The internet is filled with rumors and misinformation. A popular claim? It’s “impossible” for US citizens to open offshore bank accounts. Well, that’s not true.
There are over six million US citizens that live overseas. Millions of them have offshore bank accounts. Millions.
So, why is the internet overflowing with horror stories about how difficult it is to open a foreign bank account as a US citizen?
The short answer: Lawyers, accountants, and poorly informed bloggers want to sell you overpriced bank account introduction services, charging you thousands to open bank accounts at a selection of banks that are “open” to US citizens.
But let’s get real. The whole “let’s scare Americans about foreign bank accounts” trend started in 2010. It started when FATCA was unleashed on the world.
FATCA said that if foreign financial institutions want to access the US financial system, they need to snitch on their American clients and send all their bank account details to the IRS. Or, else!
This was a devastating blow to foreign banks. Overnight, the cost of having American clients skyrocketed.
First Option: If a foreign bank had American clients and didn’t tell the US government, they’d be hit with massive penalties, crippling their business
Second Option: If a foreign bank agreed to comply with FATCA, it had to build a $50m-$100m+ system to tattletale on American clients.
Third Option: A foreign bank could simply stop accepting American clients and discard any current American it had as customers.
Some banks decided it was cheaper (and safer) to get rid of their US clients than comply with FATCA.
And, that’s when the internet exploded.
Every tax consultant, service provider, and life coach on the internet started screaming that opening foreign bank accounts for US citizens was near impossible – loaded with horrific tax landmines and scary reporting requirements. Some even said it was illegal.
The mainstream media didn’t help. Most stories focused on how foreign banks were closing accounts and shedding themselves of US customers. Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Cayman, Bahamas – all were getting rid of US depositors.
If you have a quick Google, you’d think that no bank in the world was opening foreign bank accounts for US citizens anymore. It was like US citizens became the pariahs of the banking world.
But, here’s the truth…
It’s 100% legal for US citizens to have foreign bank accounts. You just need to tell the IRS and report it properly. In fact, we’ve found hundreds of banks still willing to accept US clients.
If you’d like to get a head start on account opening as a non-resident then download our FREE Non-Resident Banking Starter Guide right now!
Well, there are a few differences.
For example, the account opening process for a US citizen is more intensive and involves more paperwork. And the approval process may be longer than it is for non-US citizens.
In addition, anyone designed a “US Person” (aka: anyone considered a US person for US tax purposes) might also have to go to a special bank branch, division, or particular office.
This means US citizens can’t just waltz into any branch they want and apply for a foreign bank account. You need to go to the one that deals with Americans.
And even after you figure out which branch or office deals with Americans, the fun doesn’t stop there.
Another quirk of foreign account opening for US citizens is that at some banks, you’ll need to track down a bank-specific employee and make an appointment in advance. Why? Sometimes, only specific employees are authorized to open accounts for Americans. If that authorized person isn’t there or is busy, you’re out of luck.
Some foreign banks will also penalize American clients for being, well… American.
For example, at some banks, just to get accepted as a client, US citizens will have to meet higher minimum deposit requirements. For instance, if the minimum balance to avoid fees is $10,000 for non-US citizens, the bank might require an American to deposit $50,000 or more.
In private banking hubs, the differences in deposit requirements between US citizens and non-US citizens can be even more staggering. And, that’s just to get your foot in the door.
Another surprise? Certain foreign banks will charge US citizens special (American-only!) account opening fees. Why? It’s more expensive to open a foreign bank account for a US citizen than a non-US citizen. For example, there’s more “work” involved. Stricter due diligence, more people, more reporting, special protocols, and FATCA compliance systems.
Some foreign banks have even started rolling out quarterly, bi-annual, or annual fees for their American clients to recoup FATCA costs. Fees can be anywhere from $100-$500 per year. These extra FATCA fees might be clear prior to account opening. Other times, you’ll be left in the dark and won’t know about until you see a $250 withdrawal on your account.
Depending on the foreign bank you’re dealing with, these fees have different names. They might go by due diligence fee, FACTA fees, or onboarding fee. In other instances, they might just appear as an account opening fee or annual maintenance fee.
