The Idiosyncrasies of French banking

The French high street banking system holds a great deal of mystery not to mention irritation for the average Brit buying in France. Before you can complete on your house you will need to have this in place, and you’ll need it to set up your gas, water and electricity services.

A couple of years ago my Parisian grandmother passed away having reached  the ripe old age of 100. She had spent the last 80 years living in the same elegant apartment where my mother was born, in Pigalle. It’s thanks to her that we have been able to buy our house in France, returning to my roots which she would have loved. 

To avoid losing vast amounts in foreign exchange transactions I tried to open a French bank account from here before the inheritance was finalised and in readiness for finding me dream house. I spent numerous hours on the phone to numerous French banks, being passed from pillar to post, to no avail. I contacted UK banks with branches abroad as well as international banks trying to get a euro account. HSBC and are helpful but still it was ridiculously complicated. 

The thing to do, I subsequently discovered, is just to open an account in France. A surprisingly easy thing to do when you are there on holiday or house hunting. Even as a non-resident it’s simple and straight forward.  You will only need 1€ deposit and your passport as ID and proof of address – in the UK is fine. Had I known that at the time, it would have been cheaper for me to fly to France for the day than to pay the foreign transfer charges I ended up having to cover both ways.

You won't be able to access your funds from any branch

You won't be able to access your funds from any branch

Carole and I are now on first name terms - not common in France where respectfully you will be addressed by your title and surname everywhere you go. Whenever I have a problem I call her and she is most helpful. Carole set up my home and contents insurance and organises my internet banking - by hand. I can’t set up a new payee on line from the comforts of my Scottish home as I don’t have a French mobile phone to verify the transaction…. so I email Carole and she does it for me.  Wonderful customer service - unless she happens to be on her two hour lunch break, on holiday, out of the office or it’s close to midnight which is when I usually get round to doing my online banking.

You’ll also want to find out about accessing your money before you choose your bank, which will be quite surprising compared with UK practices. My account is with the Credit Agricole and I opened it in Bergerac in the Departement of the Dordogne because that is where we were staying when we were house hunting. Having subsequently bought my house 20 minutes down the road in the neighbouring Departement of the Gironde, I discover that I cannot withdraw money at the counter from my local branch. I’m limited to €600 a week from a cash till – which, thankfully I can access across the country, but if it is not a Credit Agricole cash till, there will be  a charge. Needless to say €600 every 7 days doesn’t go very far when you’ve just bought a house, so I have to cross the river back to the Dordogne to get access to my cash.

When I get to the charming village of Port St Foy, fortunately just over the bridge from where we stay, there is a bit of a queue - after all, its market day. Eventually, it's my turn to meet one of the clerks, we shake hands. The previous 3 customers in the queue were warmly greeted with an embrace and a kiss on both cheeks by their bank manager. Certainly not the norm in any RBS branch I’ve frequented pretty and efficient looking bank employee, Melle Duval takes me to a private meeting room – there is no open counter here for doing your transactions. We sit and chat.  After  questioning as to why I need to remove over €2000 in one transaction – 
several individual cards are loaded up for me to make a withdraw to pay the electrician, the plumber, and the odd job man – after all, we are doing renovations – she loads up 2 bank cards and hands them to me.  I now need to go and put these into the cash till at the front of the branch where, in return, I’ll access my money. There is another long queue. Fortunately, the carpark isn’t metered.

It's the second time I’ve been to this branch in the neighbouring Department to access my funds. On the first occasion, a Thursday, I was told  cash was only distributed on Tuesdays and Saturdays… It’s a good thing my tradesmen are patient people. 
Aveline Evans

Get to know us a little more... our love of France

I'm a mum of 3 children, now 13, 15, and 17.

I have had a nomadic upbringing living in France, England and Africa as a child which has given me what you could call eclectic tastes. I have now lived in Scotland for over 20 years and confess to being confused as to my roots and nationality! I see myself as a "European" rather than anything else. Not because I'm a great fan of the EU but because, being brought up in France I have very strong French characteristics as well a English and Scottish ones - and its probably true that they don't always sit well together! There's a reason why the Brits and the French have this long standing love/hate relationship - they're poles apart, yet totally fascinated by one another.


