Residency in Switzerland

  1. General information
  2. Swiss residence for EU/EFTA nationals

  3. Swiss residence for a non-European Union (EU) country citizen

  4. Setting up a business
  5. Foreign nationals’ register
  6. Household goods
  7. Registering a vehicle in Switzerland
  8. Driving licence
  9. Social security
  10. Buying or renting property
  11. Opening a bank account
  12. Education
  13. Employment law
  14. Right to vote and to stand for election
  15. Taxation of individuals in Switzerland
  16. Marriage law
  17. Inheritance law
  18. Other administrative matters
  19. Croce & Associés SA’s services

I. General information

With an area of 41,285 square kilometres (15, 940 square miles), Switzerland is a small country, but it is extremely diverse. The cultural, geographical, ethnic and linguistic landscapes are rich, with four national languages (French, German, Italian and Romansh) and around 8,300,000 inhabitants, one quarter of whom are foreign. Living proof that Switzerland positively welcomes newcomers! Around half of the country’s foreign residents are German, Italian, Portuguese or French.
According to the latest World Happiness Report from the UN (March 2017), Switzerland is the fourth happiest country in the world.
There are many reasons for these excellent result: the nature and landscapes Switzerland has to offer, competitiveness and the ease of doing business, security and a reliable legal system, a central position in Europe, the absence of corruption, high-quality medical care, modern, reliable infrastructure, a commitment to the environment and more generally the very high quality of life enjoyed by residents.
In addition, Switzerland is without doubt one of the most participative democracies in the world. The ultimate political authority lies with the people. They give their opinions on everything, all the time, through the referendum and popular initiative systems. They also elect representatives to the Swiss parliament, the Federal Assembly, which is the highest authority at federal level. The Federal Assembly is bicameral, and is made up of the National Council and the Council of States.
The Federal Council is the Swiss Confederation’s supreme executive authority. Federal departments and offices are subordinate to it. The Federal Council is comprised of seven members who are elected for a four-year term by the two chambers of the Federal Assembly together. Each Federal Council member heads up a department of the federal administration.
The Federal Supreme Court is the country’s highest court. It represents judicial power in Switzerland.
To guard against abuse, the principle of separation of powers applies in Switzerland. A single person cannot simultaneously hold office within different federal authorities.
Switzerland is a federal state. This means that the power of the state is divided between the Confederation, the cantons (26) and the communes (around 2,400). The cantons and communes have extensive powers and their own sources of revenue. Each canton has its own constitution, parliament, government and courts. Communes have a parliament and an executive.
Switzerland has three levels of laws (federal, cantonal and communal) in addition to international law, which can make things quite complicated!
The federal, cantonal and communal laws and the Swiss and cantonal constitutions place certain obligations on everyone living in the country. These include paying taxes, sending children to school, taking out health insurance, etc. At the same time, all individuals have fundamental rights. These include the right to bodily integrity, to be treated equally (in particular by the justice system), to freedom from discrimination (for example, on the basis of sex or nationality), to marriage, and to freedom of expression, beliefs and opinion.
Cities with populations of over 100,000 are Zurich, Bern (the federal city), Basle, Geneva, Lausanne and Winterthur.

II. Swiss residence for EU/EFTA nationals

A. Applicable law

The 21 June 1999 agreement between the Swiss Confederation and the European Community and its member states on the free movement of persons (hereafter AFMP, RS and its Protocol set out for European Union (EU) nationals wide-ranging rules governing the free movement of persons. They mainly cover arrival in the country, admission, residency, gainful activity and family reunification.
New EU member states are also covered by the AFMP. Transition arrangements were put in place for Bulgaria and Romania, but on 1 June 2016 nationals of these countries gained the same rights to free movement as nationals of the other 25 EU countries (subject to the application of a special safeguard clause). With the entry into force of Protocol III to the AFMP on 1 January 2017, Croatia has also become a party to the agreement. The legal status of Croatian nationals is covered by the AFMP, subject to transitory provisions concerning access to the job market (quotas and specific conditions for accessing the job market) defined in Protocol III. These provisions will remain in force until 31 December 2023 at the latest (subject to a specific safeguard clause applicable until 31 December 2026).
The provisions of the 21 June 2001 agreement amending the Convention of 4 January 1960 establishing the European Free Trade Association (EFTA, RS 0.632.31) are almost exactly the same as those in the AFMP and its protocols. This agreement applies, for example, to Norway and Iceland.
The AFMP and its protocols apply to:

  • nationals of EU member states;
  • EU/EFTA citizens’ family members, regardless of their own nationality, who, under the provisions of the AFMP and its protocols on family reunification, are entitled to reside in Switzerland;
  • workers who, regardless of their nationality, are posted by a company incorporated under the law of an EU or EFTA member state with its registered office, central administration or main site within the EU or EFTA, with a view to providing a service in Switzerland and who prior to this have been integrated long-term into the legal job market of an EU or EFTA country (i.e. who for at least 12 months have held a residence permit or permanent residence permit).

Nationals of EU/EFTA members states are only subject to certain provisions of the Federal Act on Foreign Nationals (FNA; SR 142.20), when the AFMP and the Federal Council’s implementation measures do not provide for any dispensation or when the terms of the FNA are more favourable.
For example, the Agreement and its protocols do not cover the issue of settlement permits (permit C). The rules governing this are found in the Swiss authorities’ directives on foreign nationals.
Generally, authorisations under the AFMP and its Protocols are granted by the cantonal authorities. The State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) does however retain the fundamental jurisdiction to refuse an EU/EFTA residence authorisation in a specific case.

B. Entry into Switzerland

Nationals of the EU 28 and the EFTA covered by the AFMP and its protocols require only a valid passport or identity card to enter Switzerland. They can only be refused entry if their personal presence poses a threat to security and public order.
Family members who are not EU or EFTA nationals are bound by the travel document and visa requirements of the Ordinance of 22 October 2008 on entry and the issue of visas (OEV, RS 142.204).
Family members holding a valid, recognised travel document accompanied by a valid residence permit issued by a Schengen Area country do not require visas for stays of less than 3 months.

C. Work permit for gainful activity

Under the AFMP, EU nationals (with reservations as regards Croatia until 31 December 2023) and EFTA country citizens have a right to live in Switzerland for the purpose of carrying out gainful activity.
To work in Switzerland, they are required to notify the authorities (for periods of up to 3 months, or 90 days in each calendar year) or seek authorisation (for longer periods).
They are required to inform the commune in Switzerland where they have taken up residence that they have arrived, and apply for the relevant residence permit by presenting all the documents required to the cantonal administration department.
If they take up employment in Switzerland and their situation is not covered by the notification system, they will receive a short-term residence permit (EU/EFTA permit L) or a residence permit (EU/EFTA permit B) depending on the length of their work contract (short-term residence permit for up to 364 days, and residence permit for longer periods). They can begin working once the cantonal authorities have received their application.
EU 27 and EFTA members who move to Switzerland with the intention of carrying out independent gainful activity will be granted an initial five-year EU/EFTA residence permit so long as they provide proof of their activity when submitting their application.
Please note that specific rules apply to the cross-border supply of services. The AFMP’s provisions on these are not exactly the same as those in place under the four freedoms of the EU internal market. It only includes partial liberalisation of the supply of cross-border services linked to people.
It is important to distinguish between areas where a specific agreement on the provision of services is in place between Switzerland and the EU/EFTA or will be signed in the near future, and areas where there is no specific agreement. In the latter case, the AFMP includes a right to provide cross-border services in another contracting state for 90 days per calendar year.

