For members


Reader question: How can foreign residents in Switzerland open bank accounts?

Much has been said about Swiss banks turning away some international customers, so the question about what financial services are available to foreigners is a valid one.

Reader question: How can foreign residents in Switzerland open bank accounts?
Whether or not you can park this money in a Swiss bank depends on several factors. Photo by Claudio Schwartz on Unsplash

The foreign clients who have had difficulties opening an account are American citizens, including those living permanently in Switzerland and even the ones who have a dual US / Swiss citizenship.

However, since this particular situation is caused by a strained relationship between Europe’s banks and the US tax authority, the IRS — going back to 2008, when UBS helped wealthy Americans hide billions of dollars in undisclosed offshore accounts to evade US taxes — it is specific to American clientele.

READ MORE : Why are Americans being turned away from Swiss banks?

Rules are less restrictive for most other foreigners — as long as they can prove that their assets come from legitimate sources and are not of criminal origin. And these regulations pertain to foreign nationals who live in Switzerland, rather than those residing abroad.

So can foreigners who live here open a Swiss bank account?

According to Moneyland consumer finance site, “foreigners can – depending on their residence permit – open a bank account in Switzerland, but not necessarily with all Swiss banks. Banking institutions apply a series of restrictions for different categories of foreign customers”.

“Depending on the institution in question, there can be big differences in the chances of foreign citizens being able to obtain an account in Switzerland”, Moneyland added.

The reason is that while no laws prevent anyone legally living in Switzerland from opening an account, banks can — and do — choose which type of residence permit they will or won’t accept from potential customers.

The only exception is Postfinance, a subsidiary of Swiss Post. This bank “has been granted a universal service mandate by the State and cannot refuse to open an account for foreigners” who live in Switzerland, Moneyland said.

On what basis do the banks cherry-pick their clients?

The rules are based not so much on nationality but on the kind of work permit potential clients hold.

Generally speaking, anyone with a permit B or C can open an account without much hassle.

This is, of course important, because these two categories of foreigners are permanent residents in Switzerland and need an account where their salaries can be deposited and from which to pay their bills.

The situation may be more complicated if you have only a short-term permit, in which case some banks may not want your money, which is odd in a nation of bankers, but this is sometimes the case, according to Moneyland.

There is, however, an exception to the ‘short-term-permit’ rule. It concerns cross-border workers who hold G permits.

These people obviously need Swiss accounts, so their (also Swiss) salaries can be deposited there, and banks will usually comply. Most, however, charge cross-border commuters non-resident fees.

Can refugees open an account in Switzerland?

There are no rules against it; after all, they too need an account to receive the social aid their get from the government.

“However, foreign nationals holding an F permit (temporarily admitted) or N (asylum seekers) are not always welcome in many Swiss banks, or only to a limited extent”, according to Moneyland.

As far as Ukrainian refugees (S permit), many have been able to open accounts in certain banks, for instance at Raiffeisen.

And what about Americans?

This group still has the most problems in this area, and many go to extreme lengths to get banking services, such as giving up their US passports.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: Why do US citizens in Switzerland give up their American passports?

Getting a bank to accept you may be a major headache, but not impossible.

As The Local explained in this article, “Americans need to shop around to find the right account”.

Some readers said UBS was the best option for Americans in Switzerland (which is ironic, given than this bank is responsible for creating problems for Americans in the first place). While the UBS fees are high, the bank can open an account without a minimum deposit. 

Credit Suisse too opens accounts for Americans, provided you waive the right to bank privacy in order to comply with IRS regulations.

Smaller, cantonal banks may also be willing to accept US citizens, under certain conditions.

What documents does a foreigner need to open a Swiss account?

You need a valid passport or another official government-issued identification, your work / residence permit, and proof of your address in Switzerland (such as Wohnsitzbescheinigung / Attestation de résidence / Certificato di domicilio issued by your commune).

When it comes to money itself, you must be able to prove its origin — that is, that the assets are not illicit. This, according to Swiss Banking Association, could be your pay sip, the contract for a house sale, a statement from a foreign bank, a receipt from the sale of securities, etc”.

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For members


Reader question: Can I open a Swiss bank account from abroad?

A number of misconceptions surround Switzerland’s banks, including how easy / difficult it is to open an account. Here’s the information you can… bank on.

Reader question: Can I open a Swiss bank account from abroad?

There are many reasons why people who live abroad may want to open a bank account here — for instance, they are relocating to Switzerland, or travel here often, or want the stability of the country’s financial sector, or maybe they just like to brag at parties about having money in a Swiss bank.

Gold, secrecy and wealth: Six Swiss bank myths that need to be busted

But can foreigners actually open an account here and if so, how do they go about it?

Depending on your circumstances, the process can be either quite complex or relatively easy.

What you need to know

Despite what you may have heard, you don’t have to be a millionaire to open an account in Switzerland — though banks would certainly prefer you were.

OVERVIEW: How to open a bank account in Switzerland

And also contrary to any pre-conceived ideas you may have, you can’t open an “anonymous”  account where you can park your undeclared money to evade taxes.

In fact, if you want to place your money in Switzerland, you will have to go through a rigorous vetting process, especially if you live abroad.

That’s because in order to shed its long-held image as safekeepers of illicit  or hidden assets, the banks have cleaned up their act over the past decades, choosing transparency over opaqueness.

This is what you need to email to the bank to set up an account in Switzerland from abroad.

  • Authenticated (notorised) proof of your identity, such as a valid passport, along with your address abroad.
  • Document(s) showing the legal source of your funds. A typical proof that your money comes from legitimate sources could be a statement from a bank in your country showing salary payments or documents from the sale of property.

But even if you provide all the required documents, banks have the right to turn you away.

For example, according to Swiss Banking Association, an umbrella organisation for Switzerland’s financial sector, “a bank might refuse to enter into a business relationship with a politically exposed person. It may also reject a prospective customer if it has doubts about the origins of that person’s funds”.  

READ MORE: Which bank is best for Americans in Switzerland?

There are also other factors to consider before you decide to place your money in Switzerland.

Though you may have heard about the legendary Swiss bank secrecy, there are specific instances when this confidentiality can be broken.

Switzerland has signed agreements with a number of countries to cooperate in exchange of financial information of their respective citizens.

EXPLAINED: Which banks are best for foreigners in Switzerland?

So, if you are a foreign resident (or even a foreign national living in Switzerland),  under the terms of the agreement the government of your country can request Switzerland to release your account(s) information and Switzerland must comply.

Also, additional hurdles are in place for people living in the United States.

To prevent its residents from stashing their money in offshore accounts in order to evade taxes, US regulations require foreign banks to report to US tax authorities (IRS) all the assets that belong to US citizens – whether living in America or abroad.

Swiss banks are reluctantly complying with the rules because failure to do so can seriously impact their ability to do business in America.