Expats in Switzerland have to take out compulsory social insurance to access the Swiss social security system, in exchange for certain benefits.
Various forms of Swiss social security protect expats living and working in Switzerland, and their dependant family. Switzerland has a close-knit network of different types of social insurance, which offer those living and working in Switzerland, and their dependents, a broad protection against risks whose financial consequences could not be covered without insurance.
Overview of social security in Switzerland
If you are an expat living or working in Switzerland, you will have to pay contributions into Swiss insurance schemes to access the Swiss social security system. In return, you can claim healthcare, unemployment benefit, long-term sick pay, maternity benefit, a pension and other social benefits in Switzerland.
Each person is insured individually and contributions are based on a percentage of your salary. With the exception of health insurance, if you are in paid employment, your employer usually pays half, and the rest is directly deducted from your salary. Employees are automatically covered for accident insurance. If you are self-employed you must take out your own social insurance.
In Switzerland, there is no nationwide social security scheme. The responsibility is shared between the federal and individual cantonal authorities, which means that how social security is organised varies according to where you live. Unemployment insurance and family allowances are handled by the cantons; all other social security is the responsibility of the Federal Office for Social Insurance (part of the Federal Department for Home Affairs).
The Swiss social security system is divided into several areas:
- state healthcare and insurance;
- protection against the consequences of work-related illness and accidents;
- unemployment benefits;
- income compensation in case of maternity, and family allowances;
- pensions: old-age, survivors’ and invalidity insurance (the three-pillar system).
Social security for expats in Switzerland
You must take out insurance for yourself and your family once you are resident in Switzerland. Although, Switzerland has bilateral social security agreements with 44 other countries. These usually cover sickness insurance, family allowances, accident insurance, invalidity and pensions. They do not cover unemployment insurance, occupational benefits plans and social welfare. In some cases you may be able to have your contributions reimbursed. Contact the social security authority in your home country for more information.
Health insurance in Switzerland
Everyone living in Switzerland has to take out basic health insurance (KV) with a Swiss insurance company, regardless of nationality. This applies even if you will be living in Switzerland for less than three months unless you have comparable insurance cover valid in Switzerland or a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). If you are from the European Union (EU) or European Free Trade Association (EFTA) states and working but not resident in Switzerland you will also need insurance.
You are only exempt if you are a pensioner drawing a pension in an EU/EFTA state, working in a EU/EFTA state, a student with comparable insurance or an employee of an embassy, consulate or international organisation. Some cross-border workers living in EU states can take out insurance in the EU country instead of Switzerland.
To get a wider view of Swiss healthcare and health insurance, read Expatica’s guide to healthcare in Switzerland.
What health insurance in Switzerland covers
The basic health insurance covers illness and maternity care, and accidents if the person has no other insurance cover.
Contributions to health insurance in Switzerland
You have three months from your arrival in Switzerland to purchase a policy from the insurer of your choice. All health insurance companies must offer the same basic benefits and you can take out supplementary insurance for optional benefits.
You have to pay contributions yourself; how much you pay depends on your age, where you live (your canton) and your insurer. You can reduce premiums by agreeing to restrict your choice of doctor/hospital or by paying more towards your share of the treatment (deductible). You get also a reduction in health insurance premiums if you are on a low income – the canton may contact you after you have filed a tax return or you may need to request a reduction.
Accidents insurance in Switzerland
Accident insurance (UV) is compulsory for all employees and optional for self-employed workers. If you work at least eight hours a week your employer will insure you for accidents at work and work-related illness.
What accident insurance in Switzerland covers
Accident insurance covers your medical expenses for accidents at work, work-related illness and non-work accidents for employees working at least eight hours a week. Insurance is provided by the Swiss Accident Insurance Fund or other authorised funds.
If you have an accident you must tell your employer as soon as possible. The company will inform the insurer and they will send you a form to complete. You may be able to get up to 80 percent of your wages for a certain period. These vary so ask your employer about the rules which apply to you.
Contributions to accident insurance in Switzerland
The employer pays the premiums but you can pay additional contributions to cover non-work accidents. The maximum insured income is CHF 126,000.
Unemployment insurance in Switzerland
If you are employed in Switzerland you must be covered by unemployment insurance. The self-employed must make their own arrangements.
Unemployment insurance can cover a range issues; some examples include loss of employment, shortened working hours, lack of employment due to weather conditions or insolvency on the part of the employer. This insurance might also cover re-integration measures.
What unemployment insurance in Switzerland covers
After five days of unemployment, you can claim 70 percent of your average earnings over the previous six months to a year. You must have earned at least CHF 500 per month to qualify and wages are capped at CHF 10,500 per month. The money is paid at a benefit payment office.