D. Work permit without gainful activity

Legislation on the free movement of people without gainful activity covers the following groups: retired people, students and trainees and anyone not carrying out a gainful activity (such as people of independent means and job seekers). It also includes people who are in Switzerland as users of services (stays for the purposes of medical or spa treatment, etc.).
EU/EFTA nationals who come to Switzerland for a maximum of three months in any six-month period but do not carry out a gainful activity are not required to declare their arrival or notify the authorities.
Beyond this period, they are entitled to stay with family members, so long as they have sufficient financial resources to meet their own and their family members’ needs and they have taken out sickness and accident insurance covering them for all risks.
Generally, the initial residence permit issued to people without gainful activity is valid for 5 years. In exceptional cases, the authorities can require the permit to be reconfirmed after two years, if they deem this necessary. For people in education or training, the permit is only valid for one year. It will be renewed every year until the course is completed, so long as the person continues to meet all the conditions.

E. Settlement permit

The AFMP and its protocols do not cover settlement permits (EU/EFTA permit C); they only cover EU/EFTA residence permits and short-term residence permits. For more information about settlement, you should refer to the provisions of the LEtr (law on foreign persons) and settlement treaties and agreements.

F. Family reunification

Rules on family reunification depend on your personal and familial status. Please contact us for practical advice.

III. Swiss residence for a non-European Union (EU) country citizen

It should be noted in advance that Switzerland has a rather restrictive approach to residence permits for non-EU citizens, particularly since the beginning of the economic crisis.
Applicants must submit an outstanding dossier (irreproachable behavior, advanced level of education or training, willingness to integrate, sufficient resources, etc.), and unlike in many European countries (Portugal, Malta, Cyprus, and the United Kingdom, among others), residence in Switzerland cannot be obtained simply by investing a predefined amount.
A distinction must be made between residence with and without gainful activity.

A. Applicable law

The LEtr entered into force on 1 January 2008. It governs the rights of non-EU/EFTA citizens to enter Switzerland and live in the country, whether they are carrying out gainful activity or not, with the exception of asylum situations. There are several implementation ordinances. They are:

To coordinate practices, the State Secretariat for Migration issues directives and comments which are very useful for the authorities and others working in this domain.
Looking to international law, the following apply:

Applicable law also includes residence treaties (which are however now obsolete) and residence agreements which give rights to a settlement permit (permit C) after a certain number of years of residence (see below).
There are also agreements on the exchange of interns (signed with 32 countries), agreements on cross-border workers (signed with Germany, Italy, France and Austria) and agreements on recruitment (signed with Italy and Spain). In practice, the effects of the latter two types of agreement have been limited since the AFMP came into force.

B. Entry into Switzerland

To enter Switzerland, foreign nationals must:

  • have a valid travel document enabling them to cross the border, together with a visa if one is required;
  • have sufficient financial resources for their stay;
  • not represent a threat to security or public order, nor to Switzerland’s international relations;
  • not have been subject to any repatriation or expulsion measure.

If their stay is to be temporary, the foreign national must provide proof that they intend to leave Switzerland.
Any foreign national who enters the Schengen Area can stay there, without pursuing any gainful activity, for three months (90 days) out of a six-month period (180 days), unless the duration of their visa (if they are required to hold one) is shorter.
As a general rule, anyone required to hold a visa must submit an application to the Swiss representation local to where they live. The representation will contact the relevant authority in Switzerland (the Confederation or a canton) for authorisation to issue the visa.

C. Types of residence permit

A foreign national required to hold a residence permit will, if their application is accepted, receive a residence permit for the specific authorisation granted to them. A residence permit must include a photograph, and it must be signed. It gives details of the holder’s status. The main types are:

  • Permit L (purple) for short-term residence with gainful activity and other temporary stays;
  • Permit B (grey) for long-term residents;
  • Permit C (green) for people who are settled.

The first point to note is that the issuing authority will decide which authorisation is issued. Applicants cannot choose between a short-term permit, a residence permit and a settlement permit.
A short-term permit (permit L) is generally issued for a short-term stay of one year or less. It can be extended to be valid for up to two years in total. Short-term residence permits can be issued not only for short-terms stays with gainful activity of one year maximum, but also for other stays of up to two years, for example to interns, students, school pupils or medical patients. A new short-term permit cannot be issued until the person has left Switzerland for the appropriate amount of time.
For longer stays, the authorities will issue the foreign national with a residence permit (permit B). The initial authorisation is generally issued for a period of one year maximum. It can then be extended for subsequent two-year periods if this is justified by the person’s personal situation. After a certain amount of time (which varies according to the foreign national’s country of origin, see below), they will be issued with a settlement permit (permit C).
There are also other permits, such as permit G (brown) for cross-border workers, permit N (dark blue) for asylum seekers, permit F (light blue) for foreign nationals and refugees admitted on a temporary basis, permit S (light blue) for people in need of protection and permit Ci (red) for the families of the staff of intergovernmental organisations (IGOs) and foreign representations carrying out a gainful activity.

D. Residence permit with gainful activity

Any foreigner who intends to exercise a gainful activity in Switzerland must hold a residence permit, regardless of the length of his stay (there are however some exceptions for short term travels). He must apply for this permit with the relevant authority at his planned place of work.
Salaried employment
A foreigner may be admitted to Switzerland to exercise gainful salaried employment if all of the following conditions are met:

  • admission of the foreigner is the interests of the Swiss economy as a whole;
  • an application from an employer has been submitted;
  • the maximum number of residence permits has not been surpassed;
  • it is demonstrated that (order of priority) no suitable worker corresponding to the required profile was found in Switzerland, nor any national of a State with which it has concluded an agreement on the free movement of persons;
  • the usual compensation and working conditions are met in terms of the workplace, the profession and the industry;
  • the foreign national is an executive, a specialist, or a qualified worker;
  • the foreigner’s professional qualification from abroad, his ability to adapt professionally and socially, his language skills and his age should all indicate good chances for long-term integration in the professional and social environment;
  • suitable accommodation is available.

