Opening a bank account overseas can meet a variety of needs and will address a number of issues related to frequent professional or personal travel, international business, expatriation or individual bankruptcy.
Why open an overseas bank account?
The reasons are varied:
- Avoiding banking costs related to withdrawals and card payments when visiting the country where the account is opened.
- Receiving and issuing payments at low cost and quicker in the country where the account is held.
- Benefiting from better investment and new financial opportunities.
- Preparing a real estate property investment or buying a property abroad.
- Looking for privacy (in the case of Switzerland or Offshore jurisdictions).
- Getting a bank card and other payment methods in the event of bankruptcy.
- Studying and working abroad.
Who can open an overseas bank account?
Any individual who is of legal age may open an account overseas in the country of his choice, particularly in Europe.
What is the legal framework in Europe?
In the late 1980s, the European Community set up a programme of measures to provide a regulatory environment that enables banks to offer banking services in any European Union country.
With this objective, two directives were implemented:
- Firstly, the “Directive on the Free Circulation of Capital”, adopted in 1988 and entered into force on 01.07.1990. It allows any European individuals to hold bank accounts in any Member State of the European Community and to issue and receive payments to or from any other Member State without any foreign exchange control or other restriction. (Council Directive 88/361/EEC of 24.06.1988 for the implementation of Article 67 of the Treaty – OJ L. 178, 8.7.1988, p.5 -).
- Secondly, a further Banking Directive was adopted in 1989 and entered into force on 01.01.1993. It authorizes banks of the European Community to provide banking services throughout the EU without having to establish a branch or office in the country the client resides in. (Second Council Directive 89/646/EEC of 15 December 1989 on the coordination of laws, regulations and administrative provisions relating to the taking up and pursuit of the business of credit institutions and amending Directive 77/780/EEC).
Which are the best countries to open a bank account?
As previously mentioned, it is possible to open an account in any member country of the European Union, subject to acceptance of the application by the bank. For practical reasons, it is recommended to do so in a neighboring country or of similar banking culture, such as Switzerland and Spain.
What are the characteristics of a foreign account?
Foreign bank accounts share the same main characteristics as any current account:
- They have an IBAN (and a BIC / SWIFT for European Union accounts).
- They offer various payment methods (credit cards mostly).
- They can be interest bearing and offer additional insurance.
- They allow account holders to receive and transfer funds, including via Internet banking.
How to open a bank account abroad?
Processes for opening bank accounts in the various Euro-zone countries are similar: an ID card and proof of residence have to be provided. Sometimes, certificates of fiscal residence and / or payroll documents are requested. Some banks allow the opening of bank accounts remotely, others, require that customers are there in person, mainly so that the signature can be authenticated. Opening an account outside the Euro-zone will require different procedures to be followed and additional checks may be needed.
What are the costs associated with the management of these accounts
Typically, non-resident bank accounts have higher management fees than resident ones although there are exceptions, especially in Spain.
And what about taxation?
It is compulsory to comply with the tax obligations of the country of residence. All bank accounts held abroad must be declared to the tax authorities in the country of residence by completing the appropriate tax return document following the account opening.