How to find work in Switzerland, with information on the Swiss job market, job vacancies in Switzerland, Swiss work permits plus where to look for jobs in Switzerland.
Many foreigners – especially highly skilled – successfully find work in Switzerland, with almost half of all executive jobs in Switzerland filled by foreigners. Switzerland is a very appealing place to come and work: average Swiss salaries, working conditions and Switzerland’s standard of living are very high.
But competition for Swiss jobs is fierce and opportunities are more limited for those coming from outside of the EU or EFTA (European Free Trade Association), as there are often quotas for jobs in Switzerland for foreigners, even for highly skilled, well-qualified specialists. However, finding a job in Switzerland is possible, including a small selection of jobs in Switzerland for English-speakers, especially in sectors where there are high shortages of skilled workers. In multicultural Switzerland, however, language is often key to finding work in Switzerland.
This guide explains everything you need to help you find a Swiss job, including information on the Swiss job market, vacancies, work permits, qualifications needed to work in Switzerland and where to find jobs in Switzerland for foreigners and English speakers.
Work in Switzerland
The Swiss job market
The Swiss economy is stable and the Swiss unemployment rate is one of the lowest in the world, standing at 3.7 percent in January 2017, with average unemployment typically lower in German-speaking Switzerland (3.1 percent) than in French and Italian-speaking Swiss cantons (5 percent). However, foreigners account for almost half of those who are officially unemployed.
The positives are that salaries in Switzerland are amongst the highest in the world, you get at least four weeks’ holiday per year, there are excellent Swiss social security benefits if you’re out of work, and you’ll enjoy one of the highest qualities of life in the world. However, the labour market is small, competition for jobs is high and if you’re from outside the EU, then only a limited number of management level, well-qualified and specialist employees are admitted into the country to work.
Cross-border workers also continue to play an important role in Switzerland, with some 318,500 cross-border workers active in Switzerland at the end of 2016, almost 4 percent higher than the previous year. Cross-border workers made up more than a quarter of the workforce in the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino and more than 10 percent in Lake Geneva and northwestern Switzerland.
Switzerland continues to attract foreign companies – partly due to favourable tax conditions but also for skilled workers and quality education and training systems – although faces a strong franc and doubts over future tax policies. In 2016 some 265 international companies established a physical presence in Switzerland, contributing 1,005 new jobs, similar to 2015’s figures of 264 firms and 1,082 jobs but still far from 2010 when Switzerland attracted some 379 companies and 2,431 jobs. Zurich attracted among the highest international companies in 2016 (101 firms up from 93), promising up to 1,500 jobs within five years. The pharmaceutical and medtech belt around Basel also proved popular in 2016, with 36 companies relocating (more than 50 percent up from 2015) offering up to 600 positions by 2019.
However, as an EU ruling aims to stop cantons offering reduced taxes to foreign firms on overseas earnings, some regions may see a decline in company relocation while the tax situation is unclear. A large proportion of companies benefiting from tax breaks are located in Geneva, Vaud and Valais. These cantons will likely undergo the greatest adjustments in Swiss jobs when required to adopt the new tax code, potentially as soon as 2019.
In 2017, the Swiss government also announced plans to adopt new measures that give preference to local residents in Switzerland over foreigner workers, a step down from the previous immigration quotas demanded by voters in 2014, which temporarily put Switzerland’s EU relationship in jeopardy. Although the conditions at a regional level still need to be discussed, the government has indicated that local preference mechanisms will be implemented in any sector where unemployment exceeds 5 percent, Swiss-based residents will get a five-day, headstart on job applications, and employers will need to report all job vacancies to the local employment office, except for short-term jobs. Implementation is expected by 2018.
Swiss job vacancies and shortages
Switzerland may be a small country but it’s a nation with a highly skilled workforce (in hi-, micro- and bio-technology for example) and an important industrial nation, with half of all Swiss export revenue coming from mechanical/electrical engineering and the chemicals sector. It’s also one of the world’s major financial centres. So there are jobs for skilled workers in engineering and technology, pharmaceuticals, consulting, banking, insurance and IT, with financial analysts, business analysts and systems analysts in great demand. Engineering, for example, which experiences local shortages, is comprised of almost 40 percent of foreign workers.