Exceptions are provided for certain categories of workers, including investors and entrepreneurs who maintain existing jobs or create new jobs, recognized figures from the world of science, culture and sports, persons with specific professional knowledge or skills, provided their admission responds to a documented need, executives who are transferred by internationally active companies, persons whose activity in Switzerland is indispensable for economically significant international business relationships.
Independent professional activity
Independent activity is considered to be any freely chosen, for-profit activity carried out by an individual on his own organization, subject to his own substantive guidance and at his own risk.
This freely chosen organization can be managed for example in the form of a commercial trade, a factory, a service provider, an industry or another business. Independent gainful activity is also considered to include the exercise of a liberal profession such as medical practitioner, lawyer or fiduciary agent.
A work permit for independent gainful activity is granted if it is proven that it will result in lasting benefits for the Swiss labor market. Such is the case when the new business contributes to a diversified regional economy in the sector in question, maintains or creates jobs for the local workforce, makes substantial investments and generates new mandates for the Swiss economy.
The first residence permit is issued for a period of two years. The permit may be extended depending on the achievement, in the terms provided, of the lasting positive effect expected to come from the company’s setup. Permits are extended only when the accompanying conditions are met.
Applications must be substantiated and accompanied by a number of supporting documents. Please contact us for additional information.

E. Residence permit without gainful activity

Any foreigner who has legally entered into the Schengen area may reside in Switzerland without gainful activity for three months without authorization, unless the visa indicates a shorter period (nationals of countries requiring a visa to enter must of course arrange for such documents in advance of their entry into Switzerland).
When a foreigner plans a longer stay without gainful activity (specifically for the following: person of independent means, medical treatment, students, etc.), He must have authorization which he must request ahead of his entry into Switzerland from the competent authority in the planned place of residence.
A foreign national who has entered Switzerland legally for a temporary stay and then submits an application for a residence permit must remain outside Switzerland while awaiting the decision. The cantonal authorities can authorise the foreign national to stay in Switzerland during the procedure if it is clear that the conditions for admission have been fulfilled.
Education and training
Please contact us for detailed information about “student” permit B.
Annuitants (persons of independent means)
Foreigners who no longer exercise a gainful activity (neither in Switzerland, nor abroad, with the exception of managing his own fortune) may be admitted into Switzerland if all of the following conditions are met:

  • they are at least 55 years old;
  • they have special personal ties to Switzerland;
  • they have sufficient financial means.

Medical treatment
A foreign national can be authorised to enter Switzerland for medical treatment. They must be able to prove that they have sufficient finance and the intention to leave the country. They may be required to produce a medical certificate detailing the treatment needed and its probable duration.
Important public interests
A residence permit without gainful activity may also be granted in the case of an important public interest.
It is an undefined legal concept, but the cantonal authority must demonstrate that it has a particularly important interest, for instance in the field of culture, economy or taxes, in granting the permit. The negotiation of lump-sum tax packages (see below) in exchange for the granting of residence permits is part of this category of authorizations.
In this case, any professional activity can only be carried out abroad, apart from the management of one’s own assets.
Foreigners must prove that they will transfer their center of vital interests to Switzerland and will reside there for the majority of the time.

F. Settlement permit

If you need information about the permit C, kindly contact us we will be happy to assist you.

G. Family reunification

Rules on family reunification depend on your personal and familial status. Please contact us for practical advice.

IV. Setting up a business

For more information about the conditions governing business creations in Switzerland and how the process works, please visit the relevant web page on the subject or contact one of our lawyers.

V. Foreign nationals’ register

Foreign nationals are strongly recommended and sometimes required to register with the consulate or embassy of their home country.
Putting your name on the foreign nationals register will make any future administrative procedures with the relevant authority easier. These may include applying for a passport or identity card, recording a civil status event, registering to vote, etc.
In general, you will be asked to keep the authority informed of any changes to your personal circumstances, such as:

  • a change of postal or email address or phone number;
  • civil status events (birth, marriage, divorce or death);
  • acquisition or loss of nationality;
  • permanent departure from Switzerland.

VI. Household goods

You can import your household goods without prior notification, duty-free. This covers items such as furniture, crockery, books, vehicles and clothes, so long as you personally have been using the items for the last six months and will continue to use them after you move to Switzerland.
If you are a student, you can bring your belongings in under the same conditions, even if you do not transfer your domicile to Switzerland.
Specific procedures apply to the importation of animals (including stuffed animals), weapons, objects made of ivory and vehicles which have been on the road for less than six months.
Please contact us for practical details.

VII. Registering a vehicle in Switzerland

Once you have completed the required customs formalities, you will need to go to the road traffic office in the canton where you live (Vaud canton automobile and navigation office and Canton of Geneva vehicle office) to register your vehicle. To be driven on the road, the vehicle must have a vehicle registration document and number plates.
Vehicles must be registered in Switzerland within one year of moving to the country for used vehicles, and within one month for new vehicles. In the meantime, you can drive your vehicle with its foreign plates, so long as all the paperwork is in order and it is insured.
The list of documents you need for registration is available upon request.

VIII. Driving licence

Foreign drivers can drive in Switzerland for one year provided they are aged at least 18 years and hold a valid national or international driving licence.
Once you have been living in Switzerland for over 12 months, you are required to exchange your driving licence for a Swiss licence at the vehicle office of the canton where you live. You must make the application before the end of the twelve-month period.
However, if you wish to drive a “professional” category vehicle in Switzerland, you are required to exchange your licence immediately.
Once the twelve-month period has expired, you can no longer drive on your foreign licence, but you can still exchange it. If you have not exchanged your foreign driving licence within a total of five years, you will be required to retake your driving test (note that only licences issued by countries which have signed a mutual recognition agreement with Switzerland can be exchanged without a test).
The blood alcohol limit is 0.05%. Certain categories of driver are banned from consuming alcohol (for example professional drivers and drivers with provisional or probationary licences).
A sticker (vignette) is required to drive on the Swiss motorways. It can be purchased from customs offices, service stations and post offices for CHF 40. It is valid for one calendar year.

IX. Social security

A. Health insurance

You must subscribe to basic health insurance (LAMal) within three months of arriving in Switzerland or entering gainful activity. No distinction is made between third-country nationals and EU/EFTA nationals. The relevant communal or cantonal departments (in Geneva, the SAM) will check that you have complied with this obligation. (They will ask you to send them a copy of your insurance card or policy.)
Certain exceptions exist to the requirement to take out insurance, for example for students, retired people, cross-border workers and the staff of international organisations, embassies and consulates.
You can choose any one of the recognised health insurance companies. These companies offer the same cover, but premiums vary from one company and canton to another. A recognised health insurance company cannot refuse you cover, regardless of your age and state of health.
You can take out additional medical insurance to top up the cover offered by the compulsory insurance scheme (to cover a private hospital room, for example). Premiums are calculated based on your state of health and vary considerably from one insurance company to another.

A. Accident insurance

Anyone employed in Switzerland for more than eight hours per week must be insured against work and non-work (leisure time) accidents and against occupational diseases. Part-time workers who are employed for less than 8 hours a week are not insured against non-work accidents.
This does not cover people who are not in employment, for example homemakers, children, self-employed people (who have the option of taking out insurance), students and retired people. These groups must be covered for accidents as part of their basic health insurance.

