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Preparing for a Move to Switzerland

Updated 15 Apr 2019

Having a good idea of the financial documents expats need when they arrive in Switzerland will go a long way to ensure a smooth transition into their new lives.

The little things are the easiest to forget, so expats should make a list of all the important things they need to do when preparing for their move to Switzerland.

This includes organising a bank account and arranging residency documents, but expats often overlook other important considerations like arranging their television and driver's licences.

Getting a Swiss driving licence

Luckily for expats who want to continue driving in Switzerland, they can generally use their home country's driver's licence for up to one year before they have to obtain a Swiss licence.

Expats who don't apply for their Swiss licence during their first year will likely have to take a driving test.

Employment permits for Switzerland

Expats will first have to make sure their Swiss work permit is in order so they can legally work in the country.

This isn't an issue for EU citizens, who can find work, change jobs, move freely around the country and bring family into the country. However, expats from outside the EU will need to get a residence permit that allows them to live in a specific canton while working for a specific employer.

Getting a residence permit is straightforward for expats who already have a job in the country, and employers usually assist with the process.

Health insurance in Switzerland

Anyone living and working in Switzerland has to have health insurance and expats need to have taken out a policy within three months of being in the country. Medical insurance costs differ depending on the individual's circumstances and the canton in which they live.

Pensions in Switzerland

Another aspect of life in Switzerland that expats will have to learn about is the unique three-pillar pension system. Pillar one is a basic state pension, pillar two is a company pension, and pillar three is a private pension.

Pillar one is compulsory for all Swiss citizens who are older than 20 years and is known as Alters-und Hinterlassenenversicherung (AHV).

Pillar two is Prévoyance Professionelle (PP), also known as the occupational benefit plan or Berufliche Vorsorge (BV). Anyone living and working in Switzerland who earns within the given bracket has to contribute to this, which is essentially a company pension. 

The final pillar covers private pension insurance. Here, private pensions are subsidised by tax breaks but only people currently in employment in Switzerland can utilise this option. Private pension contributions are taken via taxable earnings and are taxed at the time of payment, and the interest is tax-free.

The system is complex, and to gain a full understanding, expats should consult with a reputable financial consultant.

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