Opening a bank account can be a simple task, but in some cases it can be a long and tedious process.
Some banks will open an account without proof of residence, while others will refuse to open an account without first seeing your Permis B. Some banks will require an attestation from the OCP stating that your permit is in progress. The requirements differ not only by bank but also by branch, or depending on the student’s nationality. Sometimes it’s a process of trial and error.
Banks are very busy at the beginning of autumn semester opening accounts for students. Consequently, you may need to wait a week or so for an appointment.
In general Swiss banks are very “student friendly”, and the checking/savings accounts, internet banking, bank cards etc. are usually free of charge.
Keep in mind that if you have decided to live in France, you cannot open a Swiss bank account and will have to get an account with one of the numerous banks in France. (Société Générale, Crédit Agricole etc.)
If you are from the United States, some bank branches might make you schedule a special appointment with a person who handles American accounts because of American laws to prevent tax evaders. Based on last year’s experience, it is important when scheduling an appointment to let the bank (especially UBS) know right away that you are American so that you can have an appointment with the correct person and avoid having to cancel and reschedule.
UBS offers “Campus” student accounts free of charge and includes a points program that gives you credit to spend at grocery and clothing stores, on train tickets, etc. UBS offers online banking, even for paying “orange slip” bills, which otherwise require going to the post office for payment. By using ATMs and online banking services you can earn points that are turned into CHF vouchers for groceries, clothing stores, ski packages, etc. The Maestro (debit) card allows you to withdraw cash from any bank machine without service charge, but using the bank card outside of Switzerland is costly and often does not work. UBS can be strict when it comes to having a residence permit. From previous experience, UBS branches at rue du Rhone, rue de la Confédération or at the United Nations do not usually ask for residence permits or attestation from the OCP that you’re in the process of getting one (see the “Office Cantonal de la Population” section).
GISA SPECIAL OFFER: UBS banking representative Karine Reduron will be happy to assist incoming IHEID students with opening a bank account with UBS in Geneva.* Navigating the convoluted world of Swiss banking can be daunting, so do not discount Karine Reduron’s offer so quickly! Her office is located at 2 Rue de la Confédération, and she can be reached by phone +41-22-375-32-55 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Citizens of the United States will be directed to one of his colleagues.
*GISA receives no benefit, financial or otherwise, with this “plug” for UBS or the aforementioned associate. Furthermore, having dealt with neither UBS nor Clerc-Renaud directly, we are hereby relieved of all legal liability concerning your relationship with either party. But that said, he has received glowing recommendations from IHEID students!
Credit Suisse is a large bank with branches all over Geneva. They also have branches all over Switzerland so it’s usually easy to access your money. They have special offers for students where you get a free account including a Maestro card, credit card of your choice, preferential interest rate, online banking and usually a nice welcome gift (in Fall 2011 it was a voucher for a free flight with Swiss Airlines). They have a location close to the Institute at Rue de Lausanne 17. As mentioned earlier some banks ask for your Permit B and some don’t. According to most students all they needed to get a bank account at this location was a passport, student card/justification and an address.
Post Finance has the advantage of being the only place guaranteed to open an account without having a Permis B (but again you will need an attestation from the OCP) and is the choice of some Americans who encounter difficulties initially opening an account (see below). Another advantage is that you don’t need an appointment to open a Post Finance account. Simply take a number at the Post Office, and present your stamped attestation and passport, to the person at the guichet. A disadvantage is that there are few Post Finance ATMs in the city, however you can withdraw cash at every Migros grocery store in Geneva. Ask for the computer banking option as it comes in handy, though it may take a few weeks for your account to be operational.
Banque Cantonale de Genève has a good network of offices and ATMs throughout the canton (22 branches) and they offer the Formation account that gives you a 100 francs voucher upon opening the account to buy the annual UNIRESO abonnement (described in the Transport section). Internet banking offers free payments of bills and free money transfers in CHF and in Switzerland.
GISA TIP: A Crédit Suisse ATM is at your disposal in the Maison de la paix, the only ATM available on campus. It is located in petal 6, ground floor, and is available 24/7.