A. Occupational benefits system

The Swiss retirement and old age, surviving dependants and disability insurance arrangements are based on what is known as the three-pillar system. It is laid out in the federal constitution.
Old-age and surviving dependants (AVS), disability (AI), loss of income by reason of military service or maternity (APG) and unemployment insurance (AC) are the main elements of pillar 1. It aims to cover an individual’s essential needs. It is compulsory (with an optional element) and is the occupational benefits system organised by the state.
Pillar 2 is the occupational pension system, and is designed to maintain the standard of living of working people and their families. It is made up of a compulsory element and an optional element.
Pillar 3 is the private benefit system (optional).
Everyone living in Switzerland is covered by pillar 1, whether they work or not. People working in Switzerland but living abroad are also covered by pillar 1.
The retirement age in Switzerland is 64 for women and 65 for men.
All employees who are covered under pillar 1 and earn at least CHF 21,150 per year are covered under pillar 2. It is optional for self-employed workers.
The social security system is extremely complex in Switzerland and varies according to each personal situation. Legal advice is highly recommended in this field.

X. Buying or renting property

In Switzerland, most people rent their home, either from a private owner or from an estate agency.
Nevertheless, there are many advantages to owning your home, especially at the moment with bank interest rates so low (you need to be able to put down around 20% of the price and you can use funds from your pillar 2). When you own your own home:

  • you do not risk having your rental contract terminated;
  • you can make whatever alterations you like to your house or apartment, subject to the legal rules in place (commune, canton or co-ownership scheme building regulations);
  • rather than paying rent, you are investing in your own house of apartment.

Check the press for property sale and rental adverts. These also appear at estate agencies.

A. Buying

The most common ways of owning residential property are individual ownership, co-ownership (where each owner can manage their share as they wish) and joint property (simple partnership, succession, etc.).
In French-speaking Switzerland, the most popular areas are the shores of Lake Geneva, the Vaud Riviera, Cologny (Geneva) and the surrounding areas, and the mountains: Verbier, Gstaad and Crans-Montana.
EU/EFTA nationals resident in Switzerland have the same rights as a Swiss national when they buy property and do not require authorisation (they are not subject to the Federal law on the purchase of property by people abroad (LFAIE), RS 211.412.41).
Third-party nationals who do not hold settlement permits (permit C) do not need authorisation to buy their main home (for example a family house) or building plot so long as they fulfil the following conditions:

  • they hold a valid residence permit (permit B, etc.);
  • they themselves occupy the property and are domiciled there;
  • if they plan to build their home, they need to start work within one year of purchasing the plot.

Authorisation is required for the following types of accommodation:

  • holiday home;
  • serviced apartment;
  • second home.

It is important to note that a foreign national does not gain any right to a residence permit based on the fact that they own property in Switzerland (see above).
In Switzerland, a second home is defined as a home that is neither used by people domiciled in the commune in question nor used for professional or training purposes (second place of residence, a separate concept). Second homes are generally used for holidays and are often rented to third parties.
The Federal law on second homes (LRS, RS 702) came into force on 1 January 2016: it results from the acceptance, on 11 March 2012, of the popular initiative “Stop the endless construction of second homes” brought by the environmentalist Franz Weber.
It applies to the construction of new second homes in communes where second homes represent over 20% of the housing stock. In these communes, second homes can only be built under certain highly restrictive conditions (e.g. tourist accommodation).

B. Renting

In Switzerland, the conditions of renting a property are laid down partly by the law (art. 253 to 274g of the Swiss Code of Obligations (CO), RS 220) and partly by the rental agreement itself.
Many property owners engage an estate agency to manage the day-to-day running of their property for them. In such a case, the tenant’s contact will be the agency.
If you are interested in a property, the first thing you need to do is fill in a registration form. You will be asked to give the family names, given names, addresses and dates of birth of the future tenants, their occupations, employers, incomes and any debt collection procedure against them during the previous two years (you can obtain an extract from the register at your local enforcement office), the number of people who will live in the property and whether any pets will be kept. As a foreign national, you will also be asked for a copy of your residence permit. You can then visit the property in question.
The rental agreement is generally in written form (recommended), with two original copies signed. The rental rules and local customs in the canton where the property is located are attached as schedules to the agreement.
In addition, in certain cantons (Geneva, Vaud, Fribourg, Zurich, etc.), you will be given a prescribed form approved by the canton showing the rent paid by the last tenant, the new rent, the reason for any increase and the procedure for contesting it.
Before a tenant moves into a property, a key hand-over process will be carried out. The owner and tenant will look at the condition of the property, and note any imperfections (even very minor ones!) on an inspection document called an “état des lieux”. It is important for tenants to ensure they have a copy of this document.
Lastly, the landlord will inform the residents’ registration office in the relevant communal or cantonal department (for example the cantonal population office in Geneva) of the new tenant’s arrival.
Each canton has a compulsory conciliation department which acts as an intermediary in landlord-tenant disputes. This is a free service. A case cannot be brought before the leases court unless conciliation has failed (there are certain exceptions).

XI. Opening a bank account

Any person over the age of 18 is free to open a bank account in Switzerland, by presenting an official document, such as a valid passport or any other document bearing a photo. Foreign nationals are generally also required to produce a residence permit. Certain banks also require proof of address (electricity bill, etc.).
Banks can however reserve the right to refuse customers, for example because establishing a business relationship with someone with political exposure could pose a risk for the bank’s own reputation, or where there are doubts over the origin of the funds. The Swiss Criminal Code (CP, RS 311.0) and the Federal Act on Combatting Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing (LBA, RS 955.0) forbid Swiss banks and other financial intermediaries from accepting funds believed to have been obtained by criminal means (including tax fraud). Certain banks also refuse to open bank accounts for customers whose nationality means that excessive compliance obligations would be involved (for example US nationals).
Broadly speaking, there are two types of bank: private banks which are concerned almost exclusively with managing the assets (in the broadest sense of the term) of wealthy customers, and retail banks which provide all the services you would expect from a “standard” bank (deposits, loans, payments, etc.). Naturally, these two types of bank are available in the large financial centres such as Geneva and Zurich.
In general, customers will be expected to attend an appointment to open a bank account. Sometimes, appointments can be held by videoconference. The bank will check the customer’s identity, make sure they are the beneficial owner of the assets being deposited, verify the origin of the funds (inheritance, sale of a business, work income, gift, etc.) and note the regular transactions required. Generally, documentary evidence will be needed.
Lastly, it is important to note that in Switzerland privacy is protected by banking secrecy (art. 97 of Federal Law on Banks (LB), RS 952.0), which forbids Swiss banks from providing information about their customers to unauthorised third parties. Although banking secrecy has been eroded in recent years due to international pressures, it remains very strong for Swiss residents, including foreign nationals.

