Welcome to Switzerland

How to set up your own business in Switzerland as a non-Swiss citizen

INFORMATION
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Source: iStock / gpointstudio

Citizens from EU and EFTA countries enjoy freedom of movement rights in Switzerland. Anyone from other countries wishing to set up their own business will only be permitted to do so in certain circumstances.

Up to 90 days’ self-employment in Switzerland

If you are from an EU/EFTA country and wish to pursue a self-employed activity for no more than 90 working days per year in Switzerland, you are required to register first. You just need to complete this online form, which must usually be submitted eight days before starting work at the latest.

Long-term self-employment in Switzerland

To pursue a longer-term business activity in Switzerland, nationals from EU and EFTA countries must file an application for self-employed activity with their Cantonal Migration Office. Once you have obtained evidence of self-employment, you are entitled to a B residence permit (EU/EFTA countries) or a C residence permit (all other countries). You will receive this when you have successfully registered with your municipality of residence.

If you wish to set up a public limited company (AG/SA) or a limited liability company (GmbH/SARL), you must be represented by someone resident in Switzerland. This person can be a board member or director.

Do you already live in Switzerland and have a B (EU/EFTA) permit? If so, you can take up self-employed activity at any time. However, you must notify your residents’ registration office of the change in your employment status.

Nationals of non-EU/EFTA countries require a C permit to become self-employed.

Obligations of self-employed persons

Old-age and survivors’ insurance (OASI) / disability insurance (DI)

Self-employed individuals (i.e. without AG/SA or GmbH/SARL) must register for OASI (AHV/AVS). Unlike employees, self-employed persons are responsible for paying all their social insurance contributions themselves. If you are dependent on a single client, the OASI may refuse to recognize you as self-employed.

Requirements for those earning more than 100,000 francs

Self-employed people with an income of more than 100,000 francs are required to pay VAT. Individuals not registered as an AG/SA or GmbH/SARL need to be registered as a sole proprietor in the commercial register if they earn more than 100,000 francs.

Insurance for self-employed persons

In Switzerland, people who are self-employed must decide themselves how they wish to handle risk with regard to most pension and insurance matters. The only exceptions are OASI (AHV/AVS) and health insurance.

Old-age and survivors’ insurance (OASI) / disability insurance (DI)

Self-employed people are required to take out OASI (AHV/ARS) and DI (IV/AI) and pay into the income replacement scheme (EO/APG). The scheme provides compensation for any loss of earnings arising as a result of maternity leave or military service.

Illness

The second type of compulsory insurance is health insurance. Everyone resident in Switzerland must take out a basic health insurance policy with a health insurance company. They are free to choose the health insurance company themselves. The cover offered under basic insurance is the same irrespective of insurer. As premiums vary, however, it's worth comparing them beforehand.

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Accident cover

Self-employed people must also consider accident cover. They can decide whether to take out accident insurance for themselves and any family members working for them who are not already insured. Insurance can be taken out with the Swiss National Accident Insurance Fund (Suva) or with a private accident insurer. These insurance policies cover not only hospital and treatment costs but also pay out a daily accident benefit of 80% of the insured salary as well as a lifelong disability pension in the event of disability.

Daily sickness allowance

Although basic health insurance covers treatment costs in the event of illness, self-employed people are responsible for organizing their own cover for continuation of pay. Daily sickness allowance insurance provides this cover. The allowance is paid from the start of your illness until you are eligible for disability insurance payments after a period of two years.

Liability insurance

Self-employed people are liable for damages arising in connection with their professional activity. That’s why it is important to take out business liability insurance. You can also opt for business legal expenses insurance to protect yourself against the financial impact of unjustified claims.

 

Property insurance

If your business has its own premises, you will need insurance cover against theft, glass breakage and fire and water damage. Damage to buildings or equipment could also force you to stop trading temporarily. To protect yourself against such events, you could consider taking out a business interruption insurance policy.

Pension

If you are self-employed, you are responsible for arranging your own pension. The state pension is only enough to keep you out of poverty. To maintain a comfortable standard of living, you will need additional retirement savings. As a self-employed person, you can make voluntary contributions to a second pillar pension plan, provided your income is at least 21,330 francs (as of 2019). As an alternative to the second pillar, you have the option of paying up to 20% of your income per year (or a maximum of 34,128 francs as of 2019) into a tax-efficient restricted pillar 3a account.