How to open a Swiss bank account
How to open and close a Swiss bank account, plus information on confidentiality and security deposits in Switzerland's banking system.
The Swiss banking system
A prosperous and economically advanced nation, Switzerland's gross domestic product (GDP) is among the world's largest per capita. There are nearly 400 banks in Switzerland, ranging from UBS and Credit Suisse to smaller banks serving single communities or selective clients. Considered the world's largest offshore financial centre, the Swiss banking sector is known for its privacy, stability and protection of customer information and assets. The Federal Banking Commission (FBC) regulates these banks.
Opening a Swiss account
Opening an account can be difficult or impossible for non-residents of Switzerland. Foreigners officially residing in Switzerland, however, can open bank accounts easily. Banks require personal information (such as name, address, date of birth, profession and contact information), identification, a passport-sized photograph, and financial documents which vary depending on the client’s profession. The origin of the funds will also be checked.
US citizens are required to sign a document agreeing to notify the IRS of all transfers over a certain amount. As Swiss bank accounts for US citizens require additional administrative work, many banks prefer to open these accounts only when large sums of money are involved.
Swiss banking transactions can be done via correspondence as long as the customers follow bank rules and regulations. The bank and customer could interact through the internet, telephone or postal mail.
Non-residents are expected to pay a large security deposit. To keep their account privacy intact, US citizens are expected to avoid making business transactions through their Swiss accounts.
A security deposit is needed if the customer wants to obtain a credit card. Approximately 1.5 to 2 times the monthly credit limit is required, depending on the bank the customer chooses. This deposit is returned when the customer discontinues the credit card and has paid all outstanding bills.
To preserve the customer’s anonymity, some high-security bank accounts are given pseudonyms. This number or name is used wherever the customer is referred. Failure to respect the customer's privacy could lead to imprisonment for bank employees.
However, there is no secrecy from tax authorities or the justice department. To prevent money laundering, Swiss banks cross-check the authenticity of information provided by the customer. Any transfer over CHF 25,000 will be checked. If, during the inspection, the bank finds a potential or existing customer connected to criminal activity, a Swiss judge or prosecutor allows an investigation. This can include an inquiry into tax fraud, insider trading or terrorist financing.
Closing a Swiss bank account
Closing an account is easier than many might expect. No financial penalty is demanded, and neither is the money retained, unless a maximum amount has been agreed upon.
Expatica / Updated in cooperation with Mrs Shawna Games