There are a lot of great ways to spend your hard earned money. Whether you jump on a plane to a far flung beach or walk into a dealership and buy a new toy. Or perhaps you want to make an investment in your future. At the end of the day, it’s none of our business. But there is one thing that we hope you’re not spending a lot of money on, and that’s bank account opening.
You see, we’re not in the business of judging people for their spending habits. But we do pride ourselves on helping people save money and avoid pitfalls. Especially when it comes to bank account opening.
And while most people don’t associate spending money with opening a bank account, it can be costly.
By choosing the wrong bank account you can end up spending thousands of dollars. Not to mention, the lost time. In some instances, merely applying for a bank account at the wrong bank can cost you upwards of ten thousand dollars.
Read on and learn how to avoid making these mistakes, saving yourself and your wallet in the process…
Most people associate opening a bank account with saving money. But, what people rarely talk about is that opening bank accounts can be very expensive.
After all, banks need to make money somehow. And since international banks aren’t loaning out your cash like the big US or European banks, they need another way. This begs the question, how do they actually profit?
One way that banks do this is by charging fees. Typical fees might include monthly or annual maintenance fees. They will also levy credit or debit card fees like any other bank. And they might have higher currency conversion fees than normal. We list more examples for you below.
But more expensive than everyday charges is the cost of actually opening the account. When opening an international bank account, you might end up spending thousands of dollars.
Your expenses can include traveling to meet with the bank in person. Or you might hire a service provider or a lawyer to “introduce” you to the bank. We do not recommend this.
To learn more about the risks (and costs) of working with service providers, refer to our article Bank Introducers Are A Waste Of Your Time & Money – Do This Instead.
But service providers aren’t the only way opening an account can cost you. Here are some of the main ways that people often lose money when opening accounts.
When it comes to opening an international bank account, the biggest loss can come from traveling to visit the bank in person.
These expenses can accumulate quickly through flights, hotels, meals, and ground transportation.
And if you’ve decided to pay a corporate service provider or a lawyer for a “bank introduction”, you can easily double or triple the amount you spend.
Such instances might include account opening in Singapore or Hong Kong.
Here’s a quick snapshot of what the costs of account opening could like if you are flying from the United States:
Don’t get us wrong, Singapore is a beautiful place to visit. But as one of the most expensive cities on earth, there are easier ways to go about the process.
And seeing as you’re traveling for the purpose of opening a bank account, don’t forget that you will need to be at the bank during regular working hours. So depending on how you value your time, you should factor in your cost of not being able to work during those days also.
If you do plan on hiring a service provider to help you open an account, add US $1,000 to your costs, which will bring your expenses to US $3,000-US $5,000. And that’s not even including the account opening fees, maintenance fees, issuance and authentication of documents, or the opening deposit.
Now, you might be thinking “if I can get the account open, that’s worth $5,000”. And depending on your situation, this might be true. But that’s only if you are successful and the bank agrees to open a bank account for you.
Unfortunately, most people go into the account opening process without the right information. As a result, they not only end up approaching the wrong banks, but also go in without understanding the bank’s customer preferences, internal procedures, and account opening quirks – which often leads to failure.
In some instances, your only mistake might be approaching the wrong branch, the wrong banker, or saying the wrong thing. In instances like this, you’ll end up with an expensive whirlwind trip and no bank account to show for it.
Often, bankers can’t tell you if you will get approved or rejected for a bank account until after you actually apply and submit all of your paperwork. But there are exceptions and if you know where to look and how to ask, some banks will tell you beforehand.
Sometimes, you don’t even have to travel to a foreign country to lose thousands of dollars. You can simply choose the wrong bank. Or you might work with a service provider that claims to help with bank account opening. Alternatively, you might open an account at a bank with exorbitant hidden fees.
Depending on the country you want to bank in, and how desperate you are, service providers can charge lofty fees of between $1,000 and $5,000 upfront. For this small fortune, they will make an “introduction” to a bank. That’s it.
