Living in Switzerland
Advice for British nationals planning to live or living in Switzerland
If you are a British citizen or British subject with right of abode in the UK, you do not require a visa to enter Switzerland. Other British nationals should confirm the current entry requirements with their nearest Swiss Embassy.
A valid British passport must be held for entry to and exit from Switzerland as a visitor. There is no minimum passport validity requirement but you should ensure that your passport is valid for the duration of your visit. You must also carry proof of identity at all times.
Apply for residency
The latest information on the Free Movement of Person agreement can be found on the website of the Swiss Federal Office for Migration.
For residency it is mandatory to register at your local commune (town hall) within 8 days of your arrival. The registration procedure is the same throughout Switzerland, however each individual commune has their own way of implementing it. While the process is straightforward, it can take some time and you might need certain certificates from the consulate.
First you will need to go to your local commune, if you don’t speak the local language it is advised to take someone who does with you.
Information on the registration procedure for short-term work in Switzerland can be found on the website of the Swiss Federal Office for Migration.
Employment longer than 3 months
If you are employed for longer than 3 months, you will need to apply for a residence permit with the communal authorities in the place you reside. You will be required to present:
- a valid identity card or passport
- a copy of your rental agreement
- a passport-size photo
For non self-employed
If you are not self-employed you will need:
- an employment contract.
If you are self-employed you will need:
- accounting records, in order to prove your earnings
- if you apply for welfare benefits, you will lose your right to remain in Switzerland. Information on cost of living and residence permits can be obtained from the cantonal immigration office.
Information for British nationals wishing to stay in Switzerland without gainful employment can be found on the Swiss government website. You should also see the information on working in Switzerland as a foreign national.
Health Insurance and Social Security
Read the Swiss Government’s information on Social Insurance for foreign nationals.
Compulsory health insurance
You must take out insurance with a Swiss health insurance company no later than 3 months after arriving or beginning work in Switzerland. Cross-border commuters domiciled in certain EU states have the option of taking out insurance in their country of residence instead of Switzerland.
Read the detailed information on health insurance for foreigners in Switzerland.
If you work 8 hours or more a week, you are covered against occupational and non-occupational accidents by your employer.
Old-age, Survivors’ and Invalidity insurance
People who live or work in Switzerland must be insured by the Old-age and Survivors’ Insurance scheme (AHV) and by the Invalidity Insurance (IV) scheme.
Employees earning over a certain income must take out insurance with a pension fund or vested benefits institution. Self-employed persons may join a pension fund voluntarily. Find out more about Old-age, Survivors Insurance Scheme and Invalidity Insurance in Switzerland.
The UK basic state pension is payable in Switzerland.The state pension changed in April 2010. More people now qualify for a full basic state pension. Find out about the most important changes and what they mean to you.
To work out when you reach state pension age, use the State Pension Age Calculator.
If you live but have not worked in Switzerland, you should claim your UK state pension by contacting the International Pension Centre (IPC) in the UK by telephone: +44 (0)191 218 7777
Moving to Switzerland once in receipt of a UK state pension
If you are moving to Switzerland from the UK you should inform the IPC of the changes to your circumstances. This will prevent any problems with your pension payments. It will also help you to get the right access to healthcare in Switzerland.
UK pension credit is not payable in Switzerland. If you decide to move to Switzerland permanently you must inform the office that pays your benefits before you leave.
Entitlement to a Swiss retirement pension
For information on how and when to claim your Swiss retirement pension please visit:
- how does the retirement provision system work?
- how do I manage my retirement provision?
- gaps in AHV contribution
- retirement abroad
- financial consequences of marriage – matrimonial property regimes
You may also be thinking about paying voluntary contributions to top up your pension entitlement in either country. For further information on paying voluntary contributions in the UK, contact HMRC. For Switzerland, contact the company who is providing your social security/health cover.
Life certificates for UK state pensions
If you have received a Life Certificate from the UK Pension Service it is important that you reply as quickly as possible. You’ll need to get it signed by a ‘witness’ and send it back, as instructed on the form. Your payments may be suspended if you don’t respond.
Check the list of people who can witness a life certificate. This is now the same as the list of people who can ‘countersign’ a passport photo, although they don’t need to live in the UK, or have a British or Irish passport.
