How are the financial systems of the Caribbean weathering the hurricane of derisking, covid, sanctions and now the energy crisis? What will be the best banks in the Caribbean to open bank accounts for non-resident account holders and foreign corporations in 2023? Can you still open an account in the Caribbean as a non-resident individual, company or trust? We will answer these questions and more in detail, in this newly updated Offshore Pro Guide to the top banks in the Caribbean.
The past decade has brought enormous challenges and changes to the Caribbean banking system – particularly when it comes to opening bank accounts for non-resident clients. Some of the banks situated in the Caribbean islands are, unfortunately, simply unable to process wire transfers or issue credit cards due to total lack of access to the financial system. That in turn is a result of correspondent account derisking in the period 2015-2020.
Worse still, some are on the brink of bankruptcy – especially following major upheavals in Puerto Rico and Sri Lanka (in the case of one Nevis-based bank) in 2022. For this reason, care is certainly needed when choosing from a list of Caribbean banks. How to find a financially stable Caribbean bank with good customer service and open an account remotely?
As we will explain in this guide it is still absolutely possible to open accounts remotely in the Caribbean islands A list countries, and thereby in some of the top banks in the Caribbean region. Yes, you can still open Caribbean bank accounts remotely, for your typical offshore structures such as those of Nevis, Antigua, St Lucia and Belize. The truth is that some of the best banking countries in the world are to be found here in the eastern Caribbean islands: a group of English-speaking, British Commonwealth countries also known collectively as the “British West Indies”.
Table of contents:
- Which Caribbean nation is an international finance centre?
- How Does the Financial System of the Caribbean Banks Work?
- How to Open an Account Remotely in a Caribbean Bank
- Banks in Antigua and Barbuda
- Banks in Belize
- Banks in Dominica
- Banks in St Kitts and Nevis
- Banks in St Lucia
- Are Caribbean Banks Crypto Friendly?
- Obtain Citizenship to Access Even More Caribbean Banking Services
- Talk to Our Experts about How to Open a Bank Account in the Caribbean
Which Caribbean nation is an international finance centre?
The beautiful thing about the Caribbean (besides the idyllic palm-fringed beaches and secluded bays of course!) is that it’s not one nation but a collection of independent nations that share a lot of common heritage. The culture of each nation in the Eastern Caribbean islands is similar and related, but each island is an independent nation with its own people, its own history, and its own financial system.
You’ll find a long list of banks in Dominica, banks in Antigua and Barbuda, banks in St Lucia, banks in Nevis and its sister island St Kitts… not forgetting the banks in Belize, that can also truly be classified as some of the top banks in the Caribbean. Even though geographically, Belize is not technically on the list of eastern Caribbean islands, Belize borders the Caribbean sea and shares a lot of culture with the eastern Caribbean islands. All in all, each one is part of a different Caribbean financial system and each one is a Caribbean International Financial Centre in its own right. Confused? Let us explain…
How Does the Financial System of the Caribbean Banks Work?
Talking about the Caribbean banking system, we need to explain that there are dual financial systems of the Caribbean islands.
There is actually a combined financial system in the Caribbean linking accounts across the Eastern Caribbean. It functions under the regulatory oversight of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB), headquartered in St Kitts and Nevis. The ECCB’s primary role is the issuance of the regional currency, the Eastern Caribbean dollar or XCD. The Eastern Caribbean dollar is the currency in the Caribbean islands and has been fixed to the US Dollar at the rate of USD 1 = XCD 2.70 since 1976. Eastern Caribbean Dollars are issued as both paper currency (banknotes) and coins and now show the image of King Charles III of England. The Eastern Caribbean Central Bank also oversees an Automated Clearing House system that allows inter-regional clearance of cheques and transfers in both USD and XCD. Finally, the ECCB recently launched its own Central Bank Digital Currency, which has become the de facto digital currency of the Caribbean islands.
Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your point of view, most of the banks in the Caribbean dealing with non residents are not part of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank system. That is why we said above that each of the list of Caribbean islands engaged in banking is in fact an International Financial Centre in its own right.
Why fortunately or unfortunately? If the Caribbean international banks were connected to this system, it would make their transaction processing a breeze, with easy access to regional and international financial systems such as the US Federal Reserve. However, to achieve that, they would be sacrificing all the privacy and independence that is so valued amongst the best banks in the Caribbean. Banks focusing on the private banking or non-resident banking niches long ago decided it was better to deal with banking regulators on their own islands, rather than relinquishing sovereignty to the central bank in St Kitts and Nevis. Therefore in the Caribbean islands, there are dual financial systems – one run by the ECCB and one in each of the Financial Centre islands that is run by home-grown Caribbean regulators.
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How to Open an Account Remotely in a Caribbean Bank
Opening an account in a Caribbean bank is relatively easy, and can normally be done without the need to travel.
