Working in Switzerland
Swiss employers often look for graduates with relevant degrees so you'll have to target your job search. Speaking the language of the canton is also quite important.
What are your chances of getting a job?
In Switzerland, non-nationals typically work either as seasonal workers in tourism or in areas such as IT and financial services that require highly skilled workers. Swiss employers often look for graduates with relevant degrees so arts and social science graduates may find it more difficult than others to find graduate employment.
It's useful to speak the language of the canton in which you wish to work. German is most widely spoken, particularly in the centre and some of the east of Switzerland. French is the second most widely spoken, especially in the western part of the country which borders France. Italian is spoken in the southern areas, and Romansch, the least spoken language, is spoken in pockets of eastern Switzerland. English may be used by multinational companies with offices/headquarters in Switzerland.
Where can you work?
- Major industries: banking and insurance, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, electrical and mechanical engineering, food processing and packaging materials, graphic machinery, machine and precision tools, telecoms, textile machinery, watches.
- Major companies: ABB, Adecco, Credit Suisse, Glencore, Nestlé, Novartis, Roche, Swatch, Swiss Re, UBS and Zurich Insurance Group.
What’s it like working in Switzerland?
- Average working hours: 45 to 50 hours a week, depending on the area of work.
- Holidays: four to five weeks paid annual leave per year. There are also four statutory public holidays (New Year’s Day, Ascension Day, Swiss National Day (1 August) and Christmas Day). The observance of other public holidays depends on the individual cantons.
- Tax rates: can vary considerably between cantons. Personal income tax is progressive and consists of federal, cantonal and communal taxes. Rates can rise to a maximum of 11.5% at federal level, and approximately twice that at cantonal level. The total rate doesn't usually exceed 40% and, in many cases, is much lower. Don't forget to check your UK tax and National Insurance position with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) to ensure that you are not losing any UK pension rights.
Applications are most commonly made by CV and covering letter, with a photograph, appropriate certificates and work references attached. You should create a CV in one of the main national languages (German, French or Italian) and an English CV. Multinational companies may accept applications in English.
Speculative applications are also quite common, but don't include references or transcripts of your qualifications at this stage.
Selection is normally by interview, but large organisations and multinational companies may employ a variety of methods from interviews to psychometric tests or assessment centres.
The application and interview process in Switzerland is similar to the UK. See application and CV advice for more details on how to construct a good CV. The Swiss Labour Market Authority also has downloadable booklets on how to apply for jobs in French, Italian and German.
Will your UK qualifications be recognised?
Following the Bologna Process and the creation of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA), UK qualifications are usually recognised by an employer.
- EURES – European Job Mobility Portal – includes job vacancies, living and working conditions and labour markets in Switzerland, as well as a CV-posting service for jobseekers.
- Jobs.ch – in German, French and English.
- JobScout24 – available in German or French.
- jobwinner – vacancies mostly in German.
- Success and Career – vacancies in French, German and English. Includes advice on CV management and job search.
- Swiss Labour Market Authority – most vacancies in German and French.
The Swiss Labour Market Authority VZAVGwebsite has a list of private recruitment agencies in German, French and Italian.
Vacancies are published in the supplements of the larger daily newspapers.
- Alpha – in Tages Anzeiger, SonntagsZeitung (German) and Corriere del Ticino (Italian).
- Dossier Emploi – in 24 heures (French).
- Emploi & Formation – published by Le Temps (French).
- NZZexecutive and Stellen-Anzeiger – published by Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) (German).
- Stellefant – published by Basler Zeitung (German).
- Stellenmarkt – published by the Berner Zeitung (German).
- Once you are in Switzerland you can register free of charge with your local regional employment centre.
- Vacancies are often filled by employees from within the company itself or by those contacting the employer direct.
- Make use of any private or professional contacts, such as family, friends and previous employers with links to Switzerland.
Switzerland has limited participation in Erasmus+, the EU programme for education, training, youth and sport for 2014-2020 which covers student exchange, work experience and volunteering opportunities.
Work placements and internships
Science and engineering undergraduates may apply for a traineeship via IAESTE (The International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience).
AIESEC (Association Internationale des Etudiants en Sciences Economiques et Commerciales) provides an international exchange programme for students and recent graduates. They offer voluntary and paid work placements in professional organisations, schools and charities in a range of countries, including Switzerland.
The British Council – Language Assistants programme provides the opportunity for undergraduates and graduates of any discipline (as long as they have AS level French or German or equivalent) to work in Switzerland as an English language assistant.
There may be opportunities to teach English in private language or boarding schools. Some may offer summer courses or camps. Competition for teaching work in state schools is fierce. If your university has a department for foreign languages or equivalent, you may be able to pick up useful advice, guides and contacts on teaching opportunities available in Switzerland.
Opportunities for seasonal work exist in areas such as tourism, and hotel and catering, particularly for those with knowledge of French and/or German.
Do you need a visa?
Most European Union (EU) and European Free Trade Area (EFTA) nationals may enter Switzerland to search for a job. No permit is required for stays of up to three months. If you haven't found a job within this time, you must obtain a short-term residence permit (type L permit) from the appropriate local or cantonal authorities. This is valid for another three months' job search. If you're still unable to find a job during this time, you can apply for your short-term residence permit to be extended. Extensions can be granted for up to one year.
Citizens of Bulgaria and Romania remain subject to restrictions until 31 May 2016 at the latest. Citizens of the EU-8 member states (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, the Czech Republic and Hungary) should visit the Federal Office for Migration website for information on quotas for category B residence permits.
If you are from a non-EU country, contact the Swiss embassy in the country where you are currently residing. If you're living in the UK, contact the Swiss Regional Consular Centre of the Embassy of Switzerland in the UK.
- Cost of living: Switzerland is one of the most expensive countries in the world. The cost of living is especially high in the cities of Geneva and Zurich. Food, housing and utilities in particular are well above the European Union (EU) average.
- Internet domain: .ch
- Currency: Swiss franc (CHF).
- Health: high standard of health and well-being. The Swiss healthcare system is expensive, and health insurance is compulsory for all residents. EU citizens should obtain a free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) before travelling, which gives access to healthcare under the same conditions as nationals. Also take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance. Supplementary insurance is needed for those undertaking outdoor summer/winter sports.
- Type of government: Federal Republic with strong local governments (cantons).
- Laws and customs: smoking is banned throughout Switzerland in the workplace and in most enclosed spaces accessible to the public, including bars, restaurants, cinemas, schools, shopping centres and sports centres.
- Emergency numbers: 112 (single European emergency telephone number, available everywhere in the EU free of charge); 144 (ambulance); 118 (fire service); 117 (police); and 1414 (Swiss rescue). British citizens can get help in an emergency from the British Embassy in Switzerland.
- People: German, French, Italian, Romansch.
- Major religion: Christianity (Roman Catholic and Protestant).