General infromation regarding the French legal system
In any purchase of a property in France, consideration must be given at an early stage as there are a number of important issues to take into account such as who is going to purchase the property (you alone? or jointly with your spouse? or though a company? etc.), general and inheritance tax projections, the source of the funds, French inheritance laws, etc.
Moving to France from abroad
If you are moving house to France on a permanent basis and you have been living outside the European Union for the last twelve (12) months prior to your arrival in France, you may import personal effects as well as household effects free of duty and tax, provided you meet the following conditions:
Those articles have been for your use for at least six (6) months before the date of your change of residence;
Each of those articles is itemized in a comprehensive list, in duplicate, signed and dated, of the goods you are importing into France as part of your moving (in one or more shipments), with the identification of their value;
You are in a position to prove, to the satisfaction of Customs, that you have been living outside the European Union for at least one (1) year prior to your moving to France and that you are going to settle down in France on a permanent basis.
To meet the last requirement, an attestation (a “certificat de changement de résidence”) from a French Consulate General is the most convenient document. You will need to back up your application for the attestation with some documents which can prove that you are going to settle down in France (i.e. such a letter from the employer, application to get French Resident Card – “Carte de séjour”, etc…).
Once you have imported your personal effects and your household goods (free of duty and tax as part of your moving to France), please note that those may not be sold or otherwise disposed of for a period of one (1) year after they have been cleared through Customs, unless duties and taxes are paid at the applicable rate. Duties and taxes must be paid before the sale is completed.
Unlike other countries, cheques remain a very popular means of payment in France. You will need to produce your passport or a valid Identification Card when issuing a cheque. Please note that post-dating a cheque is not permissible and is ineffective as it can be cashed immediately.
Bank charges in France are still higher than in most other countries, even for routine operations. Furthermore, banks do not usually pay interest on current account although they are supposed to do so by virtue of a recent decision of the European Court of Justice.
Please note that becoming overdrawn or exceeding an overdraft limit without prior agreement is a serious matter in France. It is extremely unwise also to issue a cheque without funds in your account (cheque sans provision). Such a cheque will be returned to the payee who will ask for some other means of payment. If he is not paid within a period of 30 days, he is entitled to obtain a certificate of no-payment (“certificat de non paiement”) from the bank which will allow him to contact a bailiff in order to have the money deducted from the issuer’s salary, or arrange for his/her goods to be seized and sold. The costs of this procedure are added to the amount owed to the payee.
Those who have issued such cheques will find that their account will be frozen until they have put sufficient funds in the account and the payee has re-presented the cheque. They will also have to pay additional substantial bank charges per cheque wrongly issued, plus fines if they have bounced more than three cheques within a period of (twelve) 12-month period. Furthermore, they will not be able to open or operate any other bank account in this period as they will be listed in the Banque de France. Therefore, if you believe having issued a chèque sans provision, you should inform the bank local manager immediately in order to find an amicable agreement.
Furthermore, please note that you can only stop a cheque if it has been lost or stolen (and not if you have a dispute with the payee).
Large transactions paid for by cheque (such as payment by cash to purchase a property) are usually made by banker's draft (chèque de banque) or by a bank certified cheque (chèque certifié) for which charges are made.
At the same time as your current account is opened, you might want to apply for a payment card.
These are in very very wide use and are issued and managed by the banks. Usually ther are debit cards rather than credit cards. Three types of cards are available from most banks:
- Carte bleue "nationale" : This can be used for payments in shops and to withdraw money from DAB (Distributeur Automatique de Billets) - i.e.: ATMs, in France only;
- Carte bleue VISA which is the most widely held card. It can be used in France and internationally;
- Carte Premier : This is a VISA gold card. MasterCard offers a similar product.
American Express and Dinners Club are less widely accepted.