Of course, some banks won’t charge any additional fees at all. It just depends on which bank you choose.
Remember: American clients are more expensive to onboard and maintain as clients because of extra compliance and reporting required under FATCA. So, some banks are just trying to pass on some of the costs.
This is why it’s so important to know which banks penalize (or “have special requirements for”) US citizens and which do not. Choosing the right foreign bank as a US citizen means lower fees, fewer surprises, faster account opening, and less of your cash being tied up.
A foreign bank account is an excellent way to diversify and grow your wealth, protect your assets, and safeguard your money from risk.
Moving some savings or an emergency fund to another country that is subject to a different legal system just makes good financial sense. It’s also basic risk management.
No matter what happens, you’ll always have access to cash. Funds in a foreign bank account can’t be frozen and seized in seconds by a bureaucrat or creditor at home.
If you live in a litigious country, financial predators are everywhere. Having an emergency fund abroad to safeguard your nest egg is crucial.
Disgruntled business partners, ambulance chasers, cybercriminals, overreaching government agencies, court orders, injunctions, even just being wrongfully accused, or having a frivolous lawsuit filed against you – can result in your bank account being frozen or seized.
Here are some other benefits of having a foreign bank account as a US citizen:
At home, your local bank account can be frozen, garnished, and seized in seconds. It just takes a phone call or a mouse click. Having a foreign bank account in a different country outside the reach of financial predators ensures that you’ll always have access to emergency funds and be able to defend yourself – no matter what happens.
For asset protection purposes, US citizens often prefer foreign banks that do not have branches in the US. Some will choose jurisdictions that do not recognize foreign judgments and court orders. Others find that having any bank in any jurisdiction outside their home country is sufficient.
With a foreign bank account, you can diversify your wealth. On one hand, you can diversify your wealth with different currencies, new investment products that don’t exist in your home country, higher interest rates on fixed deposits (or CDs for Americans), etc.
You can also diversify by holding assets or cash in different geographies, legal systems, and regulatory regimes.
Many non-Americans already use foreign bank accounts as diversification tools to protect from political risk, predatory laws or regulation changes, economic volatility, currency fluctuations, and corruption in their home countries.
For US citizens, expats, entrepreneurs, and retirees living, working, or traveling abroad – foreign bank accounts are cheaper and more convenient. Lower transfer fees, local debit cards, and local atm withdrawals all mean fewer fees each month to manage your banking activities.
While FATCA has limited the number of offshore banking options available to US citizens, opening a foreign bank account is still possible.
Generally speaking, to find foreign banks that accept US citizens, it’s usually best to look outside of traditional offshore banking hubs like Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Caribbean, etc.
It’s also worth noting that foreign banks that are heavily reliant on remote account opening and international clients, tend to shun Americans. These banks are usually small. Many either couldn’t afford to comply with FATCA or don’t want to take on the extra risk. So they find it easier to not accept US citizens altogether.
The GlobalBanks team keeps tabs on banks around the world that accept US citizens. This has helped us uncover some gems (including the offshore hubs listed above) that very few people know about in countries that have traditionally shunned American clients in the past.
We monitor them, keep track of their opening policies, compliance quirks, paperwork requirements, and all the intricacies that are important to our members. And we also glean insights from bank employees. Of course, we also share our own first-hand account opening experiences. And share the experiences of past customers. All of this helps you make better banking and investment decisions.
So, if you are constantly rejected by banks because you are American, don’t worry! There are plenty of other banking options for Americans out there.
In fact, there are still several great banking jurisdictions with multiple banks that are still willing to accept US citizens. You just need to know where to look, how to approach them, and what to say once you get inside.
If you want to open a foreign bank account as a US citizen and need help figuring out what to do next, you can get started by using the information in this article.
But if you need more help or want to know which banks will accept you, which countries you should target, the best account opening strategies to use, how to avoid predatory fees, and how to overcome tough paperwork requirements, then we’d be happy to help you on your journey.
If you’re ready to take action and start opening international accounts now, you can access GlobalBanks IQ, our dedicated international banking intelligence platform.
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