To claim, you must have Swiss residency, a work permit and have been in employment and paying unemployment contributions for 12 months in the two years before requesting benefits. You must register with the employment office (RAV) on the first day of unemployment and be actively seeking work. To find work, see our guide to finding jobs in Switzerland, Zurich or Basel.
Contributions to unemployment insurance in Switzerland
You and your employee each pay half of the contributions, which are about 2 percent of your salary; your share is deducted from your gross salary by your employer and paid into the fund on your behalf.
For more information on unemployment insurance (ALV), consult the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) website.
Maternity benefit and family allowances in Switzerland
All women living or working in Switzerland can claim paid maternity leave and benefits so long as you have had social insurance for nine months prior to the birth, have worked for five months during your pregnancy and are still employed/self-employed at the time of the birth. You can read more about having a baby in Switzerland.
Maternity leave in Switzerland is 98 days (14 weeks) and mothers are paid 80 percent of their salary as a daily allowance up to a maximum of CHF 196 a day. You can also claim for compensation for loss of earnings due to maternity leave. Contact your cantonal compensation office for more information. Here are some of the forms to apply.
Family allowance is based on your country of residence, so even foreign residents in Switzerland can claim Swiss family rebates. Children of married or unmarried parents, adopted children, children of a spouse/registered partner, foster children and grandchildren if they are dependent on the beneficiary are entitled to benefits.
Both employees and self-employed workers are entitled to family allowances (FZ) such as child and education allowances, and sometimes adoption and birth allowances, but must pay contributions. Your cantonal compensation office can provide all the details.
If you are not in paid employment, you can still claim family allowances provided your annual income does not exceed some CHF 42,300 (this threshold may vary depending on the canton).
Federal family law (set in 2009) specifies a child benefit of at least CHF 200 and an education allowance of at least CHF 250, although the cantons may grant benefits that are higher than the legal minimum plus extra allowances, such as birth or adoption allowance. There are different conditions and allowances for agricultural workers; find your local cantonal compensation office to ask details.
Otherwise, benefits take the form of family allowances of at least:
- CHF 200 per child, per month for children up to the age of 16 (or 20 if the child isn’t gainfully employed);
- education allowances for 16–25 year olds still in education of at least CHF 250 per child, per month.
Claiming your family allowances
Family allowances are not paid automatically, you have to apply for them. You may also be eligible to claim up to five years of arrears.
Employees must send an application to their employers to claim their family allowances. The employer will forward your application to the relevant family compensation fund. If the application is approved by the compensation fund, the employer pays the allowance every month along with your salary.
Self-employed workers need to contact their family compensation fund to apply for family allowances.
Unemployed persons must apply to their cantonal family compensation fund, which is run by the cantonal OASI compensation funds (pension funds).
Pension insurance in Switzerland
All employees, self-employed and anyone unemployed over the age of 20 must participate in the old-age, survivors’ and disability insurance (OASI/DI) scheme up until retirement age. You can read more on how the Swiss pension system is structured.
If you are only working in Switzerland for a few months you might be exempt, especially if your home country has a bilateral pension agreement with Switzerland. These allow you to draw a Swiss pension in your home country but they cannot be transferred to a pension scheme in another country or be refunded. If your country does not have an agreement, your contributions will be refunded when you leave Switzerland.
If you earn more than CHF 21,150 you are automatically insured by a pension fund into an occupational benefit plan.
The self-employed or those working for three months or less can join voluntarily. You can also choose to take out a private pension.
What the pension schemes in Switzerland cover
The OASI/DI covers the state pension, which you can draw from the age of 65 (men) and 64 (women) so long as you have been contributing to the scheme for at least a year, and disability pension. Here are some of the application forms.
An occupational benefit plan allows retirees to achieve a pension of around 60 percent of final salary and also insures against the risk of death and invalidity.
With a private pension scheme, the amount of pension and when you get it depends on the individual scheme.
Contributions to the Swiss pension insurance schemes
Contributions into the OASI/DI insurance are split equally between you and your employer and deducted from your gross salary. In 2015, the total contribution was around 10 percent of gross salary.
If you’re self-employed, a part-time worker or unemployed and over 20, you must make your own contributions.
Foreign students living in Switzerland only pay a flat fee of CHF 480 per year from the age of 20 up until the age of 25.
Employee and employer make joint contributions into occupational benefit plans. The amount varies from fund to fund but the employer must pay at least the same amount into the fund as the employee.
How much you pay into a private pension scheme depends on the individual scheme but you can deduct a certain amount of your contributions from taxable income.