Residency and Working in Switzerland

(Please note: Zugimpex does not provide services to US citizens and to US residents.)

Visits: Switzerland is member of the Schengen area. Nationals from countries who do not need a Schengen visa can enter Switzerland and into the Schengen area for up to 90 days within every half a year, however this does not include the right to work or to study.  Citizens of a country without a visa-free travel agreement with the area, or persons who have been refused for visa-free travel need to apply for a visa at the Swiss embassy or at a Swiss consulate in the country of residence or at a visa application centre authorized by the Swiss embassy. Short-stay visas can be for business, tourism, family visits, for short studies or for medical treatment, and there are different requirements for documentation. To enter Switzerland for business, a declaration of commitment is usually required.

Residency: an application for a Swiss residence permit must be filed by everyone who wants to stay longer than 90 days in the country, regardless of the nationality. The office in charge is the State Secretary of Migration (SEM), however applications are done at the cantonal level. Switzerland provides several forms of residence permits:

  • L-permit (3 – 12 months), usually granted to non-EU/EEA citizens or for simple jobs.
  • B-permit (5 years or 1 year).
  • C-permit (permanent residence, granted after 10 years, but already after 5 years for citizens of EU, EEA, US and Canada; relatives of Swiss citizens can apply earlier, too): allows to purchase residential real estates, gives access to social welfare system, but there are some restrictions on leaving and re-entering the country.
  • G-permit – for cross border EU commuters (from any other EU country).
  • 120 Day Permit – within a 12-month period for EU citizens.

Based on the agreement of free movement between Switzerland and the EU, EU citizens can apply for the B permit if they are employed in a company, have a residence and a health insurance. The B-permit is issued and renewed if there is an employment in place, plus residency and health insurance. If an employee has a B permit, the employer must declare and pay the withholding tax for him, provided that the income does not exceed a certain threshold. All those who have a C-permit and those whose income is above the threshold for a B- permit declare their taxes themselves. For self-employed or employed in their own company, there is additional bureaucracy as the authorities try to avoid misuse. Citizens of EU/ EEA also have the option to move to Switzerland without a gainful occupation, if they can prove that they have sufficient income and wealth to cover their costs of living.

For non-EU citizens and for people with citizenship of Croatia, there is a quota of residence permits issued every quarter. Decisions are made by the cantonal migration authorities. Priority is given to senior executives and technical specialists with university qualification and several years of experience, and in some cases family reunification. Because of the quarterly quota system, timing is relevant, and we recommend that all papers are ready and submitted at the beginning of a new period. After the employer submits a request, a recommendation of the cantonal authorities is needed, but there is a final decision by the federal authorities.

Work permit: before starting gainful employment, an application for a work permit has to be filed at the Office for Migration in the responsible Canton which also provides forms for download.

Foreign service providers from the EU have the right to enter and to claim residence for a maximum of 90 working days per calendar year.

Because of the Cross Border Service provision (Posted Workers Act), it is possible for every employee of an EU company or for EU self-employed persons, to work more than 8 days and up to 90 days annually in Switzerland by submitting an online notification at least 8 days in advance. Swiss work conditions must be met, and for some industries, this is restricted further (construction, security, hotel and catering etc.).

To protect the wage level and the labour market, the so called “Accompanying Measures“ are in place since 2006:

  • Employers must register EU employees 8 days in advance online and are obliged to respect work time regulations and minimum wages.
  • Self-employed from the EU also must register 8 days in advance, but they have to prove their entrepreneur status.
  • EU companies can perform services in Switzerland for up to 90 working days per calendar year (=90 days per company and 90 days per employee). For posted employees, there is an obligation to register 8 days in advance (identity of workers, place of work, gross salary, duration of work).
  • To check if they respect minimum wages, work time etc., often a deposit is required, the following inspections are frequently, very tough and often result in the seizure of the deposit.
  • frequently there is an order from the Swiss company to an EU company that asks an EU subcontractor to send employees to Switzerland (some advisors recommend in such a case to expect to lose the deposit because the legal costs to fight against the bureaucrats can be expensive)

The Swiss Federal Act on Acquisition of Real Estate by Persons Abroad (Lex Koller) restricts the investment in Swiss residential and other non-commercial real estate by foreigners. People with a B permit may only purchase residential property in order to use it as their main residence. In addition, there are detailed rules for avoiding circumvention, especially for legal entities. There are no such restrictions for people with a C permit.

Outlook: Switzerland and the EU have bilateral agreements in place. To replace them, there were tough negotiations between Switzerland and the EU for a “framework agreement”. Although it seemed in 2018 that an agreement was reached, critical open points remained: wage protection, Union Citizens Directive (social benefits for all citizens) and state aid (limitations in the EU). Also, Switzerland resisted to dynamic changes of the agreement (automatism to take over new EU regulations) and to the EU-dominated mechanism for settling disputes. In May 2021, the Swiss government decided to stop the negotiations.

(Updated October 2021)