Geneva has a strong, service-oriented economy. The overwhelming majority of people are employed in the tertiary sector. Geneva is among the top financial centers in the world, with many local employees working in Geneva’s private banking industry, in commodity trade and international trade financing.
Another major part of the tertiary sector is, of course, the tourism and hotel industry. It generates a significant share of the region’s wealth, providing plenty of employment opportunities.
Geneva’s manufacturing industry constitutes merely a small part of the metropolitan economy. Nevertheless, Geneva’s secondary sector can boast some brand names: Rolex, Omega, and other traditional makers of quality watches are still working in Geneva these days.
Geneva owes its nickname of “Peace Capital” to the many international organizations which have their headquarters or offices in the city. As early as 1919, Geneva was the seat of the League of Nations, an organization born out of the Paris Peace Conference and a precursor to the United Nations.
Today, the UN has its European headquarters in the city. Among the many sub-organizations of the United Nations, the following are based in Geneva:
Other international organizations that employ many foreigners working in Geneva include the World Trade Organization, the World Economic Forum, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the International Organization for Migration, and the European Broadcasting Union.
Everyone working in Geneva must pay taxes on at least two levels: to the Swiss Federation and the Canton of Geneva. Some taxes levied in Geneva are also due on the local community level.
Despite all these regulations, Switzerland is a low-tax economy compared to other European countries. Swiss citizens working in Geneva must submit an annual declaration detailing all their income and assets.
Foreign employees working in Geneva, on the other hand, are usually taxed at source. They pay a withholding tax on their income, which is directly deducted from their salary. It accounts for their federal and cantonal income tax. Foreign residents who have been living and working in Geneva long enough to acquire the right to settlement will be taxed like Swiss citizens.
Expats are eligible for certain tax benefits in form of an expat flat rate deducted from their taxable income. Supposed to account for the higher costs of the expat life-style, the expatriate flat rate is calculated on the basis of average expenses associated with relocation, travel, and maintaining a second domicile. Obviously, only expats working in Geneva whose employer does not cover these costs are eligible.
Switzerland maintains double taxation agreements with several countries across the world. Following standard OECD guidelines, they differentiate between two policies to avoid double taxation: tax exemption and tax credits.
According to these agreements, foreigners who spend less than 183 days per year in Switzerland can be exempt from paying tax on any income which does not arise from Swiss sources. If this rule cannot be applied, you might receive tax credits in your usual country of residence against taxes already paid in Switzerland.
If you are not sure whether your country has signed a double taxation agreement with Switzerland, you should contact your fiscal authorities. The Swiss Federal Tax Administration provides some information on bilateral taxation agreements, available in German and French.
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