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The Complete Guide to Offshore Banking by Bowman Offshore Bank Transfers

The Complete Guide to Offshore Banking

This guide covers how you put your money into banks and institutions around the world and is a good primer to the world of offshore banking.

As a disclaimer, this is not financial advice, nor does this article instruct you in any way. It is simply information that you may take or leave. We are not responsible for any gains or losses, nor are we responsible for what you do with this information.

Note that with the recent Panama Papers revelation in 2016 that’s taken the world by storm, there’s a LOT more scrutiny on offshore banking and it’s very likely that banking regulations (especially in the EU and North America) will undergo changes to make it more difficult to ‘hide’ money.

Hiding Your Money Overseas…Offshore Bank Accounts?

If you are thinking about offshore banking to remain anonymous, then you may be disappointed. For example, if you are looking into a tax scam where you hope to hide money from your own government, then it is very difficult.

The first reason it is difficult is because the US and Europe have signed deals with independent banks that allows them to look into peoples accounts, which means your secret Swiss or Cuban bank account is not as secret as you thought it was.

The second reason is because the US and UK (especially) have sophisticated monitoring technology that gives them secret and semi-legal access to computers around the world. This means your secret money is rarely as secret or safe as you would like.

You should also remember that some companies and banks are not as stable or secure abroad. There are some banks that will take your money and you have no legitimate way of getting it back or punishing those that stole from you.

When Is It A Good Idea To Put Money Abroad?

Some people do it because they earn better interest abroad. Some do it because it is safer in foreign banks. Some do it because they want to keep a certain amount in a certain currency, and some do it to hide their money from loved ones or business partners. Some people put money in offshore accounts so they may legally buy things or spend money. For example, some put money into foreign accounts so they may play online poker. Some people travel abroad frequently to the point where it is cheaper to keep money in a certain currency in a certain country.

A government agency may easily discover the money you have hidden, but even with a good lawyer, there is no way your spouse or business partner will find out where you have hidden your money.

How Much Do You Have To Deposit?

There are many offshore banks that will require a substantial first deposit before they allow you to open an account. Even banks that allow their home-turf citizens to open account for free may still demand that you make a $1000+ deposit before opening your account. Do your research into how much deposit you need to pay before you start making plans to open your account.

How Much Are The Fees?

They are going to vary from bank to bank and from country to country. There are some banks that will charge you higher fees because you are not living in the country where the bank is located. Standard bank fees are not so much of a worry. Your main concern should be partially hidden fees, such as withdrawal and transaction fees.

What About Tax In The Offshore Bank’s Country?

In most cases, you are going to have to pay tax on the interest you make. There are few countries that will allow you to earn interest in their country without paying tax. You need to double and triple check to see if you will need to pay tax, and how much you will need to pay. If a country does not impose tax in the interest you earn, then you have to ask yourself why. Is it because the banks and/or the country is going to go bust at some point soon?

International Banking Insurance

Most developed countries have some sort of regulatory body that protects your money with a form of insurance. In the US, it is the FDIC (Deposit Insurance Coverage), and in the UK, it is the FSCS (Financial Services Compensation Scheme).

If you lose money up to a certain amount through fraud and other things of that nature, there is a good chance they will refund and/or replace your money up to a certain point. The banks and companies that do “not” offer this sort of protection are often able to offer higher rates of interest.

Can I Use Online Banking?

There are very few legitimate offshore banks that only operate offline. There are still some, but most offshore banks will have an online banking option. This means you can conduct transactions and check your account online. There are certain restrictions with some countries where you are not allowed to access your bank websites, but most people use VPN (virtual private network) services to get around that.

For example, if you have an account in China and they won’t let you access your account from the US, you use a VPN service and use a server in China. The bank’s computers think you are browsing from China, so they allow you access to your bank account.

Legitimate Banks Will Undertake Due Diligence

This means they will need proof of your identity and where you are getting your money from. If you are looking for a sneaky bank where you are looking to hide money from the government, then they will be less interested in due diligence matters. If a bank is offering you a seemingly unreasonable amount of security and privacy, then be wary. There are many legal factions and many government factions that are unable to find out if you have cash hidden abroad, but most developed countries have aggressive ways of finding out how much money you have sent abroad.

Do not forget that shady and illegitimate banks are not just for people trying to hide money. Many times, they are used by scammers to collect money from the people they have swindled. This leaves the banks in a very precarious position where sometimes it is better to close down rather than take the heat from the government authorities that are coming after them. These banks are often brass plate banks, where it is in their interest to close down and set up somewhere else rather than face police and government problems and pressure.

