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Old 31.03.2015, 08:30
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US Citizen new to Switzerland - advice on opening a bank account

Hi All, I just moved to the Biel area (yesterday, as a matter of fact). My first order of business will be to open a bank account. I've heard some scary stories about it not being easy for Americans to open accounts. I'm a fairly normal sort of case, working on a B1 Visa for a Swiss company. Any advice on the "bank of least resistance?"
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Old 31.03.2015, 09:21
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Re: US Citizen new to Switzerland - advice on opening a bank account

It's not bad if you have all your documents together and know your assets. I think people often try to open their account before they have all the required documents.

We've done it twice, most recently in January, and it simply takes a short appointment at a main branch.
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Old 31.03.2015, 09:23
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Re: US Citizen new to Switzerland - advice on opening a bank account

There are several threads on this topic on the forum that give a lot of information and various points of view that you can find with search function. Opinions vary, but my personal experience was that UBS was the most accommodating. We opened accounts, got credit cards and online banking with minimal hassle and all of the correspondence, statements, etc. are in English, as well as the UBS ATM's automatically defaulting to English when we use them. Service has been excellent over the past year. You will sign A LOT of documents to open accounts and make sure FATCA is covered for the IRS reporting. (You probably know that you haven't escaped!)
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Old 31.03.2015, 09:44
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Re: US Citizen new to Switzerland - advice on opening a bank account

US citizen here, I've been with Post Finance for 4 years and am generally pleased. Their online banking works well enough, etc. After a few years, they did ask (by locking half my saving account) to see all my past FBAR forms (since opening the account). These were a bit annoying to dig out.

I choose them mostly because of the absolute ubiquity of the post office in Switzerland. My understanding is that CS and UBS are also fine, but you might have to go to a large branch to actually open the account as not everybody is authorized to open accounts for US persons.
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Old 31.03.2015, 09:50
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Re: US Citizen new to Switzerland - advice on opening a bank account

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There are several threads on this topic on the forum that give a lot of information and various points of view that you can find with search function. Opinions vary, but my personal experience was that UBS was the most accommodating. We opened accounts, got credit cards and online banking with minimal hassle and all of the correspondence, statements, etc. are in English, as well as the UBS ATM's automatically defaulting to English when we use them. Service has been excellent over the past year. You will sign A LOT of documents to open accounts and make sure FATCA is covered for the IRS reporting. (You probably know that you haven't escaped!)
Same experience for me. Had an hour long meeting with a UBS banker. Ask when making the appointment what you will need to provide, but pretty basic: Passport, B1 permit, copy of your employment contract, SSN card as I recall. UBS has a great online portal and in English, so no real problems since. One down check that I can think of - I set up an additional account in USD to facilitate currency transfer, and was told I would get better FX rates. IN reality, I have not seen a real advantage over my originating bank (even when they go through a 3rd party).
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Old 31.03.2015, 10:26
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Re: US Citizen new to Switzerland - advice on opening a bank account

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Hi All, I just moved to the Biel area (yesterday, as a matter of fact). My first order of business will be to open a bank account. I've heard some scary stories about it not being easy for Americans to open accounts. I'm a fairly normal sort of case, working on a B1 Visa for a Swiss company. Any advice on the "bank of least resistance?"
From what I understand, also read the EF, you will likely only have 3 possibilities--UBS, Credit Suisse, and Post Finance. As they have paid their dues to the IRS and the US justice system, I think there is not much difference and they are the only three, probably not necessary to go to the bank of least resistance, doesn't really exist, and no, there is no bank out there wooing american clients, it is more like be lucky you can still get a bank account (at the moment) approach with some extra hoops to jump through and only basic service provided, i.e. forget about investments.
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Old 31.03.2015, 10:42
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Re: US Citizen new to Switzerland - advice on opening a bank account

Another thing to think about are restrictions to your investment options.

The Swiss retirement planning vehicles, Pillars 2 and 3, are fully taxable in the US. As you make investment decisions you will want to take qualified tax advise from a professional wrt your individual situation. (If your company uses a managed fund investment for pillar 3 you might find that you are not allowed to invest in it, for instance.)

All in all, none of the Swiss tax savings vehicles - retirement planning, mortgage deductions, etc. are of any value to us, in fact we are paying a higher rate of tax all in (US and Swiss together) than we would have paid had we remained US residents. YMMV.

Oh, and some investment funds in the US no longer allow you to trade if you have a foreign address. (Fidelity, for instance.) If you have any of those you might consider other options.

Good luck!
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Old 31.03.2015, 15:58
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Re: US Citizen new to Switzerland - advice on opening a bank account

With respect to the documentation, I'll guess I'll have to contact a branch office before going in, to find exactly what documents are required. I lost my Social Security card when I was about 20, when my wallet was stolen. I hope that doesn't create a problem...

With respect to the retirement accounts, that's an interesting point I'll have to investigate. I still have a forwarding US address.
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Old 31.03.2015, 16:24
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Re: US Citizen new to Switzerland - advice on opening a bank account

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With respect to the documentation, I'll guess I'll have to contact a branch office before going in, to find exactly what documents are required. I lost my Social Security card when I was about 20, when my wallet was stolen. I hope that doesn't create a problem...
I didn't need to produce my SSN card when signing up (I highly doubt this would be required) - there are IRS forms to fill out so you will need to know your SSN, though.
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Old 31.03.2015, 18:09
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Re: US Citizen new to Switzerland - advice on opening a bank account

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With respect to the documentation, I'll guess I'll have to contact a branch office before going in, to find exactly what documents are required. I lost my Social Security card when I was about 20, when my wallet was stolen. I hope that doesn't create a problem...

With respect to the retirement accounts, that's an interesting point I'll have to investigate. I still have a forwarding US address.
I would definitely reccommend making contact regarding the required documents and then making an appointment with the bank representative. It truly does not need to take a lot of time if you know what you want in terms of accounts, cards, access etc.
And knowing your SS# is sufficient.
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