In theory all you need to do is choose your lucky financial institution from a list of Caribbean banks, email the bank, ask for their application forms, and send everything back by courier with the required documents.
In practice, as you can imagine, there are some additional “insider tips” you need to know – hence this article.
After years of pressure, first from the United States and later from the OECD, the European Union and other self-appointed guardians of the world financial system, banks in the eastern Caribbean have become extremely strict on compliance. As we are sure you are aware, it is not like you see in movies, where you can fly in with a suitcase full of cash and open an account! These days you will have to jump through a series of compliance hoops, coming up with everything from bank references to source of funds documents.
If your time is valuable to you, one of the first things you need in order to open a Caribbean bank account is a trusted intermediary. This is someone who works on your behalf (therefore is paid by you) but is also known and trusted by the specific Caribbean bank at which you are applying for an account. Why? The bank will feel much more comfortable dealing with someone they already know, such as a local professional lawyer, accountant, or trustee.
Why don’t banks want to deal with clients directly? First, a trusted intermediary reduces the risk for them. If the relationship turns sour, the intermediary is somebody they can point the finger at and tell their regulator: “it came from a trusted source.” Secondly, intermediaries are familiar with the bank’s requirements, down to knowing exactly what should be written in certain boxes on the bank’s application form that may not be immediately clear to outsiders.
The intermediary will be able to explain to the bank account holder things like how to get a bank reference, how to certify company documents etc and will be able to answer the client’s questions about the banking services, CRS and FATCA reporting, and so on. This saves the bank a huge amount of facetime with the client during the onboarding process. And, as we all know, time is money. By certifying the company documents themselves, the intermediary might also be able to save you a small fortune in notary fees, translations and the like.
Your first task, therefore, even before choosing a Caribbean bank from the list of banks in the eastern Caribbean, should be to identify a suitable trusted intermediary who has experience of “how to open an account remotely in a Caribbean bank.” Shameless plug: the publishers of this portal offer this service. We have trusted ex-compliance officers from Caribbean banks on our staff who will walk your application through the account opening process after helping you select the best banks in the Caribbean according to your needs and requirements. It’s a service that will pay for itself easily in the time and stress you will save!
Read on to find out more about opening an account in a Caribbean bank and/or in the different Caribbean financial centres.
Banks in Antigua and Barbuda
How does the island of Antigua shape up on the list of Caribbean banks? How does the banking system of Antigua and Barbuda function? How reliable are Antiguan banks? These are just some of the important questions you should ask yourself before opening a bank account in Antigua and Barbuda.
The first offshore bank, the Swiss American Bank, was opened in Antigua and Barbuda in 1983. After a change of ownership, it later adopted its current name, Global Bank of Commerce. Since then, the banking system in Antigua has developed, despite a major setback with the scandal surrounding the collapse of Stanford International Bank back in 2009.
Fortunately, after that setback, the offshore banking sector in Antigua was substantially shaken up and in 2013 the Antigua banking system was strengthened by the creation of stand-alone legislation referred to as The Financial Services Regulatory Commission Act No. 5 of 2013 (“the FSRCA”). This created the commission of the same name that has generally done a good job of regulating Antigua’s offshore banking sector. Since then, Antiguan banks have functioned discreetly and in a stable Caribbean banking environment.
As of late 2022, there are eight international banks in Antigua, currently licensed by the Financial Services Regulatory Commission and operating in Antigua and Barbuda, making this sector a mainstay of Antigua’s banking system. The eight Antiguan banks on this list are:
- BOI Bank Corporation
- BRS Banque SA
- D Bank Limited (formerly known as Davos International Bank)
- Global Bank of Commerce
- International Investment Bank
- North International Bank
- Tolomeo Bank
- Unicorp Bank Overseas
Most of these Antiguan banks, it should be said, operate in their own niches and are quite picky about who they take on board as clients. North International Bank, for example, is physically operated from an office building in Caracas, Venezuela. North International Bank accepts almost exclusively Venezuelan clients and rarely answers emails or phone calls from anyone else – that can be good or bad depending on your perspective!
Fortunately our associated office in Antigua is in regular contact with all the international banks on the island and is best positioned to match you the client to the right bank, depending on your needs. If you would like to open a bank account in Antigua, don’t hesitate to reach out to us and ask us about which would be the best Antiguan or Caribbean bank for you!
Banks in Belize
Offshore banking in Belize is regulated by the Central Bank of Belize, the government entity responsible for publishing the definitive list of banks in Belize.
Belize is a stable country bordering the Caribbean, located in Central America and having much in common culturally with the Eastern Caribbean islands, which is why we included Belize in this banking guide.
Belize’s international banks offer exclusively foreign currency services designed for non-residents. They do not offer Belize Dollar accounts. They do offer mortgages and loans, brokerage services, foreign exchange, credit cards, savings, demand and time deposits.