XII. Education

All the cantons of French-speaking Switzerland have signed the HarmoS concordat (Intercantonal concordat on the harmonisation of compulsory education). It entered into force on 1 August 2009, with the aim of harmonising certain fundamental aspects of the Swiss education system.
Cantons are responsible for compulsory education. Communes look after the day-to-day running of schools and ensure that all children can attend the state school of their place of residence.
In principle, compulsory education lasts eleven years. It is free of charge for all children. It is made up of primary level and lower-secondary level. Primary level lasts eight years. This includes two years of nursery school (three years, with a first optional year, in the canton of Ticino) or the first two years of elementary school (in certain German-speaking cantons, nursery school is not compulsory at all, or only for one year; in others, elementary school may last three or four years).
Lower secondary school lasts three years, and four in the canton of Ticino (scuola media).
Children generally start school at the age of four.
There are various types of crèche and nursery for children aged under four, offering different services tailored to families’ needs. However, in certain cantons it can be very difficult to secure a place in these institutions and waiting lists may be very long.
School is taught in the language of the region: French, German, Italian or Romansh, with special rules in Romansh-speaking communes. Pupils are taught a second national language and English during their compulsory education.
Children who do not speak the school’s language when they arrive in a nursery, primary or secondary class are put into a normal class. They may be given intensive lessons to help them integrate linguistically and culturally.
Most Swiss children complete their compulsory education at a state school; only 5% attend a private school. Switzerland has some of the best private schools in the world, but fees are high. It has world-famous institutions such as Institut Le Rosey in Rolle which counts royalty and numerous political figures among its former pupils. These institutions generally prepare pupils for a wide range of different examinations (Swiss Matura, French baccalaureate, International baccalaureate, advanced placement, graduation, etc.).
At the end of their compulsory education, pupils can continue their schooling or undertake an apprenticeship (upper-secondary level). Apprenticeships are very popular in Switzerland, and around two-thirds of young people opt for this kind of training which combines classroom and on-the-job learning. An apprenticeship culminates in a professional certificate of competence or a professional Matura.
Young people who continue their schooling rather than choosing an apprenticeship attend a general school or high school/gymnasium for three or four years, which prepares them for higher education.
Over 90% of the pupils leave with an upper-secondary level certificate. With this certificate, they can seek a job, enter a higher vocational school or, if they have gained a Matura from a gymnasium, specialised or vocational school, enter higher education. In total, 36% of young people gain a Matura.
Tertiary education encompasses higher education institutions (universities, specialised or teacher training) and higher vocational training. Generally, state universities are more prestigious than private universities. The federal polytechnics of Zurich (ETHZ) and Lausanne (EPFL) and the University of Saint-Gallen have particularly high reputations.
In addition, admission fees are very low (between CHF 1,000 and CHF 2,500 per year, except in Italian-speaking Switzerland. Some Swiss universities may however charge foreign students additional fees). It is rare for places to be limited. In general, anyone who holds the required entry qualifications can study the course of their choice. However, a foreign student may be obliged to sit an entrance examination if their foreign diploma is not equivalent to the certificate which would be needed in Switzerland (e.g. a baccalaureate with a mark that is not high enough or a foreign diploma which is not recognised.) The tertiary-level diploma pass rate is 45%. Beyond this, Swiss universities follow the Bologna Process system (bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees).
Depending on where you live, what you study and your own personal requirements, you should budget between CHF 21,000 and CHF 31,000 per year to live as a student in Switzerland.

XIII. Employment law

The rights and obligations of an employer and an employee are set out in an individual contract of employment. Swiss law does not lay down any specific format for this. A contract can be made orally or even tacitly, except in certain specific cases (for example apprenticeship contracts or commercial traveller’s contracts). Nevertheless, a written contract is always in the interests of both parties. In reality, any special clauses (for example a prohibition of competition or overtime arrangements) must be set out in a written contract of employment. A contract of employment can be for a fixed term (terminating at the end of an agreed period) or permanent (when it can be terminated by either party after a period of notice).
There are four key elements to any individual contract of employment:

  • work to be carried out;
  • a relation of subordination;
  • a duration;
  • a salary.

It is the relation of subordination between the worker and the employer (the employer can tell the worker what to do, when and where) that differentiates a contract of employment from a contract for work and services or a mandate, for example.
The first element of a work contract is an intention on the parts of the two parties, together with:

All stipulations of federal and cantonal law imposed on employers by the state to provide a minimum level of protection for workers (LTr, etc.) take precedence over rules originating in private law (Code of Obligations, clauses agreed between the parties, collective agreements, etc.).
The Code of Obligations distinguishes between absolutely imperative standards (no exceptions possible), imperative rules (exceptions can be made only in the employee’s interest) and provisions.
There is no national minimum wage in Switzerland. The only cantons that have set a minimum wage are Jura and Neuchâtel. Minimum wages are however set in the collective agreements of various industries and businesses.
The minimum acceptable monthly salary is generally CHF 4,000, and the average is around CHF 6,500.
In the event of a conflict between an employer and an employee, the parties can bring the case to the courts where the defendant lives/is based or where the employee normally works. Generally, such cases are dealt with by specialised courts. In Geneva, this would be the employment tribunal. Before bringing a case to court, the parties are required to have attempted to resolve the matter at the Conciliation Authority. In Geneva, there is no charge for the case if the value of the claim is CHF 75,000 or less for the original case, or CHF 50,000 for appeals.

XV. Taxation of individuals in Switzerland

By international standards, Switzerland is not among the countries where taxpayers are the most heavily taxed. On the other hand, there are very significant disparities in the tax burden, not only from one canton to another, but also from once commune to another within the same canton. These differences affect income tax and wealth tax above all.
Switzerland’s tax system is very complex since the Confederation as well as the cantons and municipalities levy taxes. In addition, there are a multitude of different taxes. We will only address the main ones here. Taxation of legal entities, value added tax (consumer tax), as well as withholding tax are intentionally left out here.

A. Income tax

Individuals who are domiciled or reside in Switzerland are taxed on their income, both at the federal and cantonal levels.
A person is domiciled in Switzerland for tax purposes if he lives there with the intention of settling in the long term. In practice, the determining factor is the taxpayer’s center of vital interests, i.e., the center of his life, personal relationships (spouse, children, etc.), and professional relationships. The duration of the person’s stay is not decisive on its own.
A person is considered to reside in the country if he lives there for at least 30 days without notable interruption and exercises a gainful activity or if he lives there for at least 90 days without exercising a gainful activity.
Residence in Switzerland exclusively for educational purposes (university, etc.) or for treatment (clinic, etc.) is not constitutive of either domicile or residence.
The tax is levied on total worldwide income. However, income from professional activities abroad, permanent establishments and real estate properties located abroad are exempt. These income sources are only taken into account for determining of the applicable tax rate. On the other hand, foreign income from movable capital (dividends, interests, etc.) is fully taxable in Switzerland.
With the exception of real estate tax (see below), capital gains belonging to private taxpayer assets are exempt, while the proceeds made on movable business assets are subject to income tax.
At the federal level, the scales for the Federal Direct Tax (IFD) on physical persons are progressive, with a maximum rate of 11.5 %.
Clearly, this means that tax rates increase with income, that is, they are not proportional.
The cantons are free to set their tax rates. The tax burden vary widely from one canton to another, but tax is always progressive. For 2016, the maximum total tax rate (combined cantonal and federal) is 22.86% in the Canton of Zoug (the lowest in Switzerland), 24.3% in Obwalden, 28.21% in Schwyz, 36.5% in Valais, 41.5% in the Canton of Vaud and 44.75% in Geneva (the highest in Switzerland). The average rate in Switzerland is 33.99%.
These rates are always lower than most European countries with the exception of Eastern European countries.

