Banks in Switzerland have a reputation for being discreet, although they’re making concerted efforts to become more transparent – so it might not be the tax haven it once was. Even so, personal banking in Switzerland is sophisticated but straight forward, albeit slightly more expensive for non-residents.
Investment banking and private banking options are also available for expats planning to start a business or stay for the long term.
Money in Switzerland
Switzerland isn’t part of the European Union (EU) and retains its own monetary system. The official currency is the Swiss Franc (CHF), which is divided into 100 or centimes (French).
Notes: 10 CHF, 20 CHF, 50 CHF, 100 CHF, 200 CHF and 1000 CHF
Coins: 1 CHF, 2 CHF, 5 CHF and 5 centimes, 10 centimes, 20 centimes and 50 centimes
Banking in Switzerland
Swiss banks have a reputation for good customer service and stability, and local bankers are known for prudent financial management and sound investments.
Other than possibly maintaining a larger minimum balance in their accounts, expats and locals go through a similar process to open a bank account in Switzerland.
There are numerous banks, but most expats investigate larger national banks or banks based in the canton they live in.
UBS and Credit Suisse have a sizeable local and international presence and offer most of the services expats would need. They’re good options for English speakers, even if other local banks may be cheaper.
Expats who speak a local language may want to consider cantonal banks. Their services are well suited to individuals and many clients prefer the personal touch that comes with smaller banks.
Opening a bank account
Expats should first ask their employer if they have any special agreements with a specific bank, which can simplify the process.
Banks have their own requirements which can include hefty minimum deposits and personal interviews, so it’s important to find out about those. Some private banks prefer dealing with people who’ve been referred by existing customers.
Documents that are often requested include the applicant’s passport, proof of Swiss address, and financial documents like employment contracts.
Credit cards are widely accepted, but there are extra charges for international cards. ATMs are everywhere, and are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Foreign currency can be exchanged at banks, bureaux de change and some hotels.
Taxes in Switzerland
Expats will need to pay both federal and cantonal tax in Switzerland, although the canton is responsible for collecting tax. Tax rates vary between cantons.
Anyone who legally lives in the country or works for more than 30 days has to pay tax. But thanks to Double Taxation Avoidance Agreements with a number of countries, most expats don’t need to pay tax in Switzerland and back home.