The thing about offshore banking is that it’s a moveable feast with the requirements, legislation, and compliance constantly changing and causing you to pivot. That’s why I maintain a small team that is always on the look out for new opportunities and threats. In this regard, Malta has been on our radar, for some time, as an EU banking alternative. Subsequently, I will cover in detail everything you need to know on How to Open a Bank Account in Malta.
Normally, when it comes to offshore banking, I typically advise people that have come to me to look away from Europe as a banking destination given the ever increasing compliance burdens. Each year banking within the EU has become harder and, in many cases, the negatives now outweigh the positives of basing your wealth there.
However, about 6 or 7 years (it’s 2022 currently) back Malta loomed large as a sound choice for those looking to bank within the EU but avoid the huge bureaucratic burden that most European countries place on you. At that point, the major reason for considering Malta was its tax friendly reputation and that it was, and remains, a very nice place to live in. Sure…it doesn’t have the climate of Singapore and they don’t possess the conservative skill of a Swiss wealth manager, but it was still a nice place to live.
Unfortunately, the past half a decade has taken its toll on Malta and both banking and its reputation as a tax friendly location have deteriorated quite markedly. The Maltese on-ground banking reality today is one of frustration and long-winded compliance driven application processes that have even the most patient of us reaching for the gin bottle. This has often meant digital nomads and expats have struggled to setup banking facilities despite being in possession of all the standard required documentation. In short, the process is long and complicated, and you may be rejected for anything, real or imagined, by the bank anywhere throughout the process.
Having said that, there are still some good use cases for opening a bank account in Malta and not everything is as bad as the horror stories that have turned up on various internet forums. If you are looking to obtain citizenship via investment, or plan to base yourself elsewhere in the EU, then a Maltese bank account could be an option for you.
Subsequently, this article will attempt to cover everything you need to know on How to Open a Bank Account in Malta and provide you the data to consider your specific circumstances.
Why is Opening a Bank Account in Malta So Hard?
If you have done more than 10-minutes of research on the internet I’m sure you have read a bunch of different “guides” from people that all claim how easy it is to open a bank account in Malta. The reality is it’s no longer easy and you are going to have to work to achieve it.
Sure, the Banks in Malta will tell you that all you need to do is attend one of their branches with your key documents and you can open an account on the spot. Unfortunately, I must tell you that this is a gross underestimate of what is required and that you will likely get nowhere going this route.
Subsequently, please disregard anyone (including the major Maltese Banks) that claim you can simply provide your ID, proof of residency, and a bank reference letter, to open an account. The real process is significantly more complicated than that. You are going to find out very quickly that there are no standard banking processes in Malta and that the rules will differ not only from bank to bank but even from branch to branch.
The reality is that the opening process, even for someone like a digital nomad who is physically present in Malta, can take months and is a compliance nightmare. Unfortunately, the Maltese Banks take their KYC and Compliance checks so serious it is the offshore banking equivalent of a visit to the proctology doctor.
A typical application process starts with the chosen bank viewing your ID, proof of residency, and bank reference letter and then starting the KYC process. The next step is that they want to go through your complete banking history, credit rating and records, and business and personal documentation with a fine-tooth comb.
The follow-up questions can also be very daunting as they will not only probe every aspect of your financial background but also request documentation to prove any answers that you provide. This is effectively financial profiling at its worst and if there is anything that they are unhappy with, or doesn’t corroborate your answers, expect to receive a denial.
The whole process can typically take around 2 months to complete and, at the end of it, have you wishing that you had never started it in the first place. However, there are still some good reasons for some people to seek to open a bank account in Malta.
Why Open a Bank Account and What Documents are Required?
Firstly, you really need to question why you want a bank account in Malta because it isn’t an easy process. If you are based in the EU and want to bank in a tax friendly country, then Malta may make sense. Additionally, if you are working on getting citizenship by investment in the nation and/or are looking to make yourself a tax resident of Malta then a bank account is appropriate.
Otherwise, you may be best considering an easier option such as Transfer wise or Statrys. Electronic Money Institutions (EMI’s) are quite a step away from traditional banking but provide reliable services for people looking for banking options.
Having given you the caveat…. let’s move on with what’s required.
Documents Required to Open a Bank Account in Malta
It’s important to note that Malta does not restrict banking facilities to only EU citizens. So, whether you are an EU or non-EU based individual you can certainly apply for a bank account from a Maltese bank. However, you really have to be prepared, as mentioned before, they will be asking some very personal questions about your financial background and creditworthiness.
I always recommend doing a deep dive on your background before hand and preparing everything before you even enter the branch to start the application process. Some of this documentation can be time consuming to obtain so it pays to have it on hand and ready to go.
Firstly, I will cover the case for individual applicants as it’s probably the easiest process.
Individual Documents Required for most banks
- A current Passport (and a copy for the bank to retain) and/or your Maltese ID card if you have one.
- A current utility bill issues within the past 90 days which shows your address. Obviously, having a Maltese address is preferable but if you don’t have one you can use your previous address.
- A bank reference letter. This one depends on the bank you choose but I would normally have one prepared for clients I deal with in advance just in case. Additionally, it needs to cover that you have no outstanding debts with the bank and are credit worthy.
- A completed application form executed in front of a bank officer.
The hardest document to obtain in this list is normally the Bank Reference letter. You can google them to see what they look like but they are just a certified statement from your bank giving your account balances and how long you have been a client and the fact that you have operated your account in accordance with their provisions.