B. Estate and gift taxes

Estate and gift taxes are not harmonized in Switzerland and are set freely by the cantons (i.e., no taxation at the federal level). The cantonal regulations differ in many ways.
With the exception of the Cantons of Schwyz and Obwalden, all cantons tax inheritances and gifts for certain transfers. The Canton of Lucerne does not tax gifts. Sometimes, tax is also due at the communal level (Vaud and Fribourg for instance).
The tax rates for inheritances and gifts are progressive and are generally based on the family relationship between the decedent or donor and the beneficiary and/or the amount received by the beneficiary. In all cantons, spouses are exempt from tax on inheritances and gifts; direct descendants are also exempt in most cantons.

C. Taxation at source

A taxation at source system is used for the salaries of young people aged under 18 and foreign workers who do not hold a settlement permit (permit C). This means that the employer (or pension company) will collect taxes that are due (cantonal and communal tax (ICC) and direct federal tax (IFD)) on the sums paid (salaries, pensions, etc.).
The employer determines the tax band (all bands are progressive) based on the taxpayer’s family situation (married, divorced, dependent children, etc.).
The system of withholding tax at source is designed to prevent a foreign national who works in Switzerland temporarily from returning to their native country or the country where they live without paying the tax that they owe on their salary. It also makes life easier for foreign nationals who do not yet have a good command of one of Switzerland’s national languages.
Please contact us if you need additional information on taxation at source.

D. Wealth tax

All of the cantons and municipalities levy a wealth tax on individuals, which is collected each year together with the income tax (via a single tax form). This tax does not exist at the federal level.
Generally speaking, this tax applies to the taxpayer’s worldwide assets in their entirety. This includes all property and all rights owned by the taxpayer or of which he is usufructuary; in principle, they are valued at their market value.
Taxable assets include all movable property (for example securities, bank assets, cars, etc.) and real estate (buildings, etc.), life insurance and pension plans whose value can be redeemed, investments in divided estates and similarly, assets invested in a commercial or agricultural operation. Property that does not generate income is also taxed. Household furniture as well as personal items for everyday use are exempt. Investments in foreign commercial businesses or branches and real estate located abroad are not subject to wealth tax. However, these assets are taken into account to determine the applicable tax rate, wherever this rate is progressive.
Wealth tax is progressive in most cantons, but each of them can set its own tax rates. Taxes thus vary widely and range from 0% and 1%.

E. Tax on real estate gains

Please contact us for detailed information on this topic.

F. Taxation according to expenditure (lump sum tax package)

Federal tax legislation as well as most cantons (including Geneva and Vaud) provide for the option of a special tax regime known as taxation according to expenditure, allowing to foreign individuals who do not exercise a gainful activity in Switzerland, and who elect domicile or reside in Switzerland (fully liable to tax) for the first time or after an absence of at least ten years, to pay a tax calculated on the basis of their expenses as well as of the cost of living, in place of regular taxes on income and wealth. This system is based on the fiction that taxpayers’ expenditures reflect their net income.
It is possible to benefit from this tax regime indefinitely. However, both spouses living in a common household must meet the above conditions. Furthermore, this method of taxation must be requested upon arrival in Switzerland or, at the latest, in advance of the first tax deadline (for nationals of countries outside of the European Union, the request is carried out in parallel with the residence permit application process through the Cantonal Office of Population and Migration).
This system replaces the requirement for a complete tax return for taxable income and assets, and is justified by practical reasons in the sense that it would not be feasible to verify the worldwide income and assets of this category of taxpayers.
Taxes are calculated according to the standard scale, on the basis of the annual expenses of the taxpayer and of his family in Switzerland and abroad. The calculation also includes the expenditures by the spouse and children under the taxpayer’s parental authority as long as they reside in Switzerland. Expenses usually taken into account are annual rent, maintenance of a real estate property, house staff, school fees for children, clothing, recreation, travel, food as well as all other lifestyle-related expenses. The precise calculation is determined in collaboration with the tax authorities in the canton in which the taxpayer wishes to settle.
In any case, the minimum base shall correspond to at least seven times the annual rent paid by the head of household taxpayer, or the imputed rental value of the property he owns and occupies (or three times the price the annual pension for housing and food in the place of domicile for other taxpayer), as well as the minimum amounts set by the federal and cantonal legislation.
A minimum threshold of CHF 400,000 is set for Federal Direct Tax. A minimum amount is also defined by the cantons, which each has full autonomy on this point. In the main French-speaking cantons, this minimum threshold is CHF 400,000 in the cantons of Geneva, Berne and Neuchâtel, CHF 360,000 in the Canton of Vaud, CHF 250,000 in the Valais and Fribourg, and CHF 200,000 in the Canton of Jura.
Moreover, the amount of taxes based on expenditures shall not be less than the regular taxes on income and wealth applied to certain Swiss and foreign-source assets income items (an annual control calculation must be sent to the tax authorities for this purpose). These are:

  • real estate assets in Switzerland and resulting income;
  • movable objects in Switzerland and resulting income;
  • movable capital invested in Switzerland, including claims secured by a mortgage lien, and resulting income (the target here is bonds issued in any currency by a Swiss issuer and their interests, shares in a Swiss company and their dividends (even if held with a foreign bank) as well as deposits, regardless of the currencies, in a Swiss Bank. On the other hand, securities issued by foreign entities deposited in a Swiss Bank and their income are not included);
  • copyrights, patents and other similar rights used in Switzerland and resulting income;
  • retirement benefits, annuities and pensions from Swiss sources;
  • foreign source income for which the taxpayer requires partial or total foreign tax relief in application of a treaty with Switzerland to prevent double taxation.

It should be noted that the cantons must tax the wealth of taxpayers as well, also at a flat rate. In the cantons of Geneva and Vaud, this means that the minimum amount on which taxes are calculated is, respectively, CHF 440,000 and CHF 415,000, taxed at the income tax rate. The Valais tax authorities have fixed a minimum taxable amount of CHF 1,250,000 not at the income tax rate, but the wealth tax rate.
Regardless of the system chosen, the taxpayer who is taxed according to expenditure is not required to declare his actual assets, with the exception of the amount taken into consideration in the annual control calculation.
Note that no deduction is allowed if taxation is established based on expenditure or on rent (or rental value) multiplied by seven.
If taxation is carried out via the control calculation, the following deductions are allowed:

  • building maintenance costs subject to taxation;
  • standard charges for the administration of investments as long as their yield is taxed.

