Consulting in Switzerland: What you Need to Know
As a consultant, there are many different factors within every assignment: the individuals, companies, project needs, and locations change each time. The majority of the time, those changes are fairly standard. However, when you receive an exciting new assignment in a country that has specific rules and regulations for consultants, there are crucial details that you need to be aware of. Switzerland is one of those countries that has unique regulations when working as a consultant. As Switzerland is not part of the EU, the regulations for independent contractors are quite strict but fair, so it’s imperative to understand these policies proactively. Consulting opportunities are hard to come by in Switzerland, it is a very desirable place to work due to its high average salaries, positive working conditions, and high standard of living, not to mention its natural beauty. If you decide to embrace a new consulting opportunity in Switzerland, there are several things you should know before embarking on a project in this country.
First, to work in a country like Switzerland, you will need to have a job offer already in place with an employer. Then, you must apply for permits. In some instances, if you are partnering with a recruiting company, they will take care of this process for you prior to your start date. Your initial work permit application is valid for three months and during that time, you will need to visit your local Gemeinde office to receive the physical document that is valid for the remainder of your contract. There are different levels of permits you can apply for depending on your unique scenario. The most common permit, the L permit, is allocated to consultants who have an end date on their contract. L permits mean you have a contract position to work for a specific length of time, which can be extended as long as your contract is. Another type of permit, G permits, can be applied for as a cross-border permit — these apply if you live in Germany, France, or Austria and want to work in Switzerland. A third type, B permits, are for employees who decide to work and reside in the country on a permanent basis. Lastly, C permits are a 10-year work permit which will allow you to do your own taxes at the end of each year. Work permits are specific to the Canton you live in, and Switzerland is divided into 26 Cantons. It is important to make sure your permit corresponds to where you are living at any given time. Before you begin employment in Switzerland, it is vital to understand which specific permit you need and the steps necessary in order to obtain the correct one.
Other things to consider when working in Switzerland or any new country include accommodation, transportation, and the working culture. Where will you live when you relocate to Switzerland? Many places require a three-month deposit when signing a lease for an apartment, and it can be difficult to find a suitable place as a contractor. Some employers work with housing developments which specialize in short-term housing for contractors. Ask your employer if there are options like this available for you. Once you’ve found a place to live, how will you get around? Consider whether the local public transport is adequate, or whether you’d prefer or need to obtain a car. In addition, it is important to understand what the working culture at your new placement will be like. Across the EU, the working culture varies considerably — whether it’s expected that you will be there 8am to 5pm five days a week, working remotely versus in-office, it’s crucial to go into a new work environment knowing the expectations and adapt accordingly.
The different financial considerations that come with moving to a new country for work are also important to acknowledge. What is the cost of living in your chosen location? The rates consultants are paid varies from country to country, so it’s important to ensure your pay will reflect the financial support you will need to maintain your lifestyle. In addition, after three months of arriving in Switzerland it is required to have health insurance, which is another financial cost to factor into your expenses. There is also the possibility that as a foreign citizen, you may not be able to acquire a bank account in Switzerland. Consider whether you will have to have the currency transferred to your home bank account, or whether you’ll be able to get one set up.
In Switzerland, individual tax is based on an annual declaration of income and assets, but most expats without a permanent resident status in Switzerland are taxed at source. Income tax is deducted at federal, cantonal, and communal level. Therefore, you might retain 60-70% of your income after taxes, so make sure to calculate that accordingly. As an independent contractor, there is a possibility you will have to pay taxes in your home country as well as within the country you are working. If you’re working with a recruiter, you can ask them to evaluate your expected earnings per month. They will be able to calculate taxes, insurances, pension, and monthly fees in order to give you a net figure to base your decision off of.
The language spoken within the company you are working for is another factor to keep in mind. Most global companies will allow English-only speakers, but some companies in Switzerland specifically request German, Italian, or French. For example, if you are an engineering contractor and you need to interact with local operators, they tend not to speak English fluently so you may be asked to speak German. Make sure the expectations of your employer are clear and you speak all of the languages you need to effectively communicate while on assignment.
Working as a consulting in Switzerland is a very detailed, multi-faceted opportunity, and it can be confusing to navigate on your own. That’s why it’s helpful to have a partner you can rely on to help you with the various regulations and considerations involved when navigating a new assignment in a new country.