Switzerland

Working in Switzerland

With a strong financial, IT, pharmaceutical and engineering base, Switzerland offers opportunities for highly skilled graduates with good language skills. Also, look out for seasonal work in the tourism industry.
Your best chance of securing a job may be through applying to multinational companies with offices in Switzerland.

The job market | Applying for jobs | Vacancy sources | Getting work experience | Visa information | Living in Switzerland

The job market

What are your chances of getting a job?

Competition for jobs is fierce as the labour market is small and the workforce highly skilled. Swiss employers typically look for graduates with relevant vocational degrees, so target your job search accordingly. There are opportunities for highly skilled graduates in areas such as engineering and technology, IT, banking and financial services, insurance, construction and property, and pharmaceuticals.

Your best chance of securing a job may be through applying to multinational companies with offices in Switzerland. There are also lots of international organisations such as the United Nations, the World Health Organisation, the World Economic Forum and the World Trade Organisation based in Switzerland. If you work in the UK for a multinational company with a presence in Switzerland, you may be able to secure a secondment. You may have more success if you focus your job search on the major cities such as Basel, Bern, Geneva, Lausanne and Zurich.

Language is key to job success and it’s worth finding out which language is spoken in the canton you want to work in. German (predominantly Swiss 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 is spoken in pockets of eastern Switzerland. English is widely spoken in business, and Russian and Mandarin are also useful languages to have when job hunting.

There are also opportunities for seasonal work in tourism and hospitality.

Where can you work?

  • Major industries: banking and insurance, microtechnology, biotechnology and pharmaceuticals, machinery and precision tools, textiles, tourism and watches.
  • Recent growth areas: the service sector employs the largest number of people.
  • Major companies: ABB (conglomerates), Adecco, Credit Suisse (investment services), Glencore (natural resources), Nestlé (food processing), Novartis (pharmaceuticals), Roche (pharmaceuticals), Swiss Re (diversified insurance), UBS (investment services), Zurich Insurance Group (diversified insurance). 

What’s it like working in Switzerland?

  • Average working hours: maximum working hours – 45 to 50 hours a week, depending on your area of work.
  • Holidays: four to five weeks paid annual leave per year depending on your age. There are also four statutory public holidays (New Year’s Day, Ascension Day, Swiss National Day (1 August) and Christmas Day). The observance of all other public holidays are decided by the individual cantons.
  • Tax rates: personal income tax is progressive and consists of federal, cantonal and communal taxes. The amount of tax you’ll pay will depend on your income and savings, as well as your civil status, church membership, where you live and how many children you’ve got. Check the Swiss government tax calculator or consult a tax adviser for more details. 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.

Applying for jobs

The application and interview process in Switzerland is similar to the UK. Applications are most commonly made by CV and covering letter, with a photograph, appropriate certificates and work references attached. Make sure you provide details of your language skills in the application, giving your mother tongue as well as your levels of spoken and written German, French and Italian, and any other languages you speak.

You should write your CV in the language of the job advert and it shouldn't be longer than two sides of A4 (one side for the covering letter). Multinational companies may accept applications in English but check job adverts for details.

You can also apply speculatively to companies, but don't include references or transcripts of your qualifications at this stage. Make sure you tailor your application to the specific company you're applying to and try to keep covering letters to one page of A4. Write your CV and covering letter in the language of the company.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.

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 Swiss Labour Market Authority also has advice in French, Italian and German on how to apply for jobs.

Get more application and CV advice

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.

For regulated professions, you’ll need to get your foreign qualifications recognised. For more information, see recognition of foreign qualifications.

Vacancy sources

Job websites

Recruitment agencies

  • The Swiss Labour Market Authority VZAVG website has a list of private recruitment agencies in German, French and Italian. 
  • Swiss Staffing is an employers’ association that represents recruitment agencies in Switzerland. Search their database for a list of members.

Newspapers

Vacancies are published in the supplements of the larger daily newspapers. They include:

Other sources

  • Once you are in Switzerland you can register free of charge with your local regional employment centre. 
  • Use social media such as Twitter and LinkedIn to find jobs.
  • Make use of any private or professional contacts, such as family, friends and previous employers with links to Switzerland, to find out about opportunities.
  • Vacancies may be filled by employees from within the company itself or by contacting the employer direct. Sending a targeted speculative application can help you find work. Remember to make a follow-up call to the company after you have sent your application.
  • Search for Swiss companies on SwissFirms (a corporate directory of international and national companies based in Switzerland).
     

Getting work experience

Erasmus+

Switzerland has limited participation, as a partner country, 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

There's the opportunity to participate in international internships in areas such as management, technology, education, and development through AIESEC (Association Internationale des Etudiants en Sciences Economiques et Commerciales). 

If you’re a science or engineering undergraduate you may be able to get a course-related placement through IAESTE (The International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience).

Teaching schemes

If you’re a native English speaker, have completed two years at university and have French or German language skills up to the first year of A-level or equivalent, you can apply to work as an English language assistant in Switzerland as part of the The British Council – Language Assistants programme.

It can be difficult to get a job teaching English in Switzerland as many Swiss people already speak it. However, there may be some opportunities to teach English in private language, international or boarding schools. Some may offer summer courses or camps. For more information, see i-to-i - Teach English in Switzerland.

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.

Casual work

Opportunities for seasonal work exist in areas such as tourism, hotels and catering, particularly for those with knowledge of French and/or German. Ski resorts, for example, offer a range of temporary jobs such as ski instructors, chalet staff and managers, cooks and catering support staff. See Seasonworkers for the kinds of vacancies available.

Visa information

Do you need a visa?

Most EU nationals can enter Switzerland without a visa as long as they have a valid passport or other recognised identity document. You can work for up to three months without authorisation, although your employer must register your employment at least one day before you start work.

If your employment lasts for longer than three months, you’ll need to apply for a residence permit and must register with the communal authorities where you’re living within 14 days of your arrival and before starting work. You’ll need to present a valid ID card or passport and confirmation of employment from your employer, for example an employment contract. 

There are two types of residence permit – a short-term residence permit for employment up to 364 days or a residence permit for at least one year of for an unlimited period. 

If your job search takes longer than three months, you can apply for a temporary residence permit, which is valid for three months within any calendar year (so a six-month stay in total), as long as you have enough money to cover your living expenses.

For more information and rules applying to citizens of Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia, see the Federal Office for Migration.

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 Embassy of Switzerland in the UK.

Living in Switzerland

  • Cost of living: Switzerland is one of the most expensive countries in the world, although salaries are also high. The cost of living is especially high in the cities of Geneva and Zurich. Food, housing and utilities in particular are above the EU average.
  • Internet domain: .ch
  • Currency: Swiss franc (CHF).
  • Health: there is a high standard of health and well-being in Switzerland. 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, including cover for winter/mountain activities. 
  • Type of government: Federal Republic with strong local governments (cantons). Each of the 26 cantons has its own parliament, government and judicial system. Under Switzerland’s system of direct democracy, citizens have a direct say in their own affairs and go to the polls several times a year to vote on national referendums and initiatives. 
  • 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. It’s illegal to cover your face in public places in the Italian-speaking Swiss canton of Ticino.
  • Emergency numbers: 112 (general emergency calls); 144 (ambulance); 118 (fire service); 117 (police); and 1414 (Swiss rescue). British citizens can get help in an emergency from the British Embassy in Berne.
  • People: German 65%, French 18%, Italian 10%, Romansch 1%, other 6%.
  • Major religion: Christianity.

AGCAS editors, November 2017

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