Brass plate banks are banks with very few assets and often with very few staff members. They sometimes only deal with foreigners, and many times, they are not open to the public. They are usually located in offices.

Ask Directly If the Bank Will Do What You Need

You can read all the small print, but it is often better to ask questions outright, rather than try to find an answer in their paperwork. The reason is because sometimes they do not mention things in their paperwork. Sometimes they have their own unwritten rules, or their own policies that are not clearly explained or defined in their paperwork.

For example, you may wish to make purchases in countries that your government has imposed sanctions on. The country in which you have opened your account may not have such sanctions, and so you may feel safe in buying the products. However, the offshore bank may not allow you to make such purchases because “your” country has imposed sanctions and the bank doesn’t want to appear complicit in your breaking of “your” country’s law.

Another common example is where people set up offshore accounts so they may gamble online. They then discover that even though the offshore bank is in a country where online gambling is legal, they will not allow your bank account to be used for online gambling (even though they allow their other bank users to gamble online).

Ask their customer service department and/or their advisors if they are able to fulfill your needs before you open your account. Try to get something in writing too, such as a confirmation by email. This is because it is not uncommon for banks to tell you that they allow online gambling with your account, but then decide they do not because they didn’t check which country you live in. Or, they say you are allowed to gamble online, but only allow you to gamble on certain websites and freeze your account when they see deposits made to other gambling companies.

Canada Is A Good Place to Start

Have you considered Canada as your first place for an offshore bank. If Canadian banks meet your needs, it is very easy to get an account. You can take a trip up there with your paperwork and open an account by walking into a branch. Usually, it is as easy as that if you are from the US or Europe. Check to see what information and documents you need to take, and walk into a branch to open an account.

There are numerous other European countries where it is just as easy to open an offshore account, but Canada is closer, and their banks are very accustomed to opening accounts for people from the US. Just be sure to get an appointment prior to making your trip because some banks will insist on an appointment.

Opening Your Account Online

There are a great many banks that will allow you to open an account online, but you have to be very careful when you do it. For example, you may take the example above and decide to open an account in Canada. You look it up on the Internet and see that it says, “Open an account here” or something similar. So, you click to open your account and it goes through, and all seems okay…right?

Wrong. Some banks will require a personal visit in order to open an account. Some banks (legitimate ones) will need to see you in person to open an account. If they allow you to open one online, it may be that you have actually opened an account with a US branch or with a partner of the bank (which is not what you wanted).

Some banks will allow you to partially open your account online. They will then ask for a visit at some point, or they will send you applications in the mail or via email. You may have to photocopy or scan certain documents, and provide access to your information in your own country, and the process can take between two weeks and a month.

Credit Cards and Your Credit Rating

Your credit rating is a tricky business. Sometimes it is all about your credit rating in the country where you have opened your account, and sometimes your credit rating appears to merge with that of your own country. As for credit cards, those too are a trick subject when it comes to your credit rating. Usually, they have a positive effect on your credit rating if you pay them off quickly. However, if you gamble with them, they may be viewed as irregular use and may affect your ability to get further credit. This applies to credit cards you get domestically and overseas. There are also many banks that will not allow you to gamble with the money from your credit card, and some may freeze your account if they see you making deposits to gambling websites with your credit card.

Banks That Demand a Large Turnover

There are some banks that will allow you to open an account on the understanding that your account wills turnover a certain amount of money every term (usually every year). If the amount of turnover they ask for is a large amount, it is highly recommended that you open the account in person. It is mostly a security issue, since you want to be as sure as possible that the bank is real, and that you are passing your information (and eventually your money) over to the right people.

Do I Need A Minimum Balance?

There are some banks that will require you to maintain a minimum balance in your account. If you do not, then you are charged either a higher fee than your usual fee, or a cumulative charge fee (the same as if you overdraw your bank balance). The bank may offer free overseas accounts, but start charging you a fee if you do not maintain a certain set of minimum balances.

How to move money offshore by Bowman Offshore Bank Transfers

Having an offshore bank account — or two… or three — is an important step in planting flags around the world. As we often discuss, the actual opening of an account is relatively easy, and you don’t need a lot of money.

In my guide, The Best Offshore Banks, we discuss 55 banks that will open offshore accounts for anyone with as little as $500 to deposit. In some cases, you won’t even have to leave your living room, as a number of Caribbean and even European banks allow for remote account opening.

However, the bigger challenge for offshore banking newbies is how to move money offshore; precisely, how to get your onshore funds into your new offshore account.

To make things clear, this article is NOT about how to hide money offshore. While the media loves to do gotcha pieces about how easy it is to move money overseas, the reality is that playing by the rules is a lot better way to go.