Currently there are only three banks on the list of licensed banks in Belize:
- Belize Bank International Limited
- Caye International Bank Ltd.
- Heritage International Bank & Trust Limited
Of these three, only Caye Bank is active in the international banking sector. Both Belize Bank and Heritage Bank are subsidiaries of local banks that are more active in Belize’s domestic banking market and rarely accept non-resident clients these days. Belize Bank is owned by Lord Ashcroft, a British politician.
Despite its small size, or perhaps because of it, we assess Belize as a well regulated banking haven. In Caye Bank in Belize, you can open not just personal accounts but also accounts for Belizean and foreign IBCs, LLCs and trusts, with the added advantage of very quick onboarding. Caye Bank offers private banking style services for a fraction of the cost you would pay in countries like Switzerland or Singapore. Belize also benefits geographically from its easy access to the USA and Latin America.
Belize, we can honestly say, is one of the best banking countries in the world, especially for the small to medium sized client who would like to access private banking services.
Banks in Dominica
Would you like to open a bank account in Dominica? Dominica is known worldwide for welcoming foreign investors. The international financial centre of Dominica is one of the smaller ones in the eastern Caribbean, regulated by the Financial Services Unit (FSU) of the Dominica Ministry of Finance.
It’s obligatory at this stage to clarify that we are talking about the financial system of the Commonwealth of Dominica, the English-speaking country in the eastern Caribbean. The country’s name is pronounced “dom-ee-neee–kah”. It should not be confused with the much larger neighbour, the Dominican Republic, that has its own totally unrelated banking system and list of banks.
As we said, the FSU is responsible for the supervision of international or offshore banks in Dominica, and for the facilitation and supervision of the offshore and international business activities on Dominica. They have currently licensed a long list of banks:
- 1Click 2Go Bank and Trust Ltd
- Activa Bank & Trust Corporation
- Asprofin Bank Corporation
- BANFERS Bank
- Barnett Capital Bank
- Big 1 Bank Ltd.
- Cathedral Investment Bank (CIB) Americas Bank Inc
- Commonwealth Bank
- Finext Eastern Bank Corporation formerly Digi Bank Corporation formerly Arton Bank Corporation
- iBank Corporation
- EQIBANK Limited formerly Interoceanic Bank of the Caribbean Inc
- Paxum Bank Limited
- Prudential Bank Corporation
- Standard Commerce Bank Ltd.
- Zuma Bank Corporation
- The Kingdom Bank Corporation
- Growmore International Bank & Trust Inc.
- AXIA Capital Bank Ltd.
- Guardian International Bank & Trust Corporation
Unfortunately, banks come and go from this list with worrisome regularity. Some of the names to be found in the recent graveyard of Dominica offshore banks are Migom Bank, Asa Bank & Trust, FGC Bank & Trust, Brilla Bank & Trust Corporation, Banco Transatlantico and Griffon Bank.
Here at InternationalWealth, we have experimented with opening bank accounts in Dominica over the years on behalf of our international clientele. Unfortunately, the experience has been poor. Our conclusion is that with so many banks licensed and a disconcerting history of licences being revoked or not renewed, it is too risky to do business with banks licensed in Dominica. We do not recommend it.
As if that wasn’t enough, Dominica closed down its IBC (international business company) sector in 2021, striking a further blow to Dominica’s credibility as an International Financial Centre. Dominica used to be good, but no longer!
Banks in St Kitts and Nevis
The twin island nation of Saint Kitts and Nevis is also known as St Christopher and Nevis. Many people pronounce Nevis wrong: locals call it “nee-vis” with a long e – not the same as Ben Nevis, Scotland’s highest mountain.
In fact, of the two islands, Nevis is better known as the International Financial Centre and Nevis is the home to all three international banks in the Federation of St Kitts and Nevis. Nevis, by the way, has an excellent reputation as one of the top asset protection and trust jurisdictions in the world. Besides that it’s a hideout of the rich and famous, being visited by privacy seekers like Bill Gates and the British Royal Family.
Unfortunately as of 2022, the Nevis banking system is in some disarray. There are 3 offshore or international banks on the list of banks in Nevis:
- Bank of Nevis International Limited
- Hamilton Reserve Bank
- International Merchant Bank
Bank of Nevis International was formerly a subsidiary of the local Bank of Nevis, an island-based community bank that is part of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank’s financial system. However, Bank of Nevis International (also known as BONI) was sold to a private buyer and is no longer associated with the local Bank of Nevis. It has been involved in some legal trouble recently and lost most of its correspondent bank relationships.
