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.
This guide to finding work in Switzerland contains sections on:
- Work in Switzerland
- How to find jobs in Switzerland
- Self-employment and freelancing in Switzerland
- Traineeships, internships and volunteering in Switzerland
- Applying for a job in Switzerland
- Support while looking for a job in Switzerland
- Requirements to work in Switzerland
- Starting a job in Switzerland
- Useful resources
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Work in Switzerland
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.
Job market in Switzerland
The Swiss economy is stable and the Swiss unemployment rate is one of the lowest in the world, standing at 4.3% in March 2020. However, foreigners account for almost half of those who are officially without work.
Cross-border workers also continue to play an important role in Switzerland, with some 332,177 cross-border workers active in Switzerland in the three months to the end of June 2020.
High-skilled and professional industries play a strong role in the Swiss economy, with some of the biggest sectors including chemicals, banking, insurance, pharmaceuticals, watch manufacturing and food retail. The Swiss government has information on key Swiss sectors on its website.
Many large multinationals have based themselves in Switzerland, largely due to favorable Swiss tax conditions. Nestle is the largest company in Switzerland in terms of number of employees, with 323,000 workers. Other large firms include:
- Glencore International
- Credit Suisse
Since 2017, the Swiss government has restricted the number of non-EU/EFTA foreign workers in the country. The quotas undergo a review each year; there are 8,500 for 2020.
Job vacancies in Switzerland
Switzerland may be a small country but it’s a nation with a highly-skilled workforce (in high-, micro- and biotechnology 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 centers. 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.
As of September 2019, Switzerland had 79,000 job vacancies. Sectors experiencing the greatest skills shortages are:
- technical (e.g., heating, ventilation, air conditioning technicians)
- medicine and pharmaceutical
Job salaries in Switzerland
Salaries in Switzerland are the highest not just among EU/EFTA countries but anywhere in the world. The gross median Swiss wage in 2018 was CHF 6,538. This varies across regions, with the highest average in Zurich (CHF 6,965) and the lowest in Ticino (CHF 5,363).
Switzerland has no official minimum wage, however, the law contains clauses on minimum compensation for workers. These are currently between CHF 2,200–4,200 a month for unskilled workers and CHF 2,800–5,300 for skilled workers.
See even more in our guide to average salaries in Switzerland.
Work culture in Switzerland
The Swiss appreciate sobriety, thrift, tolerance, punctuality, and a sense of responsibility, and they reflect this 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 regions of Switzerland.
As a rule, the hierarchy tends to be vertical, with decision-making taking place at the top of the company. Companies in French and Italian areas may be more laid back than German areas. Meetings focus on tasks and are rather impersonal; discussions are precise, cautious, and can seem a little negative to some. The Swiss are tough but fair negotiators and humor has no place in negotiations. Working hours can be long: some 45 to 50 hours a week.
Labor laws and labor rights in Switzerland
Swiss workers get a minimum of four weeks of holiday a year, plus public holidays. For workers aged under 20, this extends to five weeks a year.
Most employees will receive a written employment contract. This contract details employment rights, including conditions of termination of contract. The notice period for either party is in the contract. If not, the Code of Obligations regulates the minimum period which stands at:
- Seven calendar days during any probation or trial period;
- One month during the first year of employment;
- Two months between years 2-9 of employment;
- Three months for 10 years and above.
The maximum number of working hours per week is 45 hours for industrial workers and 50 hours for all other employees.
How to find 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 a European Commission site aids the freedom of movement within the European Economic Area. As well as looking for work, you can upload your CV, which prospective employers can view, 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
You can find general jobs in Switzerland 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
- Robert Walters – accountancy and finance
- SwissLinx – executive, technology and finance
- Diversity – pharmaceutical
IT jobs in Switzerland
Jobs at international organizations
Many international organizations 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 organizations in Geneva and elsewhere 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 find many more doing an internet search. You can also find a list of agencies who are licensed to work in this field in the Swiss Yellow Pages.
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.
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 Handelsblatt and Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 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:
- American International Club of Geneva
- Organisation of Women in Trade: Geneva
- Executives International
- Career Women’s Forum
- Irish Business Network
- Business and Professional Woman (BPW)
Chambers of commerce (Wirtschaftskammer /Chambre économique) in each canton often organize 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 go to people contacting the company directly rather than through advertisements in the press or online. So check out Swiss firms to see the latest vacancies 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.
Self-employment and freelancing in Switzerland
An alternative employment option in Switzerland is to set up you own business, however you will need to have Swiss residency to run a Swiss company as an owner or director. The number of self-employed in Switzerland has been slowly declining in recent years, with just under 13% of the total population classified as self-employed. Around 8% of the foreign workforce is self-employed.
If you are able to do this, you can set up as either a sole trader/unlimited company or a limited company that exists as its own legal entity and has to pay Swiss corporation tax.
Traineeships, internships, and volunteering in Switzerland
The EU offers traineeships for university graduates via the European Commission Traineeships Office (Bureau de Stages), otherwise, you can get internships or summer placements through AIESEC (for students and recent graduates from the UK) or IAESTE (for students in science, engineering and applied arts). You can also find internships at Globalplacement and Intern Abroad.
For those aged between 17 and 30, the European Voluntary Service (EVS) runs voluntary programs where you work abroad for up to 12 months in exchange for board, food, insurance, and a small allowance. Concordia is another organization for volunteer opportunities.
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. Some jobs may go the alternative route of application and personal statement, but the general requirements in terms of content remain the same.
Interviews with Swiss employers are broadly similar to those in countries such as the US and the UK, especially with big multinational firms. Some of the questions employers ask at interviews may be more personal than you’re used to, for example, “Are you married?” or “Do you have children?” but it’s generally stuff that’s straightforward to answer.
With some larger companies, the application process may involve psychometric testing and assessment. This usually occurs at the interview stage.
Preparation for Swiss job interviews is similar to elsewhere. Dress smartly, research the company in advance so that you are prepared and have some good questions, and keep your behavior formal without becoming too stiff or characterless.
If the company offers you the job, you will need to provide 2-3 good job or character references from previous employers, managers or college tutors.
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.
Support while looking for a job in Switzerland
Swiss residents can claim unemployment insurance after five days of unemployment, however, you must have been working and paying contributions for at least 12 months in the last two years to be eligible.
This means that anyone who moves to Switzerland will need to have either a job, another form of regular income, or savings to support themselves.
Switzerland has a good range of continuous vocational training as well as career counseling available. Find out more on the government website or enquire with your local canton.
Find out more in our guide to Swiss social security.
Requirements to work in Switzerland
Work visas in Switzerland
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. For even more information, see Expatica’s guide for EU citizens moving to Switzerland and the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM).
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.
Language requirements to work in Switzerland
Switzerland has four main national languages: Swiss-German is the most widely spoken, especially in the center 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 environment, which is the case for some 42% 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.
You can find many language schools in Switzerland if you need to improve your language skills.
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 recognized for work purposes through ENIC-NARIC.
Tax and social security numbers in Switzerland
Since 2008, all Swiss residents have been issued with a 13-digit social security number (AHV number). The number is used for all social insurance purposed and you will need it, for example, to claim social security.
You should receive your AHV number shortly after starting work in Switzerland.
Starting a job in Switzerland
Once you have found and started a job in Switzerland, you will probably initially be on a probation period. This is usually between 1-3 months, depending on your employment contract.
You will need to make sure that you are enrolled for a social security scheme that will entitle you to a Swiss pension among other benefits. Your employer should also enroll you in insurance schemes for work accidents and employers’ liability.
Some employers may also offer you the chance to opt-in on a company pension to top up your state pension benefit.