It follows from the foregoing that the total minimum amount of tax due annually is CHF 150,000 in the cantons of Geneva and Vaud, and CHF 100,000 in Valais.
Third-country nationals may be granted a residence permit without gainful activity in Switzerland in the case of important public interests, specifically in terms of taxation. To recognize the existence of an important cantonal interest in terms of taxation, a number of cantons set a minimum threshold for expenditures that is higher than for other taxpayers, while others cantons further raise the amount of expenditures.
Thus, the “price of admission” for non-European nationals in the Canton of Valais is CHF 700,000 for income and CHF 2,800,000 in assets. In Geneva, the minimum lump sum is CHF 750,000 for income (to which 10% must be added for wealth taxes at the cantonal level), while in the Canton of Vaud it is CHF 1,000,000.
In total, 523 foreigners have benefited from these conditions as of the end of 2016. The most frequent beneficiaries are Russians, in 165 cases. They are followed by Turks (36), Americans (21), Canadians (20), Brazilians (17) Serbs (16) and Ukrainians (15). The procedure is most frequently used in Ticino (200 cases) followed by Geneva (91) and Zurich (41). There have been around 30 cases in Vaud.
In general, taxpayers benefiting from taxation according to expenditure are considered to be Swiss residents and, as such, are eligible for tax relief on their foreign-source income as provided for under existing double taxation treaties.
Certain agreements (Germany, Austria, Belgium, Canada, United States, Italy and Norway), allow for tax treaty benefits only if all income from the source country is taxed under the regular tax regime in Switzerland.
This means that those countries recognize a taxpayer as a Swiss resident, in the sense relevant to the double taxation treaty, only for individuals who, if they are taxed at on a lump-sum basis in Switzerland, are taxed on all income items from those countries which are normally assigned to Switzerland under the treaty (referred to as a “modified lump sum”), in addition to being taxed in accordance with the general principles presented above.
Moreover, the applicable tax rate is fixed on the basis of worldwide income or, in the absence of indication by the taxpayer, at the maximum rate.
Finally, the taxpayer may benefit from the tax credit for foreign taxes, but he can never pay a final tax lower than that due with taxation according to expenditure.
A special tax regime was in place for France until 1 January 2013 (increased lump sum). If taxpayers taxed based on expenditure agreed to their tax base being increased by 30%, the French tax authorities considered them as Swiss residents under the terms of the agreement. Since 2013, the French authorities have unilaterally decided that this agreement no longer applies to people taxed on expenditure. However, the Swiss authorities maintain that taxpayers who pay an increased lump sum should benefit from the agreement, and therefore still issue certificates of residence on this basis.

XVI. Marriage law

A. Marriage

To marry in Switzerland, the engaged parties must fulfil the following legal conditions:

  • Be aged 18 or over and capable of judgement;
  • Provide proof, if applicable, that their previous marriage or registered partnership has been annulled or dissolved;
  • Not be directly related (father, mother, grandparent or child) nor brother and sister – i.e. having the same mother or father, either by birth or by adoption;
  • They must not be marrying to circumvent the laws on the admission of foreign nationals into Switzerland.

In addition, during the preparatory procedure before the marriage or partnership, engaged parties who are not Swiss citizens must prove that they are legally resident in Switzerland. The registrar is unable to marry someone who cannot produce a valid residence permit.
There are two stages to the marriage procedure:

  • The preparatory procedure, which can take several weeks or months (especially if there are foreign documents which need to be legalised).
  • The marriage ceremony, which can take place at the earliest ten days and at the latest three months after notification that the preparatory procedure is complete. Marriage ceremonies are generally held in the marriage hall at the chosen civil status office. The engaged parties must be accompanied by two adult witnesses, who must be over 18 and capable of judgement. Marriage ceremonies are public.

After the ceremony, the couple can request:

  • A family record document (only provided to couples resident in Switzerland);
  • A marriage certificate.

A religious ceremony can also be held, but only once the civil ceremony has been completed.
A same-sex couple can have their union recognised via a registered partnership.
Each spouse keeps their own name. During the preparatory procedure they choose the name they will give to their children. This can only be one spouse’s original name.
Engaged parties can however decide that they wish to use a shared family name. This can only be the original name of either one of them.
A double-barrelled name can be chosen by one or other of the spouses for everyday use. However, it is not an official name and does not appear on the civil registry. This combination of two names, linked together by a hyphen, is an expression of the official link between two people. It is a recognised custom in Switzerland, and has been integrated into the legislation on identity documents. If the person so requests, it can be added to a passport or identity card as an official supplement.
A marriage celebrated legally in a foreign country is recognised in Switzerland if it complies with the principles of Swiss law (which forbids bigamy, for example).
An application for recognition must be made to the Swiss representation (embassy or consulate), accompanied by the documents relating to the marriage.
The Swiss representation will check the accuracy of the documents, legalise them and if necessary translate them into one of Switzerland’s official languages (on payment of a fee). The documents are then sent to the cantonal supervisory authority in the person’s canton of origin, which will decide whether the marriage is recognised. In Geneva, this is the civil status and legalisation department.
The cantonal supervisory authority decides whether the marriage can be recognised. If the conditions have been fulfilled, it orders the marriage to be added to the registers. This enables a marriage celebrated abroad to be entered into the “Infostar” civil register.

B. Divorce

The law lays down the conditions for the dissolution of marriages and the consequences of divorce. It also allows spouses to live separately without divorcing. In such a case, it is possible for them, either together or separately, to contact the judge for measures for the protection of the marital union, who will decide the consequences of the separation, if necessary.
If the parties agree to divorce, they can apply to the judge together for a divorce by joint request. If they are in agreement regarding all the effects of the divorce, they present the judge with a convention setting out all the financial consequences, for example how possessions will be shared and any maintenance payments to be made. The judge will simply check that the agreement that has been made is fair.
The couple will also need to present the decisions they have come to regarding their children. The judge will interview the couple, together and separately. The divorce will be issued three to six weeks later. The entire procedure takes between two and five months.
When the couple agree that they wish to divorce, but do not agree on one or more of the consequences, they can ask the judge to decide.
If one spouse wishes to divorce and the other does not, the first spouse can apply for a divorce “at the petition of one spouse”, so long as the couple has been living separately for two years when the application is made. One spouse can apply for a divorce before the two-year period has been completed only if the marriage has irretrievably broken down for compelling reasons for which he or she is not responsible.

A. Marital property law

The rules of marital property law determine who owns possessions during the marriage, and how it should be divided in the event of a divorce or if one spouse dies (in which case the accounts are settled between the husband and wife before inheritance rules are applied).
Swiss law recognises three separate marital property regimes:

  • The marital property regime of participation in acquired property: the spouses’ assets are basically separate. However, when the marriage regime is dissolved, savings built up during the marriage are totalled and divided in half. This is the default regime.
  • The marital property regime of community of property: this regime combines all of the couple’s property together. If the marriage is dissolved, each of them is entitled to half. A prenuptial agreement must be signed in front of a notary for this regime to apply.
  • Separation of property: under this regime, there is no shared property. Each spouse retains the ownership of their own property during the marriage and when it is dissolved. Again, a prenuptial agreement is required for this regime.

