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Swiss Bank Accounts For Foreigners Explained

September 1, 2022 - Benjamin Manz

Depending on your citizenship and residence permit, you may find yourself unable to open accounts at some Swiss banks. The various restrictions which apply to different groups of foreigners are explained in this guide.

More than two million people from Germany, France, the US, and countless other countries live in Switzerland. Opening a Swiss bank account as soon as possible after arriving – to receive their salary into, for example – is a must for many expatriates.

But can foreigners who live in Switzerland even open a bank account? Which banks accept expats? Whether or not foreign residents can open accounts varies broadly from one Swiss bank to another. Online comparison service moneyland.ch answers the most important questions in this guide.

 

Can foreigners living in Switzerland open a bank account?

There are no laws which forbid Swiss banks from opening accounts for foreigners living in Switzerland, regardless of their citizenship. But banks are free to decide for themselves which kinds of residence permits they require. The postal bank Postfinance is an exception to this rule, as it is legally obligated to provide a bank account to any legal resident. Opening accounts at other Swiss banks may be difficult or impossible for many foreigners.

Which Swiss banks offer accounts to all expats?

There are very few Swiss banks which do not have any restrictions on account-opening for foreigners, and rules can change at any time. Postfinance is special in this regard, because every legal resident of Switzerland has a right open a private account with that bank. The postal bank has a mandate from the state to provide basic financial services to all residents. As long as that mandate remains in place, Postfinance cannot deny foreigners a bank account.

Most banks have limitations based on residence permit types. If you have a B permit (long-term residence) or a C permit (permanent residence), you can open an account at most Swiss banks.

Some banks say that in principle, any resident can open an account with them, but each application is reviewed on a case-by-case basis. Many cantonal banks, for example, take this approach. With these banks, there is no sure way to know whether or not you can open a bank account until you apply. A good way to go about it is to contact the bank in advance and ask them which specific criteria you need to meet.

Can foreigners open bank accounts online?

Depending on your residence status, many Swiss banks will require you to visit a branch office to open your bank account. But there are some banks, like Bank Cler, Postfinance, and Raiffeisen, for example, which also let residents who are not Swiss citizens open bank accounts online (using mobile apps, for example).

Which identification documents are required for bank account opening?

All Swiss banks reiterate the fact that they are required to follow all applicable regulations and know-your-customer procedures. The Swiss agreement governing the rules and due diligence requirements for banks requires banks to accurately identify their customers. To do this, banks require an official identification document.

Because not all Swiss residence permits count as official identification documents, bringing your passport or ID card along with your residence permit is beneficial and often necessary.

Does my country of citizenship affect my ability to open a Swiss bank account?

Citizens of certain countries may find it more difficult to open a Swiss bank account, compared to other expats. For example, citizens of the US have to provide the bank with a tax certificate from the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS), or their application to open an account may be rejected. If your country is currently subjected to sanctions by the Swiss government, you may have to submit additional documents for perusal by the bank. Some Swiss banks generally will not open accounts for people from countries with special legal requirements.

Unfortunately, many banks do not officially publish their requirements with regards to citizenship. In many cases, the only way to find out is to contact the bank personally and ask whether opening an account is possible, and which documents you need.

Can refugees in Switzerland open Swiss bank accounts?

Refugees in Switzerland can open bank accounts. But many Swiss banks have limitations for people with F permits (temporarily admitted), N permits (asylum seeker), and S permits (vulnerable person). You can find out which Swiss banks accept refugees as customers, and under which conditions, in the guide to bank accounts for refugees in Switzerland.

Can cross-border workers open Swiss bank accounts?

Yes, cross-border workers from neighboring countries can generally open accounts at Swiss banks. But in many cases, banks charge high additional fees to customers who live outside of Switzerland. You can find more information in the guide to Swiss bank accounts for cross-border workers.

Are foreigners charged additional account fees?

As an expat living in Switzerland, you will not be charged the supplemental bank account fees for non-residents. On the other hand, if you only work in Switzerland, but live in a neighboring country, most banks will charge you non-resident fees.

More on this topic:
Non-resident fees from Swiss banks explained
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Expert Benjamin Manz
Benjamin Manz is CEO of moneyland.ch and an independent expert on banking and finance.
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