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COST OF LIVING

How to open a bank account in Switzerland

Banks sit alongside cheese, alps and neutrality as international hallmarks of Switzerland. But for new arrivals, opening a bank account can be difficult.

Which way should you go when opening a bank account in Switzerland? Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP
Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Although Switzerland has managed to maintain its affection for cash – even during the coronavirus pandemic – more than its neighbours, having a bank account is still absolutely essential in Switzerland. 

For expats, despite some positive changes in recent years, using international bank accounts can still attract high fees to transfer money or withdraw cash from ATMs, which also makes keeping your home country account an expensive option. 

There are also two different types of banks in Switzerland: national banks and cantonal banks. 

Switzerland’s strangest taxes – and what happens if you don’t pay them 

National banks include some of the best known financial institutions all over the world while cantonal banks can only be used by residents of that canton – which will usually mean that you can’t open an account with a cantonal bank until you live that canton or have proof that you will be. 

But ultimately, choosing the right account for you will depend on your circumstances – with the first question being whether or not you live in Switzerland at the present time. 

But first things first – currency. 

If you didn’t know it already, then now’s a good time to find out – Switzerland is not in the European Union or the Eurozone, meaning that the Swiss franc rather than the euro is the local currency. 

That said, with the eurozone on every border (ok, other than Liechtenstein which also uses the Swiss franc), many banks know the value of being able to withdraw euros and offer accounts where withdrawals can be made in both. 

The Swiss National Bank. Stable and reliable but probably not an option for everyone. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Opening an account from abroad

With bank branches disappearing and most banking taking place online, in most countries you can open a bank account without having to walk into a branch with a crisp 20 in hand. 

If possible, this can be the preferred option as getting a place to live, utilities etc can be difficult or impossible without a local bank account. 

That said, opening an account in Switzerland will not necessarily be easy for non-residents – particularly if you aren’t a billionaire who’s looking to avoid tax on your gold doubloons. 

There are some options for opening accounts in Switzerland if you do not plan to move here, however these are likely to be expensive and will only be useful for certain people (see above: gold doubloons, international men of mystery, etc). 

If you are moving to Switzerland but want to open an account before you get here, you will have some better options, with some banks allowing you to open an account before moving here – although you’ll need to have your documents at the ready. Which brings us to…

Paperwork

Anyone who has lived in Switzerland or even passed through will know the Swiss love their paperwork. 

The first thing you’ll need when opening a bank – from here or from abroad – will be a copy of your ID (passport or EU residence card). 

Then you will need to provide evidence of your residence status, which is difficult but not impossible if you are abroad. 

Other documentary evidence is likely to include a letter from your employer to prove that you are solvent and in some cases proof of address in Switzerland (or even the canton if you are applying with a cantonal bank). 

READ: What’s the best way to save or invest money in Switzerland? 

Which bank should I choose? 

Asking us which bank to choose is like asking us what you should have for lunch. We don’t know and as this guide is not sponsored by anyone, we have no incentive to recommend one over the other. 

Some of Switzerland’s biggest and best known banks include Credit Suisse, UBS and Raiffeisen, while Swiss Post also has an extensive range of banking services. 

Then there are the new kids on the block – known as ‘neobanks’ – including Neon and N26 who offer a number of similar services but are usually cheaper. 

Then there is an extensive list of cantonal banks which we could list but we’d run out of ink. 

Do I need to visit a branch? 

Much of the document sharing can take place online or even via the post. In some cases, the Swiss bank will have a relationship with banks in your home country and you will be able to attend in person there. 

Some other banks however will require you to personally attend in order to finalise the opening process. 

How much will an account cost? 

Typically, an account with one of the larger banks in Switzerland will set you back around CHF5 per month in account-keeping fees. 

Unlike in some other countries, this will not include many associated transactions – like having credit or debit cards or using ATMs from non-affiliated banks. 

For an all inclusive deal, you might need to upgrade to a ‘premium account’ – which will cost around CHF30 and will cover most usual transactions and withdrawals. 

As said above, newer banks like N26 and Neon are likely to be cheaper – although accessing a branch is much more difficult or impossible with neobanks. 

Editor’s note: Keep in mind that this article, as with all of our guides, are to provide assistance only. They are not intended to take the place of a financial advisor. 

Member comments

  1. You wish to note to readers, that Americans will have great difficulty in finding a bank which will accept an US citizen’s account (this is the result of certain US laws which impose significant reporting requirements back to the US and in addition can expose a Swiss bank to US jurisdiction). Depending on the bank, they may impose larger fees, or require much larger deposits, or they may decline to open an account.

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COST OF LIVING

Five things to consider when organising childcare in Switzerland

Switzerland's childcare costs are among the world's highest, although there are some ways to save. Originally from the United States but now raising children in Zug, writer Ashley Franzen takes you through some of the most important things you need to consider when finding childcare in Switzerland.

