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 introduced a Swiss retirement residency program.
Switzerland’s retirement benefits include a high standard of living, low taxes, excellent healthcare and many top Swiss attractions to keep an active lifestyle. On Natixis’ Global Retirement Index (GRI), 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 with Zurich, Geneva and Bern typically ranking as the world’s most expensive cities in Mercer’s annual Cost of Living survey, which means those planning on retiring in Switzerland must have ample budgets.
This guide explains how to retire in Switzerland, including an explanation of Switzerland’s retirement system, the retirement age in Switzerland, available pension schemes, healthcare for retirees, Swiss retirement taxes and tips on getting the most out of your Swiss 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.
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 thus freely relocate to Switzerland or work in Switzerland for up to 90 days without needing 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 type of visa, you must meet certain criteria, such as proving you have sufficient financial means to live in Switzerland and won’t become dependent on the Swiss welfare, as well as have valid Swiss health and accident insurance
Third-country nationals planning on retiring to Switzerland must meet different parameters – which sometimes mean that getting Swiss residency can be more difficult. In general, non EU-citizens who are older than 55 years can apply for a Swiss residence permit, but applications must be done through a Swiss consulate or embassy in the current country of residence prior to entering Switzerland.
Like EU/EFTA nationals, non-EU citizens will need to provide proof of 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, and 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 during your Swiss retirement, EU and non-EU retirees can then apply for a settlement or Swiss permanent residence permit. After 12 years, or sometimes sooner if individuals are married to a Swiss national, it is also possible to apply for Swiss citizenship. In both situations, however, applicants must show they have integrated socially and culturally in Switzerland and take a language proficiency test.
Inheritance implications for retiring in Switzerland
If you retire in Switzerland and pass away while there, you may be subject to inheritance tax but this is generally tax-free to spouses and your offspring. Individuals coming 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 will 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, so seeking legal advice from a professional is advised when drawing up a will or dealing with inheritance tax for you Switzerland retirement.
Retirement pensions in Switzerland
A vital part of retiring to Switzerland is ensuring an adequate pension income to support yourself while living there.
Individuals who have worked for at least one full year in Switzerland and made contributions into the Swiss retirement system, or Alters- und Hinterlassenenversicherung (AHV) or Old-Age-Survivors Insurance, may be eligible to draw a Swiss state pension.
This can be drawn on reaching the legal retirement age in Switzerland, which is 65 for men and 64 women, and the amount will depend 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.
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 will have to support yourself financially by other means.
Taxes for retiring in Switzerland
Switzerland’s status as a tax haven is derived from its 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 become a Swiss resident, you will be typically required to declare all your worldwide assets which may be subject to Swiss taxes. Read more in Expatica’s guide on taxes in Switzerland.
Like many countries, Switzerland recognises pension income as taxable income, although the rate you will be taxed depends on the canton and the sum of pension income. Switzerland has a number of bilateral agreements with many EU and non-EU countries that prevent double taxes on pensions, with income only being taxed in the country of residence.
As a foreigner retiring in Switzerland, there is also the option to pay a lump-sum tax on entering the country. 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 due to recent votes, which have resulted in it being abolished in Zürich, Schaffhausen, Appenzell Ausserrhoden, Basel-City and Basel-Land.
In addition to income tax, 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 will depend on the individual regulations and tax rules of the canton where you reside.
However, the transfer of wealth through inheritance is tax-free to spouses in all cantons, which is usually also the case with offspring and potentially direct ancestors. Capital gains tax is generally applied to profit made from the sale of real estate, but doesn’t typically apply to capital gained through stocks and 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 are typically required to show proof of valid health and accident insurance from an authorised provider 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 must make monthly payments and your insurance will stipulate your annual deductible amount, which is the amount you pay yourself towards medical costs. Swiss health insurance also includes a retention fee, whereby the individual must contribute 10 percent towards the insurer’s cost, capped at CHF 700 for adults and CHF 350 for children per year. In addition to the deductible and retention fees, individuals are also expected to pay hospital contributions of around CHF 15 per day.
The prices of Swiss health insurance vary depending on each insurer, the canton, your individual circumstances and the level of cover you choose. 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 are typically covered by their employer but for non-working individuals, such as expats retiring in Switzerland, it will be necessary to 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 a information on health insurance and accident insurance, including tools to find authorised insurance companies in your canton.
Transferring an international pension to Switzerland
A major concern for expats retiring in Switzerland is gaining access to their foreign pensions, especially if you aren’t eligible for a Swiss pension or don’t have sufficient financial means for life in Switzerland.
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, depending on whether Switzerland has a social security agreement with the country your pension is coming from. 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 tax advice for US citizens. in US citizens.
To transfer an overseas state pension, you must first notify your current pension authority with your planned change of address in Switzerland so they can check if a bilateral agreement exists. Transferring an EU/EFTA state pension to Switzerland from any number of member countries is accepted. If your pension is coming from outside the EU/EFTA area, it may take longer to coordinate your pension payments in Switzerland.
For occupational and private pension investments, many providers, as a rule, won’t pay a pension to another country and may impose restrictions and regulations if you move abroad. So be sure to check with your own pension provider.
There are still options if you can’t transfer your pension payments abroad, the first being to retain a bank account in the country you receive your pension funds, and later organising a bank transfer to a Swiss bank account. Read how to open a open a Swiss bank account.
Alternatively, it may also be possible to transfer your pension investments into an offshore pension scheme, such as QROPS which is available for British nationals retiring to Switzerland from the UK. These schemes must be approved by the UK tax authority HMRC and meet their regulations.
These types of offshore pension schemes can offer greater 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 having to buy into an annuity fund and can be withdrawn as lump sums, while also offering favourable tax benefits such as no double taxation and lower inheritance tax. Read how to make QROPS for you.
In any case, it’s advisable to seek professional financial advice to make sure you’re aware of all implications, including tax implications on your pension amount.
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 following 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 several Swiss cities typically ranking in global reports of the most expensive cities. Before you make a final decision, consider if your budget allows a comfortable Swiss retirement.
Plan for adventure
There is an abundance to top places to see and activities to do in Switzerland as its location in Europe’s centre and excellent infrastructure puts the rest of Europe at your doorstep via car, train, aeroplane 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 and the Swiss legal system or read the top 35 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 language school, head to the local bar or get involved in expat communities. On Expatica’s Out and About section are various ideas, expat clubs and groups you can join in Switzerland’s different cantons.
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.