Dateline: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
When I write about offshore banking, one of the most common questions that I get from readers is, “what are the best offshore banks?”
If you’re a six- or seven-figure entrepreneur or investor, then finding the best offshore bank for your needs can be particularly difficult. Most of the information that you’ll find on the internet is from armchair expats or digital nomads who are mostly interested in transactional accounts and fintech solutions.
Unless those kinds of accounts are what you’re looking for, then that information likely doesn’t help you much – if at all.
This is why my research team and I spent the past few months exploring what the best offshore banks are for high-value individuals. Your needs are going to be different than the average expat’s or digital nomad’s, so you’ll want to find a bank that will cater to you.
The following article will tell you:
- What NOT to look for in an offshore bank;
- What makes a high-quality offshore bank; and
- The best offshore banks in the world.
What Not to Look for in an Offshore Bank
Before we dive into what makes an offshore bank one of the best, let’s first discuss what kinds of offshore banks to avoid.
From my personal experience, I’ve found that these banks aren’t necessarily bad, but they’re likely not what you’re looking for in an offshore bank. They may not have all of the services that you’re looking for, or they might just be difficult to work with.
As a general rule, you should probably avoid the following types of banks:
“Neo-Banks” and Fintech
The first type of bank that I would avoid is what are called “neo-banks” or fintech solutions.
While these banks can be great backups and may meet some of your more cursory needs, they’re meant for people who are just starting out and primarily need transactional accounts.
Additionally, they’re not always available to everybody – particularly US citizens – and can be somewhat limited in the services that they provide. Because these banks are primarily remote, their ability to perform due diligence on their customers is more limited, which consequently limits the types of services that these banks can provide.
Granted, these banks can work if all you need to do is bill a handful of low-value clients or directly deposit a salary. I actually like many of the Asian fintech products hitting the market now – but unfortunately, they don’t have enough features to meet all of my banking needs.
You can call me old school, but in my opinion, there’s nothing that can replace a bank meeting you in person and feeling comfortable with having you in their branch.
With a physical bank, you’re going to get better service and more features than you will with one of these online fintech solutions.
Those of you familiar with my blog already know that I’m not a big fan of HSBC.
Although it’s one of the better-known offshore banks, it’s simply not a great bank to work with. They’re not very responsive, and HSBC Premier simply isn’t worth what you pay for it.
Overall, if you’re looking for a high-quality offshore bank, there are plenty of better options out there.
Banks in Classic Offshore Jurisdictions
Despite what the talking heads on the internet say, you’ll likely want to avoid banks in the Caribbean and other classic offshore jurisdictions.
The fees at many of these banks are sky-high, and their customer service isn’t very good. Caribbean “island time” applies even in the most reputable offshore banks, so you can expect customer service to be quite slow.
Additionally, because these offshore jurisdictions have a bit of a bad reputation, they’re constantly under pressure from the US and other governments to comply with laws like FATCA and CRS, and if you frequently make wire transfers, you may face extra scrutiny if your transfers come from places like Belize or the British Virgin Islands.
Therefore, while the Caribbean might be a great option for getting a second passport, it isn’t the best place for offshore banking.
What are the Ingredients for the Best Offshore Banks?
Now that we’ve gone over what to avoid when it comes to offshore banks, let’s look at what makes for a good offshore bank.
An offshore bank is only as good as the jurisdiction that it’s located in.
Certain jurisdictions aren’t monetarily stable, which makes holding local currency risky and increases the likelihood that the government might take your money – something that actually happened in Cyprus a few years ago.
Additionally, as I mentioned in the previous section, many traditional offshore banking jurisdictions also aren’t great places to bank. Their governments are constantly under pressure for compliance, and their banks aren’t always the easiest to deal with.
Instead, you want to choose banking jurisdictions that are stable, pro-business, and not under any sort of crackdown from the US or other entities.
Jurisdiction quality is part of the reason why I promote the idea that onshore is the new offshore. While traditional offshore jurisdictions tend to suffer from problems like poor reputation, there are a number of other “onshore” banking jurisdictions that offer better benefits and stability.
Just as you want to bank in a high-quality jurisdiction, you also want to bank with a high-quality institution.
One of the issues that you should always consider is the financials of the banks that you want to deal with.
One of the issues that I often discuss is how many banks in the US and other Western countries often keep less than 1% of deposits on hand at all times. On the other hand, even countries like Belize require their banks to keep a minimum of 24% of their deposits available.
Other banks don’t even make any kind of loans, so they hold 100% of their deposits at all times.
Along with a bank’s overall reputation, these kinds of financials are important to look at when you decide where to bank, and they certainly factored into our decision about the best offshore banks.
Ease of Opening a Bank Account
When my team and I selected the best offshore banks for this article, the third factor that we considered was the ease of opening an account at that particular bank.
