Switzerland can be a great place to invest, with a stable economy and strong business culture. Find out more with our guide.
There are many different forms of investment available in Switzerland, ranging from property to stocks and shares. The wealthy country is also a global financial hub, home to a flurry of billionaires. However, before you invest in Switzerland you will need to do your research, as you are likely to find that structures and tax implications differ from those in your home country.
This guide to investing in Switzerland includes advice on the following:
- Investment in Switzerland
- Savings account investments in Switzerland
- Pensions investments in Switzerland
- Property investments in Switzerland
- Business investments in Switzerland
- Investment funds in Switzerland
- Investing in stocks and shares in Switzerland
- Offshore investments in Switzerland
- Ethical and sustainable investing in Switzerland
- Other types of investment in Switzerland
- Tax on investments in Switzerland
- How to invest wisely in Switzerland
- Advice about investing in Switzerland
- Useful resources
Investment in Switzerland
Switzerland has a strong investment and business culture, but choosing the right way to invest your money is more complicated than it once was. This is because traditional forms of investment in Switzerland have become less attractive. For example, savings accounts have fallen victim to low or even negative interest rates, and high house prices mean buy-to-let investment requires more careful planning than before.
Apart from changes in the macro-economic picture, there are also changes in the investment culture in Switzerland. The country’s largest banks are looking to improve and promote their ethical credentials. And investors are taking greater note of sustainability before parting with their cash. In fact, in 2020, Switzerland saw double-digit growth in sustainability investing.
With that said, let’s run through your options.
Savings account investments in Switzerland
Savings accounts are available from national and regional banks in Switzerland. Historically, savings accounts allowed you to gain interest on your money, but they’re not as attractive as they once were.
Most banks in Switzerland no longer pay interest on money held in instant-access savings accounts. Data from the comparison site Moneyland shows that as of October 2021, the vast majority of interest-paying savings accounts only offer around 0.1%. Slightly higher rates up to 0.25% may be available on some junior and youth accounts. Some banks offer rates of up to 1%, but only if you lock your money up for 10 years. The downside to fixed-term accounts is that you’ll face a financial penalty if you withdraw the cash early.
It’s no longer attractive to keep large sums of money in a standard bank account or savings account. Indeed, some savers with large deposits may even find that they have to pay interest to their provider. In January 2021, UBS announced it would charge interest to clients with balances of more than CHF 250,000.
Pensions investments in Switzerland
The Swiss pension system is well-regarded, ranking 23 out of 70 countries in a 2020 Allianz report.
There are three pillars to the Swiss pension system: the state pension, company pensions, and private pensions. The state pension can be drawn upon reaching retirement age (65 for men, 64 for women). How much you’ll receive depends on how many years you’ve made contributions.
Company pensions (also known as occupational pensions) are common in Switzerland. Employees who earn at least CHF 21,330 from a Swiss employer must make contributions to an occupational pension. Employers top this up. Self-employed workers over the age of 20 must also pay into occupational pensions. You receive a percentage of your pension each year (6.8% in 2021) as set by law.
Private pensions are also available, but they’re not compulsory. Investing in private pensions in Switzerland allows you to supplement your income in retirement. Your contributions are largely tax-free and you can access your pension before the age of 65 for matters such as buying a property.
Property investments in Switzerland
Switzerland imposes strict rules on foreigners buying property. To qualify, you’ll need to be:
- An EU or EFTA national with a Swiss residence permit
- A permanent resident with a Swiss C Permit
- A temporary resident holding a work visa
However, do keep in mind that if you are on a temporary visa or B Permit, then you are not allowed to buy an investment property. In other words, you need to live in the property you buy.
House prices in Switzerland are steep, and they’re continuing to rise. Prices increased by 7% year-on-year in the second quarter of 2021 alone. Cities such as Zurich, Geneva, and Lausanne have some of the highest prices and most competitive markets. This means you might face significant competition when searching for a property.
Business investments in Switzerland
Switzerland is a great place to set up a business. The country is known for its innovation and start-ups are flourishing in the major cities. However, you will need to be a resident to start a business in Switzerland.
The complexity of setting up your business depends on the type of company you launch. Sole proprietorships and partnerships are relatively straightforward. To set up a corporation or limited liability company, however, you’ll need to provide evidence of having a minimum amount of shareholder equity to invest into the business.
If you’re considering setting up a business, it’s worth learning about how the business culture in Switzerland differs from your home country.
Investment funds in Switzerland
Putting your money into an investment fund is akin to buying shares in a company, but with a key difference. Investment funds provide a basket of investments that include lots of different companies. They are sometimes grouped by the type of asset you’re investing in (i.e corporate bonds or ethical companies). An investment manager chooses which companies to include in the fund, and trades them with a specific goal in mind. For example, a lower-risk investment fund will seek to track a market, while a higher-risk one will seek to outperform it.
