A major advantage of renting a safe deposit box in which to store valuables is the risk of theft is much lower than that of storing valuables at home. Unlike balances in bank accounts, assets held in bank safe deposit boxes remain the property of their owner and are not affected by bank insolvencies.
Renting a safe deposit box
Swiss banks require that you open a private account or savings account with them before you can rent a safe deposit box. A good first step is to compare the costs of private accounts in order to find the most affordable combination.
In order to rent a safe deposit box, you will typically have to go to a bank branch office in person. It is possible for two (in some cases more) people to jointly rent a safe deposit box and be listed on the rental agreement.
Bank safe deposit boxes normally have double locks. One lock can only be opened by a bank employee, and the second lock can only be opened by the key held by the customer.
Depending on the bank, additional criteria – such as a minimum balance on the linked account – may apply. The minimum rental term is typically 1 year, although some banks do not have minimum rental terms.
Safe deposit box rental agreements can normally be terminated at the end of each calendar year. If notice is not given, the contract is automatically extended for an additional year. Some banks allow renters to terminate rental agreements at any time.
Access during standard business hours
Swiss banks typically give customers a pair of 2 identical keys. If the keys are lost, the entire lock must be replaced. This can cost up to 1000 francs. Having a key duplicated to replace a lost key or to create a spare is generally forbidden. It is worth noting that the cost of replacing bank safe locks is typically insured by Swiss household insurance.
To prevent keys from being lost or stolen, some banks offer a safekeeping service by which keys are collected at the bank till when access is required, and deposited at the till before leaving the bank. The fee for this service is charged in addition to safe deposit box rents and ranges between 40 and more than 400 francs (depending on the bank).
Safe deposit boxes can normally only be accessed during the standard business hours of corresponding bank branch offices. When this is the case, you are required to verify your identity before you are able to access your safe deposit box. Some banks require additional verification, such as signature examinations.
A few bank branch offices offer safes with automated verification systems. These can be accessed 24 hours a day.
Major differences in safe deposit box pricing
Many Swiss banks offer safe deposit boxes, but in some cases this service is not available at all branch offices. The sizes and rents of safes can also vary between individual branch offices.
There are notable differences in the costs and sizes of safe deposit boxes. The smallest safes offered by Swiss banks cost between 60 and 200 francs per year – depending on the bank and branch office. These have a storage capacity of up to 10 liters.
The largest safes available for rent in Switzerland are many times larger than standard safe deposit boxes and have storage volumes as high as 20,000 liters (cubic decimeters). The per-liter rental cost is lower than that of small safe deposit boxes, but due to their large volumes the largest safe deposit boxes can cost up to 10,000 francs per year.
Privacy laws remain intact
Bank safe deposit boxes continue to live up to their mythical status as a safe haven of privacy. The contents of safe deposit boxes are known only to renters. This has not been affected by the dissolution of bank customer privacy protection for non-residents because bank safe deposit boxes are rented storage space – just like any other rented storage facility
Tax information exchange agreements between Switzerland and other countries only affect balances held by service providers like banks or insurance companies on behalf of customers residing in countries which are party to these agreements.
The bank does not hold contents of safe deposit boxes on your behalf, but simply rents you secure storage space. However, as the owners of the rental space, banks may forcibly open safes under exceptional circumstances (when instructed to by a court order, for example).
Bank safe deposit boxes are provided primarily for the purpose of storing valuables like money, coins, precious stones, jewelry, works of art, documents and other personal valuables. Storing dangerous items like weapons and hazardous chemical or biological substances is forbidden.
Banks do not insure contents
Swiss bank safe deposit boxes have a reputation for security. However, if you want your personal property to be insured, it is up to you as the renter to insure it. Banks do not have insurance which covers the contents of safe deposit boxes against theft, fire, flooding, and other hazards.
Banks also cannot be held liable for possible deterioration of stored property caused by humidity or mold.
The valuables insurance offered by many Swiss insurance providers – typically as a rider for household insurance – generally covers jewelry, watches, works of art and furs held in bank safe deposit boxes. Some household insurance policies extend their coverage to the contents of rented bank safes. Some insurers will insure money and cash equivalents held in safe deposit boxes based on special agreements, but this is the exception.
Safe deposit boxes for non-residents
If you reside outside of Switzerland, renting a Swiss bank safe deposit box can be expensive. The reason for this is that Swiss banks require you to have an account with them in order to open a safe deposit box, and as a non-resident you pay an additional non-resident account fee for your account. Some Swiss banks also require a deposit for keys, and this deposit ranges between 500 and 1000 francs.
Using bank safe deposit boxes to avoid negative interest rates
Holding money in bank safe deposit boxes provides an alternative to holding bank balances, and are a popular instrument for avoiding negative interest rates. However, if your primary purpose for renting a safe deposit box is to securely store money, it is important to note that the rent you pay is effectively negative interest.
Example: If you hold 50,000 Swiss francs in a bank safe deposit box with a 100-franc annual rental fee, you are effectively paying negative interest at the rate of 0.2% per annum.
A complete calculation of costs must also include possible additional costs like insurance, and the cost and traveling time involved with visiting the bank branch.