Multi-national companies tend to be the major providers of jobs in Switzerland for foreigners and English speakers. Some of the world’s biggest multinationals are headquartered in Switzerland, including Nestlé, Novartis, Zurich Insurance, Roche, Credit Suisse, Adecco, Swiss Re and Glencore.
Many international organisations are also based in Switzerland, especially Geneva. You can look for work in Switzerland for foreigners at the United Nations, the World Trade Organisation, and the International Red Cross, as well as visit this list of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Geneva and elsewhere in Switzerland.
Swiss management culture
The Swiss appreciate sobriety, thrift, tolerance, punctuality and a sense of responsibility, and this is reflected in their business practices, which tend to be formal and conservative. The culture within a Swiss company can vary according to whether the company is in the French, German or Italian region of Switzerland. As a rule, the hierarchy tends to be vertical, with decisions being made at the top of the company. Companies in French and Italian areas may be more laid back than German areas. Meetings are task-orientated and rather impersonal; discussions are precise, cautious and can seem a little negative to some. The Swiss are considered tough but fair negotiators and humour has no place in negotiations. Keep your business and personal life separate: the Swiss don’t like to mix business with pleasure. Working hours are long: some 45 to 50 hours a week.
For more information, see Expatica’s guide to business culture in Switzerland.
Swiss work visas
Switzerland is not part of the EU but citizens from countries which are part of the EU or EFTA (European Free Trade Association) can come to Switzerland without a visa, move between cantons, look for work for up to three months and work without the need for a work permit – although if you’re planning to stay longer than three months you’ll need to register for a residence permit with the canton in which you’re living. There are further restrictions and quotas on Croatian, Bulgarian and Romanian citizens entering the labour market for the first time. For the latest information, see Expatica’s guide for EU citizens moving to Switzerland and the Federal Office for Migration (FOM).
It’s much harder for anyone else as there are strict quotas on jobs in Switzerland for foreigners, for example, employers have to prove the job can’t be done by a local and permits are limited to managers, specialists and those with higher educational qualifications. If you do get a Swiss job offer, your employer makes an application in the local canton who will forward it to the FOM for approval. If this is granted the FOM authorises the canton to send a visa clearance certificate to the Swiss embassy or consulate in your home country, where you can apply for a visa. For more information, see Expatica’s guide to Swiss work permits.
If you get a job with an international organisation, you don’t need a work permit but you’ll be issued with a special ID card (Identitätskarte or Carte de Légitimation).
Languages required for Swiss jobs
Switzerland has three main national languages: German-Swiss is the most widely spoken, especially in the centre and areas in the east; French is spoken in the west; and Italian in the south. While English is often spoken in the workplace, having some knowledge of these other languages will give you an advantage in the Swiss job market, as would being able to speak Russian or Mandarin.
A report in 2017 showed statistically that foreigners coming to work in Switzerland will find themselves in a German-Swiss working ennvironment, which is the case for some 42 percent of Swiss residents. However, the multilingual Swiss are increasingly adapting to the growing international workplace: twice as many people in Switzerland speak Swiss German or English at work than they do at home. Additionally, since 2000, the number of residents who do not speak any official Swiss language has more than doubled, or tripled since 1990, according to the Swiss statistics office.
After Italian, which is regarded as both a national and migrant language, the most frequently spoken foreign languages are English and Portuguese. English, however, is the most widely distributed foreign language in Switzerland, partly due to its status as the international language, followed closely by Albanian.
Qualifications to work in Switzerland
If you want to work in a regulated profession – health, teaching, technology, law and social work – in Switzerland, you’ll need to have your foreign qualifications recognised, even if you’re from the EU or EEA. If your occupation isn’t regulated you may still wish to get a ‘level certificate’ that provides Swiss employers with information about how your foreign qualification relates to the Swiss higher education system. You can find out more information and do this process through the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI).
