Secret offshore bank accounts are the stuff of legend. This article intends to debunk some of the myths about secret offshore banking by setting out what is and isn’t possible.
1) It’s impossible to open an offshore bank account without first somehow identifying yourself. This means sending a notarized copy of your bank account/passport details to the bank or intermediary.
2) Most offshore banks will also require a reference from a bank at home.
3) If you open an offshore account in the name of your offshore company, you still need to provide all the formation documents, and the name and address of a real person. No bank will let a faceless entity open an account without pinning it down to a real person.
So how is it Secret?
Well, the reasoning behind all this, is that if you open an offshore account the bank may let you have a ‘number’ rather than a name. This so called ‘numbered account’ allows you to send wire transfers without third parties knowing who you are. An account in the name of a company will do a similar thing, allowing you to send and receive payments almost anonymously, because the company name rather yours will show up on all transactions.
The problem is, this doesn’t shield you from government inquiries. If for example a government authority suspects you of having an undeclared offshore account, that you are hiding money from your spouse or otherwise engaged in funny business they can go to the country or bank in question and request your details. While some countries will reject the majority of these requests others are more pliant.
Switzerland and the Cayman Islands are two in particular that co-operate with US and EU authorities. Although both have strong bank secrecy laws on paper, these are not so closely followed in practice. Swiss banks UBS and Credit Suisse have made headlines recently over IRS investigations into US held offshore accounts.
The truth is, if you really want a secret account you may have to look further than ‘traditional’ tax havens. That means jurisdictions without tax-information exchange agreements or other links to high-tax countries.
Another option is using an offshore bank account alternative. This could be (for example) sending your funds to a trust company which then opens a bank account for you in their name. Although this is also not 100% foolproof, it does offer another level of privacy in the same way that an offshore company will shield your identity.
Whichever option you choose to take, it pays to follow some ‘golden rules’ of privacy:
1) Limit the number of people who know about the offshore bank account to as few as is humanly possible.
2) Fund the account with a cheque or western union transfer, rather than by wire from your home bank. 3) Never send funds directly back home from the offshore account.