Planning to move abroad? People emigrating from Switzerland need to clear a number of administrative hurdles. Some key points are set out below along with information on who to contact.
Am I eligible?
Certain residence permits have fixed age limits, particularly if you go abroad for education or training purposes (as a trainee or an au pair, for example) or on an exchange programme (youth exchange, aid/social project, etc.). The official representation responsible for your destination country (an embassy or consulate in Switzerland) can tell you which residence permits you are eligible for.
Requirement to report to the authorities
What are the obligations and rules when deregistering at the old place of residence and when entering, registering and staying abroad?
Cantonal residents' register offices often have different reporting requirements. The registration rules you will need to follow depend on the right of residence in your canton of residence. As a general rule, you only have to deregister from your commune of residence if you go abroad for more than three months, give up your accommodation, and have no intention of coming back to Switzerland in the near future. If you do not give up your accommodation and continue to return to Switzerland once in a while, find out what you need to do in advance from your residents' registration office. If you are leaving Switzerland permanently, the commune of residence you have deregistered from will issue your certificate of origin, which you will need in order to register with the Swiss representation responsible for your destination country (an embassy or consulate).
If you are a Swiss national and have deregistered from your commune of residence, you must register with the Swiss representation abroad (embassy or consulate) responsible for your destination country. Once you have deregistered in Switzerland, you have 90 days to register with the right Swiss representation abroad. You do not have to pay a fee for this, but it means you can be contacted more easily if there is an emergency. It also helps with administrative formalities – if you need an identification document or marriage, birth or death certificate issued – and to keep a connection with your home country. To register as a Swiss national living abroad, you will need your passport or ID card, deregistration certificate and, if available, your certificate of origin. You can also register directly via the online desk.
- trips for tourist or work purposes, short-term programmes such as exchange years, traineeships, university studies, internships, secondments/services or
- long-term stays for the purposes of taking up residence in the destination country, with or without a paid job or for retirement.
If you want to live and work in another country, the first thing you have to do is check the entry and residence requirements for Swiss nationals. You can find this out by contacting the embassy or consulate responsible for your destination country. There are usually two categories you can fall under:
The documents you need will depend on the country you are going to, and they will usually need to be translated. There are a number of countries where it is extremely difficult to get a permanent residence permit. Depending on where you want to go, the whole procedure can take anywhere from three months to two years. It can also cost several hundred francs per person. While most permits can be extended, getting your status changed is not usually possible. If you enter a country as a tourist and then find a job, you will probably have to leave and apply for the right residence permit with an embassy or consulate abroad before you can go back. Most countries have strict rules particularly for the domestic labour market. Foreign nationals who want to earn money or carry out business activities will need a residence permit that allows them to do so. Changing your job or residence, or buying property can also require a permit. However, buying property does not usually entitle you to a residence permit.
Swiss nationals are given the same treatment as EU citizens in all EU/EFTA countries based on the bilateral agreements between Switzerland and the EU. This means you can enter an EU/EFTA country (with a valid ID card or passport), start working and register for permanent residency whilst there. If you want to work in Liechtenstein, there are different rules that apply.
In many countries, travellers are required to have certain vaccinations. This is regulated by the individual immigration authorities. These must be listed in an International Certificate for Vaccination and Prophylaxis (i.e. Yellow card) issued by the World Health Organization (WHO). Some countries also require travellers to be examined by an approved medical practitioner. Students and pensioners usually have to provide proof of health and accident insurance. Healthy Travel publishes all the information you need about recommended vaccinations.
In the section below you can find out about the customs requirements applying to removal goods, vehicles and pets and where you can go for further information.
In most countries, removal goods can be imported duty and tax free. However, you should check whether your destination country has a deadline for duty-free import. When you leave Switzerland, you will be asked at customs to show an itemised list including your name, address and signature, as well as an export declaration form. If your removal goods are being transported through more than one country, you will be issued with a transit document. You can also complete these formalities in advance with the local customs administration in your destination country. In order to receive your imported goods, you may need to show other documents – sometimes in duplicate or triplicate – depending on the requirements of each country's customs authorities. Some countries also collect customs duties and VAT on removal goods. If you do not want to import all your household items together, you have to note this on your customs documents and declare it as such for the initial consignment.
All EU countries have the same cash controls at their external borders: all travellers entering or leaving the EU must complete a cash declaration for the customs authorities when carrying EUR 10.000 or more. The Federal Customs Administration (FCA) and World Customs Organization can provide you with more information.
