Moving to Switzerland: Relocation Guide

Switzerland is renowned for its breathtaking views of the snow-capped Alps and picturesque lakes. It's also known for its high standard of living and impressively diverse culture. With four official languages—German, French, Italian, and Romansh—life in Switzerland offers a uniquely cosmopolitan experience.

This relocation guide provides a comprehensive overview of the process for employers looking to relocate their employees to Switzerland, including visa requirements, work permits, and other essential considerations. Moving to Switzerland can be complex, but this guide will help you lead a positive transition for your valued employee.

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Moving to Switzerland: Relocation Guide by Localyze
Moving to Switzerland: employee relocation guide by Localyze - visa extempt

Which countries are visa/permit exempt for Switzerland?

Do your employees fall into these categories? If yes, they can focus just on settle-in admin after arrival.

EU and European Free Trade Association (EFTA)
Employees from these countries do not require a visa to enter Switzerland for stays up to 90 days. However, for stays exceeding 90 days, they must obtain a residence permit and may need a work authorization. EFTA countries include Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway.

Schengen Area
Even if you have a Schengen visa, you may need a separate visa to work in Switzerland. Exceptions to this rule include short-term assignments, business trips for up to 90 days, and individuals from countries with visa facilitation agreements with Switzerland. 

Countries outside of the EU/EFTA
Citizens of countries outside of these regions are generally required to obtain a visa and work permit before working in Switzerland. There are exceptions to this however, which are listed here.

How many types of work visas are there in Switzerland?

Moving to Switzerland: Short-stay visa

Short-term permit (L Permit)

This permit is valid for up to one year and suitable for short-term employment contracts or employees working on specific projects. L permits can sometimes be extended but are generally not renewable.

Things to remember:

📌 For short-term assignments of up to 12 months

📌 Generally issued for specific projects or tasks

📌 Renewal possible under certain conditions

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How to get a work visa or permit for Switzerland

Switzerland prioritizes hiring foreign nationals to fill roles where a suitable Swiss or EU/EFTA worker cannot be found. So, as you initiate the visa application process for an employee who will move to Switzerland, be prepared to justify why they are needed for the role.

In addition, Switzerland imposes quotas on the number of work permits issued to non-EU/EFTA nationals per year. In cases where there's a demonstrable need to hire a foreign worker, priority is given to highly qualified specialists.

Before you start the application process, your employee will need a detailed job contract that lays out the role requirements, length of employment, salary, and more. Swiss immigration authorities will evaluate the contract's details as they consider the application.

Switzerland's State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) has the final application review. If approved, the employee must register with the residents' registration office within 14 days of arriving in Switzerland. This step finalizes their residence permit.

When submitting the application for work permission called "Arbeitsmarktgesuch" in German, it is required to prove that no EU/EFTA or Swiss applicant is appropriate for the position.
For this the following is needed:

  •  All Job Ads that were published and information on which sites they were published and for how long. E.g. Schaltungsbestätigungen. Ideally published in EURIS and similar websites.
  • List of all candidates, with their initials, citizenships, information on why they have not been hired (especially if it were EU/EFTA or Swiss nationals). It is important to understand the reasons for not hiring them, e.g. if the reason is they do not have sufficient work experience or appropriate degree, mention the degree and background of the candidates. This data can be collected in an Excel sheet or similar.

Residence permits in Switzerland

While some countries require expats to acquire separate visas for employment and residency, Switzerland has no separate work and residence permits. Instead, expats receive a residence permit granting them permission to work. These are the L Permit, B Permit, and C Permit, which are discussed in more detail in the section "Types of Swiss work visas" above.

Note that the B Permit doesn't necessarily give an employee the right to family reunification. However, Swiss immigration authorities can grant residency to the families of B Permit holders. Family reunification is a right for C Permit holders.

Moving to Switzerland: qualification requirements for a work visa or permit in Switzerland

What are the qualification requirements for a work visa or permit in Switzerland?

