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Employment in Geneva

At a Glance:

  • The social security system in Switzerland is divided into three pillars. The first two pillars, Old Age and Survivors Insurance and Disability Insurance, and an occupational pension plan are compulsory. The third pillar is a private pension plan.
  • The Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons ensures that the social security systems of all EU/EFTA states, including Switzerland, are coordinated. There are also several countries outside the EU that have agreements with Switzerland.
  • Patients with basic health insurance cover are expected to pay 10 percent of the price for prescription drugs and contribute 15 CHF per day towards the cost of hospital stays.
  • Every person residing in Switzerland for longer than three months must make sure they have health insurance. No public health insurer can refuse you if you want to take out basic cover.
  • Anyone who plans on working in Switzerland for more than three months, must obtain a work permit. It is significantly easier for EU citizens to get a work permit than non-EU nationals, as there is a quota system in place for third-country citizens.

Key Sectors in Geneva

Geneva has a strong, service-oriented economy. The overwhelming majority of people are employed in the tertiary sector. The city 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 a small part of the metropolitan economy. Nevertheless, the city’s secondary sector boasts some brand names: Rolex, Omega, and other traditional watch makers  still work in Geneva these days.

International Organizations in Geneva

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:

  • the High Commission for Refugees
  • the High Commission for Human Rights
  • the World Health Organization
  • the International Labor Organization
  • the World Intellectual Property Organization

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.

Paying Taxes as a Foreigner

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 owed 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 in the same way as other Swiss citizens.

Expats are eligible for certain tax benefits in the form of an expat flat rate deducted from their taxable income. These benefits are supposed to account for the higher costs of the expat life-style. The rate is calculated on the basis of average expenses associated with relocation, travel, and maintaining a second domicile. Of course, only expats working in Geneva whose employer does not cover these costs are eligible.

Double Taxation Agreements

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, French, and Italian.

Social Security in Geneva

The Swiss Social Security System in Geneva

The Swiss social security system rests on three pillars: state-run social security funds, occupational social security funds, and a private savings plan. Contributions to the first two schemes are compulsory for both employees and employers in Switzerland. Self-employed people and those without paid employment are also liable to contributions. However, those without paid employment may be exempt under certain conditions.

Under the Swiss old-age pension system, every employee contributes to the federal Old Age and Survivors Insurance and Disability Insurance (first pillar).

From the January following your 24th birthday, you also have to pay into an occupational pension plan (second pillar) if you receive more than 21,150 CHF per year in wages from one employer. All contributions are matched by the employer. The accumulated capital in the occupational fund can be transferred from the old employer to a new one without any problems if and when you decide to move jobs.

You can also choose to save more funds with an additional private pension plan (third pillar), provided you can afford it.

Social Security Agreements

As an expat from a country within the EU, you can profit from the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons, which Switzerland ratified in 2002. This ensures that the social security systems of all member states are coordinated. In practice, it shouldn’t matter in which country contributions have been paid when it comes to calculating the benefits you are entitled to.

Switzerland also has social security agreements with some non-EU countries: Australia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Canada, Chile, Croatia, India, Israel, Japan, Macedonia, Montenegro, the Philippines, San Marino, Serbia, South Korea, Turkey, Uruguay, and the USA.

Residents of these countries are entitled to a Swiss state pension when they reach retirement age, even if they have already left Switzerland. This pension will be calculated based on the contributions they paid while working in Switzerland.

Social Security Reimbursements

People from countries with no social security agreement can have their social insurance contributions reimbursed upon leaving the country. For this purpose, they should fill in the form Claim for refund of OASI contributions, which is available for download in French, German, Italian, and English from the AHV/IV (OASI/DI) website.

The completed form should be returned to the Swiss Compensation Office or to the Cantonal Compensation Office for Geneva, l’Office cantonal des assurances sociales (Rue des Gares 12, 1211 Geneva 2). Proof of your new residence outside Switzerland may be required.

With regard to the accumulated capital in your occupational fund, there are several options. It is possible to keep the fund, transfer it to a different savings scheme, or to request a pay-out, the so-called cash termination benefit. Your contact at the fund should be able to provide you with detailed information and assistance.

Swiss Healthcare in Geneva

Every Swiss resident has access to all doctors, specialists, and hospitals without first consulting a general practitioner. Please note that not all treatments might be covered by your individual health insurance plan. Patients with basic health insurance cover are usually expected to pay 10% of the price for prescription drugs and contribute about 15 CHF per day towards the cost of a hospital stay.

If you are in need of a doctor, you can search for one on the website of the Association des Médicins du Canton de Genève. It allows you to search by various criteria such as specialization and language. Geneva has a big complex of university hospitals, the Hôpitaux Universitaires de Genève, which offer state-of-the-art treatment and care.

In addition, there are several private clinics in and around the city, e.g. Clinique Belmont, Clinique Générale-Beaulieu and Clinique La Colline. There is also more useful information on Private Hospitals in Switzerland here.

Insurance and Work Permits for Geneva

Health Insurance — It’s for Everyone

The public health insurance system in Switzerland is based on compulsory individual contributions to a health insurance provider of your choice. Everyone residing in Switzerland for a period exceeding three months must register with an accredited health insurance provider in Switzerland. The Service de l’assurance maladie of the Canton of Geneva offers a list of all authorized insurers in the area.

No public health insurance provider can refuse you on grounds of pre-existing conditions or chronic illness. While there are various packages available, all insurers are obliged to offer one basic tariff to everyone. Tariffs for the Canton of Geneva can also be compared on the website of the Service de l’assurance maladie.

Insurance Contributions for Expats

As opposed to other forms of social insurance, the Swiss public health insurance is not partly financed by employer contributions. Every person is individually responsible for paying their own full health premium.

EU/EFTA citizens may be exempt from compulsory Swiss health insurance if they are still covered by the health insurance system of their usual country of residence. It is the duty of the cantonal health authority in Geneva to inform every new resident about their obligation to take out insurance.

Expats who have reasons to believe they may be exempted from Swiss health insurance should address any such requests to the Service de l’assurance maladie.

How to Get a Work Permit

Every foreigner working in Geneva must have a valid work and residence permit, with the single exception of EU/EFTA residents whose stay does not exceed three months.

There are still some restrictions for Bulgarians, Romanians, and Croatians who want to work in Switzerland. However, all other EU nationals don’t need a special permit for short-term work assignments. They must, however, be registered with the Federal Office for Migration by their employer. You can find the online registration for EU /EFTA nationals on short-term work assignments on the website of the State Secretariat for Migration.

For all work contracts lasting more than three months, the employer must obtain a work permit for the potential employee. This does not pose a problem for most EU/EFTA nationals — with the exceptions just mentioned above.

However, getting a work permit is particularly difficult if the candidate is a third-state national. There are strict limits on the annual numbers of work and residence permits granted to non-EU nationals every year. Even within these limits, the employer has to prove that no Swiss or EU citizen was able or willing to fill the post and that the salary and working conditions associated with the job conform to Geneva standards.

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