You should read "The Secret life of France" by Lucy Wadham if you want to get a better understanding of the intricate, confusing and often infuriating relationship between these two nations! I discovered recently that my brothers, who are identical twins, hold different nationalities - one British the other French - says it all! 

French characteristics such as a penchant for enjoyment rather than the serious, passionate temperaments, a cavalier attitude to time keeping, a love of all things aesthetic, the worshipping of food, affect us in different ways. Traits differ among my siblings and me, with my sister being the most British of us all - efficient, organised, pragmatic, serious (dare I say it boring?) but we clearly all still have a strong Gallic line.  It's fascinating to see how my children have picked up on this love of France, one in particular, and now that we will be able to spend more time there I hope their passion will grow. Appreciation of food has always been a great thing in my family and wondering around the markets and sampling strange things is a popular pass time.  Dare I admit that even shopping in the giant Leclerc in St Foy La Grande, fills us with joy and amazement as we gaze at the assortment of butters with an entire chilled isle to themselves let alone the cheese and fish counters . We have made sure our kitchen at Les Galineaux is well kitted out to help cope with the foodstuffs that bombard our senses.  A love of cooking is a great thing to cultivate. Even my son is a keen chef!


We are now fortunate enough to have this lovely big house in Aquitaine, South West France where we can indulge our love of all things French - not just the amazing food and wines but the relaxed pace of life, the sun, the joie de vivre and the conviviality of being with friends and family. In our house this is what we try to offer, a place to meet up with those you care about, in a simple and comfortable yet stylish setting, and enjoy lazy days in the sun, swimming, sightseeing, relaxing with a book or having an adventure. A good kitchen for cooking and a huge table for hours of enjoying local produce from the markets, talking, laughing and fun with children, friends, family and even newly discovered strangers - that's what life should be about! 

We welcome you to our holiday home in historic Aquitaine and hope you will love it, and the area, as much as we do. 

My first blog post

I have started writing a regular column for the online magazine French Property Place and this lead me to think it would be fun to share with you my experiences of buying a holiday home in France and the little adventures we will hopefully now have… so here is my first blog.

Buying our holiday home in France was no more difficult than buying one in the UK….
I have an old dog eared map of France that has probably been with us on every holiday for the past 20 years. It pre-dates Google evidently. On it, I have marked all the beautiful areas, villages and hamlets we visited and where I would like to own a house - half knowing that it will probably never happen… 

Last summer when we went to France for our two week holiday we forgot the map - but bought a house.

This is the house that is now for rent and that you see in full technicolour on this website.
It was the second house we saw - the children loved it, and the whole thing could not have been easier! Yes, there was stress, problems, irritations and delay but we sold our family home in Scotland the previous year and bought in Edinburgh, and that was no less stressful or difficult.
Le Libournais, Gironde, France

Les Galineaux is in the Libournais, near St Emilion, (Gironde/Dordogne area) because that’s where you can get direct flights to from Edinburgh, last minute, when you are hacked off with miserable weather here - who needs research! said that, I had been looking at properties on line since February. Spending hours on really poor French property Les Galineaux is in the Libournais, near St Emilion, on the border of Gironde, Lot et Garonne and the Dordogne, because that’s where you can get direct flights to from Edinburgh, last minute, when you are hacked off with miserable weather here - who needs research where terrible photos gave you no idea of what you might be buying and the search facilities were very limited.

Price was a big issue for me. The Languedoc Roussillon area and Midi Pyrenees is more affordable than most other parts of France and the sunshine pretty much a sure thing. With Carcassonne being so popular among the Brits and the Pyrenees close by for skiing it was also a good choice for a house that was going to have to earn its keep through holiday lettings. There are a number of airports that serve that area including Beziers, Carcassonne, Toulouse and Poitiers. The Limousin is also a very good area for value but more difficult to access in terms of airports.

