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If you have relocated to Switzerland or plan to do so soon, you may have already considered the benefits offered by Swiss financial institutions. Opening a Swiss bank account is one of the fastest ways to tap into these benefits. Read on to find out what it takes to get started.

While it might seem daunting, the benefits of opening a Swiss bank account far outweigh the initial hassles of creating an account.

Managing your finances, paying bills, and finding housing can be tricky without a local bank account. And although most stores accept Visa or Mastercard, using foreign bank cards can result in high foreign currency fees, especially when withdrawing cash from ATMs.

A Swiss bank account can help you bypass all these challenges and establish a financial foothold in Switzerland.

Eligibility to open a Swiss bank account as a foreigner

Before diving into the application process, it’s always best to check if you meet all the criteria to get started. As an expat, you’ll most likely require:

  • A valid residence permit. You’ll need either a B permit (long-term residence) or a C permit (permanent residence) to open a bank account in Switzerland. These permits are typically issued to those who have secured employment or are pursuing higher education in Switzerland.
  • Additional documents like a work contract or proof of a Swiss address.
  • Your passport or ID card, since not all Swiss residence permits count as official identification documents.

Which Swiss bank is right for you?

Switzerland is home to diverse banking options with unique offerings. At first glance, they might feel similar. But consider the following factors to evaluate these options:

Type of bank

Ask yourself whether you’d like to open a Swiss bank account as a foreigner with large global banks, local cantonal banks, or digital banks.

  • Large international banks tend to offer a wide range of services, including investment banking and wealth management.
  • Local cantonal banks are typically smaller and focus on providing personalised services. However, most cantons have their own banks. And in case you relocate to a different canton, you may be required to transfer your account from the previous cantonal bank to a new one.
  • Digital banks are online-only banks that offer convenience and flexibility. As a digital private bank, Alpian delivers the best of all three, combining wealth management services, bespoke investment advice, and everyday banking services.

Fees

It pays to examine the fine print. Some banks charge a high fee for services like foreign transactions, ATM withdrawals, and account maintenance.

Choosing a bank with competitive fees can save you a significant sum in the long run.

Branch network and accessibility

Some banks have a vast network of branches, making it easy to access their services.

On the other hand, finding a bank with smooth and comprehensive digital banking services will free you from the burden of physically going to an office altogether.

Language support

Ensure the bank provides support in your preferred language — this is essential if you’re an expat still learning the local tongue.

What about foreigner-specific services?

Some banks offer specialised services tailored to the needs of expats. Choosing a bank with these services can make it easier to manage your finances while living abroad.

International money transfers

As an expat living in Switzerland, managing international money transfers can get complex and costly very quickly.

Most international bank transfers incur fees from your bank and the recipient bank. Swiss banks usually charge a flat fee for sending payments (usually between CHF 5 and CHF 20) but not for receiving funds.

Since banks often charge a fixed rate, they can be cheaper for large transfers than money transfer services but more expensive for small amounts.

Be aware that some banks can’t transfer money to some countries. Ensure that the countries you wish to transfer money to are not on that list.

man holding a credit card in front of computer

For international transfers, you could also consider alternative services like CurrencyFair, Wise, or XE. However, it’s important to note that Alpian offers the best exchange rates in Switzerland, as highlighted in a recent study.

Alpian distinguishes itself by not charging any commissions or transfer fees, making it an exceptionally cost-effective choice for international money transfers.

It’s always a good idea to use an online comparison tool to find the cheapest, quickest, and most convenient option for your needs, but Alpian’s competitive rates and fee structure are worth considering in your comparison.

Multi-currency accounts

If you frequently deal with transactions in different currencies, a multi-currency account is an invaluable asset. It allows you to hold and manage multiple currencies in a single account, streamlining your financial management across borders.

This is particularly beneficial if you plan to transfer or receive money in other currencies than the Swiss franc. But it is also a huge asset when it comes to traveling, as you can use the same bank account to pay abroad without having to go to an intermediary.

In fact, a multi-currency account can significantly reduce your expenses on foreign exchange fees.

With the ability to exchange currencies directly within your account, you bypass the additional costs typically associated with third-party currency conversion services.

Alpian, for example, offers a multi-currency account that supports major currencies like EUR, CHF, US Dollars, and GBP. This feature caters to a wide range of international banking needs, whether you’re dealing with European transactions, managing investments in US dollars, or handling any other cross-border financial activities.

The conventional way to open a Swiss bank account

Once you’ve locked in on the most suitable bank, prepare yourself for the account opening process, which typically involves the following steps:

  1. Gather required documentation: Collect your passport, residence permit, proof of address, and any additional documents the bank requires.
  2. Schedule an appointment: Book an appointment with a bank representative to complete the application process.
  3. Complete application forms: Fill out all the necessary forms and provide accurate information.
  4. Sign the agreement: Review the account agreement carefully and sign all the relevant documents.
  5. Make an initial deposit: As required by the bank.

The Alpian way: Open an account in 10 minutes

Unlike the conventional process, Alpian allows you to open a Swiss bank account as a foreigner seamlessly through the Alpian app. Here’s how:

  1. What you don’t need: Unnecessary paperwork. Lengthy in-person meetings. A high minimum deposit to begin. Say goodbye to all three.
  2. You will need a smartphone: Download the Alpian app on your iOS or Android phone and start the registration process.
  3. Keep your Swiss ID ready: Verify that you are a Swiss resident above the age of 18.
  4. Provide personal information: Complete an intuitive form that collects your banking and investing preferences.

That’s it.

man holding a smartphone with the alpian bank app opened in the investments tab

Extra tip: The importance of banking licenses in Switzerland

When choosing a bank in Switzerland, especially as a foreigner, understanding the role of FINMA and the significance of a banking license is crucial.

FINMA, or the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority, is the government body responsible for financial regulation in Switzerland. It ensures that financial markets function effectively and protects clients’ interests. Here’s what you need to know:

  • FINMA banking license: A FINMA banking license is a mark of credibility and security. Banks with this license are subject to stringent regulatory requirements and regular oversight. This ensures they operate with high standards of financial practice and risk management.
  • Role of FINMA: FINMA oversees banks, insurance companies, stock exchanges, and securities dealers in Switzerland. It ensures these institutions comply with Swiss laws, protecting the integrity and stability of the financial market.
  • Neo banks and licensing: Some neo banks in Switzerland may not have a direct FINMA license. Instead, they operate under the license of established, traditional banks. While these neo banks offer innovative banking solutions, they rely on their partner banks’ licenses and infrastructure to operate legally.
  • Deposit insurance: One of the key benefits of banking with a FINMA-licensed institution is deposit insurance. In the unlikely event of a bank failure, clients’ deposits are protected up to CHF 100,000. This insurance scheme adds an extra layer of security for account holders, giving them peace of mind.
  • Why it matters for foreign account holders: For foreigners opening a bank account in Switzerland, choosing a FINMA-licensed bank means opting for a higher standard of financial security and regulatory protection. It’s an important factor to consider when entrusting your finances to a Swiss bank.

You’ve got this!

Thanks to technology, accessing the best of banking has never been easier. Analyse your preferences and your needs, do the research, and we’re sure you’ll find the right answer. Here’s wishing you a smooth and fruitful journey in Switzerland. Happy banking!

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About the author

Driven by a need for clarity and simplicity on all things wealth related, the i-vest team works closely with senior financial experts and advisors to dive deeper into the world of finance, investment and wealth to make it more relevant for you.

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