Each country has its own regulations for importing motor vehicles. Motorbikes and cars can usually be imported duty-free as part of your removal goods, but they may have to undergo technical modifications.
If you want to take your pet with you, you will probably need a vaccination certificate. The vaccination must be recent and performed by an official vet; your pet will also usually be fitted with an electronic chip. A number of countries require pets to quarantine in isolation facilities. For more information visit the website of the Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office (FSVO).
Military or civilian service
If you are required to complete military or civilian service and are going abroad for more than 12 months, or if you deregister, you will need to apply for an exemption from service. Further information is available under "Compulsory military service", "Alternative civilian service" and "Military service exemption tax".
If you are liable for military service and deregister in Switzerland and/or leave the country for more than 12 months, you must apply for an exemption from military service from your district command. Your head of section can give you the right form, which you should submit two months before you leave Switzerland. The exemption can only be approved if you have fulfilled all your obligations (compulsory shooting practice, military service and/or military service exemption tax) by the time you plan to leave. If you are liable for military service and already live abroad, and you decide to remain abroad for more than 12 months, you must apply for an exemption via your Swiss representation.
If you are going abroad for more than 12 months, you must apply for an exemption from military service from your regional office. This includes a written application with reasons for your request and your military service record. You must also notify the Central Office for Civilian Service of your new place of residence abroad, or provide them with a correspondence address in Switzerland. Your exemption will be granted if you have paid your military service exemption tax. You are liable for this tax if you have completed fewer than 26 days of civilian service within the two years before your departure.
Swiss men who are not active members of the Swiss Armed Forces and are not subject to compulsory civilian service, or who are liable for military or civilian service but do not undertake these obligations, must pay an exemption tax. This will be levied by the cantonal administration in charge of military service tax exemption before you leave and throughout your entire stay abroad. If you spend more than six months a year abroad, you can stop paying the exemption tax after three years.
Education and training
If you are a heathcare professional or an academic, you will probably be asked to show state-recognised qualifications. That is why foreign nationals often have to take their final exams again or take an aptitude test. The bilateral agreements between Switzerland and the EU guarantee that Swiss upper-secondary vocational, tertiary-level professional and higher education qualifications for regulated professions are recognised in EU/EFTA countries. Regulated professions are those where a state-recognised qualification is required in order to practise. Under appendix III to the agreement, automatic recognition is given to healthcare professionals including vets, as well as architects. For all other professions, the receiving state assesses the equivalency and provides extra courses or exams where necessary.
If you work in another country that is your place of residence, you usually have to pay taxes there. Diplomatic staff, people working for international organisations or transport companies, and employees who are seconded from companies based in Switzerland are exempt from this.
If Switzerland is your place of residence but you work abroad for a short period of time, you can continue to pay income tax here. If your usual place of residence is abroad, you are only subject to limited tax liability in Switzerland. This covers income from pensions, life insurance or property, which is taxed at source i.e. paid out in Switzerland. What type and how much tax you have to pay varies from country to country. Switzerland has bilateral agreements with a number of countries in order to avoid double taxation on income or assets and, in some cases, inheritance. Withholding tax on interest and dividends can be reclaimed under certain circumstances. The Secretariat for International Financial Matters (FTA) can provide you with more information. Questions about double taxation are handled by the State Secretariat for International Finance (SIF).
Swiss banks and services for Swiss nationals living abroad
If you are moving abroad, it is advisable to discuss your needs with your bank early on, as many people living outside Switzerland have little or no access to Swiss financial services. Further information is set out in the relevant sections below.
As regulations such as international norms/standards, domestic laws and internal rules within institutions have increased, so too has the awareness among financial institutions of the potential legal and reputational risks, particularly in cross-border business. This means that Swiss people living abroad may have only limited or no access at all to services provided by Swiss financial institutions. A number of them do, however, offer current accounts to Swiss nationals living in different countries, subject to local and Swiss legal provisions.
The relationship between a bank and its client is governed by private law. When you are getting ready to move to another country or are planning to return to Switzerland, it is a good idea to talk to your bank about your particular needs early on.
The Consular Directorate follows developments in this area closely. The Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA) is working with the authorities and banking institutions in order to improve financial services for Swiss nationals living abroad. If you are interested in emigrating, you can also contact the OSA for advice and information on other attractive services in addition to what your bank offers. If none of these options provide you with a solution, as a customer of a Swiss bank you can also turn to the Swiss Banking Ombudsman for assistance.
