How to Open an Interactive Brokers Account in 2021?

By Baptiste Wicht | Updated: | Financial Independence, Investing

(Disclosure: Some of the links below may be affiliate links)

Interactive Brokers is an excellent broker from the United States. It is known for its cheap fees and its unique range of offered investment products. It is being used by many personal finance bloggers, for instance.

It is currently the best broker that allows access to U.S. ETFs. And U.S. ETFs are the most efficient ETFs for Swiss investors.

In this guide, I go over the details of how to open an Interactive Brokers account. It is not very difficult, but there are a few things you need to know before you start your application.

Interactive Brokers

My top pick
Interactive Brokers
5.0
No custody fees

Everything you need to buy stocks and ETFs, reliably and at extremely affordable prices. Trade U.S. stocks for as little as 0.5 USD!

Pros:
  • Extremely affordable
  • Wide range of investing instruments

So what is Interactive Brokers (IB)? IB is a brokerage firm from the United States. It was created in 1978 in New York, more than 40 years ago! IB is the largest brokerage firm in the United States and the leading foreign exchange (forex) broker. Interactive Brokers offers access to many instruments such as stocks, bonds, options, futures, futures options, and even more.

It is a very well-known broker with an excellent reputation. It is known to be cheap compared to its competitors. I have already compared IB and DEGIRO in the past. This comparison showed that it is even less expensive than DEGIRO, the broker I was using before.

An essential thing with IB is that, by default, they do not lend your shares to other people such as DEGIRO does by default. You also have the option of lending shares, and you will get some of the money from the lending. But, you have the choice, which is good!

If you want more information on IB, read my review of Interactive Brokers.

Why open an IB account?

So, why did I open an IB account? It is currently the best broker available to Swiss investors.

There are reasons to prefer Interactive Brokers over other brokers.

  1. They offer access to U.S. ETFs to Swiss investors, while many brokers are not.
  2. They have excellent prices.
  3. They offer access to many investing instruments.
  4. They offer foreign exchanges at an excellent price.

For the story, I had a DEGIRO broker account before. But then, they cut access to U.S. ETFs even though it was not necessary. And they had very poor communication in the process. I found them to be very unprofessional in that matter. So I decided to switch to IB that still has this access and is much more professional.

Finally, DEGIRO only accepts money from a single bank account. With IB, you can transfer money to your account from any bank account. Since I sometimes receive money in USD, this is important for me to transfer USD without costs.

And talking about USD, IB is much cheaper than DEGIRO at converting between currencies. So, in the long term, I will save a lot of money with IB.

So, let’s see how one can create an account on IB.

Create an Interactive Brokers account

First, prepare some time in front of you. The account creation process on Interactive Brokers is not difficult, but it will take some time. You will need to answer a few questions, and you will need to wait a day for your account to be funded.

First, you can go to the account creation page and Start Application for Individual, Joint, and Retirement Accounts. I needed an Individual account, but maybe you will need a type such as Joint if you plan to do it for you and your spouse. The procedure should be mostly the same, but I never tried other accounts than the Individual.

On the first page, you will need to enter your email, a user name, and your password for the account. Make sure to choose a good password and user name. I would recommend making your password at least 20 characters long. A long password is essential to secure your online accounts! Make sure to remember it correctly as well!

You also need to enter your country of residence. If your country of legal residence is different, you also need to enter it. You can then confirm the first page.

At this point, they will send you an email to confirm your email address. Just check your mail and choose to continue the application.

Personal information

On the second page, you will have to set your account type. I set to Individual for my needs. You can check the kinds of accounts to make sure you choose the one according to your needs. But 99% of people will want an Individual account.

Then, you will have to set the general kind of personal information. There is nothing special here, only the thing you are used to entering on each website. You will have to set your addresses as well. Be aware that since this will be related to your taxes in the end, it is essential to enter them correctly. You will also need to enter a valid phone number. This phone number will be used for authentication, so once again, be sure to enter it correctly.

