no?)

I'd email the school too, and ask them how people usually do it.
posted by amberglow at 8:26 PM on August 24, 2004

Le PayPal? I doubt it.
posted by ParisParamus at 8:31 PM on August 24, 2004

bank-to-bank wire transfer.
posted by amberglow at 8:49 PM on August 24, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks for the tips guys, I'll stop by the bank tomorrow and see about oversea transfers.
posted by themadjuggler at 9:03 PM on August 24, 2004

ask them if they have any connections to banks in France while you're there--they might be able to help with getting an account at a partner bank or something.
posted by amberglow at 9:17 PM on August 24, 2004

Le CitiBank
posted by vacapinta at 9:59 PM on August 24, 2004

Don't arrive in Paris with American expectations of how things work. Things go slowly and you have to stay patient and polite. Your personal relationship with someone in the bank branch will count for a lot, especially when trying to get a Carte Bleue (a French ATM/VISA card).

You might be better off bringing lots of cash or pulling money from your US account at ATMs in Paris, getting a prepaid SIM card on the day you arrive, and then working out more permanent solutions once you've had a chance to figure out how the school and the other students can help you.
posted by fuzz at 10:29 PM on August 24, 2004

vacapinta nailed the bank question --- I did the exact same thing when I was essentially living in the Philippines. If your move is only temporary, you're better off opening an account which is truly global.
posted by nathan_teske at 2:08 AM on August 25, 2004

I know lots of people in Europe who use the rechargeable phone card thing and it seems to be far superior to the tangled web of plans and minutes etc. You can buy them everywhere and in all sorts of denominations. I think it's a terrific idea. And no bills!
posted by CunningLinguist at 6:55 AM on August 25, 2004

I'm an expat living in Paris and agree with fuzz on all counts. It was quite difficult for me to get a bank account here even though I have a permanent residence card and a steady monthly paycheck. In fact, my company had a contact at Société Generale which is why I was finally accepted there. I don't know whether there are any special deals for students, but you may want to check with your school to see what they recommend.

As far as getting a phone plan, you will almost definitely need to have a French bank account in order to do so. You'll be asked to give them something called a RIB so they can take the money out of your account automatically before they'll hand over a phone. Pay-as-you-go is a little more expensive but it's worth it for the lack of hassle. You can get a SIM chip for about 45 euros but make sure you have a tri-band phone or buy a phone when you get here - your regular phone from the states won't work over here.
posted by hazyjane at 9:13 AM on August 25, 2004

Best answer: My first thought: You should have started this weeks or months ago.

Credit Lyonnais will allow you to open a student checking account while you are in the US, or at least they did in 2000. I do not know if there is a branch in Mass., but a little Googling (or calling of 411) should turn it up if there is. When I was preparing for Paris, I went to the NYC office of Credit Lyonnais, brought my passport, signed some stuff, and that was it. It was quickly and easily done. They also assigned me an English-speaking representative in Paris who was sweet and nice. Online banking, a combo credit card/bank card, the works. Pretty painless. There was a $50 fee to open the account. [For the record: Credit Lyonnais in New York City is or was at 1301 Ave. of the Americas (6th ave between 51st and 52nd Streets). The reception is on the 16th floor. Credit Lyonnais telephone number is (212) 261-7000. The lady who helped me was Marianne Fisher.]

I second hazyjane's comments in all aspects.

They used to allow you to buy a phone and minutes for it anonymously, but this is no longer the case. If I were you, I'd wait to get a phone until you are over there. You might consider buying a used phone or one from a departing student, particularly if it they have used a pay-as-you-go plan where you buy cards, call a number, punch in the numbers, and have the minutes automatically added to your account. This might allow you to use a departing student's phone, their number, and their account. Triband American phones are fine, but the per-minute charges on an American account are outrageous, as much as 99 cents a minute.

In any case, you can buy any cheap-ass phone and put a SIM card from any provider in it, unlike in the US where the phones come with the account. Used phones can be found everywhere.

Orange is good because they have cooperating agreements with service providers all over Europe.

Bank-to-bank wire transfers also have service charges, are a hassle to do if you are overseas, and can take a week to ten days to show up in your account. If you go with Citibank, be aware that they have few (used to be just one) locations in Paris. It sucks having to take a subway ride to use an ATM in order to avoid service charges. Unless you're a better person than everyone else I knew in Paris who had an account with Citibank, you'll soon be taking money of ATM's wherever you happen to be, paying those service charges you hoped to avoid. Particularly late at night.
posted by Mo Nickels at 11:18 AM on August 25, 2004

If you have a phone that accepts SIM cards and is also triband/GSM capable, your cell phone company should give you a code to unlock it and you can use it there without any atrocious roaming fees. I know T-Mobile allows you to do this, but I don't know about AT&T.
posted by calistasm at 8:11 PM on August 25, 2004

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