In today's globalized world, migration is no longer just driven by economic and existential needs. People increasingly choose to be expatriates and lead international lifestyles. As such, relocation planning has never been as important. In this brochure, we set out the most important legal and tax considerations to bear in mind if you are planning a move to Switzerland. Following a brief general overview of the Swiss legal system, the brochure summarises the most important tax laws, the rules on foreigners acquiring Swiss real estate and the most relevant aspects of Swiss family, divorce and succession law.
This brochure aims at providing individuals who think about relocating to Switzerland as well as their advisers with an overview of the most relevant legal and tax issues to consider before taking the final decision to relocate. It can and should not replace personal advice which is very important not only with regard to a relocation to Switzerland in general but also in light of the broad autonomy of the cantons and the range of different (tax)regimes and rules existing among all 26 of them. For a variety of reasons, we strongly recommend obtaining legal and tax advice before taking up residence in Switzerland.
SWITZERLAND AT A GLANCE
Switzerland has a population of almost 8.5 million, of which roughly one quarter are foreign nationals. The country has four official languages (German, French, Italian and Romansh) and English is also widely spoken.
Politically and economically, Switzerland is one of the most stable countries in the world. It is a federal republic made up of 26 cantons, each of which has considerable autonomy in the areas of taxation, healthcare, social welfare, law enforcement and education; this creates a number of differences in local governance.
Ranked amongst the wealthiest countries in the world, Switzerland is also renowned for its high quality of living. Its largest city, Zurich, was recently ranked second in the Mercer Quality of Living Survey, followed closely by other Swiss cities, Geneva, Basel and the capital, Bern. Few other countries can boast as many cities in the top 20.
Switzerland has a stable economy thanks to its highly developed professional services sector (including banks and insurance companies) and thriving manufacturing and pharmaceutical industries. Competitive taxation levels both for individuals and corporations help to stimulate business and migration.
Switzerland's outstanding healthcare system, which is a combination of public, private and semiprivate healthcare institutions, offers a large network of highly qualified doctors and hospitals, which are equipped with the most cutting edge medical facilities.
As is the case with most European countries, Switzerland is a civil law jurisdiction. One of the most important pieces of Swiss legislation is the codification of private law in the Civil Code, which came into force in 1907 and was influenced by both the German and French civil codes. The Civil Code is published in three of the official Swiss languages - German, French and Italian - and is revered for its concise and plain language.
The judiciary comprises of federal and cantonal courts. Each canton has its own courts of first instance and a second instance of appeal. The highest judicial authority is the Federal Supreme Court located in Lausanne, which is the final instance of appeal against decisions of: the cantonal courts of appeal; the Federal Criminal Court, located in Ticino; the Federal Administrative Court and the Federal Patent Court, both located in St. Gall.
MIGRATING TO SWITZERLAND
Switzerland operates a dual immigration system with different rules applying to EU/EFTA and non-EU/EFTA nationals.
EU/EFTA nationals are entitled to live and work in Switzerland if they have an employment contract with a Swiss employer. Non-working EU/EFTA nationals can only obtain a residence permit if they have sufficient means to pay their living and (compulsory) health insurance costs. As a general rule, close family members of EU/EFTA nationals who have a Swiss residence permit are entitled to join them and reside in Switzerland.
Non-EU/EFTA nationals are only eligible for a work permit if they or their employer can show that they are specifically qualified for the position and there is no suitable person from Switzerland or the EU/EFTA to fill the job vacancy. Non-working EU/EFTA nationals are only eligible for a residence permit if they are over 55 years of age, have sufficient financial means and close ties to Switzerland, or if they are of particular economic interest to the canton in question, for example, because of the tax revenue they would bring or their business activities.
Family members of non-EU/EFTA nationals with a Swiss residence permit are...