IB has several types of accounts. You will need to select the account type you want. The primary type of account is a Cash account. A cash account is the account type you probably need. It means you need to have the money before each trade. There are also Margin accounts. Margin means you can use leverage for investing with money you do not have. Unless you know what you are doing, I highly recommend going for a Cash account.

Another thing you need to configure when you create an IB account is the base currency of your account. I make most of my payments in Swiss Francs (CHF), and I live in Switzerland. Therefore I went with CHF as my base currency. You can always convert money from your base currency to any other currency. The base currency only matters for the display in the interface. If you choose CHF, you can still transfer USD and buy shares in EUR, for instance.

If you transfer CHF, you will be warned about the negative interest rate on CHF balances. Currently, there is a negative interest only on balances higher than 100’000 CHF. You can get the actual negative interest rate and limit here.

Now, you will also have to set up three security questions. You will need these questions if you ever need to recover your account. This procedure is, once again, a standard procedure. Make sure you choose questions from which the answer is not ambiguous (but not easy to find out)!

Investment Questions

After this, you need to answers many questions about your finances.

You need to set how much your net worth is and how much income you have. You also need to say what your objectives are for your investments. For instance, you may want to invest in appreciation of capital or for fixed income. All this information is here for regulatory reasons. I would advise you to answer them with honesty simply.

You also need to set which instruments you need to invest in. For instance, if you want to invest and Stocks and Bonds, you need to select these options. I only selected stocks. There are many more options like Stocks, Bonds, Options, and Futures. You also need to select in which country (stock market exchange) you want to invest.

You also need to confirm your phone number with a code.

Confirmations

At this point, you will have to agree to all the rules that IB has for trading. Ideally, you may want to read them. But, you probably will not!

If you want, you can also join the Stock Yield Enhancement Program. This program will allow IB to lend your shares to other people. With that, you will receive half of the interest of the lending. Of course, there is a slight risk to that, and you may also not be able to sell your shares when you want or need to. I did not agree with that. But that may be something I will consider in the future.

At this point, Interactive Brokers will want to get proof of your identification. For this, you can upload a driving license, an ID card, a passport, or an alien ID card for IB to confirm your identity. On the same page, you will also have to enter information about your tax status. You will also have to fill in information about your employer and your job occupation. Usually, you also need to submit something as proof of address. But for some reason, I was not able to complete this at this point when I created my account.

Fund your account

IB will fully activate your account once they receive funding.

You need to deposit the first amount of money for IB to validate your account. First, you need to declare how much money you will deposit. Then, IB will give you all the information necessary for the payment.

Make sure you properly copy the IBAN. With banking transactions, you should always double-check all banking information before you do a transfer. Since they have a bank account in Switzerland, the transfer will be free!

And do not forget to include the “Further Benefit to XXX” line! Otherwise, the money will not directly go to your account, and you will have to contact them to fix the issue. You will need to do that for all your future deposits to your Interactive Brokers account.

Finalize your account

After you have funded your account, there are still a few more things you can do.

First of all, you can configure the market data. You should set your market data status to non-professional. And you should check that you are not buying any market data. Unless you plan to day trade, you do not need any of this data. You do not want to pay for it.

You can also configure your mobile phone to use it as Two-Factor Authentication (2FA). One excellent thing is that you have to use two-factor, you have no choice. It is great. 2FA is an essential part of online security. First, you need to install IBRK Mobile on your phone. This application is available for Android and iOS.

Once you installed the application, you can register the application as two-factor for your account. You will have to log in with your user and password. You need to enter the code you received by SMS. Finally, you can then choose a PIN for your future two-factor authentication. Make sure to remember that PIN since you will have to use it for each of your connections to Interactive Brokers.

If you do not know about 2FA and why it is necessary, read my article about online personal finance and security.

Wait for your account

At this point, you only need to wait for IB to create and fund your account.

It should not take too long. For me, it only took one day for my account to be created and funded. It is quite fast. The next day, I could directly make my first trade.

Finalize your account

Now that you have access to your account, there are two more things to finalize in your account.

