Retiring in Switzerland: a guide for expats | Expatica
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Last update on November 04, 2020

Attracted to retiring in Switzerland? This guide explains the implications of retiring to Switzerland as an expat, including the retirement age in Switzerland, pension taxes, and Swiss retirement benefits.

When planning the final chapter of your life, many expats see retiring in Switzerland as a top choice. A growing number of expats are retiring to Switzerland, to a point that the Swiss government has a Swiss retirement residency program.

Switzerland’s retirement benefits include a high standard of living, low taxes, excellent healthcare, and many Swiss attractions to keep an active lifestyle. On Natixis’ Global Retirement Index, Switzerland consistently ranks as one of the best places to retire in the world. Switzerland, however, is also one of the more expensive retirement destinations; Zurich, Geneva, and Bern typically rank as the world’s most expensive cities in Mercer’s annual Cost of Living Survey. You can compare Switzerland’s cost of living.

This guide explains how to retire in Switzerland, including an explanation of the retirement system, pension schemes, healthcare for retirees, retirement taxes, and getting the most out of your retirement.

Who can retire in Switzerland?

Switzerland has a relatively open policy for retirees wishing to settle. Foreign nationals must, however, meet certain criteria to receive Swiss residency for retiring in Switzerland. These requirements vary depending on your nationality and the Swiss canton you wish to live.

An elderly couple enjoying the views in the Swiss Alps

Switzerland is divided into 26 cantons or regions, which have autonomy over immigration in their region. This means that each foreigner must have their residency approved by the relevant Swiss canton office.

For citizens from the European Union (EU) or European Free Trade Association (EFTA – Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway), the process is relatively straightforward due to bilateral agreements for freedom of movement. EU/EFTA nationals can freely relocate to Switzerland for up to 90 days without a visa. However, for those planning to stay longer, all EU/EFTA nationals must register with their local Swiss canton office within 14 days of arrival and apply for a non-working residency permit.

To apply for this visa, you must have sufficient financial means as well as valid Swiss health and accident insurance.

Requirements for non-Europeans

Third-country nationals planning on retiring to Switzerland must meet different parameters; this sometimes means that getting Swiss residency can be more difficult. In general, non-EU citizens older than 55 years can apply for a Swiss residence permit. Applications must be done through a Swiss consulate or embassy where you live.

Non-EU citizens must prove the following:

  • adequate financial resources to support life in Switzerland
  • valid Swiss health and accident insurance cover
  • proof that they are no longer pursuing gainful employment
  • demonstrate a close connection to Switzerland, such as frequent trips, family members living in Switzerland, past residency or real estate (owning Swiss property is sometimes not enough to demonstrate ‘close ties’ to the country)

Each case is dealt with on an individual basis. The decision is down to the discretion of the cantonal office and your individual circumstances. For more information on applying for the

After residing in Switzerland for 10 continuous years, retirees can then apply for a settlement or Swiss permanent residence permit. After 12 years (or sooner if you’re married to a Swiss national), you can apply for Swiss citizenship. In both situations, however, applicants must show they integrated socially, linguistically, and culturally in Switzerland.

Inheritance implications for retiring in Switzerland

If you retire in Switzerland and pass away there, you may be subject to inheritance tax. This is generally tax-free to spouses and your children. Individuals from countries with bilateral agreements with Switzerland, however, may have to pay inheritance tax in their home countries instead.

You should also check which inheritance laws apply to your assets. Usually, if you have a will that has been drawn up in your country of citizenship – even if it covers assets in Switzerland and worldwide – Swiss authorities will defer to the law of the country of nationality.

There are exceptions, however; get legal advice from a professional when drawing up a will.

Pensions in Switzerland

A vital part of retiring to Switzerland is ensuring an adequate pension income to support yourself while living there.

Individuals who worked at least one full year in Switzerland and contributed to the Swiss retirement system, or Alters- und Hinterlassenenversicherung (AHV) or Old-Age-Survivors Insurance, may be eligible to draw a state pension in Switzerland.

