Bank Accounts in the FFL
Hi everyone, I'm trying to get into a regular posting schedule, as people email me with specific questions. I received these questions in the middle of my move, and told her I would post this for everyone.
Firstly, my fiance and I are unsure of whether it would be a good idea to start a bank account in France or start an account with a US bank that has foreign locations. Do you have any recommendations for this one?
I suggest that whether you are a girlfriend, fiancée, wife, or family member of a Legionnaire, and you plan to be the primary contact in your home country or in France, that you KEEP YOUR HOME COUNTRY BANK ACCOUNT.
Each bank is different in France but generally they will give you a VERY hard time about adding a Mandataire to an account.
Titulaire: The titulaire of an account is the primary account holder. This will be the Legionnaire. The FFL sets this up for a Legionnaire while he is still in training camp so that they can start direct depositing his pay. However, the Legionnaire has no choice over who they open the account with. If you are interested in opening a second account when you arrive at your base (which I strongly recommend if possible, since you do not know where the closest branch will be and what their hours will be), choose to keep your nom real (real name) in lieu of taking a Legion name. If you take a Legion name, no other bank will allow you to open an account with them under this name.
Mandataire: A mandataire is someone who has withdrawal, deposit and financial transaction rights. However, most of these rights only apply to the mandataire when they go to the branch where the Legionnaire's account was opened (typically on the continent). Also, the titulaire must authorize adding bank cards, checks, etc. in the mandataire's name (requires that the Legionnaire be present). Also, Mandataire rights are non-existent (at least with La Banque Postale) over the phone for their phone banking. If you are not the titulaire or co-titulaire, you have no rights to ask about problems, etc.
Also, be advised that banks that contract with the FFL are VERY HESITANT to put anyone else on the account of a Legionnaire who has less than 5 years service. Why? Because they are taking an enormous risk to add someone who they do not know, cannot verify if they are married to the titulaire, and typically do not have a French passport/ID. Many people do not know about Mandataire rights simply because banks find this to be an exception they offer in situations where they know the couple and they have established a working relationship prior to the request for adding the girlfriend/fiancée, etc.
When S joined, all accounts were set up at La Banque Postale. All things considered, this is a good bank to use in the beginning, since they carry post office hours (open during lunch and Saturday mornings). Other banks (Societe Generale, Credit Agricole, et BNP Paribas) are closed during lunch and Saturdays. However, these other banks have more options (higher overdraft, higher weekly debit card limits, will give check writing) that may be more convienent. I believe now the 2eme REP uses Credit Agricole on base, as they switched over from La Poste 2-3 years ago.
This is where La Banque Postale can also be very helpful. If you decide to keep an checking/savings/debit/credit account in your home country, be sure that you can send/receive Western Union from your bank. While in the US, I never saw this as a reliable way to send money, but this is how Europe and the rest of the world sends money reliably. I believe that Western Unions can only be sent from La Banque Postale so if you have an account with another bank you will have to take the cash to La Poste and complete the Western Union there.
Online banking in Europe is also very helpful. You can send virements (automatic bank transfers) internationally, but these are expensive in comparison to Western Union. You can also send Western Union transfers online if you create an account with them on their site, paying for the transfer by bank card.
RIB: Relève d'Identité Bancaire - This is a check sized document you will receive when you open your account and also when you receive a check book. Here is an example from Credit Mutuel. This is what you will need to open an mobile phone account, pay rent & utilities, buy a car, etc. International purchases/transfers will need the IBAN, the long number on the second line.
Prélèvement Automatique - This is a recurring automatic withdrawal from your bank account. Many companies use these in France so that your weekly debit card limit is not exceeded paying bills. These must be completed with a RIB at your local bank branch and must be signed off on by the Titulaire. Prelevement specifies that you are approving the bank to withdraw money for a certain company when they request it. These take typically 2 weeks to start and must be stopped two weeks before the next payment. There is a fee attached to prelevements.
Virement - This is another way to pay a bill or rent using the RIB. Typically virement specifies that you are transferring money to another person or company. Virements can be automatic but are typically done as one time payments. They typically take 48 hours to transfer the money to another French bank account. If you complete a virement with online banking, they are typically free.
Mandat Compte - This is like a money order in the US, except that the bank takes care of everything. It's inexpensive and you must pay for the totality (including the fee) in cash. There is a special account number you must get in order to complete this, so be sure to ask the company / person who you are sending money to what their mandant compte (pronounced manda-cont) number.