At short notice though, as I said, Bordeaux was where we could fly to.  We rented a great village house for two weeks in Issigeac, an impressive ‘bastide’ 15 minutes south of Bergerac. The British owners, who run a holiday letting business in Yorkshire and ‘know their onions’ (as the French say) had spent three years trying to find their dream French holiday home. Amanda was really helpful and put me in touch with local agents who had helped her. We had lined up a few appointments to see houses before we set off but in the end I mostly organised viewings in situ. As it happens, all the agents I came across were British so language really was not a problem. The French don’t seem to have got the hang of real estate as the British have and with commission rates so high, it’s a good business for British settlers, especially in areas popular among their fellow countrymen. If you are renting in France while doing your investigations make sure you take a place with good WiFi access!

The French system is very different from the UK. The buyer pays the agent’s fees and the commission can be up to 10% of the selling price! But remember this is very much negotiable. The market in France is stagnant and an agent won’t want to loose a sale if he has an interested party.

Our agent, Sue Adams, offered us a set fee which was reasonable and made it all much easier to calculate the costs. On top of this you will have the Notaire fees. This will vary according to the value of the house, and is not negotiable. It works out around 8% or so but covers the tax - similar to paying stamp duty and solicitors fees here. Usually the advertised house price includes the agent fees. Having a good relationship with your agent and working with someone you can trust is really important. You might find that some properties are advertised with more than one company so make sure you are dealing with someone you feel comfortable with before going to see the house. If you change agents after you have been introduced to a property it will lead to all sorts of complications.

I made it clear to the various agents I dealt with that I had a set pot to spend and I was not too bothered how they split it between vendor, agent and Notaire as long as it was clear my budget and offer was “all inclusive” ! I found it all a bit cloak and dagger as although the buyer is the one to pay the agent, in truth they are acting for the seller and also trying to get their own commission up. Each individual agent manages their own very close guarded portfolio and you may find they have to pay an introduction fee to a third party if you did not come directly. Even within the same office individuals would not talk to me about a house that was not on their books. A number of agents in Britain play this go-between role including Healey Fox and French Entree. They speak English and guide you through the system which can be really helpful.

Sue Adams, our agent was with Imorama but basically they all work independently. She was great, knowledgeable and helpful. Sue has now set up French Properties Direct. This is a clear and easy to use website, with good photography, which puts sellers and buyers together and by-passes the exorbitant agent fees that the buyer has to pay. Well worth a look

We followed Sue’s advice, based on years of experience, in terms of selecting the Notaire and - as is done in France - used the same  person as the vendors. I’m a trusting soul so was not worried about conflicts of interest. In the end, it is very much an administrative function. Having said that it is worth going through the Compromis de Vente with a fine tooth comb. This is basically the Missives so you want to make sure you know what you’re buying.

There are a number of searches and ‘surveys’ that need to be done including electricity, rot, and drainage. 70% of rural homes in France manage their own waste and as the authorities are trying to update sewage systems, transfer of property is the time to do it. These surveys are paid for by the vendor so you can't decide who does them for you. In certain instances the Mairie will appoint the inspector so you really have no say and can anticipate considerable delay. RICS Surveyors can also be found in France. They have set up in many areas to reassure British buyers. My personal experience of in-depth surveys - here in the UK - is that when you discover a considerable problem after making your purchase, pages of disclaimers tell you the survey could not cover this…

A good option if you have a concern is to get a local tradesman to look over the property. A British one might be easier in terms of language but that will come at a premium, and they will not necessarily be any more trustworthy than the local French builders….

On the day we got back to the UK we got gazumped! It made me realise how much I really wanted this house. I refused to give in, upped my offer and the vendors, who were decent people and had liked my children accepted. 10 weeks later we had the keys, and now, after some renovations, it’s ready for holiday makers to enjoy.
Aveline Evans