This can be drawn on reaching the legal retirement age in Switzerland (65 for men, 64 for women). The amount depends on the number of years and amount contributed. It may also be possible to withdraw funds from occupational or private pension insurance schemes in which you participated.

Retirees hiking in the Swiss Alps

For early retirement in Switzerland, those who have contributed to their AHV pension can withdraw it 1–2 years ahead of time. Employees who have an occupational pension can only retire early if their pension fund’s regulations allows early retirement. The earliest Switzerland retirement age is set at 58, although exceptions exist. Find more information in our guide to Swiss pensions.

If you haven’t lived and worked in Switzerland or don’t meet the minimum qualifying period for AHV, you must support yourself financially by other means.

Taxes for retiring in Switzerland

Switzerland’s status is, in essence, a tax haven. The country has relatively low tax rates, which can make your pension income go a bit further. But it’s important to understand the Swiss tax system and the tax system in other countries where you have pension funds. Once you move to Switzerland, you typically must declare your worldwide assets subject to Swiss taxes. Read more in Expatica’s guide on taxes in Switzerland.

Switzerland recognizes pension income as taxable income. The tax rate depends on the canton and the sum of pension income. Switzerland has a number of agreements with many countries that prevent double taxes on pensions. In this case, taxes only apply in the country of residence.

As a foreigner, you can also pay a lump-sum tax while entering Switzerland. This allows individuals to request their Swiss taxes be based on an estimated living allowance for expenses, as opposed to their actual income and net wealth taxed at the current rate. However, this isn’t available in all cantons; cantons that forbid this include Zürich, Schaffhausen, Appenzell Ausserrhoden, Basel-City, and Basel-Land.

Retirees in Switzerland may also be subject to other Swiss taxes, such as inheritance and gift tax and capital gains tax on wealth and assets; although, much of this depends on the canton.

However, the transfer of wealth through inheritance is tax-free to spouses in all cantons. This is usually also the case with offspring and direct ancestors. Capital gains tax generally applies to profits from real estate but doesn’t typically apply to capital from stocks or bonds.

Healthcare and insurance for retiring to Switzerland

The country renowned for offering world-class Swiss healthcare, which is an attractive selling point for expats retiring to Switzerland. However, this exceptional Swiss healthcare comes at the expense of compulsory Swiss health insurance, required for all official Swiss residents.

Foreign nationals typically must prove valid health and accident insurance when applying for a Swiss residency permit. After your residency is approved, you have three months to purchase compulsory health insurance and accident insurance upon entering Switzerland.

After registering for Swiss health insurance, you make monthly payments. Your insurance stipulates your annual deductible amount. Swiss health insurance also includes a retention fee, whereby the individual must contribute 10% towards the insurer’s cost, capped at CHF 700 for adults and CHF 350 for children per year. Individuals also pay hospital contributions of around CHF 15 per day.

The prices of Swiss health insurance vary widely. You can also purchase supplementary health insurance that may cover you for treatments that aren’t included in the basic health insurance.

In addition to health insurance, all Swiss residents must have accident insurance to cover medical costs in the eventuality of an occupational or non-occupational accident. Employees typically get coverage from their employer but for non-working individuals, you must take out a personal insurance policy and pay a monthly premium or add it as a supplement to a private insurance plan.

For more details on Swiss healthcare for retirees, see Expatica’s guides on the Swiss healthcare system and Swiss healthcare insurance. The Swiss goverment also provides information on health insurance and accident insurance, including tools to find authorized insurance companies in your canton.

Transferring an international pension to Switzerland

A major concern for expats retiring in Switzerland is accessing their foreign pensions.

It is possible to transfer overseas pension funds to Switzerland, which includes state pension and personal pension funds. However, your pensions may be subject to certain Swiss tax implications. It can also affect certain pension benefits you might receive if you stay in your home country; for example, UK pension credits are not payable in Switzerland. Read Expatica’s guide to the Swiss social security system.

