If you’re planning to move to Switzerland, one of the most crucial things that you need to sort out is MONEY and everything surrounding that, of course. How will you do your transactions? What’s the tax system like? Which bank to opt for? How to open a new bank account…and much more. Having experienced it all first-hand, I know, the Swiss banking system can feel confusing and overwhelming for expats. So, in this blog we will help you navigate your way through the banking system in Switzerland from the POV of expats.
How does the Swiss banking system work?
As we all know, some of the best banks in Switzerland are also the top banks in the world. The Swiss banking sector is vast and consists of high street banks, cantonal banks, numerous investment banks, regional savings banks, international banks, Raiffeisenbank and more. As an expat, if you want an everyday account, then it’s best you avoid going for private or investment banks. This narrows down your choice primarily to regional (known as cantonal in Switzerland) or national banks. There are twenty-four cantonal banks. Each cantonal bank caters to the needs of residents in their canton. Out of these, many are among the largest banks in Switzerland and offer reasonable rates to their customers. However, when you move to another canton you’d be expected to change your bank to that of the new canton.
Banking in Switzerland for expats
Well, the good news is that opening a bank account in Switzerland is quite simple.
If you’re planning your move, you should aim to start the bank account opening process before your arrival in Switzerland. Otherwise, things could become a bit chaotic. Why, you ask? Well, you need to have a permanent address in order to open a Swiss bank account and you should have a Swiss bank account in order to sign a permanent lease.
So, save yourself the hassle and open your Swiss bank account before moving. However, do keep in mind that when you open an account remotely, it may take from one week to a month for the account to become active.
Things to consider before picking your Bank
- Check with your employer: As an expat, you should first reach out to your employer if you’re moving for an already secured job. Companies usually have tie-ups and special agreements with certain banks which can simplify the process for you.
- Consider your location: If you’re planning to stay in the same canton, then a cantonal bank should be your pick. However, if you are likely to change cantons then it is advisable to opt for a national institution like Swiss Post Office, Credit Suisse, UBS or Raiffeisen, which have branches throughout the country. This is one of the key differences when it comes to banking in Switzerland.
- Spending limits: It is important to consider the spending limit granted to you and you need to make sure that it matches your present spending requirements and will also match in future. It can be common for expats to be given basic spending thresholds, despite having a significant income and this can cause problems further down the line when they have significant purchases or investments to make.
- Currency and conversion rate: As an expat, we are often sending money back home or traveling back home in intervals. So, it is vital to consider the currency requirements and the different fees associated with having a bank account in Switzerland. What I’ve seen most expats do is, using a cantonal bank for their daily banking needs and salary, and opting for an online bank such as Revolut while traveling or or making transfers to secure a better rate. Let’s be honest, expats do have more complex financial and banking needs so having a bank with a good reputation and reasonable currency rates matters.
Another option is to opt for an international money transfer specialist. These companies often provide cheaper rates. Some of these are:
You can check the current rates and deal on Monito’s online comparison tool.
- Special benefits: Do your research and check with different banks and separate providers to understand where the advantages and disadvantages lie in your case. A one-stop-shop bank can be easier to manage when you arrive. Most expats when settled will then take the time to find specific providers.
- What are the additional fees involved: Mostly all banks in Switzerland have some fee or the other attached to different banking needs. These include general administrative fees, ATM use, Debit and credit cards annual fees, international money transfers and much more. You can compare bank accounts and bank charges in Switzerland through Moneyland. There are a lot of other websites available to compare these fees as well.
Which are the trusted banks in Switzerland?
Some of the top banks: Post Finance, UBS, Credit Suisse, Swiss Raiffeisen
Online Banks in Switzerland: Zürcher Kantonalbank, Swiss Raiffeisen, CIM Banque
Best picks for Savings Account in Switzerland: Opt for banks with lower interest rates for your savings account. For this, you can look at cantonal banks rather than national ones.
How to open your Swiss Bank account as an expat?
So, as I said, you can open up an account with some Swiss banks before you move, if you are able to provide digital copies of documentation. However, that process does take time. You can also come in early to open your account in-person as it’s a lot quicker than online account opening.
Once you’ve decided which bank to go with, you can contact your bank and ask for an application package. They explain the account opening process and specify the documents you’ll need to provide thoroughly.
Documents required to Open a Swiss Bank Account as Non-Resident
While the documentation and verification process might differ between banks, they will most likely include the following:
- Proof of identity (current passport or identity card)
- Proof of residency status (visa, residents permit or work permit)
- Proof of address (recent utility bill or official correspondence)
Do check with the bank on whether they offer an online facility. If so, they’d also take you through all the details on how to manage the application process remotely. Generally, even if the bank provides an online solution, they will typically expect to receive documents by post or by a certified representative, rather than online. But again, it depends from bank to bank.
One thing to note is that if you’re not a resident in Switzerland when you apply for an account, you may need to prove your reliability. This is often asked in the form of a written employers’ reference demonstrating solvency or depositing a significant sum (often over CHF 25,000).
Some important things to note when opening a bank account in Switzerland as an expat:
- Your bank usually assigns an individual account manager when you open an account. To facilitate the entire process and to make it seamless, make sure to get your account manager’s direct contact details as early as possible in the proceedings.
- Notify your bank well in advance about your preferred language for communication; otherwise, the bank will assign you an account manager who speaks one of the four official Swiss languages.
- Every bank account in Switzerland comes with either monthly or annual maintenance fees. Be sure to look into these fees as they vary from bank to bank.
- When you open a bank account in person, you may first be offered a numbered account. It is what some call an “anonymous” account and because of the anonymity, these accounts come with the highest maintenance fees, averaging over 1,000 CHF (1,020 USD) per year. Take note of the high maintenance fees and decide whether it is the type of account you want.
Once you have your bank account sorted, you’ll want to give some thought to other financial considerations like doing your Taxes, taking up insurance, having Savings, and a Retirement Plan. If you want me to cover these points from the POV of an expat, do let me know.
Stay tuned to more such expat living articles in our Expat living section.