Working in Switzerland
The job market
Famous for its mountain scenery, chocolate, cheese and cuckoo clocks, Switzerland is a popular destination for UK graduates seeking jobs abroad. Salaries are relatively generous, particularly for those working in banking, and standards of living are high, though the cost of living can be high too.
Switzerland is known for its expertise in precision engineering, which grew out of the long-established Swiss watch industry. It is also one of the largest producers of pharmaceuticals and chemicals in the world. While many multinational companies have offices in Switzerland and some are headquartered there, the vast majority of Swiss businesses are small or medium sized, engaged in electrical or mechanical engineering, export-oriented and highly specialised.
UK graduates who take up jobs in banking, financial services or insurance will probably find themselves based in Zurich, while those who seek work in the chemical and pharmaceutical industry are more likely to find opportunities in and around Basel. Tourism is also a major source of employment, with seasonal opportunities in ski resorts in the Alps and internationally respected hotel schools offering postgraduate training for careers in hospitality.
Switzerland is known for its policy of neutrality and is home to a number of international organisations, including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which was founded in Geneva, and various agencies of the United Nations (UN). Although it is not part of the European Union (EU) or the European Economic Area (EEA) and has not adopted the euro, it participates in the European single market and in Schengen, the area of Europe where there is free movement of goods and people. Citizens of EU countries can therefore enter Switzerland and look for work without needing a special visa or permit. Switzerland is a member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), along with Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein.
Direct democracy is one of the special features of the Swiss political system, which makes regular use of referendums. Switzerland is divided into 26 cantons, or federal states, that have a high degree of autonomy.
Getting a job in Switzerland
- Finance and related services, including banking, insurance, audit, financial technology and consultancy
- machinery, mechanical and electrical engineering and metals
- pharmaceuticals and chemicals
- renewable energy, particularly hydropower
- biotechnology and life sciences
- manufacturing parts for cars and other vehicles
Leading employers in Switzerland
Numerous multinationals have offices in Switzerland, including Google, IBM, Microsoft and PwC. The following employers have headquarters in Switzerland, and many of them also operate worldwide.
- Adecco Group (employment agency)
- Alliance Boots (pharmaceuticals and retail)
- Credit Suisse (financial services)
- Glencore International (commodities trading)
- Migros (retail)
- Nestlé (food and drink, consumer goods)
- Novartis (pharmaceuticals)
- Roche Group (pharmaceuticals)
- Swiss Re (reinsurance)
- Swiss (airline)
- Xstrata (mining and minerals)
- Zurich Insurance Group (insurance)
Skills in demand in Switzerland
Graduates with technical, numerate or science degrees may find opportunities in IT, financial services, engineering or pharmaceuticals. There are also vacancies for seasonal workers in tourism, including snowboard and ski instructor roles.
Language requirements in Switzerland
English may be spoken in multinational companies. However, you are likely to find it useful to speak the language of the canton in which you wish to work.
German is the language most widely used, particularly in central Switzerland and some parts of the east, while French is spoken in the west, close to the border with France, and Italian dominates in the south. Romansch is spoken in pockets of eastern Switzerland.
If you don’t have the relevant language skills you may still be considered for skilled jobs that don’t involve direct contact with customers.
Are UK qualifications recognised?
Switzerland is involved in the Bologna process and is part of the European Higher Education Area, so there is a framework in place for establishing the equivalence of UK and Swiss qualifications and supporting the recognition of UK qualifications by Swiss employers.
Teaching English as a foreign language in Switzerland
You can teach English as a foreign language in Switzerland through the British Council language assistants programme. You’re likely to need A level standard French or German and teaching experience will be an advantage.
There are also vacancies in private language schools, working with adults or children, and in hotel schools, which offer training for the hospitality industry. You’ll need a degree plus a qualification in TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language), and the more exclusive hotel schools will also want teaching experience.
TEFL vacancies in private language schools are likely to be concentrated in Zürich and Geneva. You can find out more about TEFL in Switzerland from the website of the English Teachers’ Association Switzerland.
What’s it like to work in Switzerland?
Working hours: between 40 and 44 hours per week but can be up to 50 hours per week, depending on the nature of the job.
