Bank accounts for refugees are currently a big issue in neighboring Germany, where no bank account often means no home rental and no job. However, many German banks have rejected applications from people with refugee status. Reasons given include missing documents and even language difficulties. In some cases where the applicant does not understand German or at least English, an interpreter is required to accurately convey information.
Recently Bafin, the German Federal Financial Supervisory Authority, began to recognize provisional documents issued by the migration authority as a legal alternative for the opening of bank accounts. But banks insist that the successful implementation of international agreements aimed at countering money laundering takes priority. However, the German Federal Government wants to sign into effect a law which will give refugees and homeless people the right to open bank accounts.
Bank accounts for foreign residents: What are the options in Switzerland?
The answer to that question is: it really depends on the bank. There are major differences in how different Swiss banks respond to foreign applicants looking to open a bank account. If you are resident in Switzerland, you will not have to pay the additional bank fee which is imposed on foreigners residing outside of Switzerland. But even so, you might find your applications being turned down by many banks, especially if you only have a more basic residence permit.
Public service mandate of PostFinance
Only a handful of banks allow the unrestricted opening of accounts.
Beside Credit Suisse and the Aargauischen Kantonalbank, you may find PostFinance to be a good bet. The postal bank is obliged by a mandate to provide basic financial services to all residents. That means PostFinance does not have a say in whether or not to accept you as a client. All individuals with identification papers can open an account at the Postbank, regardless of how long (or short) they will reside in Switzerland.
The Schaffhauser Kantonalbank is another bank which, in principle, accepts customers from around the world, as long as they carry a valid Swiss residence permit or proof of employment in Switzerland.
Opening an account with a B or C permit
If you have a "B" or "C" residence permit, you should be able to open a bank account at most banks without any issues. If you are in Switzerland on a diplomatic permit, you also shouldn’t encounter too much difficulty as long as you are not polically exposed. The Banque Cantonale Vaudoise (BCV) generally accepts any applicant with a Swiss residence or employment permit which is valid for at least 6 months.
Opening a Swiss bank account: Nationality and customer profile
Other banks will open a bank account for you if your profile matches their criteria. UBS, for example, considers an application individually before beginning a customer relationship. Your nationality can play a deciding role in whether or not you are approved for a Swiss bank account. The Zürcher Kantonalbank also considers your overall situation during the decision-making process.
The Thurgauer Kantonalbank is somewhat less flexible. As a rule, the bank will not even consider taking on customers who do not have long-term Swiss residence permits.
Limitations for refugees and asylum seekers
Non-Swiss with category F (temporarily admitted), N (asylum seeker) or S (vulnerable person) permit in Switzerland may find themselves unwelcome or only begrudgingly accepted at Swiss banks.
Berner Kantonalbank and St. Galler Kantonalbank, for instance, only accept foreign residents possessing a B or C permit. F, N and S permit holders will generally not be able to open an account at Raiffeisen either because those permits do not serve as unquestionable proof of identity. The Basellandschaftlichen Kantonalbank may take on F permit holders, but only if they can show proof of residence issued by municipal authorities.
At the Obwaldner Kantonalbank, the opening of a bank account for a refugee or asylum seeker is only possible in rare instances. Account-related documents are only available in German.
Migros Bank, UBS and the Zürcher Kantonalbank inspect applications individually and may in rare instances (depending on your profile) allow refugees to open accounts.
Temporarily admitted refugees (permit F) can open accounts at Luzerner Kantonalbank, while asylum seekers (N permit) and vulnerable persons (S permit) face limitations.
Bank Cler generally accepts refugees and asylum seekers, as do Basler Kantonalbank, Credit Suisse and PostFinance. As a parastatal bank, PostFinance is required to provide basic banking services to all residents, and is therefore a good option for residents with F, N and S permits.
Valiant and Graubündner Kantonalbank accept temporarily admitted persons and asylum seekers. Only holder of S permits (vulnerable persons) are not eligible. In some cases, Valiant may require proof of residence.
No account without legal ID
As a rule, all Swiss banks state that the regulations and considerations governing the opening of bank accounts must be adhered to. This includes the "Code of Conduct with Regard to the Exercise of Due Diligence" (CDB), which requires that banks can prove the identity of their customers beyond a shadow of doubt. This requires applicants to provide government-issued identification documents.
Without proper ID, you will not be able to open an account at any Swiss bank. PostFinance states that in the absence of acceptable identification documents, it will judge your application on an individual basis and get back to you regarding further steps to take.
For more information:
Swiss non-resident bank fee comparison
Swiss private account comparison
Swiss savings account comparison
Swiss brokerage account comparison
Swiss credit card comparison
Swiss personal loan comparison