What’s an offshore account? A step-by-step guide to banking internationally
Offshore bank accounts used to get a bad rap, but in fact, they’re regular bank accounts — just located outside your home country. Learn what an offshore account is and how to open one.
6 min read
Whether you work for an international company, have family scattered around the world, or are toying with becoming a digital nomad, for many people, life has gone global. That also holds true for financial strategies and investment opportunities. As you research for options, you might come across the term "offshore account." But, what does that mean? And even if it sounds like a good idea, is it legal? (The short answer is: yes!)
In this article, learn about the ins and outs of offshore bank accounts — what they are, the different types, and the must-know legal aspects. We'll also cover the benefits an offshore account can have and tell you how to open one. Ready?
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What is an offshore account?
An offshore or overseas bank account is located outside the country where you live. Offshore accounts make it easier to handle finances in different currencies or keep savings or investment accounts abroad. If you're an expat, you might have an offshore account already.
Are offshore accounts illegal?
No, opening an offshore bank account isn’t illegal — in fact, pretty much anyone can do it.
However, offshore banking often gets a bad rap.
That's because some people use foreign bank accounts for money laundering or tax evasion, which are both definitely illegal. Using an offshore account to hide money or dodge taxes has serious consequences, including fines, legal prosecution, and conviction.
It's all about how you use it. Having an offshore account for legitimate financial purposes is perfectly fine.
Why do people choose offshore accounts?
Offshore accounts are a game-changer when dealing with finances across different countries and regions. They allow you to make hassle-free international payments and transfers in different currencies. For people with strong ties to multiple countries, it can make a lot of sense to keep a financial footprint in these places.
Many expats and digital nomads maintain a bank account in their home country and one in their current residence. Some other reasons to open an offshore account are:
- Planning a nomadic lifestyle
- Retiring in a different country
- Frequent international business trips
- Receiving payment in foreign currencies
- Owning property or other investments abroad
- Financially supporting family members in other countries
That's plenty of reasons to consider diving into offshore banking! And there are a lot of benefits, too. Let’s look more closely at why offshore bank accounts can be useful.
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What are the benefits of an offshore bank account?
Think of an offshore bank account like a financial Swiss Army knife. While each offshore account has its unique perks, there are some common benefits you can expect:
- Tax efficiency: Offshore accounts often have the potential to help you save on taxes, especially when you're dealing with different currencies. The extent of these tax benefits depends on your specific situation.
- Convenience: You can hold, send, and receive money in multiple currencies. That means no more juggling exchange rates and dealing with multiple accounts.
- International financial advice: With an offshore account, you can access international expertise and investment advice.
- Security: There’s no need to open a new bank account every time you move. Instead, keep your money in a safe and central location.
On top of that, expect the usual banking perks such as a debit card and mobile banking.
What are the different types of offshore accounts?
Offshore accounts have the same range of financial goals and requirements as any other bank account. Choosing the right one depends on your specific situation and goals. Here are some of the typical categories:
- Offshore Bank Accounts: This is the most common type — regular checking and savings accounts but in a foreign country. They’re good for personal or business purposes and for managing your finances in various currencies.
- Offshore Investment Accounts: Designed for investment purposes, they allow you to invest in international stocks, bonds, funds, and other financial instruments.
- Offshore Trust Accounts: Trust accounts are legal entities that can hold and protect your assets. They’re commonly used for estate planning, asset protection, and privately passing wealth to beneficiaries.
- Offshore Business Accounts: If you run a business with international operations or transactions, offshore business accounts make your finances easier. They’re designed for particular business needs, including handling cross-border payments and assets.
While offshore accounts provide plenty of flexibility and advantages, don't forget that they also come with their own tax liability and regulation.
Offshore banking: tax and regulations
Offshore accounts could serve as a tax-efficient way to save and invest. Still, it's crucial that you report your global income to the tax authorities in your home country and declare any interest that you earned from offshore accounts.
Your home country taxes offshore investments as any other income tax, including dividends from foreign shares and capital gains. Check out the local rules and regulations to avoid double taxation. As a rule of thumb: honesty (and transparency) is always the best policy!
How to open an offshore bank account
So, you know you want to get an overseas bank account — but not sure where to begin? Luckily, opening an offshore bank account isn’t a complex process. Here's a step-by-step guide to help you get started:
- Choose a bank: Look for a reputable bank in the country you need. Consider the bank's stability, services, fees, and accessibility. Contact the selected bank and they can give you more information on their account opening processes.
- Collect your documents: You typically have to provide the bank with proof of identity, proof of address, and documentation about the source of your funds — this is a measure to prevent money laundering. To open a business account, you'll also need a business plan.
- Submit your application: Send your completed application form and documents to the bank digitally or by mail, depending on their specific procedures. The bank will complete due-diligence checks in order to comply with anti-money laundering (AML) and know-your-customer (KYC) regulations.
- Make the initial deposit: You have to deposit money into your offshore account. The amount depends on the bank and the type of account you're opening.
- Access your account: Once the bank approves your application and receives the opening deposit, you'll receive instructions on accessing your account online or through other banking channels provided by the bank.
And just like that, your offshore account should be up and running! Remember that regulations and procedures may vary from one jurisdiction and bank to another. Don't forget to comply with the bank's terms and any tax reporting requirements in your home country.
One final reminder: Always stay updated on any tax laws and regulations changes in your home country and the offshore account location. As an account holder, you’re responsible for your tax obligations, and things can change over time.
Your money at N26
Sending money abroad? No problem. We made international transfers effortless thanks to Wise (formerly TransferWise), which is seamlessly integrated into your N26 app. You can now send money overseas in over 38 currencies at fair, real-market exchange rates.
With N26, transferring money to other European bank accounts is as easy as just a few taps on your phone. Pay and get paid instantly from N26 friends with MoneyBeam, or send and receive money in seconds with SEPA Instant Credit Transfers — 24/7, even on weekends or public holidays. And of course, domestic bank transfers to other banks in the same country are also free with every N26 bank account.
Ready for a 100% mobile bank with no hidden fees? Find the bank account that fits you best.
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