Switzerland strongly emphasizes attracting highly qualified individuals, such as managers, specialists, and those with advanced degrees. Sometimes, a formal assessment of the employee's qualifications may be required. This is more likely for regulated professions or positions requiring specific licenses or certifications, like doctors or lawyers. The assessment process can involve:

  • Verification of diplomas and degrees: The Swiss authorities may verify the authenticity of the employee's educational qualifications with the issuing institution.
  • Equivalency assessment: If the employee's qualifications were obtained outside of Switzerland, the authorities may assess their equivalency to Swiss standards. This might be done through an organization like the Swiss ENIC-NARIC center.
  • Professional exams or licensing: In certain regulated professions, the employee may need to pass additional exams or obtain a Swiss license to practice their profession.

How the formal assessment works

The specific assessment process depends on the employee's qualifications and the job requirements. As the employer, you will typically work with the relevant authorities and professional bodies to determine if an assessment is necessary and guide the employee through the process.

Preparing the documents: What do employees need to do to get ready?

As an employer relocating an employee to Switzerland, you are typically responsible for the visa application process. However, the employee must compile several documents to ensure a streamlined process. Here's what they need to prepare in advance of their application:

  • Valid passport: The employee's passport should have at least six months of validity beyond their intended stay.
  • Birth certificate: An official copy of the employee's birth certificate may be needed.
  • Photographs: Employees should provide several recent passport-sized photographs that meet Swiss visa and permit standards.
  • Family documents: If the employee plans to relocate with their family, emphasize the need for official documents like marriage documents and birth certificates for dependent children.
  • Diplomas and transcripts: Ask your employee to gather original copies of their university degrees, professional certifications, and official transcripts. 
  • Letters of recommendation: Suggest the employee consider obtaining letters of recommendation from previous employers or academic supervisors to strengthen their application.
  • Signed employment contract: Request that they have a copy of their signed employment contract ready for submission to Swiss immigration authorities. 
Moving to Switzerland: preparing documents
Moving to Switzerland with family and spouse

Can employees move to Switzerland with family?

Thanks to Switzerland's family reunification policies, migrating employees can move to Switzerland with family members in most cases. This typically applies to a spouse or recognized partner and dependent children.

Families will have to apply for their own residence permits. The application process usually runs alongside the employee's work permit application. Spouses of EU/EFTA nationals generally have the right to work in Switzerland without needing a separate work permit. However, spouses of non-EU/EFTA nationals may need to apply for their own work authorization.

Can employees move to Switzerland with pets?

Employees can generally move with their pets to Switzerland. However, specific regulations and requirements depend on the pet type and country of origin. Here are some criteria to remember:

  • Microchip: All dogs, cats, and ferrets must be microchipped for identification purposes.
  • Rabies vaccination: Pets must have a valid rabies vaccination administered at least 21 days before entry into Switzerland. A veterinarian in the employee's home country must document this in a pet passport or official health certificate.
  • Import permits: For some exotic animals or specific breeds, they may need a special import permit from Swiss authorities.
Moving to Switzerland with pets

Health insurance on a visa: What are the requirements?

Switzerland operates on a system of universal health insurance coverage called LAMal (l'assurance maladie, meaning "basic health insurance" in French) or KGV (Krankenversicherungsgesetz in German). All residents of Switzerland, regardless of nationality, must obtain basic health insurance coverage within three months of arrival. This basic insurance plan provides extensive coverage for essential medical treatments, including doctor's visits, hospital stays, prescription medications, and some preventative care.

As an employer, you have specific legal obligations regarding your employee's health insurance. Firstly, you are generally required to contribute to your employee's health insurance premiums. Employers typically cover around half of the monthly premiums, with the remaining portion deducted from the employee's salary. While you are not legally obligated to offer health insurance directly, assisting your employee in learning the Swiss health insurance system and helping them select a suitable provider is highly recommended.

It's important to note that the cost of health insurance in Switzerland can be relatively high compared to other countries. Premiums vary depending on the chosen insurance provider, the canton of residence, and the specific coverage options selected. You should discuss health insurance costs as part of the overall compensation package when relocating an employee to Switzerland.

