Approximately 300,000 residents of neighboring countries commute across borders to work in Switzerland. Around half of these live in France. The canton of Geneva provides jobs for more than 80,000 cross-border workers, making it the leading cross-border worker employer in Switzerland. It is followed by the canton of Vaud (nearly 30,000 workers) and Basel City (more than 18,000 workers). Canton Zurich, with less than 1000 cross-border workers, is not a major commuting destination.
With such a large number of workers commuting across Swiss borders, it would seem that this group would provide an attractive market for banks. In recent years however, Swiss banks have become notably less welcoming of potential customers which are not Swiss residents. This also affects cross-border workers.
High additional fees at Swiss banks
Banks which do accept non-residents generally charge cross-border workers the same high additional fees that apply to other non-resident customers. On average, non-residents customers pay 300 francs more fees than those with Swiss residence. Some banks like the Aargauische Kantonalbank no longer accept any new, non-resident customers, including cross-border workers.
It’s important to note, though, that there are big differences in the additional fees charged to non-residents between banks. A fair number of banks, including the cantonal banks of Geneva and Basel, drop the additional fee altogether for exceptionally good customers (such as those with large amounts of assets).
Many Swiss banks levy lower charges on residents of bordering countries (like Germany, France or Italy). Swissquote does not charge an additional fee for non-resident customers.
Banks which do not charge higher fees for cross-border workers
The Banque Cantonale Vaudoise and Valiant do not charge cross-border workers additional fees. Crédit Agricole next bank does not charge an additional fee to customers living in France, Germany or Liechtenstein (with an economic link to Switzerland).
The Thurgauer Kantonalbank does not apply an additional fee to cross-border workers if they are residents of Southern Germany. UBS customers who reside in Germany, France, Italy or Austria benefit from a waiver of foreign resident fees when a monthly salary of at least 500 francs per month is paid into their account.
Bank fees compared
In addition to the foreign resident fees, you should also compare the other fees and charges attached to the bank services you need as you would if you were resident in Switzerland. Differences in fees between banks can be major.
For most cross-border workers, a checking account (also called a current account) is the most necessary Swiss bank account. As well as the basic account fee, a number of other fees may apply, depending on how you use your account. Debit cards (like Maestro, V-Pay or Postfinance cards) are connected to a checking account and normally have separate costs attached.
While checking accounts are designed for regular transactions, Swiss savings accounts are designed to deliver passive earnings and generally offer a somewhat higher yield rate than checking accounts. Savings accounts are normally provided free of charge. Because the interest earnings vary between accounts, a savings account comparison is worth the trouble (even in the current low-interest environment).
An increasing number of banks now bundle their services into banking packages, which makes comparing accounts difficult. The bank package comparison tool from moneyland.ch can help you find the best match for your banking needs. If all you need is a current account, then bank packages normally aren’t the best-value option.
Financial transactions outside of Switzerland
If you live outside of Switzerland and need to make regular transfers to recipients outside of Switzerland, then you should take a look at costs attached to foreign transactions. Always make payments online if possible, as it can work out a lot cheaper than ordering transactions by phone or using a deposit slip.
Transactions to Euro accounts can be made via SEPA and many Swiss banks do not charge fees when you make these transactions online. At banks which do charge you for these transactions, fees range between 1 and 5 francs. Non-SEPA transactions abroad which don’t use an IBAN are more expensive, and typically cost around 8 francs per transfer.
The unbiased checking account comparison on moneyland.ch accounts for money transfers to Euro accounts (SEPA) and other foreign currencies (non-SEPA). Choose the “Individual profile” option under “Profile selection” to find the right account for your transaction needs.
Additional services for cross-border workers compared
Many issuers only provide credit cards to customers who are resident in Switzerland, but you can use your debit card to make payments and cash withdrawals in Switzerland and abroad. Getting cash advances using a credit card is never recommended because of the high fees and charges involved.
Swiss personal loans are only available to residents of Switzerland and Liechtenstein, and are therefore not an option for cross-border workers aside from those resident in Liechtenstein. The same rule normally applies to mortgages.
Where wealth management and private banking are concerned, rules vary greatly between service providers. The private banking comparison by moneyland.ch provides an overview of fees charged by major full-service banks.
Only a few Swiss online trading brokers accept non-resident customers. The major differences in brokerage fees are clearly visible in the online broker comparison by moneyland.ch which takes individual transaction fees and custody fees into account when comparing brokers.