If you’re an expat retiring to Switzerland from US, double taxation can apply. Read about filing US income taxes abroad.

To transfer a state pension, notify your pension authority with your address change. Transferring an EU/EFTA state pension to Switzerland from many countries is possible. If your pension is from outside the EU/EFTA, it may take longer to coordinate your pension payments.

For occupational and private pension investments, many providers won’t pay another country; in fact, they may impose restrictions if you move abroad.

There are still options if you can’t transfer your pension payments abroad. You could retain a bank account where you receive your pension and then transfer it to Switzerland. Read how to open a open a Swiss bank account.

Retirees sitting at an outdoor café in Stein am Rhein

Alternatively, you could transfer your pension investments into an offshore pension scheme, such as QROPS which is available for British nationals. These schemes must be approved by the UK tax authority HMRC.

Offshore pension schemes offer flexibility for accessing your funds, which may also have more lenient regulations, such as taking funds before the Swiss retirement age. They also negate you buying into an annuity fund and can be withdrawn as lump sums, while also offering favorable tax benefits such as no double taxation and lower inheritance tax.

Tips and advice for retiring in Switzerland

To fully enjoy retiring to Switzerland, it is important to prepare your move in advance, keeping in mind these tips.

Make sure you’re comfortable

Switzerland can offer retirees a fantastic quality of life through its rich culture, great outdoors and many Swiss retirement benefits, such as good healthcare – but it all comes at a price, with a high cost of living in Switzerland and several cities ranking as the world’s most expensive. Before you make a final decision, consider if your budget allows a comfortable Swiss retirement.

Plan for adventure

There is an abundance to places to see in Switzerland and exciting Swiss festivals as its location in Europe’s center and excellent infrastructure puts the rest of Europe at your doorstep via car, train, airplane, and even by boat down the Danube. Being physically fit and healthy will also go a long way in joining the outdoor Swiss lifestyle.

As safe as can be

Famous for being neutral, Switzerland is one of the safest places you can live, with very low crime rates and political stability. You can read about crime in Switzerland or read some interesting facts about Switzerland to discover the big impact this small country has.

Immerse yourself in society

Moving abroad can leave expats feeling culture shock, isolated and lonely at first. Putting yourself in the community is important, whether you join a local sports group or Swiss language school, head to the local bar, or get involved in expat communities.

Best places to retire in Switzerland

Switzerland has a lot to offer retirees who have sufficient funds to enjoy its services. But despite being one of the more expensive countries to live in the world, some Swiss regions are cheaper than others. Read the following section and our guide on the best Swiss cities to live in for expats to gain insight on where you see yourself retiring in Switzerland.

Canton of Vaud

If you want to be in a picturesque part of Switzerland, but not too far from a big city, then Canton of Vaud is a good choice for retiring in Switzerland. Located in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, the city of Lausanne sits on the coast of Lake Geneva with all the convenience of Geneva just a 45-minute drive away, yet still offering the peace and tranquillity of a more rural location.

Canton of Zurich

If finances aren’t an issue, then the city of Zurich and its surrounding regions deliver an outstanding quality of life, only surpassed by Vienna according to the recent Mercer Quality of Life report. It’s a city buzzing with culture and some of the best healthcare and cultural attractions, accompanied by a moderate climate with cool winters and warm summers.

Canton of Zug

One of the smallest cantons, Zug delivers epic natural scenery and some of the lowest tax rates in Switzerland, making it the ideal place for retirees planning for an affordable and quiet Swiss retirement.

Canton of Appenzell Ausserrhoden

Another small canton bursting with opportunities is the Canton of Appenzell Ausserrhoden. Surrounded by mountains and lakes, affordable housing, low crime rates, and great healthcare, it’s a top choice for retiring in Switzerland.

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