How to open a bank account in Switzerland

Zorica Lončar
18.01.21
8 minute read

Planning a move to Switzerland, or to work or study there? It’s easy to see why so many expats flock to the country, as it has picturesque scenery, an extremely high standard of living and plenty of skiing opportunities on its snow-capped mountains.

If you’ll be spending any proper time in Switzerland, it can be helpful to have a Swiss bank account. This will make it easier to get paid by your employer, and to cover all your bills and living expenses.

In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about opening a bank account in Switzerland. The process is relatively straightforward, providing you have the right documentation, and it’s even easier if you’ve already moved to Switzerland and have a Swiss address.

Let’s start with what paperwork you need to open a Swiss bank account.

What documents do I need to open a Swiss bank account?

The documentation required to open a bank account in Switzerland can vary from bank to bank. But here’s what you should have ready, just in case¹:

  • Valid, in-date passport
  • Proof of address
  • Evidence of your residence status (such as a B or C permit)
  • A letter from your employer – this is to prove that you are solvent.

One of the issues you may face is getting copies of your documents certified. Unfortunately, you can’t always just scan and email copies over to the bank.

In many cases, you’ll need to use a lawyer to authenticate the copies of your documents. They’ll attach a certificate known as an apostille stamp¹, before posting your documents to your chosen bank in Switzerland.

When it comes to proving your identity, some Swiss banks now permit you to do so via video.

How to open a bank account in Switzerland online²

It is possible to open a Swiss bank account online in advance of your move to Switzerland, but it can be a little tricky depending on the bank. Many national banks have English versions of their websites, so you can do some research on the process and what documents are needed.

If you’re not yet living in Switzerland, bear in mind that banks are likely to need extensive paperwork from you. For example, some banks require details on your employment and personal history, as well as your passport and address, and you’ll need to get all documents authenticated before posting.

This can make the process quite time-consuming, with a lot of back and forth. It’s not always as simple as completing an application pack and waiting for your new account to be opened.

Some banks will have certain products available for non-residents to open online, but others will require you to visit a Swiss branch in person to carry out the process.

How to open a non-resident bank account in Switzerland?

By far the easiest way to open a bank account in Switzerland is to pop into a local branch and complete the process in person. Contact the bank or look on their website first, to check what paperwork you’ll need to take with you.

You shouldn’t need to make an appointment – there should be a customer service representative on hand to walk you through the required steps. Most banks in major Swiss cities have English-speaking customer service staff.

Once you’ve done this, you can expect your new account to be open within 7-30 days. You’ll get any linked debit or credit cards in the post around 7-10 days after opening the account².

Which Swiss bank is best for my needs?

Switzerland is known for the privacy and stability of its banking sector.

There are two types of banks in Switzerland – national and cantonal. National banks provide consumer bank accounts and products to everyone, while cantonal banks are only available to residents of a specific canton (member states of the Swiss Confederation).

If you’re looking to open a bank account in Switzerland, your best bet is one of the national banks. This is especially the case for expats who plan to move around to different parts of Switzerland. If you open an account with a cantonal bank, you’ll have to switch accounts if you move to a different canton. With a national bank, it’s more flexible.

Here are just a few of your best options:

UBS

UBS is a multinational investment bank and financial services company headquartered in Zurich. While it has lots of investment clients, it also has a range of personal banking services available to residents and expats.

One of your best options at UBS is its Personal Account³, designed for everyday incoming and outgoing payments. It offers free withdrawals at UBS Bancomat ATMs, a low monthly maintenance fee and a debit card on request (for an extra annual fee). You do need to be over 20 years old to open this account though.

You can also choose a UBS banking package, where you can select the services you need (i.e., current account, savings account, debit/credit card, retirement savings etc.) and pay a flat monthly fee for it all.

There’s even an option for students, the Banking Package UBS Campus⁴. If you’re studying in Switzerland, this gives you free account management, free withdrawals at any bank’s ATM and a free ‘cashyou’ subscription for access to 2000+ special offers.

PostFinance

Part of Swiss Post, PostFinance is one of the largest national banks in Switzerland. It offers a range of current and savings accounts for people living, working and studying in Switzerland.

First up is the PostFinance Private Account⁵, a simple everyday current account for people aged 20 and over. It offers online and mobile banking through the PostFinance app, free cash withdrawals at post offices and other outlets and a free PostFinance card. Account management is free if you invest CHF 25,000, otherwise there’s a small monthly charge.