The first thing that remains at this point is to configure the Pricing System. I recommend you use the Tiered Pricing system. IB is cheaper than DEGIRO when you use the Tiered Pricing system. You can make the change in your Account Settings. If you prefer the more predictable Fixed Pricing, you can also opt for it.

Here are my settings just before I made the change to Tiered pricing:

Interactive Brokers Account Settings
Interactive Brokers Account Settings

The second thing applies if you are a Swiss investor and will invest in U.S. ETFs. In that case, you need to fill the W8-BEN form. That is fairly simple. You can go into your Account Settings. Then, you need to click the (i) blue button next to your name below Profiles. Then, you can click on “Update Tax Forms”. They will then take you to the process, and you will have the choice of filling the W8-BEN tax form. This will halve the dividend withholding from your American stocks and ETFs. This is very important if you want to profit from the great tax efficiency of U.S. ETFs.

Conclusion

My top pick
Interactive Brokers
5.0
No custody fees

Everything you need to buy stocks and ETFs, reliably and at extremely affordable prices. Trade U.S. stocks for as little as 0.5 USD!

Pros:
  • Extremely affordable
  • Wide range of investing instruments

The procedure is now complete! If you followed this guide, you now have an Interactive Brokers account.

At least for now, we have access to U.S. Exchange Traded Funds such as VT, which makes the most significant part of my portfolio.

I have now been using IB for almost two years. And I am delighted with IB. Interactive Brokers is the best broker available to Swiss investors.

The next step is now to buy an ETF from Interactive Brokers. It is fairly simple and only takes a little time.

What do you think about Interactive Brokers? Do you already have an account? If not, which broker are you using?

Baptiste Wicht is the author behind thepoorswiss.com. In 2017, he realized that he was falling into the trap of lifestyle inflation. He decided to cut on his expenses and increase his income. This blog is relating his story and findings. In 2019, he is saving more than 50% of his income. He made it a goal to reach Financial Independence. You can send Mr. The Poor Swiss a message here.

201 thoughts on “How to Open an Interactive Brokers Account in 2021?”

  1. Hi Mr. Poor Swiss,

    What is your view on the currency risk? Your account with IB is in EUR or USD, I guess… How do you see the risk of losing on your returns if the EUR loses vs CHF?
    I currently have that issue with Degiro and I do not like it…
    Cheers
    F

  2. Hi TPS,

    Thanks for your great article, this helped me a lot to create an account and start investing. The only thing I wasn’t able to do was to update my Tax form with a W8-BEN tax form. When I press on the Update Tax form button I don’t see the choice to fill in a W8-BEN anywhere. Am I missing something? Or did they change the way of doing this?

    1. Hi Gabriele,

      I am glad this helped you!
      I have just checked now and I was able to reach the W8-BEN form. You need to “Update Tax Forms” and then fill everything and click continue, and fill another form and then continue, that several times. And then you get to fill the W8-BEN.

  3. Hi Mr. Poor Swiss,

    Thanks a lot for this article and all the effort you put on your website, it’s really great!

    I’m trying to set up my commissions pricing structure to “Tiered” but I’m not able to find it anywhere in my configuration menu/accountsetup. Has this option moved or disappeared?

    Thanks a lot for your help!

  4. Dear Mr. The Poor Swiss,

    I wanna thank you so much for creating this blog, it made my entrance in the investing world a lot smoother than expected. I found myself agreeing with each advise you give, so I wanna point out that if my story will be a success it will importantly be also because of you, so thank you.

    Regarding the W8-BEN tax form, I am struggling with finding the form to fill. I am still waiting for my account to be update with my first deposit, and maybe this is the reason I can not yet find it, but where should I be able to find the form? In the Home of the Client Portal, down below, in the “Manage your Account” section, there is the link “Reports / Tax Docs”, but I could not find any trace of the W8-BEN in there. Do you know how to deal with this new (different from the one described in this article) interface? Thanks a lot in advance.

    Riccardo

    1. Hi Ricardo,

      Thanks for your kind words. I am glad I was able to help make your investing journey simpler!