One thing to note with bank references is that, in some countries, their issuance can cause a report to be made to the financial transaction tracking authorities. Globally, the definition of what is a suspicious transaction has been widened significantly.
The final point to make is that if you are a non-EU citizen you may find yourself subject to significantly more scrutiny. The reality is that banks in Malta are taking a hard line against money laundering and tax evasion so expect to be asked plenty of questions on your source of funds and background.
Company Documents Required for Most Banks
Securing a corporate bank account in Malta is a step harder than an individual bank account and really depends on where you company is registered and your ownership and management structure. However, there are some major benefits given their tax favorability and the ability to access multi-currency accounts.
You will typically need the following documents:
- Bank References for the company’s previous accounts and the shareholders and managers.
- Certified copies of the company’s corporate documents. Certificate of incorporate/Articles of Association and probably a certificate of incumbency.
- Certified passport copies for all shareholders/directors/managers.
- A certificate of good standing for the company.
- Proof of address for all shareholders/directors/managers.
These documents are just a starting point, and the bank is likely to request significantly more and potentially a business plan during the opening process. Their goal is one of risk reduction so expect them to dig into your corporate operations and if there is any hint of credit defaults or bankruptcies then your chances of opening an account is relatively slim.
The Best Malta Banks to Open an Account With
Finding a bank to work with in Malta should be all about the customer service and ease of operations. Often people get too caught up with banking with a known “name” and find out quickly that the services offered are below par.
Subsequently, I give the following recommendations for financial institutions that I’ve had dealings with over the years. However, please note that things change quickly in the banking world and if you are looking for up to date information or something specific for your circumstances then you would need to contact me for advice.
BNF Bank Malta (Formerly Banif)
BNF Bank is relatively easy to deal with and has quite a lot of the expat business in Malta. If you are looking solely for a transaction/current account, then this bank is probably your best bet for an easier application. They are the only bank I’m aware of that does not ask for a bank reference letter, but the downside is they also will not provide them if required.
- A Passport or Maltese ID Card.
- A recent utility bill or proof of address issued within the last 90 days.
- An employment contract with either a Maltese or non-Maltese company.
- A 12-month term deposit of 750 Euros.
Obviously, these requirements may change depending on the branch that you go into but was largely my experience dealing with them recently. Additionally, they only really want a 150 Euro deposit into your current account for that component of the bank account opening.
This is the bank that I love to hate due to my dealings with them in Hong Kong and there is really no benefit to seeking an account here unless you already have an account with them elsewhere. You will absolutely be required to provide a bank reference letter as well as a myriad of other documentation including:
- Passport or Maltese ID Card
- Proof of Address
- Bank Reference
- Proof of Income (not an employment contract)
- Prove proof of connection to Malta (property purchase contract, rental agreement, work contract etc.)
However, if you already have a HSBC account elsewhere then it becomes easier, and the compliance is significant reduced. That’s really the only reason it is on this list because they are very hard to deal with globally following their massive fine for lack of compliance.
Bank of Velletta (BOV)
This is the largest, and probably most prestigious, financial institution in Malta, and they provide full-service banking facilities. The downside is that the account opening procedure is incredibly stressful and long winded.
Unfortunately, they have taken the compliance direction of requiring you to prove a solid connection with Malta. In practice, this means either supplying a Maltese ID card or, like HSBC, providing a work contract, property purchase agreement, rental agreement (6 months minimum), and a reference from your bank or lawyer.
Additionally, they require all the same identity documents as HSBC and they will really undertake a deep dive on your financial and personal background.
Postapay (Malta Post Office)
Another option is Postapay which is a service of the Maltese post office and is a quasi-financial institution. Similar in concept to PosteBank in Switzerland, Postapay offers a quasi account to clients and is targeted mainly at the individuals.
It would be primarily of use in being paid a salary in Malta and would give you access to a prepaid debit card and the ability to receive IBAN transfers. However, you should note that this is not a traditional banking service and you can’t send outgoing wires/transfers. It is really set up to receive a traditional salary as mentioned.
Opening is easy with the following documents required:
- 100 Euro minimum deposit
- A Passport or Maltese ID card
- A recent utility bill as proof of address
Postapay is only a good option for those working for a traditional company in Malta and isn’t really a bank account. It may work for a digital nomad but, honestly, TransferWise or another EMI would be a better option.
Pro-Tips on How to Open a Bank Account in Malta
The key to successfully opening an account is the pre-preparation of your documents. You really want to have everything you need before attending the actual bank branch. The biggest hurdle you will likely face is obtaining your bank reference letter, and this is really something you should get before departing your home country.
Additionally, I would recommend having it notarized at a minimum so that it is legalized and ready for use in Malta. Please note that some Maltese banks are likely to want to communicate directly with your home bank to obtain the reference directly. Subsequently, you may need to authorize the release with your home bank.
The other piece of the puzzle is to set an appointment with the specific bank branch you want to visit. Understand that much of Malta runs on a form of “island time” and the branches are not always staffed fully during all parts of the day. This also guarantees that you get a bank officer that is experience in dealing with expats.
Also, make sure that when you start the process that you obtain a list of all fees because Maltese banks are quite insidious with charging expats for things that we would normally get for free in our home countries. Do yourself a favor and ask for a list of all associated bank charges and fees before signing the application form.
Lastly, if you are going to apply for a Maltese ID card then please consider doing this before you walk into a bank branch. You will save yourself a tremendous amount of trouble because having that local identity card will make the account opening process significantly easier.