Switzerland’s stable economy means it’s an attractive place to invest. The Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (FINMA) provides a list of authorized fund management companies, which will help you ensure you’re only using properly vetted organizations.
Investing in stocks and shares in Switzerland
When you invest in stocks and shares, you’re buying a stake in the future success of a company. Investing can be complicated, but it has become easier in the last decade, with online services opening up trading to novices as well as professionals. These services, called investment platforms, allow you to buy and sell shares in lots of different companies and keep them in one portfolio.
Investing in shares is more high-risk, high-reward than investing in funds picked by a manager. You can buy or sell stocks and shares whenever you want, but the stock market can be volatile, and an investment that performed well last month may not necessarily do so this month. Trading shares comes with a cost, so make sure you do your research and consider taking advice from an expert.
The Swiss Stock Exchange (SIX Swiss Exchange) features around 250 companies. Its main index is the Swiss Market Index (SMI), which tracks 20 of the largest Swiss companies, such as UBS, Zurich, and Swiss Life. These companies make up 80% of the Swiss equity market. Do keep in mind that stock performance will vary. Having said that, over a 15-year period the SMI provided an average return on investment of 5.42%.
The UK investment company Interactive Investor says the most commonly purchased Swiss shares on its platform in the second quarter of 2021 were Meyer Burger Technology, Roche (SIX:RO), Nestle, Dufry, and Roche (SIX:ROG).
Offshore investments in Switzerland
Switzerland is one of the most well-known offshore banking locations in the world, with many major providers offering offshore banking for non-residents. However, after deciding to enforce stricter residence checks and scrapping some preferential tax statuses, it is not considered the tax haven it used to be anymore.
Ethical and sustainable investing in Switzerland
The ethical investment industry is growing in Switzerland. It doesn’t come as a big surprise as the country’s wealth rests in great part on its taste for innovation. Investors are increasingly seeking to put their money in companies and funds that score highly on environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG).
Swiss companies tend to rank well on these measures, partly because they’re not heavily involved in sectors such as coal and nuclear power.
A study by the Swiss Sustainable Finance (SSD) association found that the volume of sustainable investment funds in Switzerland rose by 48% in 2020. This means they now account for more than half of the market.
At UBS, sustainable investments rose from 13.5% of assets in 2019 to 18.9% in 2020. Credit Suisse reported that the trend towards ESG and sustainability has “substantially accelerated” during the pandemic. It says that in many cases, sustainable investments achieved higher returns than non-sustainable ones.
Ethos, the Swiss Foundation for Sustainable Development, promotes socially responsible investments in Switzerland.
Other types of investment in Switzerland
Swiss government bonds and corporate bonds offer a steady way of investing, offering low-risk returns. The downside is that returns are currently very low, and you’re likely to have to invest a significant sum for a long time to make money.
Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs)
ETFs are similar to investment funds, but they’re traded on the stock market, so you can sell at any time. ETFs are designed to track an index, so they can be lower risk and lower reward than some other investment types. These investments are cheaper than traditional funds, but structures can be complicated, and it can be difficult to control exactly what you’re investing in.
Tax on investments in Switzerland
Whichever assets you invest in Switzerland, you’ll need to make sure you’re aware of the tax implications, as these can have a significant effect on the profitability of your portfolio.
When investing in property, you may need to pay property tax, depending on which canton you’re buying in. Cantons with high numbers of second homes and tourist resorts commonly charge this tax. Rates vary but are usually around 0.1% to 0.15% of the property’s value. You must also pay tax on the perceived rental value of the property, even if you don’t let it out. Finally, wealth taxes and capital gains tax (payable when you sell the property) may also apply. Capital gains tax may be higher if you’ve only owned the property for a short time.
Capital gains on assets such as shares are normally tax-exempt, as long as you’re trading as an individual and not as a professional dealer. However, do keep in mind that dividend income from investments is taxed in line with other income. As such, dividends from Swiss sources are subject to a tax of 35%.
How to invest wisely in Switzerland
It’s important to get to grips with the various rules and tax considerations before investing in Switzerland.
If you’re new to investing, consider low-volatility and low-risk investments while you’re getting to grips with the system. Buying and selling shares too often can quickly wipe out your profits, so proceed with caution.
Different types of investments come with different risks and levels of commitment, so think carefully about the best strategy for you before you invest in Switzerland. Our guide to investing as a hobby offers tips for those getting started. If you’ve got a lump sum to invest and are wondering how to grow your money, our guide to investing money abroad can help.
Advice about investing in Switzerland
Before investing money, consider taking advice from an expert. Our directory of financial advisors in Switzerland is a good starting point. You can also find an advisor through trade associations, such as the Swiss Association of Independent Financial Advisors (SAIFA) or the Swiss Registered Investment Advisor Association (SRIAA).