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What can a Swiss bank demand of a foreign client?

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
What can a Swiss bank demand of a foreign client?
Postfinance bank must open an account for everyone. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Lots of myths and half-truths surround Switzerland’s financial institutions. But what are the rules pertaining to foreign residents opening bank accounts?


If you are a legal resident in Switzerland, you obviously need a local bank account where your salary will be deposited and from where you will be able to pay your bills.

The good news is that no laws forbid Swiss banks from opening accounts for foreigners living in Switzerland.

The not-so-good news, on the other hand, is that no law prevents financial institutions from ‘cherry-picking’ — that is, determining which kinds of residence permits they require of potential customers.

So, for instance, banks may welcome people with B or C permits, but not with short-term L permits.

The only exception is Postfinance, which is owned by the Swiss government. It is obligated to provide a bank account to any legal resident.

According to Moneyland consumer platform, "some banks say that in principle, any resident can open an account with them, but each application is reviewed on a case-by-case basis. Many cantonal banks, for example, take this approach. With these banks, there is no sure way to know whether or not you can open a bank account until you apply. A good way to go about it is to contact the bank in advance and ask them which specific criteria you need to meet."

READ ALSO: What are Swiss cantonal banks and does it make sense to open accounts there?

Also, if your country is currently subjected to sanctions by the Swiss government, like Russia, it is unlikely that you will be able to open an account, unless you have a C permit.

So if you think the bar for foreign residents is often higher than for the Swiss, you are correct.

Not only that, but citizens of certain countries may find it more difficult to open a Swiss bank account than their counterparts from other nations.


One such case are US citizens

As many Switzerland-based Americans are finding out, banks are not exactly welcoming them with open arms.

However, Swiss financial institutions are not to blame. Instead, the ‘culprit’ is the US government, which, in its fight against tax evasion, had implemented a number of heavy-handed regulations to prevent its citizens from stashing undeclared assets in foreign banks.

While this may be understandable, a myriad of requirements that the USA had created for other nations to follow to ensure that no account belonging to an American goes untaxed, is a major headache for foreign banks.

They have had to set up special logistics and train special teams to deal with American clients, which is the main reason the banks don’t like dealing with US nationals.

The Swiss bank may not want US citizens as clients. Photo: Pixabay

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

What do you need to open an account?

You will have to provide proof of your identity, such as your passport or official foreign identity card, and show your permit as well.

Also, if you are depositing a large amount of money (from double digits up) your bank will ask you to prove that the funds came from legitimate sources — such sale of a house or inheritance, for example — to rule out illegal origin.


Forget myths and misconceptions

If you think you can ‘hide’ your money in an anonymous Swiss bank account, you are wrong.

You’ve probably watched too many movies portraying a stereotypical Swiss banker as a secretive, dark-suited man with a thin moustache, speaking with a German accent.

In real life, however, while some bankers may indeed wear dark suits, sport thin moustaches, and speak with an accent, they will not hide your money in an anonymous account.

As mentioned above, each bank is required by law to identify all its clients as well as the origin of large sums of money.

And this brings us to the next question that could be on your mind (especially if you’ve been watching all those Hollywood films):

Will authorities in your country find out about the money you have in a Swiss bank?

If your intention is to hide your money from tax authorities in your country, this won’t happen.

Since 2017, banks in Switzerland have been exchanging information with their foreign counterparts to ensure tax transparency.

Pertaining specifically to Americans, once you are identified (in banking lingo) as a ‘US person’, you will have to provide proof each year that you are tax-compliant in the United States.  

READ ALSO: Six Swiss bank myths that need to be busted


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