Guidance

Living in Switzerland

Advice for British nationals planning to live or living in Switzerland

Overview

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.

For self-employed

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 are in receipt of a UK old age state pension, request an S1 form (previously E121) from the Overseas Healthcare Team on +44 191 218 1999. If you are in receipt of an exportable DWP benefit you can request an S1 form the office which pays your exportable benefit. It is your responsibility to keep the Overseas Healthcare Team or office which pays your exportable DWP benefit up to date with any changes in circumstances which may affect your entitlement to an S1 (E121). When received, register the S1 form with your local state hospital or health facility, before you register with your local state hospital doctor and obtain a medical card.

Accident insurance

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.

State pensions

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:

Voluntary contributions

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

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:

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 fraud 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.

Visit the Federal Department of Home Affairs website for detailed information on invalidity insurance benefits and how invalidity insurance is organised.

Taxation

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.

Driving in Switzerland

Road users have to comply with Switzerland’s traffic laws, such as speed limits, rules on alcohol intake and child security, or risk fines or criminal prosecution.

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.

  • 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

How to behave in traffic

Traffic regulations and sanctions

There are three types of sanctions for road traffic offences:

  1. Fixed penalty procedure for minor traffic offences

  2. Ordinary criminal procedure in case of serious traffic offence. The case is transferred from police to prosecuting authorities. Please note that you may face detention while awaiting trial. There is no standard penalty because sentencing varies from canton to canton.

  3. Administrative procedure.

If you wish to challenge the fine, you can appeal in writing to the competent Swiss authority by the deadline, giving your reasons and presenting documentary proof.

Punishment of foreign motorists who do not pay their fine and re-enter Switzerland

Under federal legislation, the details of the person are entered into RIPOL database if the fine has not been paid and has subsequently been commuted into a prison sentence. This measure encourages motorists who wish to re-enter to pay their fine. Fines imposed by the Swiss authorities can be enforced on Swiss territory for a period of three years.

Disclaimer

Please note that this information is provided as a guide only. Definitive information should be obtained from the Swiss authorities.

Published 26 June 2013
Last updated 15 July 2013 + show all updates
  1. Life certificates for UK state pensions updated
  2. First published.