If you are emigrating, there are a number of important issues to consider, including the social security aspects. An overview of relevant pension, health insurance and accident and unemployment insurance rules is provided below.
If you move to a new country of residence, you are no longer eligible for the comprehensive cover provided in Switzerland. Some countries do not have a state pension scheme, and health and accident insurance must be arranged privately. If you have a paid job, there will probably be a pension system you can join that also includes unemployment insurance. The financial benefits are usually lower than in Switzerland, particularly in non-European countries. If the country you are residing in has no social security system, or it is not compulsory, you will have to arrange your own cover. There are a number of private insurance providers offering a similar level of protection, but they are usually much more expensive than state social security.
As a rule, however, you will be expected to join or be subject to the national pension and social security scheme of your country of residence. Another advantage of this is that you can claim other state allowances such as family and child benefits. You may have to wait a while depending on which sector you work in. This means that even though you have to pay contributions from day one, you may only be able to claim benefits after several months (e.g. unemployment benefit) or years (e.g. pension contributions). Switzerland has social security agreements with numerous countries that regulate when your obligation in Switzerland ends and your entitlement to benefits in your destination country begins.
Switzerland and EU/EFTA countries also coordinate social security systems as part of the freedom of movement framework. This guarantees pension, health, unemployment, accident and family benefits at all times; it also ensures that benefit claims are not lost if you have worked in another European country. As a rule, you must have insurance cover in the country where you work. If you are a student or a pensioner, or you have been seconded abroad, you usually remain covered at home. There are special rules for international transport company staff, seafarers, civil servants and people in the military service. If you are self-employed, you will be expected to arrange your own cover. The Federal Social Insurance Office (FSIO) can provide you with more details.
- to remain subject to the compulsory OASI/IV system (on secondment by an employer in Switzerland)
- to make voluntary contributions to the compulsory OASI/IV system while abroad (e.g. studies, language course, travels)
- to join the voluntary OASI/IV system
- to join the social security system in your new country of residence
Old-age, survivors' and invalidity insurance (OASI/IV) is the main social security pillar in Switzerland. It provides for retirement pensions as well as allowances for survivors (children, orphans, invalids, and widows). If you spend a number of years abroad, this can lead to large gaps in your contributions. If you have a paid job, you risk having a lower retirement pension and losing your disability allowance. If you are married to someone with a paid job but do not have one yourself, please be aware that as a rule you are only covered if your spouse is seconded by an employer in Switzerland. If you are self-employed, you will need to arrange your own cover against such risks.
If you are planning to emigrate, you have four main options:
Switzerland has social security agreements with numerous countries aimed primarily at ensuring equal treatment for both sides, determining which legislation is applicable, and paying benefits abroad. Around 80% of the Swiss community abroad are covered by these agreements.
The Swiss-EU bilateral agreements stipulate when a Swiss national is obliged to join the social security system in an EU/EFTA country. In general, you must contribute to the pension system of the country where you work (known as the place-of-employment principle). This means you will be entitled to a partial pension when you retire (pro rata system). You may be exempt if you only work in the EU for a short period of time. If you are a student or a pensioner, you will usually stay covered at home. Ask your OASI compensation office if and how you can keep your insurance cover in Switzerland.
If you have health insurance in Switzerland you can only get emergency medical treatment abroad (except for EU/EFTA countries). If this happens, you will usually be asked to pay cash; your insurance provider in Switzerland will reimburse you up to twice the amount the treatment would have cost in Switzerland. Doctors' fees and hospital costs can be very high in some countries. Foreign nationals are also often referred to expensive private clinics. It is therefore very important to have reliable health insurance.
If you move abroad, you will not be covered by the compulsory health insurance system in Switzerland any longer (this does not apply to OASI pensioners, IV recipients and people on unemployment benefits who move to an EU/EFTA country). Although a number of countries have their own general health insurance scheme, they usually only cover people who work there, including their families; this means that certain groups only have limited or no insurance coverage at all (such as self-employed or elderly people).
If you are a Swiss citizen working abroad temporarily for your company, which is based in Switzerland (e.g. seconded staff), you and your non-employed family members will remain covered by the Swiss health insurance system.
If you are a student or a pensioner, you must have health insurance or you will not be given a residence permit.
In EU/EFTA countries, your insurance card with a health insurance company is usually enough. Some health and life insurance companies provide insurance for people living abroad, but only as a private policy – not as part of the general basic insurance scheme.
