swiss banking for regular people

banksOne of  the less exciting but essential “settling in” tasks was getting set up with a bank account. Seeing how easy it is to do these mundane things in the US, you wouldn’t think it would be so complicated but we are in Switzerland. And Swiss bank accounts are (in)famous in all sorts of ways.

We’d been forewarned that it was trickier for US citizens to open an account with a Swiss bank. What? Seriously?  Who knew.  So for folks who don’t read the international finance pages, there has been a serious crackdown on Americans who like to  use Swiss banks to avoid taxes. Without mentioning any names, let’s just say we’ve all heard about this.  But we are regular people, and even with our good jobs, we still fall quite squarely into the middle class.

This nice little piece from Forbes.com has some background on this issue, in case you are planning to strike it rich, join us in Switzerland, or are otherwise thinking about a Swiss account.

UBS, Credit Suisse, or Coop?

As we set out with our passports, work contract, proof of being registered to live in Zurich, and some dollars we brought with us to get us up and running we headed towards the Bahnhofstrasse. This is a serious street where all sorts of famous, luxury designers have shops alongside some of the big Swiss banks.

After banking with local credit unions for so many years it felt sad and a little sickening to be on our way to depositing our money in a big bank, but the advice we’d received suggested one of the bigger banks would be most likely to open an account for Aimee (some of the smaller ones lack the capacity to deal with all of the new rules & regulations) and would offer the best options for international travel. But as we were just a few feet away from the entrance to UBS, we noticed the Coop Bank!  A cooperative, which advertised “fair banking” and that we’ve since learned was founded originally by the trade unions. Off we went to see about opening an account there instead.

To make a long story shorter, we quickly learned that banking in Switzerland, even in a Coop bank, was really different from what we were used to with each bank offering a wide range of services (some essential, some not at all). Several meetings later at both for-profit and cooperative banks, we finally ended up opening an account through the Swiss Post, the federal mail system which apparently operates a straightforward bank as well.  Maybe one day, when our German is better and we are better able to understand our banking needs, we can open accounts with the fair banking bank  but until then, the Post looks like it will work for us and allow us to stay away from the more “famous” banks.

We still have a lot of financial stuff to figure out (ick) thanks to the rare US law that requires citizens and permanent residents to file US taxes regardless of where they live (Bangladesh is the only other country with this rule) but generally, banking is boring and so this may be the last post on the subject.

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3 responses to “swiss banking for regular people

  1. Glad you were able to figure it out in a relatively short amount of time! 🙂 I don’t know the Swiss Post Office bank, but in France I have an account with the French Post Office bank and it’s been quite good – I don’t think they’re as shady as the big name banks out there.

    One detail in your post makes me uneasy… “citizens AND permanent residents” you say??? Is that right? So Jo will have to file US taxes as well? (at least for the time he keeps his green card?)

    Thanks for keeping us posted on your adventures! Great blog! 🙂

  2. stupid Americans (not you of course…but the “other” ones)…so glad that you and the family arrived safely..what a great adventure…and yes, we already miss you too, Aimee…thank you for inviting us in….peace.

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