updated 6:36 PM CET, Mar 18, 2023

France's tweaks to its 'droit au compte bancaire' seen to make opening French bank accounts (slightly) easier for Americans

France's tweaks to its 'droit au compte bancaire' seen to make opening French bank accounts (slightly) easier for Americans Daria Shevtsova, Pexels

France's banking industry has drawn up changes to the country's banking regulations that are expected to make things (slightly) easier for those American expats living in France who have struggled to obtaining a local bank account there. 

The changes are due to come into force on June 13, according to a notice on the government's website, www.service-public.fr/.

According to this notice, the changes are being brought about in the wake of a decree published on March 13 in an official government publication, and effectively "simplif[y] the use of the Banque de France for persons without a deposit account, who cannot obtain one from the institutions they have requested" such an account from.  

The aim of the changes, the notice noted, was "to change the time limits of the account entitlement procedure, and improve its monitoring."

"From 13 June 2022, those who have requested the opening of a bank account and who have not received a reply within 15 days of their request will be able to turn immediately to the Banque de France," the French government website notice says.

"The latter will automatically designate a bank close to their home. This procedure is open to all persons residing in France, or in a Member State of the European Union."

As the AXFNJ has reported previously, under European Union regulations, anyone who is legally resident in an EU country is legally entitled to open a basic bank account, although many Americans, and "accidental Americans" in particular, have struggled to open  – and recently, even to keep – such accounts.

This is said to be due to the 2010 U.S. tax evasion-prevention law known as FATCA, which obliges all non-U.S. banks and financial institutions around the world to report to the U.S. IRS key details concerning any accounts above a certain amount that they hold on behalf of any American citizens. This is because under U.S. law, all Americans are considered to have tax obligations, even if they don't live in the U.S.

Institutions that fail to comply are potentially subject to a 30% withholding tax on any of their own transactions in the U.S.

Especially when the bank accounts in question involve relatively small amounts of money, non-U.S. banks and institutions often seek to avoid the cost, hassle and potential risks involved in having to carry out these account reporting obligations by simply avoiding having U.S. citizens as clients.

That this practice has been taking place in Europe in spite of the EU obligation to provide basic bank accounts to all EU residents and citizens is evident in a discrimination complaint that more than 300 accidental Americans first filed in 2019 against certain of France's online banks. 

As reported, this complaint was finally given the official go-ahead in January, in the form of the opening of a judicial investigation, according to accidental Americans in France, and French media reports.

Similar issues have arisen in other EU countries, including the Netherlands, where, as reported, a Dutch court ruled in December that a retired Dutch citizen born in the U.S., but with no other connection to that country, was entitled to keep his accounts with his local bank in the Netherlands, even if he didn't provide it with a U.S. TIN, as long as his total holdings in his accounts with the bank didn't exceed a total of US$50,000. 

'Not a perfect solution' 

In an article last month, meanwhile, The Local, a France-based English-language news website, noted that the soon-to-take-effect change in France's Droit au compte bancaire, or "right to a bank account," is likely to make things "a little bit easier" for Americans living in France  – but it added that the changes were "not a perfect solution". 

AddedThe Local: "The changes... state that if a person has requested an account from a French bank [but did] not received a reply within 15 days, they can appeal directly to Banque de France [France's central bank].

"Banque de France will then designate a bank near to the person's home address and request [that the bank] open an an account for the person.

"The bank is not obliged to open the account  – but it does have to explain why [it's refusing the account] to the Banque de France."

Also, crucially, the article then points out, "the new process does not cover people who do receive a reply within the designated 15 days" but whose reply "is a refusal". 

Among the services a bank that is designated by the Banque de France to provide to the individual seeking a basic account will be expected to provide, according to the government website's summary of the new regime: 

  *     The opening, maintaining and closing, when necessary, of an account;

  *    The issuance of bank identity documents on request;

  *    A monthly statement of the account's transactions; 

  *    The cashing of checks and bank transfers, as requested;

  *    The ability of the account-holder to make deposits and withdrawals of cash at the bank’s counter or at its cash machines, as desired;

  *    The ability of the account-holder to view their account balance remotely; 

  *    The ability to make interbank payments, bank transfers and set up direct debit facilities as needed; 

  *    A credit card

As the article in The Local pointed out, the tweaks to France's droit au compte bancaire aren't seen as solving all of the problems that accidental Americans in particular have in getting and keeping local bank accounts in Europe. A measure of the challenges they face surfaced earlier this year, when European Commissioner for the Economy Paolo Gentiloni said, not for the first time, that he didn't regard the problems EU citizens have been having as a result of FATCA as a matter for the EU to address. 

As previously, Gentiloni's comments drew criticism from EU lawmakers, accidental Americans and spokespeople for advocacy groups, some of whom pointed out that the EU was better placed to advocate on the matter than Europe's individual governments. 

In April 2020, Gentiloni also drew fire when he said that the European Commission had found "no evidence of the existence of an infringement" on the rights of accidental Americans who happened to be EU citizens to obtaining or maintaining a basic bank account, of the kind EU law specifies such EU citizens are legally entitled to have.