Under the Swiss–EU bilateral agreements, Swiss nationals subject to the compulsory health insurance system in Switzerland who are living in an EU/EFTA state can access all medical services in their destination country. If you have a paid job, you must in principle join the health insurance system where you work (there are exceptions for students and people on secondment).
If you live in an EU/EFTA country and get a Swiss pension, you are still subject to the compulsory health insurance system in Switzerland. Some EU countries allow you to choose which national insurance scheme takes precedence in your individual case.
If you are a Swiss citizen living in a non-EU/EFTA country, you can join the voluntary OASI/IV scheme provided you had compulsory OASI/IV cover during the five years before. If this is the case, you have to register with the Swiss representation responsible for your new host country.
If you live in an EU/EFTA country, you are not allowed to join the voluntary OASI/IV scheme; you have to contribute to the insurance system in your country of residence.
If you earn over a certain amount of money each year, you must join a pension scheme in Switzerland and make provisions for your retirement, disability or death in addition to the OASI/IV pillar. Under the Occupational Pensions Act (OPA), you are no longer insured against disability or death 30 days after your employment is terminated. Your pension plan has to be transferred to a new retirement fund or invested with an insurance company (vested benefits policy) or bank (vested benefits account), where you can claim benefits after 60 (for men) and 59 (for women) at the earliest. If you move to another country on a permanent basis or become self-employed, you can claim your pension benefits earlier.
As of June 2007, termination benefits under the occupational benefits scheme (OPA, 2nd pillar) are no longer paid out in cash if you move to an EU/EFTA country. Any benefits you are entitled to must be parked in a vested benefits account or policy. This only applies to the compulsory part of the pension scheme; you can still withdraw supplementary or voluntarily saved funds (3rd pillars) in cash based on the relevant statutes.
If you have a paid job and go abroad for a short time only, you can usually stay with your pension scheme (and continue to pay contributions in full on a voluntary basis) or carry on your pension plan with the Substitute Occupational Benefit Institution. However as a rule, this type of voluntary insurance is only for people who are also under the voluntary OASI/IV scheme.
If you work for a company based in Switzerland and are seconded abroad for a short period of time, you will remain insured in Switzerland for two years. Some countries have a treaty with Switzerland allowing you to extend this accident cover by up to six years. If this is the case, your employer must submit an application to their insurance company. If you leave your job in Switzerland, you will lose your cover for non-occupational accidents after 30 days. You can take out an interim insurance to extend this. Find out more from your insurance provider. If you do not have a paid job and move abroad, you have to arrange your own accident cover like a self-employed person. This is usually included with health or travel insurance. You can take out a private global accident and life insurance policy but these are rather expensive.
The Swiss-EU bilateral agreements have redefined the responsibility for occupations accidents with EU/EFTA countries. This means that employees are covered by the provisions of the country where they work. If you work in several countries, you will generally be insured according to the regulations of the country where you have residence.
If you are seconded abroad for a short period of time by your company based in Switzerland, you will remain under the Swiss unemployment insurance system. If you take up a job in another country, you will have to join the insurance system there – if there is one.
Under the bilateral agreements between Switzerland and the EU, unemployed individuals (with the exception of cross-border commuters) generally receive benefits from the country where they were last employed, provided they can demonstrate a sufficient history of contributions or insurance periods. The contribution or insurance periods accumulated in Switzerland and in one or more EU/EFTA states can be combined, as per the totalisation principle. In line with the principle of the export of benefits, unemployed individuals can register with the employment administration of an EU/EFTA member state and draw Swiss unemployment benefits for up to three months. For detailed conditions and additional information, please contact your local unemployment insurance fund or regional employment centre.
Many countries recognise Swiss driving licences, which are multilingual, although some English-speaking countries may require a driving licence in English. If you are not sure which one you need, you can pay for an international driving licence at your cantonal road traffic office or one of the larger automobile associations. This type of licence is recognised in almost every part of the world. It is only valid for a limited period of time however, after which most countries require you to get a national licence.
In some EU countries, a Swiss driving licence is only valid for six months. Depending on the country, you can get it changed by the local office responsible for issuing licences for up to 12 months from your date of entry. You will be charged a fee for this, but you will not have to take a driving test. You will, however, be required to take a test after this extension period including all necessary theory and driving lessons. If you can demonstrate that your stay in the EU country is for less than 12 months, you will not have to get a national licence. If you have decided to settle abroad, you must tell your vehicle licensing office in Switzerland.