The best offshore banks will be easy for you to work with. In this case, the word “easy” is somewhat relative. You’re never going to be able to open an offshore bank account at the push of a button. Instead, you’ll need to either travel there or send in a pile of documents to open an account remotely.
For our purposes, then, easy doesn’t necessarily mean zero effort – it means that the process is smooth and the bank has good customer service.
The fact is that even if a bank has excellent financials and is located in a premium banking jurisdiction, you don’t want to bank with them if they’re a hassle to deal with.
Think of it this way – would you rather date a supermodel who constantly nags you and acts superior or an average, attractive person who makes a great life partner?
The fact is that many glamorous banks and banking jurisdictions – such as Switzerland, Panama, or Hong Kong – aren’t easy places to bank in. Banks in those places often have high deposit minimums for foreigners, require a series of appointments to open an account, and have poor customer service.
The fourth issue that you should consider when choosing an offshore bank is nomad friendliness – whether that bank’s policies and services suit your international lifestyle. To determine whether or not a bank is nomad friendly, you’ll need to consider a handful of different factors.
First and foremost, the best offshore banks for nomads need a good online banking system. Because you won’t always be in the country where your bank is located, it’s important that you have the ability to maintain your account without needing to make frequent calls or visits.
This need is why banks in places like Georgia and Mongolia have excellent online banking systems while countries like the US tend to lag behind. The more remote customers that you have, the more valuable an online banking system becomes.
Another factor that contributes to a bank’s nomad friendliness is whether you’re able to easily use ATMs and make transactions in various countries.
Some banks may charge exorbitant fees for international transactions, or they may sound the fraud alarms if you so much as step foot overseas. When my parents came to visit me in Kuala Lumpur, for instance, they were unable to use their debit cards since Chase Bank is convinced that Malaysia is a den of fraudsters.
Therefore, you need to have a bank that you can access while you’re traveling to various countries, and your bank should also offer services such as 24-hour customer service and priority banking.
The best offshore banks will be able to keep up with your international lifestyle while offering you the services that you need to maintain it.
The Best Offshore Banks for 2020
With the above criteria in mind, my team and I researched the best offshore banks in the world for 2020. However, before we dive into the list of the best offshore banks, I want to address a few caveats to this list.
First, you should keep in mind that what’s best for the general public isn’t going to be what’s best for you. While this list is geared toward six- and seven-figure entrepreneurs like you, the following banks might not work for you.
This list isn’t meant to tell you exactly where to go – it’s meant to give you ideas of the kinds of offshore banks that you should be looking for.
Second, the following banks are what’s working currently in 2020, and circumstances may change in the not-so-distant future. In the offshore world, the targets are constantly moving. One bank may gladly accept US citizens one day and then reject them the next; in fact, one bank I work with in Singapore decided to no longer accept British citizens in the wake of Brexit.
My team and I will work to keep this list as updated as possible, but if you have a different experience with one of these banks, then let us know in the comments.
Finally, the following list will tell you the best offshore banks for particular purposes and situations. It’s not a definitive ranking or an exhaustive list, but it will give you an idea of the best offshore banks for different needs.
Premier Banking: DBS Treasures
Of the three major banks in Singapore, DBS Treasures has the best premier banking services for Nomad Capitalists. DBS is fairly easy to deal with, and it has plenty of interesting investment banking opportunities, including next-generation robo-investing.
You’ll need to invest at least 350,000 Singapore dollars, but for that amount, you’ll get a relatively robust level of service. These benefits make DBS Treasures my go-to recommendation for wealthy entrepreneurs and investors who keep cash on hand.
Singapore itself is also an excellent jurisdiction for wealth. As I mention in the video above, it’s my favorite place in the world to store gold and preserve wealth.
Additionally, although Singapore has a reputation for wealth and opulence, it’s more accessible than what Crazy Rich Asians would have you believe. Singapore is designed for the modern entrepreneur who doesn’t want the pretense and the B.S. of places like Switzerland.
Banks like DBS reflect this idea with benefits like top-notch online banking, unique travel privileges, and creative investment options.
Ease of Opening an Account: TBC Bank
As I mentioned earlier, one of the most important aspects of an offshore bank is how easy it is to deal with, and TBC Bank in Georgia is perhaps the easiest bank to deal with in the world.
Georgia is just generally an easy place to do business. As an emerging market, the country wants your capital, and most Georgian businesses and banks will happily do business with you.
TBC Bank reflects Georgia’s business-friendly attitude as the process for opening an account here takes as little as ten minutes.
You’ll need to show proof of identity and fill out some paperwork, and if you’re a US person, you’ll need to fill out a few FATCA-related forms. Then, once you’ve completed that minimal amount of paperwork, you can make your deposit and be on your way.
Account minimums are also quite low. You can open a regular or CD account here with as little as $10, and for premium banking services, you only need around $50,000.
