Offshore safes – safe places to hide your money

Offshore safes – safe places to hide your money

It is possible that sooner or later you will find yourself in possession of sensitive documents or other portable assets of great value that need to be kept in a safe place – such as an offshore deposit facility.

What kind of things are we talking about? Any valuable documents. Things like car titles, coins (rare), passports, bearer shares, citizenship documents, bills of sale, pension records, school transcripts, trust documents, immigration documents, rare stamps, mortgage documents, etc. You may also want to store data such as USB sticks or backup DVDs securely off-site.

The safe is also recommended by many experts for estate planning purposes. In order to pass the contents of the safe to your heirs without any formalities, it is necessary that another person has access and a key. This is achieved by having the heir sign the box. If you do not want them to have access during your lifetime, you keep the key and arrange for it to be delivered to them in a sealed envelope with instructions after your death or disability.

Should you use a bank or an independent safe deposit box company?

Generally, the best solution is to rent a safe deposit box from a reliable large, premium bank – not just a box company. Many banks will require that you also have an account with them and that withdrawals to pay for the rental of the box be pre-authorized.

Why should you use a bank and not an independent safe deposit box company? Because independent companies seem to fold or get ripped off with great regularity. Like public warehouses, they are also often used by less desirable characters.

On the other hand, private storage clothing may not require identification to open a box. They can take any name you want to give them. Customers can be admitted on the basis of a plastic card without the need to enter. Since such a box is not linked to any account or means of payment, it requires the user to pay several years in advance. This will avoid opening the box and selling the contents for non-payment of rent.

A client told me the sad story of how, after a long hospital stay due to cancer, he discovered that his box at a public storage facility had been opened after a year due to non-payment of rent. The contents were auctioned off. He had a collection of old stock certificates that were worthless as stock but of great value to collectors. One had a rare original signature of inventor Thomas Edison. They were thrown away like scrap paper.

Best countries for offshore safe deposit boxes

Austria, Switzerland and Luxembourg are traditional havens that are ideal for safe deposit boxes. A good box country is one where you don’t need to show a passport or go through official border control. This is not the case with Switzerland – unless you take your chances at one of the very few unmanned border crossings!

Vienna and Zurich airports are also convenient hubs for national airlines. You can conveniently pass through these countries when traveling between other cities. Just arrange a stop long enough to visit your stash; putting in or taking out what you need. You don’t have to look for a tax haven to locate a safe deposit box. Any peaceful, stable country where property rights are respected is fine.

Almost all banks offer safety deposit boxes. If yours is located in a country where you don’t have problems, it doesn’t really matter which one you use. But you should have at least one person you trust who knows about the box and has access to it. If you are involved in an accident, it is important that your box is not forgotten or left behind.

Keep the key!

When you open the box, consider depositing the key in a sealed envelope at the bank’s safekeeping office or with your personal private banker. By doing this, you ensure that the key will not be found on you or among your belongings by someone with dubious intentions, such as your soon-to-be ex-wife.

Many bank safes have two keys – one is held by you. The second (public access key) is kept by the bank. Only the two can be used to open the box.

There is no key in the latest high-tech safes. These safes can only be opened by scanning fingerprints. Another solution is to use boxes in places where they have secret locks. Experienced safe crackers are good at opening combination locks. In our experience, they are less secure than complex keys. We’re also not keen on secret memorized numbers. Why? Because more than once we have forgotten an important combination or password.

Make sure you can access the box without showing ID in case you lose it and need to get your backups that you carefully secured in the box! Some banks, especially those in Zurich, want to see and photocopy an ID every time you go into your box – even if you’re well known. Wherever your box is, make sure you are familiar with a few of the staff who can help you access your box without ID if necessary. Tell them to take a good look and remember you personally so you can always access your box or money in the account without any identification. Tell them your favorite silly joke or story and tell them to remember it so you can tell it again years later. Then they will remember you!

Shh… can you keep a secret?

Don’t just take a safe key and keep it on a gold chain around your neck all the time. This is something movie villains do.

If you want something secret, always think ahead. Don’t tell anyone about this. Leave the key and instructions with your personal banker or someone you trust completely. Also think ahead! Leave death instructions in your box – in case something happens to you. They can be recorded or they can be on CD in video form. Your box will be opened after about a year or two of inactivity – if and when the annual fees are unpaid.

Sometimes the safe is forgotten for decades. Some seventy years after criminal mastermind and notorious billionaire Al Capone died in prison, a shuttered bank he once owned in Chicago has turned out to have a long-forgotten, secret locked underground vault registered in his name. His money was never found. A national television network bought the rights to show the breaking and reopening of this vault “live on television.” Many people, including myself, attended the grand opening. We thought it would be an event equal to the discovery of the fabled tomb of King Tutan in Egypt. What happened? It was a good show with a disappointing ending. Apparently someone with a spare key to Al Capone’s safe got there first. There was nothing interesting in the vault.

Will your secrets die with you?

Most offshore banks will require that you have a bank account with them and that they are authorized to withdraw your annual safe deposit box rental payments from that account. With such instructions and automated payment, you could be dead for many years before you are considered dead and your box is breached. Thus, your banker should perhaps be instructed to open your instructions (not your box) in case he does not hear from you for a certain period of time, such as three years. Even better, your banker should be instructed “after 3 years of no contact, please contact my lawyer, XYZ, or your children, spouse, best friend.” Someone you trust should have instructions on what to do with your assets in the event of your death, disappearance or disability. Your banker must be advised what to do or how and when to contact those persons who will certainly know where you are.

Maybe someone you trust who has nothing to gain from suing you should get a sealed power of attorney or assignment plus a valid will so that any outstanding issues are tied up. Without it, for example in Switzerland, the bank just holds your assets! Just like that. In English-speaking countries, there is usually a seizure law covering inactive accounts and the contents of abandoned safes. In England, unclaimed money and assets go to the Crown. In California, the contents of the box and accounts that have been inactive for more than seven years go to the Teachers’ Retirement Fund.

In such cases, the heirs have only a very limited time to file a claim. Most never do because they never learn about the assets.

Your anonymous safe in an Austrian palace

The Swiss and Austrians generally excel at managing discreet safes. In almost all countries, an ID card is required to rent a safe. But in Austria, at the time of writing, there is one safe deposit box company offering anonymous safes. It has been around for years and was highly recommended by a reader. This is a good place to store second passports, bank cards and other PT paraphernalia that you may not want to keep in your home country.

This company has its facilities in the basement of a beautiful Viennese palace. Its name is Das Safe and its website is If you are in Vienna, you can visit them at Auerspergstrasse 1. We predict that they will stay in business for a long time, but how long they will be allowed to carry out anonymous activities remains in question.

Other recommended safety deposit box facilities in Austria are at Schoellerbank branches (where no key is required – access is regulated by scanning an electronic fingerprint) and at Raiffeisenbank in the “secret” enclave of Jungholz.

Reliable safe deposit box company in Prague

Another service we know about is the safe deposit box in Prague in the Czech Republic. They require valid ID to open a box. From this point on, the service is highly professional and discreet, with no ID required for later access. You can pay up to five years in advance. Entry to the main vault is self-service with a card swipe system at the main door. You can give the card and key to anyone. They can then gain access to your safe without the need to meet staff or identify themselves in any way.

This particular venture is a joint venture between one of the Czech banks and the Chequepoint money changer chain. It has existed since 1992. They are located in the basement of an old bank building right next to the famous Wenceslas Square. They welcome visitors to stop by and check out the facilities. The street address is 28 Ijna 13. The website is currently not available in English, but if you visit them you will find they speak English.

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