Setting up an Expat bank account in Switzerland

Tiffany Jansen
Posted: February 9th, 2014
Gold Coast Lake Zurich SwitzerlandGold Coast Lake Zurich Switzerland

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Expat Banking In Switzerland
Your next stop is Switzerland and you’re checking the items off your to-do list for the big move. One of the tasks on that list is setting up a bank account in your new home.

While banking in Switzerland is straight-forward in principle, it has become more difficult for expats thanks to recent crack-downs on money laundering and other financial crimes.

But it’s certainly not impossible. And this guide will help you navigate the process with ease.

Money Matters

Switzerland’s currency is the Swiss franc (CHF), one of the strongest currencies in the world. One franc consists of 100 rappen (called centimes in the French-speaking areas).

The denominations are as follows:
Notes: 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, 1000 francs
Coins: 1, 2, and 5 francs and 5, 10, 20, and 50 rappen/centimes.

Of course, cash isn’t the only payment option. Once you have a bank account, you’ll be issued a Carte Maestro (French)/Maestro Karte (German), a debit card that can be used to make payments and withdraw cash.

Credit cards are widely accepted, though you may find that some establishments, such as supermarkets, won’t take them. Smaller stores may require a minimum purchase amount. As far as the type of card, Visa and Mastercard are preferred.

Because cheques take so much time and money to process, they are rarely used. ATMs are easy to find and available 24/7. Should you wish to cash a Traveller’s cheque or exchange currency, you have plenty of options, including banks, airports, bureaux de changes, and the occasional railway station or hotel.

High Risk Merchant Account

Banks in Switzerland
With roughly 400 banks, there’s certainly no shortage to choose from. You can find a complete list of Swiss authorized banks here.

UBS and Credit Suisse are the most popular among expats since they have a plethora of ATMs and are the most English-friendly banks in Switzerland. The downside is that these bonuses do come with a price.

If cost is a concern, you may want to consider PostFinance, operated by the Swiss postal service. You could also try one of the Kantonalbanken, which offer low fees and free ATMs. These banks are owned by the local governments of the cantons (states or provinces) in which they are located.

Supermarket chains Coop and Migros also offer banking options. Additional possibilities are Banque Raiffeisen and Clientis Bank.

Standard banking services are current accounts, savings accounts, student accounts, salary accounts, investment and equity accounts, online banking, and access to a safe deposit box.

Some banks have machines called a multimat installed where you can scan your bills and have the amounts immediately deducted from your account. Accounts can be opened in virtually any currency, though the most common are the US dollar, the euro, and the pound.

Banks are typically open Monday through Friday from 9-4 and closed on weekends and holidays. In larger cities, they may also be open on Saturdays and stay open as late as 5pm. Smaller banks may have one day a week on which they open later in the day.

What You'll Need
In an effort to crackdown on financial crime and money laundering, Swiss banks will ask you to jump through a number of hoops before allowing you to open an account.

Here’s a list of items you’ll want to have to make the process as streamlined as possible:
  1. Passport or other photo identification
  2. Residence permit
  3. Proof of address (e.g. recent utility bill)
  4. Copy of your employment contract
  5. Proof of the origin of the funds that will be coming into your account (e.g. documents from the sale of a property or a pay slip)
You will need to fill out and sign a few forms and a minimum balance may be required depending on the bank and what type of account you’re opening. The good news is your account will be active immediately, with your debit and credit cards arriving a week to 10 days later.

Good to Know
Some companies have special agreements with banks which may afford employees certain deals, discounts, or simplified procedures. Check with the human resources department at your place of work to see if your employer has a special arrangement with a particular branch.

Not all banks require a minimum deposit. However, once you begin depositing funds into your account, you will need to maintain a minimum balance. United States citizens and green card holders may find it difficult to set up a bank account or obtain a loan in Switzerland.

The United States is the only developed country that taxes its citizens living abroad, and the requirements the government places on other nations (and the hefty fines that are levied if those requirements are not met) have made Swiss banks reluctant to sign on American clients. While it’s not impossible for Americans to start up accounts in Switzerland, it may be a much bumpier road.

Always conduct your own research before opening an account in any country. Shop around until you find a bank that will best suit your needs during your stay in Switzerland.

Switzerland international banking.
Bellinzona City in SwitzerlandBellinzona City Switzerland