In addition to the mandatory basic health insurance, employees may opt to purchase supplementary health insurance plans. These optional plans can provide additional coverage for benefits such as dental care, vision care, alternative therapies, or private hospital rooms. Employers may sometimes offer to contribute towards supplemental coverage as a perk, but this is not a legal requirement.

Here are some critical considerations for employers regarding health insurance when relocating employees to Switzerland:

  • Familiarity with the system: Take the time to understand the basics of the Swiss health insurance system and the available insurance providers. This knowledge will help you guide your employees effectively.
  • The cost factor: When determining the overall relocation package for the employee, include the cost of health insurance premiums in your calculations.
  • Pre-existing conditions: If your employee has any pre-existing health conditions, ensure they know how this might impact their insurance options or premiums in Switzerland.
  • Family coverage: If the employee is relocating with their family, ensure they understand their dependents' health insurance requirements and costs.
Moving to Switzerland: How to prepare for the registration appointment

How to prepare for the registration appointment in Switzerland

Once your employee arrives in Switzerland, they must complete registration within 14 days. Typically, you will arrange the registration appointment for the employee so that this important step is completed in a timely fashion.

While the exact procedure may vary slightly between municipalities, here's a general overview of what your employee can expect at their registration appointment:

  • Document verification: The employee will need to present their passport, residence permit application approval, rental agreement or proof of housing, employment contract, and health insurance certificate.
  • Biometric data: In some cases, the employee may need to provide biometric data such as fingerprints and a photograph.
  • Registration form: The employee will complete a form with their details and Swiss address.
  • Fees: A small administrative fee may be associated with the registration process.

Upon completion of registration, the employee will typically receive their official Swiss visa/residence permit within a few weeks.

Tax & social security needs

Relocating an employee to Switzerland involves navigating complexities related to both tax and social security contributions. As an employer, you must understand these obligations to ensure compliance and support your employees in understanding how their income will be impacted.

Switzerland has a federal income tax system and additional cantonal (state) and communal (municipal) taxes. Income tax rates in Switzerland are generally progressive, meaning they increase as income levels rise. If your employee is considered a Swiss tax resident, they will be liable for income tax on their worldwide earnings.

Factors determining tax residency include:

  • The length of their stay.
  • Location of their primary residence.
  • Other ties to Switzerland.

In addition to income tax, both employers and employees in Switzerland must contribute to the country's robust social security system. This system provides essential benefits like old-age and survivors' insurance (AHV/AVS), disability insurance (IV/AI), unemployment insurance, and other social welfare programs. Social security contribution rates are determined as a percentage of an employee's salary and are usually split between employer and employee.

Note that Switzerland has Totalization Agreements (similar to Social Security Agreements in the US) with various countries, including the United States and EU/EFTA member states. These agreements are designed to prevent double taxation on social security contributions and ensure that individuals moving between countries still receive the benefits they are entitled to.

Moving to Switzerland: Tax & social security ID
How to find housing in Switzerland

How to find housing in Switzerland

Finding suitable housing in Switzerland can be challenging, particularly in major cities with competitive rental markets. As an employer, you can play a crucial role in assisting your relocating employee with finding housing.

Here's how you can extend your support:

  • Start by understanding the housing market in the area where your employee will be working. Research typical rental prices, popular neighborhoods, and average commuting times. This will allow you to provide informed guidance and realistic expectations to your employee.
  • Consider offering temporary housing for the initial period after your employee's arrival. This could be a serviced apartment or a company-owned property. Providing temporary accommodation gives your employee time to find permanent housing without feeling pressured.
  • Partner with a relocation agency specializing in finding housing for expatriates. These agencies have extensive networks and local knowledge, which can prove invaluable in navigating the Swiss rental market. They can assist with apartment searches, lease negotiations, and the logistics of moving in.

FAQs about moving to Switzerland

Living in Switzerland will be a new and exciting experience for your employer. It's only natural they will have questions about what to expect. Here are answers to three common questions about migrating to Switzerland:

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