      In your account settings, in the left column, there should be an (i) blue icon next to your profile name. If you click on it, you should then be able to go to ” Update Tax Forms”. And this will let you update your W8-BEN. I do no know any other way or if you need to wait until the first deposit has settled.

  5. Hi Mr Poor Swiss,
    Thanks so much for your valuable blog. I learned a lot from it and we’re in the process of opening an account with IB.
    When it comes to funding your account, there are 4 options, may I ask which one would you recommend? Thanks again for your help!
    Marjes

      1. Dear Mr. Poor Swiss,
        Thanks for your reply. Here are the four options:
        1. Bank wire: Trade as quickly as one business day; Fees determined by own bank, generally fees do apply

        2. Connect your bank via ACH: initial deposit, trade after 4 business days. Subsequent deposits may be immediately depending on tenure, account balance etc) Fees: free

        3. Online bill pay. Trade in 1-6 business days determined by own bank. Fees are determined by own bank but generally free.

        4. Mail a check (I’m assuming it does not apply locally in Switzerland)

        Thanks so much for your guidance on which one to choose. Much appreciated.

        Cheers
        Marjes

        1. Hi,

          I have always used option 1). It is very reliable and free. Options 1 and 2, I have never tried and am not sure we can do it from Switzerland. And option 4) is indeed not possible from Switzeralnd.
          A bank wire is a simple transfer from your bank account to IB’s bank account.

  6. Hi Mr. Poor Swiss,

    I am new to the investing world and I would like to start investing with IB. From what I have read, it seems it won’t be possible to invest in US ETFs in 2022. Am I wrong? In that case I am thinking to move to ETFs located in Ireland even if more pricey than US ones (I believe you wrote an article about EU ETFs). Thanks for all the hard work you do to keep us informed.
    Davide

    1. Hi Davide,

      Currently, I think that we will keep access to these ETFs in 2022. Here is my article about a portfolio with EU ETFs.
      If this ever happens, I will also move to Ireland ETFs instead.

  7. First of all: thanks a lot for taking the time to share your knowledge and experiences. This is invaluable to many of us :-)

    Early in these article you mention that when creating the account you also need to select in which country (stock market exchange) you want to invest.

    I’m a bit confused by this (new to this world!). If I wanted to buy US ETFs, should I select US? What should I select if I wanted to buy a combination of US and Swiss ETFs?

    Thanks for your help!

    1. Hi Marta,

      This can be changed at any time from your account settings. You can request access to several different stock exchanges. I have requested access to the Swiss Stock Exchanges, all the European stock exchanges and all the American stock exchanges.

  8. Hey Mr Poor Swiss,

    I just want to thank you for all of this amazing content. I was so hesitant to start this journey but your content has been so helpful!!

    Akolade

  9. Hi Mr. Poor Swiss,

    Thank you for your content, its really informative.

    I tried to open an account with IB but you must have at least 20k CHF to start, it would be great if you did mention that on this page :)

    All the best,

    Darko C

    1. Hi Darko,

      That’s a good point, I always forget about that. I will do that.
      Keep in mind that you do not need to transfer 20K to IB. You just need to tell them that you have 20K CHF. I know many people that just said they had the money.
      Now, it’s probably better to tell the truth :)

  10. Hi Mr. Poor Swiss, first of all, thanks a lot for your amazing content!

    I have some questions if you don’t mind.

    Is it advisable to invest using a single account per household (unmarried couple) or should we have two separate account?

    Does it make a difference to buy an ETF weekly, monthly or yearly?

    I’ve been buying ETFs domiciled in Ireland but I’m thinking about buying into the USD ones, is this still advisable?

    Thanks in advance!

    1. Hi Daniel,

      If you were married, it would probably not matter since everything is shared regardless of who is the owner of the account.
      If you are not married, it depends on you two. Separating investments is not bad. But having a single account is simpler unless you split. In any case, I would just make sure that both your and your partner are on the same page. A single account could be good, but could also be a way for one person to divert the money.

      Investing frequency makes a difference.

      And yes, it’s still advisable to go with US ETFs, that’s what I am doing. Currently, it is believed that we will keep access to these ETFs in the future.

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