How to Open a Swiss Bank Account
The Swiss Banking Law of 1934 made it criminal for Swiss banks to disclose the name of an account holder. Similar to the confidentiality protections between doctors and patients or lawyers and their clients, these protections are the primary reason that Swiss bank accounts are so popular with wealthy banking customers around the world.
Opening a Swiss Bank Account
Surprisingly, opening a Swiss bank account is not that much different from opening a standard bank account. You have to fill out forms and provide documentation that proves who you are and what you do. However, due to some special circumstances regarding privacy, the level of scrutiny over providing official documentation of your identity is more strict. For example, you may need to show your official passport to provide your identity, whereas a driver’s license would probably suffice in the U.S.
There are also different minimum balance requirements depending on the type of account you want. These can range from a few thousand dollars to millions of dollars.
Swiss Bank Accounts and Nonresidents of Switzerland
Nonresidents of Switzerland must be at least 18 years old to open a Swiss bank account, and that’s about the only restriction. Account holders can choose their currency—most choose to hold their funds in Swiss francs, U.S. dollars, euros, or British Pound Sterling.
There’s usually no minimum balance required to open an account, but once an account holder deposits funds, there is typically a minimum balance requirement, which varies according to the bank. If you don’t have that much idle cash, you might be better off looking for the best savings accounts in your own country.
Swiss anti-money-laundering laws require a prospective Swiss bank account holder to provide several types of documents in order to open an account. These include authenticated copies of your passport and documents explaining your profession, such as tax returns, company documents, professional licenses, etc.; proof of the source of your funds; and other typical personal information.
Benefits of Swiss Bank Accounts
The main benefits of Swiss bank accounts include the low levels of financial risk and high levels of privacy they offer. The Swiss economy is one of the most stable in the world and has not been involved in any conflicts in hundreds of years. Furthermore, Swiss law requires that banks have high capital requirements and strong depositor protection, which practically ensures that any deposits will be safe from financial crises and conflicts.
Accounts held in Swiss Francs will earn a small amount of interest, but they’ll also have to pay the Swiss withholding tax. For this reason, most foreign account holders have their Swiss bank account in another currency.
In terms of privacy, Swiss law prevents the bank from disclosing any information regarding an account (even its existence) without the depositor’s permission. The only exception, the only way information will be revealed, is if a government agency makes the claim that a depositor is involved in a serious criminal act or is involved in some other financial issue (such as bankruptcies, divorces, and inheritances). Furthermore, Swiss anti-money-laundering regulations also require depositors to provide proof regarding the origin of the funds they are placing in their accounts.
How Do You Open a Swiss Bank Account?
Non-residents of Switzerland must be over age 18 and will need to provide their passport and other identification documents when they open an account, along with documentation showing their profession and the source of their funds. These documents are closely scrutinized in order to prevent money-laundering.
Can You Hide Money in a Swiss Bank Account?
While Swiss banks were once synonymous with money laundering and tax evasion, the opportunity for illegal activity diminished after Switzerland began exchanging information about account holders with other OECD nations in 2018. While Swiss banking laws still afford a high degree of privacy, it is now much less practical to use them for illegal purposes.
How Much Does a Swiss Bank Account Cost?
Swiss banks may have a monthly charge for account holders, as well as minimum balance requirements. While the requirements will vary from bank to bank, Swiss travel sites suggest a standard monthly fee between 5 and 15 CHF and a minimum balance of around 10,000 CHF ($9,000 USD).
The Bottom Line
Popular culture has made Swiss banks synonymous with espionage and hidden wealth. While the country’s banking secrecy laws still afford a high degree of privacy, strict anti-money laundering laws make the country a much less practical haven for ill-gotten wealth. Anyone over 18 is free to open a Swiss bank account, provided that they can provide identity documents and demonstrate the source of their wealth.
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