In the era of FATCA, mutual legal assistance policies among governments, and offshore bank account reporting requirements, you don’t want to play hide and seek. When used legally, offshore bank accounts are an excellent asset protection tool to protect you from bankrupt governments.

If you don’t have an offshore bank account yet, you can learn more about how to get one here. However, if you do have an account but are confused about how to move money into it, here are several strategies for funding your offshore bank account.

International wire transfer

The most common and straightforward method is to simply wire the money from your onshore account (or your existing offshore account) to the new offshore account. Wire transfers work well because there is often no limit to the amount you can send, making it the most practical option for large transfers.

In some countries, sending a wire transfer is extremely simple and affordable. My Hong Kong bank charges about $11 to send money almost anywhere. The only problem is when the transfer gets rejected for some reason by the receiving party and I’m charged a large return fee. This shouldn’t be an issue, however, if you’re wiring money to yourself.

The downside to sending a wire is that it could take a while to arrive in some smaller banking jurisdictions, like Belize, that involve “correspondent banks” that are often in the US or Germany.

In countries where bankers tend to freak out about international wire transfers (see: the United States), you may need to go into a branch to initiate the wire. I know people who have had their US bank accounts restricted for daring to send an international wire transfer to themselves, so be careful. Then again, isn’t that why you wanted to move money offshore to begin with?

Transferwise

If you want to transfer money online, but don’t want to send a wire transfer, new services like Transferwise can help. (For a full review of the different services, read our article on the best ways to transfer money internationally coming out in September 2016.)

Transferwise is based on a peer-to-peer system that cuts out middleman banks and allegedly reduces the fees of moving money overseas. I haven’t found this to be the case; the cost to send $5,000 to a foreign bank account was as much as $50; even crappy US banks charge less to send larger wires.

In reality, services like Transferwise are a better replacement for expensive money senders like Western Union or Moneygram, not for replacing wire transfers. However, Transferwise is easier to use than a wire if your domestic bank dislikes your moving money offshore, since you send the money domestically and their service handles the rest.

Take cash from an ATM

It sounds too easy, but among the easiest ways to move money offshore is merely to take it out offshore to begin with. Sometimes, the simplest solutions are the best.

In The Best Offshore Banks, we discuss a number of high quality banks that require $2,000, $1,000, or even less in their foreign currency equivalent to open. The only catch with some of these banks is that — unlike accounts that allow you to wire money in later — you need to deposit the money when you open the account.

These banks don’t allow remote account opening, but you can literally use their ATM to take out the amount of the minimum deposit. If you’re domestic bank ATM card imposes a limit on daily withdrawals (usually $400 or $500 for US banks), you may need to plan one day ahead so you can max out the limit on two different days in order to get enough cash.

Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies

Bitcoin has been put forward as the possible “ultimate offshore bank account” due to its ability to store money securely in the cloud. Bitcoin guru Stephanie Murphy spoke extensively about the privacy benefits of using Bitcoin at two of my Passport to Freedom conferences.

However, Bitcoin can also be used as a mechanism to transfer funds offshore. If you own Bitcoin in your home country, you can access them in your destination country by using services like Local Bitcoins, or by using one of the growing numbers of platforms that connects directly to a bank account.

Coinapult, for instance, allows you to store Bitcoins and freeze their value to the value of a foreign currency, gold, or silver, reducing volatility until you want to move them into your foreign bank account. Coinbase and other services allow transfers to connected bank accounts, although many offshore jurisdictions are not yet supported.

Sell your gold and silver

If you own gold or silver offshore, such as in a vault here in Singapore, you can often sell those precious metals and have funds wired into your local bank account. Singapore is an excellent option for this as gold storage here is highly secure and Singapore bank accounts are also excellent.

If you already own gold and silver, there are ways to ship it overseas (again, Singapore is a good option) and later sell it for cash. Transporting gold on your person can be risky since customs forms are required in many cases. You should also make sure you follow all rules regarding sales of precious metals, capital gains taxes and other reporting requirements in your home country. Consult a tax professional for help.

If you’re wondering why “put money in a suitcase and show up in the Virgin Islands” isn’t on the list, it’s because almost everyone on earth — save those in Hong Kong and a few other countries — has to declare cash being taken out of the country.

While transporting any amount of cash is legal in most countries, most law-abiding citizens don’t carry large amounts of cash over borders. Those who do often make customs officials suspicious enough to go so far as to confiscate your cash. On top of the legal hassles, most banks don’t want huge piles of cash being deposited due to money laundering concerns; many banks now charge a cash deposit fee for the privilege.