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Switzerland - Banking

Switzerland is known for its banks, just as much as for its cheeses and chocolate. Not only are there hundreds to choose from, but they are known as the safest in the world. The buildings are usually large and modern and the customer services can be easily found in English.

The main local banks are UBS, Crédit Suisse, Raiffeisen Bank, PostFinance and cantonal banks (Kantonalbanks) – banks specific to each canton and available only for residents of that canton.

UBS and Crédit Suisse are the biggest in the country, however are chosen less often by expats, due to high service fees. PostFinance is the banking service provided by Swiss Post. It is considered very expat-friendly as the fees are quite low, usage of ATMs is free of charge and any post office works as a branch. You can also find international banks in Switzerland, many from the US – like Citibank, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase or State Street Corporation and the UK – such as Barclays, IG Bank, HSBC or Lloyds Bank. These banks offer international accounts which can be opened in different currencies and might be a good solution if you need a bank account prior to moving.

The accounts available in the aforementioned banks are usually personal current accounts for managing payments and finances, regular savings accounts and special savings accounts for young people and for retirement purposes, time deposits and investment funds. Current accounts are available in several different currencies, usually in Swiss francs, US dollars, British pounds or euros. Personal accounts are provided in Swiss francs, however there is an option of opening an additional account in euros. PostFinance bank allows the opening of private accounts in other foreign currencies and special accounts for children and their guardians. Special options for students can be free of any fees. All mentioned accounts have internet banking services available.

To open an account, you will need to prove your identity with a passport, present your visa or residence permit and a recent bill. You will also need a residential address; if you don’t have one you might be asked to deposit a sum of money or a reference letter to prove your accountability. If you’re not a resident yet, you might find it harder to open an account. It is possible though in the biggest banks like UBS or Crédit Suisse that you will need to deposit a certain sum of money - usually over 50 000 Swiss francs to open an account. Almost all of the banks have the possibility of creating an account online. After you register, the bank sends you your documents and you just need to go to the bank to verify all the necessary things mentioned above.

Banks are usually open from Monday to Friday, from 08:00 to 16:30. Some banks are open even later and during the weekend. Smaller banks might close during the lunch break. In big cities you might be able to find 24 hour service centres where you can exchange currencies, withdraw money, buy travellers’ cheques and make money transfers.

Debit and credit cards like Visa and MasterCard are accepted almost everywhere. You can pay with them in shops and restaurants. It is rare that somewhere doesn’t accept payments by card, but there are numerous ATMs everywhere so you won’t have to worry about withdrawing cash. It is worth noting that some merchants will charge you additional fees for using credit cards, while debit cards won’t be charged at all. To make sure you don’t need to pay additional fees, ask the merchant about it before paying. When it comes to applying for a card, many accounts will have the option of a free debit or credit card, while others will require a small fee or regular payments into the account. To obtain a credit card, a security deposit is needed of approximately one to two times the monthly credit limit; the amount depends on the bank. This deposit is returned once the customer has discontinued the credit card and paid all the outstanding bills. Be careful when paying abroad with your Swiss credit card as it will be charged with additional fees and exchange rates will be unfavourable. In these situations it is always safer to withdraw cash from an ATM.

To get a loan in Switzerland you have to meet many criteria set by lenders. This usually includes a specific age; you have to be over 18 years old. Sometimes there is also a maximum age. Loans are available for expats for the benefit of buying a property. There will have to be some part paid as a deposit though, usually about 20% of the payment, and the mortgage agent will make a valuation of the property, so only this amount will be given to you. The most affordable loans are the low cost ones. The rule is, the shorter the terms of payment and the lower the loan, the more affordable it is. The interest rates will vary between 4.5% and 10% per annum. An overdraft is common with credit cards and can be assigned from the very beginning with a limit of up to a few thousand Swiss francs. Don’t be surprised if you get an overdraft even if you didn’t apply in the first place.

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