What is an Offshore Bank?

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison

An offshore bank is a banking institution located outside the country or jurisdiction of an account holder's residence. For example, if a resident of the United States opens a bank account in Switzerland, the Swiss bank is referred to as an offshore bank. Some people open bank accounts in other countries in order to shield their money from the law where they live or to protect it from creditors, though others may have more innocent reasons for opening this type of account. Offshore banking is usually legal, though the laws governing this practice may vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

Most of the best known offshore banking operations exist on island nations.
Most of the best known offshore banking operations exist on island nations.

The term offshore bank basically means a foreign bank. For example, to a French citizen, a Spanish bank would be considered an offshore bank. Often, offshore banks are willing to accept deposits from depositors who are citizens of a variety of countries instead of requiring all deposits to come from citizens in their own countries. More depositors mean more money the bank has for operations and investments. As such, banks may have good reasons for taking on foreign depositors.

Many smaller countries can offer offshore bank account services without a substantial investment of their own.
Many smaller countries can offer offshore bank account services without a substantial investment of their own.

In most places, a depositor can open an account with an offshore bank without running afoul of the law. If an individual deposits money from illegal dealings into such an account, however, he could face legal issues. Depending on the laws of the country of which the depositor is a citizen and the laws of the foreign country in which his bank is located, a depositor's money may be safe from seizure by his own country's legal system. The individual may face legal prosecution for any illegal activity in which he engages, however.

Some people may see an offshore bank as the perfect setup for hiding money from the tax authorities in their countries. Depending on the laws in both countries, the money may be out of the reach of the tax authorities. An individual who is found guilty of tax evasion could still face jail time, however, no matter where he has decided to place his money.

A person may also open an account with an offshore bank in order to protect his money from creditors. A foreign country's laws may make it difficult or even impossible for creditors in his own country to get their hands on his funds. As such, an offshore bank may be a safe haven for individuals concerned about facing lawsuits initiated by creditors.

There are also other legitimate, legal reasons a person may open an offshore account. For example, if a person travels to a foreign country frequently, he may prefer to have a foreign account to make handling his funds easier. Likewise, a person may wish to deposit his money in a country that is more financially stable than his own. Additionally, there may be legal ways to save on taxes with an offshore account, and some may offer attractive interest rates.

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison

Nicole’s thirst for knowledge inspired her to become a wiseGEEK writer, and she focuses primarily on topics such as homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. When not writing or spending time with her four children, Nicole enjoys reading, camping, and going to the beach.

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