However, while this is relatively cheap, you get great service – in fact, many of the people who I work with have told me that premier banking in Georgia reminds them of the golden age of banking in Hong Kong.
Remote Account Opening: Capital Security Bank
As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, I’m not a big fan of remote bank account opening.
Call me old school, but I prefer to open bank accounts in person. In my view, nothing can replace meeting with your bank in person, and remote account opening can be tedious thanks to the amount of paperwork involved.
However, sometimes you might need to open an account remotely – or if you’re a nerd like me, you may want to do it just for the sake of experiencing the process.
In that case, I recommend using Capital Security Bank in the Cook Islands. The process for opening an account remotely here is much more streamlined than in other remote banking jurisdictions, and you’ll get better service here as well.
It’s a bit more upscale than most banks where you can open an account remotely, which means that you’ll need to put in a higher minimum deposit. You’ll need at least $20,000 to open an account, and you should expect to pay roughly $50 in fees per month.
However, as I often say, you get what you pay for – especially in the realm of offshore banking.
100% Liquidity: Capital Security Bank
As I mentioned earlier, banks don’t often keep all of their deposits on hand since they’ll make loans and investments, and a bank’s liquidity ratio indicates how much of your money that they may use to do that.
However, a handful of banks don’t make any loans whatsoever, meaning that they have 100% liquidity.
Capital Security Bank also takes the title here for one of the best offshore banks with 100% liquidity. Rather than acting as a traditional bank, CSB essentially holds your money in trust, giving you the peace of mind knowing that your bank won’t lose your money.
Best Fintech Bank: Neat
I personally am not a huge fan of fintech banks.
I like them for what they are, but they’re not going to meet the needs of a six- or seven-figure entrepreneur, who likely needs more robust services than a fintech product can provide.
However, if you need a transactional account, then fintech products could be an interesting choice, and if that’s what you’re looking for, then I recommend Neat.
Unlike European fintech banks, which often involve plenty of bureaucratic nonsense, Neat is based in Hong Kong, and like most Asian tech and financial products, it’s a lot more efficient than its European counterparts.
Neat allows you to set up accounts entirely online, and it also allows you to easily bank in multiple currencies. Additionally, if you’re in e-commerce, then you can easily link Stripe, Amazon, PayPal, and similar types of accounts to your Neat account.
While I don’t personally use this product, I’ve heard excellent reviews from both the people who I work with as well as others in the digital nomad community.
Best US Bank for Non-US Citizens: Wells Fargo
If you’re not a US citizen, then banking in the US is surprisingly desirable. Although the US doesn’t have the safest banks in the world, they’re well-connected to the global financial system, and opening an account there is quite easy as well.
As an added benefit, the US has FDIC deposit insurance, which insures up to $250,000 per account. This is, by far, the highest amount of deposit insurance in the world.
Although I hate to say it, the best bank for opening a bank account in the US as a non-resident is Wells Fargo. I understand that this bank does have some challenges, but it’s one of the few that will allow you to open an account without a Social Security number.
If you decide to travel to the US to open an account at Wells Fargo, I personally recommend using the Miami or Las Vegas branches. Both are accustomed to dealing with non-US residents, and neither require an SSN to open an account.
While opening an account at Wells Fargo may seem like the antithesis of offshore to a US citizen, it can actually be an excellent diversification strategy for people outside of the US.
With excellent deposit insurance and deep ties to the global financial system, Wells Fargo in the US might be an excellent choice for people who want a US bank account.
Best “Onshore” Account: TD Bank
If you’re just beginning your offshore journey, then you may not feel comfortable diving into banking in places like Georgia or even Singapore.
If that’s the case, then you can dip your toe in rather easily at TD Bank in Canada.
TD Bank in Canada is a great option for people looking to begin their offshore banking journey close to home. You’re not going to get sky-high interest rates or interesting investment banking options as you would elsewhere, but at TD Bank, you’ll get stable banking and excellent customer service.
Additionally, the bank does allow you to hold either US dollars or Canadian dollars, which gives you a small degree of diversification.
TD Bank can therefore be a good way to begin banking internationally if you’re not quite ready to take a long-haul flight to Armenia or other parts of the world. You can easily travel to a major city like Toronto or Vancouver, open an account with a low minimum deposit, and start to get a feel for offshore banking.
What are the Best Offshore Banks for Me?
After reading this list, you may be wondering which offshore bank is right for you.
Like most things in the offshore industry, however, the answer to that question will depend on what you want and what you need.
Additionally, if you’re looking for an offshore business bank account, then you’ll likely need more specific guidance. While many of these banks have great options for corporate accounts, this list is geared toward personal banking – not business.
If you’re looking to open an offshore bank account for your business or need help deciding where to open a personal account, feel free to reach out to my team and me.