Even though I grew up in the heart of Europe, I do not feel as though I’m a part of it. Since Switzerland is not a member of the European Union I face difficulties on a regular basis. This happens more frequently whilst living abroad, like when I tried to open a Dutch bank account with my Swiss identification card.
Many people who spend their entire lives in Switzerland are not affected by the difficulties a Swiss citizenship can bring along; as a result they do not bother about it. Why should they? However, I have always been a traveller and spent lots of time abroad. Therefore, the consequences hit me straight in the face, especially when travelling within the EU.
At the end of August 2015 I moved to the Netherlands for my exchange semester. When I thought about moving to the country of bikes, I had not thought or even dreamed about the challenges that were waiting for me on a daily basis. I am not talking about cultural differences; I am talking about being Swiss in an EU country and more specifically in the Netherlands.
Paying only by maestro card
For instance, in the first week of my stay, I realized that Dutch people are forced to pay everything by card – or ‚pin‘, as they call it. There are even shops and take-away outlets where they just accept maestro cards – and nothing else; no credit card, or even cash. The best example is at the cafeteria and the café at the Hogeschool Utrecht. It is only possible to pay by maestro card.
However, after spending too much money on transaction fees because I used my Swiss maestro card, I realized that I should get a Dutch one. Therefore I went to the ING Bank to open an account. As they wanted to see an identification document, I showed them my Swiss ID card.
My German friend accompanied me and also wanted to open a bank account. The only difference was that she had a German identification card. Everything went fine with her application but when they switched to my application, they told me “The system does not accept your Swiss ID, you need to come back with a passport.”
I thought it was a joke and asked why, but the bank employee did not know. As a consequence I went to another bank called ABN AMRO to make sure I really needed a passport to open a bank account. Again, I received the same answer and once again they did not know the reason why. I wondered why they did not know and started to do some research.
Unclear answers based on assumptions
Karin van der Pol, press speaker of the ING bank, said “The Swiss identity card does not comply with the regulations of the ING bank; therefore we need the Swiss passport for security reasons.”
Further, she told me that this is not a frequently asked question or problem because there are not a lot of Swiss people coming to the Netherlands to open a bank account. As a result, they do not have any documentation about this regulation.
Well, I accepted this answer but it still made me wonder why. Consequently, I called the Nederlandse Vereniging van Banken and talked to Jelle Wijstra, the spokesperson. He explained that every bank has its own safety regulations and that it must relate to the fact that Switzerland is not in the EU.
The Swiss embassy in Den Haag gave me the same answer when I called them. However, even they were not completely certain.
To summarise, I talked to three different people from three different institutions and none of them could provide me with an explanation as to why the Swiss identification card is not accepted when you want to open a bank account in the Netherlands.
There are no documents or explanation sheets about this topic and obviously nobody is really interested in finding out, because there are just eight million Swiss people in the world and just very few people open a bank account in the Netherlands. In other words: They do not care about us, the 7,734 Swiss nationals living in the Netherlands (2014).
The status of Swiss changed
Once again I realized that it is no longer like in the old days where being in possession of a Swiss identification document saved you from lots of problems. Nowadays, it can even cause you more problems than it solves.
“Having a passport of neutral Switzerland has been a valuable travel document in the post-war years and while the cold war took place. These advantages do not exist anymore or do not longer make a big difference.” says Walter Leimgruber, head of the Institute for Cultural Studies and European Ethnology at the University of Basel in Switzerland in an article with swissinfo.ch.
It stays a mystery why Swiss citizens need a passport to open a bank account in the Netherlands. The Dutch banks cannot tell me why. In my opinion this is ridiculous.
I could fly to Amsterdam with my ID, I could sign a rental agreement with my ID, I could register at the municipality in the Utrecht and I can even travel to Turkey without a passport. Besides that, not every Swiss person is in the possession of a passport, and whilst living and working in the Schengen area, the Swiss identification card is usually sufficient.
However, somehow it is not possible to open a bank account without a Swiss passport in the Netherlands. I could not find out why but I am happy that I took my Swiss passport with me. I was finally able to open a bank account which has made my life in the country of windmills so much easier and much more pleasant.