Five things to consider when organising childcare in Switzerland

Switzerland has a peculiar dichotomy when it comes to childcare. Although many parents both work full-time, Switzerland has traditionally been hands off when it comes to childcare support for families with children under five, leading to some of the highest childcare costs in the world. 

For older kids there is before and after-school care that is offered by the canton, but for younger kids who haven’t quite started kindergarten, it can pose problems for parents who are in need of reliable care, particularly those who don’t have grandparents to rely on. 

According to the Swiss Federal Council, “Grandparents as well as daycare centres and extra-school care facilities are the most frequently used forms of childcare, with each category accounting for a third of provision for children aged 0 to 12 years. 81 percent of families in large cities turned to extra-family care for their children compared with 66 percent of families in rural areas. Parents’ satisfaction with the care facilities is high, but there is still unmet demand.” 

What alternative childcare options do I have in Switzerland?

There are various childcare and nursery options for babies and toddlers up through young children aged five or six. Each canton offers childcare, though often there are lengthy waitlists for available spots.

READ ALSO: ‘A developing country’: Why do so few Swiss children attend childcare?

An alternative might be a private or bilingual daycare, but the costs for these are even higher than the locally-run childcares, and sometimes have longer waitlists.

Get on a list early as it’s important to get the ball rolling on paperwork, especially as a foreigner in Switzerland. 

An alternate option is to find the equivalent of a Tagesmütter, or a carer who opens up their home to taking care of up to four children at a time, when there is space available.

The costs remain about the same, but it can be easier to get placement for childcare with an in-their-own-home carer.

Some families opt to hire a nanny, but it may not be possible financially for all families. As for bringing an Au Pair to join the family, there are specific rules and regulations in Switzerland surrounding pay, number of hours they can work (about half of which you would need to be present for), and language rules– the main one being they cannot speak the same language as the family. Additionally, language classes are stipulated for the duration of their stay. 

Suffice it to say, that there are quite a few hurdles to overcome and in order to make sure your family is supported with reliable childcare to meet your needs.

Below are five things to consider as you plan out and organise childcare in Switzerland.

Children play with educational tools. (Photo by Thomas SAMSON / AFP)

1. Compare the options

Childcare in Switzerland is top notch, albeit expensive, so make sure you take the time to figure out where you want to enrol your child.

Some of the best programs are actually run as not-for-profit organisations, such as KiBiz in Zug.

READ ALSO: What alternative childcare options do I have in Zurich?

Most daycares offer a pedagogically strong curriculum and having them at a local daycare gives your child the opportunity to learn the local language. 

2. Decide on someone to name as your emergency contact

This can be a bit harder if you don’t have family or friends nearby, but double check with a colleague or someone that you trust in the case of an emergency or illness.

Finding a colleague that is willing to help by picking up the kids when they were sick when both parents find themselves out of town can be incredibly helpful. 

READ MORE: How much does it cost to raise a child in Switzerland?

3. See if you qualify for subsidies

According to the OECD, Switzerland has the highest cost for childcare among wealthy countries. Cantons are in the process of trying to increase the amount of money they’re able to allocate for assisting families with the costs.

If your household income is under a certain amount (it varies by canton), then it might be possible to have some of the costs of your family’s childcare covered. 

4. Consider having a babysitter or two on hand that you can call

As a foreign parent in Switzerland, sometimes it makes sense to have someone extra to call on for help with childcare coverage– even if you don’t think you’ll need anyone.

Meetings get moved, appointments need to be rescheduled, and sometimes there’s the odd school workday, where kids do not attend classes.

READ MORE: How to save money on childcare in Switzerland

In situations like these, having someone to reach out to, who can help provide coverage (and perhaps even the occasionally date night) helps provide a safety net for parents that might not have any backup to call at the spur of the moment. 

5. Be open for and prepared to have a hurdle or two, be it language or logistics

Many of the institutions around the country, particularly for younger kids are really good at filling in the parents on what the kids have done during the day, what they’ve eaten, how they’ve acted. The seemingly hardest part is actually filing the paperwork and piecing together care, particularly if you don’t speak the local language.

Wendy Noller is originally from Australia, and now lives in Luzern with her husband, and their two children, aged five and seven.

When they were getting signed up for Kita, she expresses that there were quite a few hurdles to consider.

READ ALSO: How different is raising kids in Switzerland compared to the United States?

Initially they received a letter from Canton Luzern stating that there weren’t enough places for their daughter. “We had heard negative reviews from other expats, but learned that there really are a lot of myths around childcare– that it’s not good quality, or there aren’t enough places. My husband and I work 100 percent and [when registering the kids], found the local authority to be both very helpful and responsive.”

She adds that she would call or email every couple days after receiving the letter to express that they both worked full-time and were really interested in their daughter integrating.

In the end, just a couple days before school started, they were told there was a place available for her. 

While their situation had a happy ending, sometimes other backup plans need to be put in place. Organising childcare in Switzerland is doable and having a fellow foreigner who has gone through it before to help share their experience or how to go about it can make a difference in how easy or how difficult it feels. 

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