Open a Swiss bank account -- Legal advice
By Melanie Warner [July 6th, 2008]
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There's a certain fascination with Swiss bank accounts. Secret "numbered accounts" are what have made Swiss banks famous. Favorites of deposed dictators and fictional spies, these accounts are coded with a number instead of a name. Unfortunately, though legal, they're sometimes not easy to open. For one thing, they generally require an in-person appearance in Switzerland. They also often require an initial deposit of at least $100,000 and cost about $300 per year to maintain. Secrecy doesn't come cheap, but...
There are legal, cheaper and easier ways–and they all come with the guaranteed Swiss bank secrecy that's been mandated under Swiss law since 1934. Those laws make it a crime for a Swiss banker to divulge any information about a customer's account. (New rules within the past ten years allow U.S. law enforcement officials to pry in the course of some criminal investigations, but we'll assume that wouldn't apply to our readers.) Aside from numbered accounts, there are three other basic types of Swiss accounts, which several banks, including Credit Suisse and Union Bank of Switzerland, will sometimes allow you to open via fax or even old-fashioned mail service. The cheapest: a standard, garden-variety checking account, which can often be opened with as little as $3,500.
Why bother with a Swiss bank account? Even if you have no intention of evading Uncle Sam's taxes or laundering drug proceeds, a Swiss account can legitimately shield the hard-earned fruits of your labor from other people who might want to get their hands on it–including, but not limited to, ex-spouses, greedy relatives, and the neighbors who sue you because their kid tumbled out of your tree. An account in historically safe and stable Swiss francs can also be a currency hedge against any decline in the value of the dollar. Of course, the most compelling allure may simply be the thrill of announcing loudly, "I'll have the money wired to you from my Swiss bank account."
There's also no need to stay on the Continent to get a Swiss-style bank account. There are oodles of "offshore banking centers" with laws that mandate vows of silence for bankers. Many are sunny, tropical-island nations that tend to have more banks and letterbox companies than people–the Cayman Islands, the Bahamas, Anguilla, Vanuatu, the British Virgin Islands, and the Channel Islands, to name a few. (The Cayman Islands have actually surpassed Switzerland in total foreign bank deposits, with $504 billion, vs. $415 billion.) The advantage of these offshore banks is not just that a visit to your banker takes you to some of the world's finest beaches but also that they may, and often do, give you access to the best interest rates in the world.
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