The Swiss Banking Law of 1934 made it criminal for Swiss banks to disclose the name of an account holder. Similar to the confidentiality protections between doctors and patients or lawyers and their clients, these protections are the primary differentiator that make Swiss bank accounts so popular with banking customers around the world.

Opening a Swiss Bank Account

Surprisingly, opening a Swiss bank account is not that much different from opening a standard bank account. You have to fill out forms and provide documentation that proves who you are and what you do. However, due to some special circumstances regarding privacy, the level of scrutiny over providing official documentation of your identity is more strict. For example, you may need to show your official passport to provide your identity, whereas a driver's license would probably suffice in the U.S. There are also different minimum balance requirements depending on the type of account you want. These can range from a few thousand dollars to millions of dollars.

Key Takeaways

  • Swiss banks employ a strict level of scrutiny in evaluating official documentation of your identity.
  • Nonresidents of Switzerland must be at least 18 years old to open a Swiss bank account, and that's about the only restriction.
  • The main benefits of Swiss bank accounts include the low levels of financial risk and high levels of privacy.
  • Swiss law prevents the bank from disclosing any information regarding an account (even its existence) without the depositor's permission, except in cases where severe criminal activity is suspected.

Swiss Bank Accounts and Nonresidents of Switzerland

Nonresidents of Switzerland must be at least 18 years old to open a Swiss bank account, and that's about the only restriction. Accountholders can choose their currency, and most choose to hold their funds in Swiss francs, U.S. dollars, Euro, or British Pound Sterling. There's usually no minimum balance required to open an account, but once an accountholder deposits funds, there is typically a minimum balance requirement, which varies according to the bank.

Swiss anti-money-laundering laws require a prospective Swiss bank account holder to provide several types of documents in order to open an account. These include authenticated copies of your passport and documents explaining your profession, such as tax returns, company documents, professional licenses, etc.; proof of the source of your funds; and other typical personal information.

Benefits of Swiss Bank Accounts

The main benefits of Swiss bank accounts include the low levels of financial risk and high levels of privacy they offer. The Swiss economy is one of the most stable in the world, and has not been involved in any conflicts in hundreds of years. Furthermore, Swiss law requires that banks have high capital requirements and strong depositor protection, which practically ensures that any deposits will be safe from financial crisis and conflict.

Accounts held in Swiss Francs will earn a small amount of interest, but they'll also have to pay the Swiss withholding tax. For this reason, most foreign accountholders have their Swiss bank account in another currency.

In terms of privacy, Swiss law prevents the bank from disclosing any information regarding an account (even its existence) without the depositor's permission. The only exception, the only way information will be revealed, is if a government agency makes the claim that a depositor is involved in a serious criminal act or is involved in some other financial issue (such as bankruptcies, divorces and inheritances). Furthermore, Swiss anti-money-laundering regulations also require depositors to provide proof regarding the origin of the funds they are placing in their accounts.