Working in Switzerland
The job market
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 vocational degrees so arts and social science graduates may find it more difficult than others to find graduate employment.
Another possibility for securing a job is to apply to multinational companies in the UK which also have offices in Switzerland.
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 the multinational companies with offices/headquarters in Switzerland.
Where can you work?
- Major industries: banking and insurance, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, machinery and precision tools, textiles, tourism and watches.
- Recent growth areas: the chemical and pharmaceutical industry is expected to grow and the construction, property and aviation sectors are also performing well.
- Industries in decline: agriculture, forestry and fisheries have reported significant job losses.
- Shortage occupations: highly skilled workers are the most in demand by Swiss companies in areas such as technology, electronics and telecommunications, IT, and plant and machinery operations.
- Major companies: Nestlé (food processing), Novartis (pharmaceuticals), UBS (investment services), Zurich Insurance Group (diversified insurance), Roche Holding (pharmaceuticals), Credit Suisse Group (investment services), Swiss Re (diversified insurance), ABB (conglomerates), ACE (diversified insurance), Holcim (construction materials).
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 depending on the age of the employee. 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. Combined rates usually total 20% to 45%. 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
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 it shouldn't be longer than two sides of A4. Multinational companies may accept applications in English but check job adverts for details.
Speculative applications are also quite common, 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.
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 advice in French, Italian and German on how to apply for jobs.
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.
- Xpat Jobs – vacancies in English.
The Swiss Labour Market Authority VZAVG website has a list of private recruitment agencies in German, French and Italian. Details are also available from the International Confederation of Private Employment Agencies (CIETT).
Vacancies are published in the supplements of the larger daily newspapers. They include:
- Alpha – in Tages Anzeiger, SonntagsZeitung (German) and Corriere del Ticino (Italian).
- 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.
Getting work experience
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, technology, applied arts and engineering undergraduates may apply for a traineeship via IAESTE (The International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience). Placements typically last for six to twelve weeks in the summer months.
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 EU nationals can enter Switzerland without a visa as long as you have a valid passport or other recognised identity document. You can stay for up to three months without needing a permit, but if you wish to work in Switzerland or plan to stay for longer you will require a residence permit.
Within 14 days of arriving in the country you need to register and apply for a relevant permit. This is done at the cantonal migration office where you plan to live. There are short-term permits for less than one year, annual residence permits which are for limited periods and permanent residence permits which are unlimited.
You will need to take along a valid passport (or recognised form of ID), copy of a rental agreement, passport photo and employment contract.
Citizens of Bulgaria and Romania remain subject to restrictions until 31 May 2016 at the latest. Special rules also apply to Croatia. More information can be found at 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. The cost of living is especially high in the cities of Geneva and Zurich. Food, housing and utilities in particular are well 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. 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 65%, French 18%, Italian 10%, Romansch 1%, other 6%.
- Major religion: Christianity (Roman Catholic and Protestant).