Again, before you engage an introducer offering “bank introduction” services, please read “Bank Introducers Are A Waste Of Your Time & Money – Do This Instead“
Of course, if you work with an introducer, there’s no guarantee that a bank account will be opened. And, in most cases, applications from these types of service providers are unsuccessful.
In rare instances, if the account is successfully opened, it’s typically because the applicant never actually needed an “introducer” in the first place and the bank accepted them on their own merit. In other words, the applicant could have just applied to the bank themselves without an introducer.
Hidden fees are another way that opening a bank account can cost you thousands. And unlike your typical western retail bank, international banking fees can add up quickly.
To get started, some banks will charge you an account opening fee. In certain instances, this gets refunded or waived if your application is successful. In other instances, the bank keeps the fee as a processing fee, regardless of whether your application is successful or not.
If you’re applying to multiple banks, these account opening fees can become a burden. For this reason, it’s important to only apply to banks that match your customer profile and where you’ll have the highest likelihood of actually opening an account.
It’s also common for some banks to charge additional fees and have higher deposit requirements based on your nationality. This can happen if your citizenship comes with added administrative burdens or is perceived to be higher risk.
For example, some international banks charge US citizens additional fees because they are more expensive to keep as clients. This is thanks to the additional reporting requirements through FATCA. Multibank in Panama is one example of a bank that charges such fees to Americans.
If you’re lucky enough to successfully open an account, you might not be out of the woods yet. Unfortunately, even after getting an account open, the costs of banking at the wrong bank can still be exorbitant.
As mentioned, many international banks that cater to international clients, make their money by charging fees. This is in direct contrast to retail and commercial lending banks that many of us are familiar with in our home countries.
So, how do you make sure that your international bank isn’t charging you extortionate fees? Well, you need to know what the fees are before opening the account.
But you also need to know where to find hidden fees and how to avoid them. Similarly, you need to know which bank are best suited to you and your business, and which fee structures are best suited to your transactions.
Not surprisingly, fees can add up fast. In fact, it’s not uncommon for some small offshore banks to take a Swiss approach and charge you on an “a la carte” basis. Below you will see examples of fees that banks could charge you.
The fees listed above can easily amount to more than US $1,000 per year, depending on your account activity. And, that’s on top of what you spent to open the account.
Now, most banks will charge many if not all the fees listed above. But there can be a wide discrepancy in the cost of these fees depending on the banks that you are dealing with.
Bottom-line, understanding a bank’s fees and how you can avoid (or waive) many of them, can save you a lot of money and headaches in the future.
Beyond the direct cost of opening and maintenance, you can lose money by opening at a difficult bank.
By difficult, what we really mean is a bank that is unable to provide you with efficient and timely service. Additionally, this can also refer to a bank that hasn’t advanced technologically.
As a result, you can waste significant time and money trying to execute transactions. And in the process, you might even lose face with customers or business partners.
Such banks include those that require you to show up in person to send an international wire transfer. They might also be disruptive to your business by losing transfers altogether. Generally speaking, these banks make it impossible for you to do business.
Banks might also request an absurd amount of supporting documents to prove each incoming or outgoing transfer. This could include proof of identity from your clients, their personal or business information, invoices, or any agreements that you have with them.
When a bank is constantly asking for additional paperwork to support basic transactions – this can damage your business relationships by angering and annoying important customers, partners, and suppliers.
Incessant paperwork requests can also make your business look unprofessional. This tells experienced business people that you deal with low-caliber banks and that you’re an amateur. This can result in you losing partners, clients, or suppliers.
Depending on your business, losing key relationships like this could have a serious impact on your bottom-line. Several Insiders have reported having experiences like this before joining GlobalBanks..
Lastly, there is another consideration that often goes unnoticed: online banking.
Bad online banking can cost you. But we’re not talking about monthly fees. Online banking is essential to operating your bank account. This is especially true if you don’t live in the country where the bank is located. It can also be an issue if you’re dealing with banks in different time zones.
If a bank’s online banking platform doesn’t work, you can’t access your money. And if you can’t access your money, you can’t make international transfers, which renders the account useless.