Benefits in Switzerland
UK Benefits which you must apply for before leaving the UK
UK benefits which you can apply for after leaving the UK
- Contribution-based Incapacity Benefit/Employment Support Allowance
- Disability Living Allowance
- Carer’s Allowance (Care Component)
- Attendance Allowance
- Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit
- Bereavement Allowance
- Maternity Allowance
- UK Child Benefit
Non-exportable UK benefits
The following benefits are for people who are ordinarily resident in the UK and under no circumstances are they available in Switzerland:
- pension credit
- council tax benefit
- income support
- housing benefit
- means-tested incapacity benefit/employment support allowance
Remember, if you are in receipt of benefits, it’s an offence not to tell the Department for Work and Pensions if your circumstances change, for example:
- you are going to live or are currently living in Switzerland
- you get married, if you separate, divorce or are widowed
- you start work, increase your earnings or your savings
If you don’t tell the DWP it could mean prosecution, imprisonment and even the confiscation of your home and possessions.
For more details visit the benefit theft website.
Swiss contribution-based benefits
Working and paying contributions in Switzerland gives you entitlement to a number of Swiss social security benefits. These benefits include unemployment benefit, and permanent and temporary incapacity benefit. Note that paying contributions as a self-employed worker does give you entitlement to unemployment benefit in Switzerland.
Swiss unemployment benefit
If you are looking for work or lose your job, you must register with the regional unemployment centre (RAV). If you live abroad and work in Switzerland, you will receive your unemployment benefits in your country of residence. Read the information on Social Insurance in Switzerland and Unemployment Insurance.
Swiss disability benefit
Invalidity insurance aims to restore or improve the earning capacity of individuals who are disabled as the result of a congenital or other illness, or because of an accident. Individuals will receive an IV pension only when it is determined that their professional (re)integration is impossible. In this system, rehabilitation measures are always preferred above pension payments.
Britain has a double taxation agreement with Switzerland to ensure people do not pay tax on the same income in both countries. In accordance with Swiss and international law, all residents in Switzerland (nationals and non-nationals alike) are required to declare assets or groups of assets held outside Switzerland. Assets may include bank accounts, securities, rights, insurance, annuities, property, etc. The declaration is a separate exercise to the annual tax return.
Severe penalties for incorrect, incomplete or late reporting can be incurred and the legislation also means that criminal charges can be brought in the case of non-compliance. The requirement and potential penalties are in line with standard international tax practice.
Taxation is a complex issue and it is strongly recommended that professional advice is sought. The Swiss government’s website has detailed information on tax.
Driving licences and vehicles
If you spend longer than six months of the year in Switzerland with your UK-registered car, Swiss law says you must register your vehicle with the Swiss authorities. For information on how to do this consult the vehicle registration service.
UK-registered vehicles being driven in Switzerland must comply with all UK requirements for road tax, have a valid MOT certificate and third party insurance covering the full time period the vehicle is used in Switzerland, up to the six month limit.
Driving in Switzerland
- the minimum age required to drive is 18 years
- if you live in Switzerland, you will have to swap your UK licence for a Swiss licence within twelve months
- it is advised to at least register your UK licence with your local commune. This is because if your licence is lost/stolen/destroyed they will have proof that you held a UK licence which will help you in the process of replacing it with a Swiss licence
- you can alternately change you UK licence to a Swiss licence at your local commune
- please remember that your photo on a UK licence needs to be renewed every 10 years. This cannot be done if you live abroad and your commune will need proof that you are still entitled to drive before they can issue you with a Swiss licence in replacement
- if you ever need proof of your entitlement to drive you will need to apply for a ‘Certificate of Entitlement’ from the DVLA.
Switzerland motor insurance regulations
Third-party insurance must be taken out for every motor vehicle used on the road. This covers the owner and their partner, family or other household members for damage caused to third parties. Check your policy’s terms and conditions.
Damage to your own vehicle is not covered by third party insurance. You can take out an additional policy to cover your own vehicle.
Documents you should carry in the car
When driving in Switzerland, if stopped by the police you may need to show the following:
- your driving licence
- your car papers
- your insurance papers
- your MOT/Control technique (older than 4 years) paper
- your ID document (i.e. passport) and those of your passengers
If you receive a traffic fine while driving in Switzerland (for speeding or parking incorrectly etc) you might be asked to pay on the spot. Be completely sure of the identity of the person before you hand the money over. Offer to give proof of address and ask if it is possible for the fine to be sent to you instead.
If you dispute a fine you have incurred and wish to appeal, this will clearly be marked on the document that you receive through the post. If it is an on the spot fine ask the officer politely how you would be able to appeal against the fine.
Please note that this information is provided as a guide only. Definitive information should be obtained from the Swiss authorities.