Hamilton Reserve Bank is a relatively new bank on Nevis, and was formerly known as Nevis International Bank. It is a Nevis-based offshore bank and is not part of the ECCB financial system. It claims to be on the list of top banks in the Caribbean and offers an attractive range of services, but as of late 2022 many of Hamilton Reserve Bank’s clients expressed problems with withdrawing funds and reported that they had to resort to hiring lawyers to recover their funds. There is much negative press coverage, and the bank lost $250 million by investing in Sri Lanka just before the financial collapse there.
Finally, there is the International Merchant Bank. This is the newest of the three banks on the official list of licensed banks of Nevis. It seems professionally run and is recommendable, but it is quite conservative in terms of the business it takes on – for example, it is not crypto friendly. If you need to open a bank account on Nevis, International Merchant Bank is the only bank we can confidently recommend there. If you need a crypto-friendly bank account, consider a Nevis trust structure.
Banks in St Lucia
The island of St Lucia is home to 14 banks, ranking it as one of the major international financial and banking centres of the Eastern Caribbean.
The largest, best known and oldest bank on St Lucia is undoubtedly Proven Bank, formerly known as Boslil Bank. Boslil obtained its name from the initials of “Bank of St Lucia International Limited.” Similar to what happened in Nevis with Bank of Nevis, the locally focused Bank of St Lucia set up an international subsidiary bank that was later sold off. Today, Proven is a large financial group based in Jamaica, with another bank in the Cayman Islands. Proven Bank has an impeccable reputation, fast wire transfers in and out, and we highly recommend it.
The only disadvantage of banking with Proven Bank is that their onboarding is slow and somewhat conservative, so it typically takes weeks or months to open a bank account in St Lucia with them. If you need a fast bank account, Proven is not the optimal solution.
Other banks on official St Lucia regulator’s list of banks in St Lucia include:
- Amerigo Banking Corporation
- Atlantic Financial Limited
- First Citizens Financial Services (St. Lucia) Limited
- Strategic Bank Limited (dissolved)
- First Citizens (St. Lucia) Limited (dissolved)
- Via Bank Limited (licence revoked by FSRC)
- Statetrust Bank & Trust Ltd.
- Hermes Bank Limited
- Sovereign Bank Inc. (dissolved)
- Berkeley Bank & Trust Limited (formerly Britannia Merchant Bank & Trust (St. Lucia) Ltd.
- Petrus Private Bank Limited
- Arbiter Bank International (St Lucia) Ltd (formerly DeVere Bank Limited)
- Euro Exim Bank Ltd.
Some of these banks offer high quality private banking services from St Lucia, whilst others are barely active despite being found on the official list of banks in St Lucia.
Are Caribbean Banks Crypto Friendly?
Many of our readers and clients ask this question. The fact is there are some highly crypto friendly banks in the eastern Caribbean, and St Kitts and Nevis and Antigua are particularly crypto friendly islands.
Unfortunately, however, Caribbean international banks are generally small and have limited access to the international financial system – relying instead on correspondent accounts with larger institutions. This limits what they can do with crypto. There are currently no 100% crypto-friendly banks in the Caribbean to compete with the likes of Signature Bank in the USA or Solaris Bank in Germany, although the situation is evolving fast and we are certain that more and more crypto-friendly banks will be opening their doors in the region soon. So watch this space! As we hear of new crypto-friendly banks, or existing banks becoming crypto-friendly, we will be sure to update this guide.
If you need to do crypto transactions with a Caribbean bank, the best strategy is to agree them beforehand with your consultant or intermediary. They should be able to give you some clear guidance about what crypto transactions are possible at which bank. It depends a lot on the circumstances: for example, P2P crypto transactions might be permitted, or wire transfers to and from the likes of Coinbase, Kraken or Binance. If your actual source of funds is crypto, that should work as well. However, at the other end of the spectrum, if you are trying to run a crypto exchange or open a bank account for an ICO, you can forget banking in the Caribbean.
Obtain Citizenship to Access Even More Caribbean Banking Services
In this article we’ve talked mainly about bank accounts for non-residents of the Caribbean – but there is still another point you should consider. Why not become a citizen of an Eastern Caribbean country? That way you can gain access also to a range of additional services normally reserved for locals, as well as transactions in Eastern Caribbean dollars, cheque cashing, credit cards etc.
Five different eastern Caribbean countries offer the chance to obtain passports under their respective Citizenship by Investment programmes. These are: Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St Kitts and Nevis, and St Lucia. For further details click here: how to obtain a Caribbean passport.
Talk to Our Experts about How to Open a Bank Account in the Caribbean
Would you like to open a bank account in a Caribbean bank? Would you like to benefit free of charge from our recommendations and insider tips? Our company is in regular contact with all serious banks in the Caribbean and is ideally positioned to help you open your account. We serve as your trusted intermediary, advising you each step along the way. Simply shoot us an email with your requirements, or contact us via instant messenger.