How to Open a Swiss Bank Account

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At one time, owning an account with a Swiss bank allowed some financial privacy. Swiss law protected banks from having to divulge information on their clients. Individuals wishing to avoid taxes or legal confiscation of assets often turned to Swiss accounts. International legal agreements have changed some advantages of Switzerland's banking system, but opening a Swiss account is still an option if you meet the legal requirements.

Find Your Bank

Navigate to the website of a Swiss bank to learn more about the accounts it offers. Swiss banks offer a wide variety of combination packages. The Bonviva Silver account at Credit Suisse, for example, includes two private accounts, a savings account, two credit cards and a preferential interest rate on salary and savings deposits. Most of banks' websites also offer a phone number for a personal consultation that will help you decide on the optimum services and benefits. Always check the account fees, which can be charged annually or monthly, and any penalties for early withdrawals or account closings.

Complete the Application

Complete the online account application. Different accounts require varying types of information. The UBS Vested Benefits account, for example, is designed to accept pension assets and requires you to disclose details on the administrator, contribution dates, and total vested benefits. You may also apply in person at a local branch. Several Swiss banks have offices in major U.S. cities. Note that even if you intend to open an anonymous "numbered" account, you still must disclose and prove your identity to the bank, just as with a conventional account.

Provide Documents

Submit any required documents by fax, e-mail, courier or regular mail. Swiss law requires verification of your identity via certified physical documents, which is impossible via the Internet. This step will include in all cases a copy of your personal identification and proof of where your funds originate, for example, a statement from your employer concerning your salary. You must be 18 years of age and be prepared to assure the bank that you are not involved in criminal activities. Your application may be refused. UBS, for example, now accepts U.S. clients only through its Swiss Financial Advisers unit, which requires minimum investible assets of $1 million.

Declare Your Account

Declare all income and assets to the IRS annually according to U.S. tax law. Declare foreign bank accounts that exceed the current threshold to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network per federal law. Swiss banks no longer can guarantee privacy for their account holders. Tax conventions between Switzerland and other countries, including the United States, require the disclosure of account names when the IRS or other public agency is pursuing a money-laundering or tax-evasion investigation. UBS, one of Switzerland's largest banks, recently paid a fine of $780 million to the IRS on charges of withholding client information.