Holidays: the standard allocation is 20 days annual leave, plus national holidays including Swiss National Day (1 August) and regional holidays observed by individual cantons.
Income tax: The income tax system is progressive, so you pay more as you earn more, and consists of three elements: federal, municipal and cantonal. Tax rates can vary considerably between cantons. The combined rate can range between 20% and 45% in total.
It’s wise to check your UK tax and National Insurance position with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) to make sure that you are not losing any UK pension rights.
Where to find jobs in Switzerland
You can use the TARGETjobs graduate jobs abroad page to search for vacancies in Switzerland.
If there is a specific company or organisation that you would like to work for in Switzerland, graduate job opportunities may be advertised on its website.
If you are an EU citizen, after arriving in Switzerland to look for work you should be able to access the services of your local regional employment service. You can also search for vacancies by canton and occupation using job listings supported by the Swiss government.
The website of EURES, the network of European employment agencies, includes listings of jobs based in Switzerland.
You can also search for jobs using job websites and by sending out speculative applications and attending job fairs.
It may be possible to seek a job with a multinational company, go through the recruitment process in the UK and then take up a placement or secondment in Switzerland.
Newspapers with vacancies
Leading Swiss newspapers include the following (all in German):
The Local website lists jobs in English.
CV, application and interview tips
You should write your job application in the language used in the job advertisement, unless it invites you to apply in English. In some cases the job advert may be in English, but it could also be in German, French or Italian.
You will typically need to submit a CV and covering letter, and you may also be asked to supply educational certificates. CVs should be no longer than two sides of A4 and you can include a professional-looking photograph of yourself. Covering letters should be no longer than one side.
If your application is successful, you will be invited to attend an interview. In larger companies the recruitment process could involve a video interview, online ability testing and an assessment centre, as in the UK.
Working culture in Switzerland tends to be relatively formal, and it’s worth bearing this in mind when considering the layout and design of your written applications and deciding what to wear to interview.
Work experience, internships and exchanges
Large companies and organisations with offices or headquarters in Switzerland may advertise internships on their websites.
Each year IAESTE (the International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience) provides a range of traineeships to undergraduate students working towards a science, engineering, technology or applied arts degree. Placements usually last from six to twelve weeks over the summer.
Switzerland is a partner country of Erasmus+, the EU programme for education, training, youth and sport for 2014 to 2020. This means there is access to some aspects of the programme in Switzerland, but this is limited. Erasmus+ is open to participants from European countries and beyond and covers student exchange, work experience and volunteering opportunities.
There are some volunteering opportunities based in Switzerland listed on the International Voluntary Service website. Typical projects include conservation activities and working with children. There are also some opportunities available in Switzerland through the European Voluntary Service.
Do you need a visa to work in Switzerland?
Most citizens from countries in the EU or EFTA (which includes Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein alongside Switzerland) can come to Switzerland without a visa, look for work for up to 90 days, and start work without the need for a work permit. After 90 days they need to register for a residence permit. There are strict quotas for citizens from other countries seeking jobs in Switzerland, and employers have to apply for work permits on their behalf.
You can find out more about visas and work permits from the website of the Swiss authorities.
Living in Switzerland
Cost of living: The cost of living in Switzerland is among the highest in Europe. Accommodation is relatively expensive and can be hard to come by, as Swiss residents tend to rent rather than own their homes and property to let is in short supply. On the plus side, Swiss infrastructure and public spaces are well maintained, the public transport system is efficiently run and healthcare is excellent.
Currency: Swiss franc
Healthcare: If you are a resident of Switzerland for more than three months you will need to take out health and accident insurance, which is compulsory and typically accounts for around a tenth of the average Swiss salary. For a short stay, a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) will enable you to access healthcare in Switzerland at a reduced cost. The NHS website country-by-country guide to healthcare abroad includes information about Switzerland.
Laws and customs to be aware of: smoking is banned in Switzerland in most spaces accessible to the public, including workplaces and shopping centres, though licences are sometimes granted to bars or restaurants.
Major religion: freedom of religion is a constitutional right. Two thirds of the population are either Roman Catholic or Protestant, and there are also Muslim and Jewish communities.
Type of government: federal republic