Academic qualifications (not for regulated professions) from some countries are recognised via the Bologna Process. University qualifications (bachelor degrees and above but not those related to regulated professions) can also be recognised for work purposes through ENIC-NARIC.
Finding jobs in Switzerland
On Expatica’s listing of jobs in Switzerland, you’ll find a constantly updated list of Swiss jobs for foreigners and English speakers in different sectors across the country.
If you’re from the EU or EEA you can search for a job in Switzerland through EURES, the European Job Mobility Portal. This is maintained by the European Commission and designed to aid the freedom of movement within the European Economic Area. As well as looking for work, you can upload your CV, which can be viewed by prospective employers, as well as get advice on the legal and administrative issues involved in working in Switzerland.
Public employment services
The Regional Employment Centres (RAV/ORP/URC) in the different cantons throughout Switzerland will help EU/EEA citizens find work, you can register at your local office or look at current vacancies on their Job Area page.
Job websites in Switzerland
General jobs in Switzerland can be found on a number of websites, many of which advertise jobs in Switzerland for foreigners and in English:
Specialist jobs in Switzerland
- Alpha – for executives
- Euro Science Jobs – research and post-doc jobs
- Job Directory – banking and financial sector portal
- Robert Walters – accountancy and finance
- SwissLinx – executive, technology and finance
- Wiley – pharmaceutical
IT jobs in Switzerland
Jobs in Switzerland for English speakers
Despite Switzerland’s multilingual workforce, there is still demand for English-speakers in Switzerland. Jobs in Switzerland for English speakers are widely advertised, including on several of the job sites above, as well as on:
Recruitment agencies in Switzerland
It’s easy to register at any of the many private employment agencies in Switzerland. Private recruitment agencies are called Arbeitsvermittlung or agence de placement in Switzerland. Manpower and Adecco are two of the main agencies but you can many doing an internet search. You can also find a list of agencies who are licensed to work in this field here (in German).
Teaching jobs in Switzerland
Getting a job teaching English in Switzerland can be hard as many locals already speak it, but if you can find a teaching job in Switzerland the pay is good. You can find jobs on ETAS, i-to-i or with the British Council. Circle of Schools has jobs for English teachers in state schools but you must be either an EU citizen or married to one. You can also check international schools in Switzerland, language schools in Switzerland and Swiss universities.
Swiss jobs in newspapers
Jobs may be published in newspapers: look in the classifieds under stellentinserate in German, les offres d’emploi in French, or annunci di lavoro in Italian. The main newspapers with online job search tools include Basler Zeitung, Bund and Berner Zeitung, Handelsblatt, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, and Tages Anzeiger (Zurich), while you can also find printed job ads in Corriere del Ticino, Finanz und Wirtschaft, Le Temps (Geneva), HandelsZeitung, 24 Heures (Vaud) and Tribune de Genève (Geneva), sometimes on a specific day a week. You can find a full list of Swiss online newspapers here.
Swiss job vacancies are often filled through contacts, so networking can be key. Join professional networking sites such as LinkedIn, American International Club of Geneva, Organisation of Women in Trade: Geneva, Executives International, Career Women’s Forum, Irish Business Network and Business and Professional Woman (BPW), to name just a few.
Chambers of commerce (Wirtschaftskammer /Chambre économique) in each canton often organise networking events for professionals; find the contact details for each canton here. You can also try linking up with others in the same field through social networking sites like Meetup.
Make the first move – speculative job applications
Many jobs in Switzerland are filled by people contacting the company directly rather than through advertisements in the press or online. So check out Swiss firms to see what vacancies are being advertised or find out who to approach to make a speculative application. You’ll find up-to-date information on many Swiss companies on SwissFirms, a Swiss Chamber of Commerce website, and on the Federal Commercial Registry website. Make sure you address your CV and cover letter to the right person (and in the right language): look under Personalabteilungsleite (German) or Directeur de Ressources Humaines (French).
Applying for a job in Switzerland
When you have found a job, you’ll need to know how to put together a Swiss-style CV and cover letter to make sure your application gets the consideration it deserves. See Expatica’s guide on how to prepare your Swiss CV and covering letter, as well as what to expect in a Swiss job interview.