There’s also the Private Account Plus⁶, offering greater flexibility and more perks (including free international cash withdrawals) and a dedicated Student Account⁷. This is for people aged 18 to 30 who are studying or training in Switzerland, offering free account management, a free PostFinance Card and a decent interest rate.

Credit Suisse

While known as a leader in global wealth management, Credit Suisse also has plenty of everyday banking solutions to choose from.

These include the Credit Suisse Private Account⁸, a basic account for daily banking and for paying in your salary. You’ll get a Debit MasterCard (for an annual fee) and access to mobile banking, paying a standard account management fee each month.

If you prefer, you can choose a Credit Suisse banking package. The Bonviva Banking Package⁹ offers everything you need for everyday banking, including a current account, savings account with preferential rate and a card for free withdrawals at any ATM in Switzerland.

For those who like to bank on the go, there’s the CSX digital banking package¹⁰ – all managed using a mobile app, and with a transparent pricing model where you only pay for the services you need.

Other banks worth looking into

If you know exactly where you’ll be moving to in Switzerland and you plan to stay put for a while, it could be a good idea to investigate the cantonal banks in your region. Bear in mind though that cantonal banks may not offer the English-speaking customer service you get with national banks.

And if you regularly send payments internationally (for example, sending money back home to the UK from Switzerland), Wise could be the ideal solution. It’s fast and free to sign up for a multi-currency Wise account, from which you can send and receive money internationally for low fees and the real exchange rate.

Learn more about Wise

What are the costs?

One of the most important things to check when choosing a bank is the list of fees and charges. The last thing you want is to carry out a transaction and find out when it’s too late that it comes with a hefty fee.

Here are the main fees and costs charged by banks in Switzerland¹¹:

  • Monthly account fees – this is a fee for maintaining the account, which for national banks is usually between CHF 5 and 15 a month (depending whether you have a standard or premium account).

  • Fees for all-inclusive accounts – as well as current accounts, you can also access all-inclusive banking services. For around CHF 15 a month depending on the bank, you can get a current account, savings account and credit card.

  • ATM fees – it’s usually free to withdraw cash from an ATM owned by your bank, but you’re likely to be charged a processing fee if you use other bank’s machines.

  • Credit card fees – you’ll typically pay around CHF 30 a year for your credit card.

  • International transfer fees – Swiss banks charge between CHF 5 and 20 to send a payment abroad, but you also need to factor in any fees charged by the receiving bank in another country. Plus, don’t forget about the exchange rate. Banks tend to apply unfavourable exchange rates to international transfers, which eats into the sum so that ultimately, the payment ends up costing you more.

Another important cost to take note of is the extra non-resident charge¹². Some banks will charge around CHF 25 a month for customers who don’t live in Switzerland, so you could save money by waiting until you have a Swiss residential address to open a bank account.

A simpler alternative - Wise

The costs of sending money back home or to another country from Switzerland can soon stack up when you use a bank. But if you do make international transfers regularly, you’ll be pleased to know that there is a better option.

Open a multi-currency account with Wise and you can start whizzing money around the world before you even set foot in Switzerland. Fees are always low and transparent, so you know exactly what you’ll be paying (including the real, mid-market exchange rate) before hitting ‘send’. It could end up as much as 8x cheaper than using your bank¹⁶.

You can manage all of your payments wherever you are in Switzerland or the world using the handy Wise app. And there’s even the option of using a linked Wise debit card , so you can spend like a local in a huge number of countries worldwide.

So, if you’re facing annoying delays or paperwork trying to get a Swiss bank account open, why not open a Wise multi-currency account in the meantime? You can use it to cover essential moving costs in Switzerland, such as paying your first rent instalment, and continue using it as a low-cost way to send money home once you’re all settled in.

Get your multi-currency account today

So that’s it – all you need to know about opening a bank account in Switzerland. You should now have a decent idea of the documents you’ll need, how to apply and the best banks to look out for.

Remember that it can be much easier and cheaper once you’re actually in Switzerland and have a residential address, but there are always alternatives such as Wise in the meantime.

Sources used:

  1. Telegraph - bank account in Switzerland
  2. Expatica - bank account in Switzerland
  3. UBS - personal account
  4. UBS - campus account
  5. PostFinance - personal account
  6. PostFinance - personal account plus
  7. PostFinance - student account
  8. Credit Suisse - private account
  9. Credit Suisse - Bonviva
  10. Credit Suisse - cards
  11. Expatica - choosing a bank account
  12. Post Finance - personal account

Sources checked on 11-January 2021.


This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from TransferWise Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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