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Swiss Social Security: For Your Own Peace of Mind

Social security in Switzerland is a well-thought-out system, built to ensure that every Swiss resident has a backup plan for retirement, as well as any unexpected circumstances that may arise. Our InterNations article guides you through the system of public welfare benefits, advising expats on what they have to pay and why.
Prepare for the future: social security in Switzerland ensures that residents save their pennies for those unexpected moments in life.

At a Glance:

  • The Swiss social security system has been established to ensure that people have enough money saved to form a safety blanket for retirement, or any unforeseen circumstances.
  • The Swiss social security system is based on three so-called "pillars": public welfare, occupational benefits, and private pension plans. The first two pillars are compulsory, while the voluntary third pillar is supposed to close the gap between pensions and a retiree’s previous earnings.
  • There are different requirements and rules when it comes to your pension fund, depending on whether you are an employee, self-employed, or not working.

 

Moving abroad is an exciting time and thinking about your retirement fund is probably one of the last things on your mind. However, if you’ve thought it through in advance and have a plan in place, you’ll be more than relieved when the time comes for you to stop working.

This article explains how expats living and working in Switzerland can contribute to their retirement provisions via the first of the three pillars.

The First Pillar: Funding Your Safety Blanket

The so-called “first pillar” of the social security system in Switzerland was initially introduced by the Swiss government in 1948 and went through significant structural reforms in 1995. It consists of Old Age and Survivors’ Insurance (AHV), Invalidity Insurance (IV), and insurance for a loss of earnings due to military service or maternity leave (EO). The aim of the first pillar is to prevent financial ruin or the complete loss of a person’s livelihood, should they no longer be able to work due to old age, illness, or disability.

It is mandatory for all residents of Switzerland — whether they are employees, self-employed, or unemployed — to contribute towards and be a part of the first pillar scheme. The only exceptions to this case are refugees and asylum seekers living in Switzerland.

Employees

Employees who are over the age of 17 and earn more than 2,300 CHF a year should be automatically registered with their respective AHV compensation fund office (Ausgleichskasse) by their employer. There are different types of Ausgleichskasse that employees can be registered with, depending on which industry they work in and where exactly their workplace is located.

Specialized fund offices for certain sectors and industries (Verbandsausgleichskassen) are privately controlled and therefore remain separate from the state. Other compensation fund offices are run by the Swiss federal government (Eidgenössische Ausgleichskasse) or the various cantons (Kantonale Ausgleichkassen).

If you aren’t sure which type of compensation fund office is responsible for you, just check with your employer.

Your Contributions as an Employee

Employees’ AHV/IV contributions are deducted from their gross salary and paid into the respective compensation fund by their employer on a PAYE basis. All contributions are split between the employee and the employer (50% each).

The total contribution for old age pensions and survivors’ benefits (AHV) amounts to 8.4% of your gross income. You are responsible for contributing half of this amount while your employer will pay the other 4.2%.

Invalidity insurance (IV) contributions and additional benefits (EO) contributions both work in the same way. The total contribution of IV amounts to 1.4% of your gross income, and EO contributions add up to 0.45%. Once again you pay half of these social security contributions while the other half is paid by your employer.

As always, there is an exception to the rule. Employees of certain international organizations will not be automatically registered with an Ausgleichskasse and will instead be required to pay all contributions out of their own pocket. If you think this could apply to you, it’s best to talk to your employer or contact your local cantonal Ausgleichskasse for more advice on this matter.

How Long to Pay AHV/IV Contributions For

As an employee, you will continue to pay contributions towards the first pillar of social security until you are no longer gainfully employed and have reached the standard AHV retirement age. At the time of writing (November 2016), the standard retirement age for women is 64 years, and for men 65.

However, this retirement age will soon change. With it becoming more and more likely for people to live longer, raising the retirement age is the Swiss government’s way of preventing future financial challenges. In September 2016, parliament voted to begin raising the retirement age gradually, up to a maximum age of 67 years.

If you continue to work after you have reached the standard retirement age in Switzerland, you must continue to pay AHV contributions, though. However, you only have to contribute a certain percentage of those earnings that exceed 1,400 CHF a month.

Self-Employed Residents

Self-employed expats should visit their local AHV/IV compensation fund office to see whether or not they fulfill the official criteria for self-employment in Switzerland. If you do qualify for self-employment in the eyes of the law, your social security contributions will be based on your prospective income for the year.

Self-employed expats who earn more than 56,400 CHF per year will contribute a total of 9.65% of their gross income towards AHV/IV/EO insurance. For expats who earn less than 56,400 CHF a year, the percentage of their income that they must contribute decreases on a sort of sliding scale — the less they earn, the less they need to contribute.

An annual income between 2,300 CHF and 9,400 CHF per year requires a minimum contribution of 478 CHF per year. Anything below 2,300 CHF a year is classed as negligible income in Switzerland and people who earn less than this will not be classed as self-employed anyway.

If you are self-employed and have hired staff, remember to register them with a compensation fund and to pay all of their social security contributions on time! There are hefty fees for late payments, so punctuality is indeed key.

Non-Working Residents

If you are temporarily unemployed or disabled while living in Switzerland, AHV contributions will usually be deducted from any government benefits you receive at this time.

If you are currently not working for any other reason, the contributions that you make towards AHV will be based on your assets (e.g. savings or investments in the stock market) and any annuities you might receive (e.g. alimony from a former spouse). For non-working expats, the minimum yearly contribution is 478 CHF, and the maximum amounts to 23,900 CHF.

It is important to note that for married couples, contributions are calculated based on half of the matrimonial assets. If you are not working but your spouse is — and their contributions exceed 956 CHF a year — your AHV/IV contributions are deemed to have been paid.

Income in Switzerland is often calculated based on household earnings, instead of an individual basis, when a couple is married and living together. The same applies to same-sex couples who have entered into a civil partnership.

 

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