Foreign nationals who are resident in Switzerland can opt for either a marriage regime under Swiss law, or a marriage regime from the country of origin of either one of them. They must agree this in writing, failing which Swiss law applies.

XVII. Inheritance law

Except as regards real estate, the Swiss administrative and judiciary authorities of the deceased’s last place of residence have jurisdiction to take the necessary steps to wind up the estate and deal with any inheritance disputes. In addition, if the deceased person’s last place of residence was in Switzerland, their estate will be wound up under Swiss law. A foreign national can however use a will or contract of succession to arrange for their estate to be wound up under the law of a country of which they are a national, so long as at the time of their death they still hold that nationality and have not acquired Swiss nationality.
Swiss law recognises universal succession, meaning that the heirs replace the deceased person from the day that they die and acquire all of their assets and liabilities. Heirs only have a right to a certain fraction of the estate, and not to specific items. Only when the estate is divided up can an heir claim a right to a specific item.
Heirs are appointed:

  • either in a will: these are the named heirs (a will can exist in holographic or oral form or as a public deed or contract of succession);
  • or by the law (Swiss Civil Code (CC), RS 210): these are the statutory heirs.

Statutory heirs are:

  • the spouse of the deceased;
  • family members from the parental line of the deceased;
  • failing this, a public authority.

Heirs are organised into groups of relatives (parentela). A group of relatives can only inherit if all members of the previous group are deceased.
There are three groups:

  • First group: the descendants of the deceased person.
  • If they themselves are deceased, they are represented by their descendants.

  • Second group: the parents of the deceased, with one half-share each.
  • If they themselves are deceased, they are represented by their descendants.

  • Third group: the grandparents of the deceased, with a half-share to the maternal line and a half-share to the paternal line.
  • If they themselves are deceased, they are represented by their descendants.
    If there are no heirs in the third group, the estate falls to the canton and/or commune of the deceased’s last place of residence.

This group system does not apply to a surviving spouse. They always inherit, but in combination with the other statutory heirs. The surviving spouse is entitled to:

  • In combination with the descendants, half of the estate;
  • In combination with the mother, father or their descendants, three-quarters of the estate.
  • In combination with the grandparents or their descendants, the entire estate. In this last situation, the surviving spouse is the only heir.

Registered partners have the same status as married couples.
You can use your will to modify the legal order of succession. You can reduce the share given to a specific heir, exclude an heir, give a larger share to others, or appoint a single heir. You can also appoint heirs who are not relatives or leave certain possessions to third parties. (You must however understand that this can have considerable tax consequences.)
Nonetheless, a minimum statutory entitlement applies to family members (descendants, parents, surviving spouse, etc.). Heirs with a statutory entitlement are entitled to a minimum share of the estate (reserve). It is expressed as a fraction of the legal share:

  • For a descendant, three quarters of the legal share;
  • For the father and mother, half the legal share;
  • For the surviving spouse, half the legal share.

A draft law is currently under discussion on this subject. It aims to reduce the statutory entitlement of descendants to a half, that of the surviving spouse to one quarter and to eliminate the parents’ statutory entitlement.

XVIII. Other administrative matters

  • Register for utilities (water, gas and electricity) with your commune.
  • Contact a service provider for landline, mobile phone and internet contracts.
  • For the surviving spouse, half the legal share.
  • You can compare the various offers here:

  • Register with Billag to obtain the right to receive radio and television. In Switzerland, you are legally required to pay radio and television licence fees. This applies regardless of the number of people in the household who listen to or watch the programmes, the type of receiver used (television, car radio, etc.) or the way they are received (cable, telephone network or satellite). Computers (including tablets) with internet access are also considered as receivers if the person has an account (including free accounts) with an online television services provider.
  • Register with Billag to obtain the right to receive radio and television. In Switzerland, you are legally required to pay radio and television licence fees. This applies regardless of the number of people in the household who listen to or watch the programmes, the type of receiver used (television, car radio, etc.) or the way they are received (cable, telephone network or satellite). Computers (including tablets) with internet access are also considered as receivers if the person has an account (including free accounts) with an online television services provider.
  • Private households pay annual licence fees of CHF 165 (radio) and CHF 286 (TV).
    From 2019, the current licence fees will be replaced by a general fee regardless of whether the person owns a receiver. Zurich-based Serafe will be responsible for collecting the fee.

  • Locate a family doctor, paediatrician, etc. that speaks your language. You should do this in advance, because doctors are often very busy with few appointments available.
  • Depending on the canton and commune in which you live, you will pay a tax on official bin bags or a weight-based tax for rubbish collection. Some communes provide a certain number of bags free of charge, according to the size of the household. You can find out from your commune which days your non-recyclable rubbish will be collected, when and where to put your rubbish out, and where to obtain communal bin bags. Recycling is a speciality of Switzerland!
  • Each commune has police regulations informing the population of how to behave in public places and towards other people. It may stipulate, for example, that rubbish must be placed in bins, that any unnecessary noise is forbidden, or that measures must be taken to ensure pets do not cause annoyance. You can ask for a copy of the police regulations at your communal administrative office.
  • All births must be declared to the registrar in the arrondissement where they take place. If the child is born in hospital, the hospital will deal with this formality. If the child is born at home, the parents must register the birth. All children are automatically covered by sickness insurance for three months when they are born. The parents must take out basic health insurance in the child’s name before the end of this period. An insurance company can refuse to cover a baby for top-up health insurance (for example, if the child is born with an illness). Consequently, if your insurance company offers this possibility, it is best to insure your baby in advance of the birth. If you have children, you are entitled to family allowance.
  • Train, bus and boat tickets are quite expensive in Switzerland, but you can purchase a half-price subscription from the national rail company CFF which entitles you to a 50% reduction on fares. This subscription is very popular, and almost half of all Swiss residents have one.

XIX. Croce & Associés SA’s services

We frequently assist our clients throughout the process of setting up home in Switzerland, and beyond. We can look after not only the legal aspects of your move (residence permit, negotiations with tax authorities, drawing up the necessary contracts, etc.) but also assist you with all the other things you will need to do, such as opening bank accounts and finding your new home.
Through our family office, Onyx & Cie SA, a registered financial services company, we have close contacts with Switzerland’s major banks. We also have a comprehensive network of property brokers, and we can put you in contact with the main insurance companies or negotiate with them on your behalf. Our lawyers, many of whom attended international schools themselves or have children attending them, can even give you their own personal opinions.
Lastly, our trust and international tax specialists can advise you on pre-arrival tax planning and help you optimise your tax arrangements before you get to Switzerland.
We hope this page will help you find the information you need. If you have any questions at all, please do not hesitate to contact us.
Welcome to Switzerland!