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Social Security for Expats in Zurich

Working in Zurich is an attractive prospect for many expats-to-be. Maybe you are one of them? Read our guide to Zurich for an introduction to Zurich’s economy and find information on job hunting, social security, working conditions, and more.

Expats living in Zurich enjoy the benefits but also face the occasional disadvantages of Switzerland’s social security system. The latter mostly involve red tape, forms to fill out, and appointments at local offices.

Having a health insurance policy is mandatory for all expats in Switzerland. The Swiss healthcare system has excellent quality standards, but they are of no use to anyone without medical insurance. To learn more about health insurance in Switzerland, read our article on healthcare in Zurich.

The “Three Pillars” of Switzerland’s Social Security Scheme

The most important part of social security in Switzerland is the national pension plan. It covers old-age pensions (AHV), survivors’ pensions, and disability benefits (Invalidenversicherung), and it is financed in three different ways. These are often called the “three columns or pillars of social security”.

First, all employees, employers, and self-employed people pay a monthly contribution into the government’s pension fund. Second, everyone who earns more than 21,150 CHF per year (as most Swiss wage-earners do) is automatically part of a company pension plan (berufliche Vorsorge/Pensionskassen). The “third column” refers to private pension funds. Having a private pension plan is purely voluntary, although the available pension funds are regulated under Swiss law.

Social Security for Expats in Switzerland

If you are part of your home country’s national pension scheme, your contributions to the Swiss government’s social insurance plan (AHV) may help raise your old-age benefits back home, or you’ll be entitled to draw a Swiss pension abroad once you retire.

However, this depends on whether or not your country of origin has a bilateral social security agreement with Switzerland. There are such agreements between Switzerland and all EU/EFTA member states, as well as, for example, Australia, Canada, Chile, Japan, Macedonia, the Philippines, Uruguay, and the US. For more information, please refer to the full list of social security agreements as found on the website of the Federal Social Insurance Office.

Nationals of other countries may get a partial refund of their social security contributions when they leave Switzerland. The Federal Social Insurance Office or the SVA Zurich should be able to answer all related questions.

Occupational Benefit Schemes and Private Pensions

For some expats, the money paid into a company pension plan remains on a Swiss account until five years before their regular retirement age. Only then will they be able to access the money and transfer it, for example, into their own pension fund back home.

However, this regulation only applies to expats from EU/EFTA member states that remain insured in their home country. Other foreign residents can get back the money from the occupational benefit scheme when they go home. Please contact the LOB Guarantee Fund Central Office if you have any questions on this “second Pillar”.

If you have either a private pension plan in your home country or intend to start one in Switzerland, talk directly to the bank or insurance provider of your choice. They will be able to advise you if and how frequent moves worldwide may affect your participation in such a private benefit scheme.

Please refer to our Switzerland Extended Guide for in-depth information on Swiss social security.

Benefits for Expat Families

Expat women working in Zurich — both female employees and self-employed women — have a right to paid maternity leave. Every woman who has worked at least three months before giving birth and has paid insurance contributions for nine months or more enjoys such financial benefits. Moreover, pregnant women may not be laid off unless they are still in the probation period of their employment contract.

For up to 14 weeks after giving birth, young mothers receive 80 percent of their former income (capped at 196 CHF a day) as Mutterschaftsentschädigung. There is no legal basis for paternity leave in Switzerland, though employers are increasingly open to offering new fathers the opportunity to take some extra time off.

All employees and self-employed persons in Switzerland — including expats — are entitled to receive Familienzulagen (family allowance) for their children. Unemployed parents living in the canton may also receive the allowance provided their annual income is less than 42,660 CHF, and they are not receiving supplementary benefits. In the canton of Zurich, you usually get 200 CHF a month for children aged 12 years or less and 250 CHF for older children. Typically, employers take care of applying for family allowance for their employees. Alternatively, you can get in touch with the SVA Zurich directly.

You can find more information on family benefits and maternity leave in Switzerland in our respective in-depth articles.


We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete.

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