By shady, we mean banks that demonstrate shady characteristics. These can include poor KYC & AML compliance, a history of corruption, apparent ties to criminal activity, or simply being accepting of high risk and illegitimate customers.
You’ve heard the stories about banks going bankrupt, getting shut down and losing client money. And in some instances, those clients are unable to ever get their money back.
Take the banking system in the US as an example. During the years surrounding the financial crisis, from 2008 to 2012, more than 350 banks went into receivership. Yet, many Americans still consider the US banking system to be the safest in the world.
And there are plenty of bank horror stories outside of the United States as well. In recent years we have seen major scandals and closures play out across Latvia, Estonia, and of course Cyprus.
With this in mind, a good rule to follow is that if your bank demonstrates any of the above characteristics, sooner or later, they will be shut down by regulators. At best, they’ll be forced to upgrade their compliance policies, close accounts or freeze customer funds.
Generally speaking, you can lose money with a shady bank due to poor management and compliance practices. In other words, poorly ran banks don’t follow basic compliance standards. And this tends to attract bad characters who are involved with illicit or high-risk activities.
Alternatively, having lax KYC and AML standards could simply be a sign that the bank doesn’t care. This could be because banking isn’t their main business, so they let compliance slip. This can happen, for example, when banks are owned by individuals or groups that view banking as a profitable way to facilitate other business.
Banks with weak compliance standards could result in scrutiny or investigations by international or domestic authorities. And, when a bank attracts regulatory scrutiny, it can result in accounts being frozen or closed. You might be able to recoup your funds if this happens, but it wouldn’t be immediately and it might not be in full.
If a bank is facilitating illicit activities or has lax compliance standards, it will likely attract unsavory clients. If you put your money in a bank like this, you’re exposing yourself and your money to increased risk.
Furthermore, banks that engage in such activities are also at a high risk of losing their correspondent bank relationships.
The correspondent bank relationship is critical for smaller banks since it’s the only way that they can actually send or receive transfers. These correspondents effectively give your bank access to different currencies.
So your bank might have one correspondent for USD, one for EUR, GBP, and so on. If they lose one of these correspondent relationships, your bank won’t be able to transact in that respective currency anymore, rendering your money stranded.
We see this happen to a lot of smaller banks, especially those that are popular amongst the internationalization and digital nomad crowd. In fact, several banks that are predominantly recommended by internationalization gurus, such as Capital Security Bank in the Cook Islands have lost correspondent relationships before.
This results in client money being stranded in limbo until the bank regains access to a correspondent bank. In this instance, Capital Security Bank was eventually able to secure another correspondent account, but only after client funds were stranded for months.
Choosing the right jurisdiction is one of the most important considerations when opening a bank account. And like choosing a bank, there are various factors that need to be assessed.
The first layer of questioning when looking at which country to bank in, should relate to your practical needs. In other words, does the country and its banks offer the services and protections you need?
Such practical considerations might include whether you will have access to your desired currency or do they force you to transact in the local currency instead.
Additionally, you will want to know whether the jurisdiction is solvent, well managed, and has a supporting legal environment to protect your assets. Another important consideration is whether the country will be able to support banks in the case of a sector-wide crisis.
You should also find out if the jurisdiction has introduced bail-in legislation. This is what the European Union and other countries are now doing. It passes on the outcome of a banking crisis onto depositors. Meaning if you have your money in a bank that goes under, you’re on the hook.
And of course, you will want to know whether the jurisdiction is or has recently been on a watch list. This can make it very difficult to send or receive money. It can also result in extra reporting and even account closures at other banks.
Finding yourself dealing with a bank in a country that doesn’t score well on the above considerations could result in you losing money. Your money could be tied up in an investigation, held domestically by capital controls, or otherwise used to fund the bail-in of a poorly managed bank.
And it pays to remember that this has happened before. remember this scene from Cyprus in 2013?
There are of course many other considerations when choosing a banking jurisdiction. Some of the considerations include economic, political, and regulatory concerns. All of these factors should be assessed when looking at banking jurisdictions. We cover these in detail in our article Where To Bank Overseas – How To Find The Best Country For Your Banking Need.
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