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How to avoid Switzerland's tax haven trap – there is a lot more to it

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How to avoid Switzerland's tax haven trap – there is a lot more to it
20:59 CET+01:00
While the anticipation of low taxes lures business people to consider a move to Switzerland, the reality of regulations, legalities and language hurdles can make the journey demanding, says Carolina Souviron, founder of Swissbenefits AG.

“We always warn our clients against thinking it's just a great opportunity to claim tax breaks,” adds Souviron, who set up Swissbenefits, based in Bern, to offer legal advice and guidance in the field of immigration, integration and naturalization in Switzerland.

Whilst working for an international insurance company as well as for the government, Souviron saw the difficulties foreigners face in obtaining the right information, be it those who want to establish their businesses or individuals making the move.

“I decided to start a company that's different from a law firm,” she adds. “First of all our philosophy is different, we aim to protect our clients from going to court and being exposed to a law suit and secondly, our rates are calculated differently and thus we can offer good rates.”

Speaking to The Local, Souviron outlines the most important considerations for anyone wanting to set up a new home or business in Switzerland.

A complex place for new companies
Establishing a business in Switzerland can be done in a relatively short space of time if a clear plan is in place. “But it's not as easy as it seems,” Souviron says. “It depends on the aim of the company and it's complicated because there are several different kinds of company structures, each with their own set of rules.”

With additional rules for foreigners, an A-Z plan is highly recommended. “The biggest issue in starting a company in Switzerland as a foreigner with no residency is setting up a bank account,” she adds. “And that's mandatory to start up a capital company.”

While taxes are on average lower than other countries, the advantages for businesses in Switzerland stretch further. For example, it can be helpful to have a management centre base since its geographical location means the rest of Europe is easily accessible.

Additionally, the stability of the Swiss Franc and the country's legal system results in few sudden changes to reckon with. Despite the mass immigration initiative from February 9, Switzerland will remain an attractive location with a long foundation of supporting international businesses.

English won't get you very far
With the spread of official languages including German, French and Italian you should know which language is used in the area you are planning to move to. “We always recommend that people learn the language over time, even if it may not be forcibly necessary at the beginning of your stay.

Language requirements are part of the process of getting a settlement permit or naturalized,” Souviron says. Both day-to- day communication and official documentation is not usually conducted in English, which means foreigners can easily get lost in translation. “Of course we are happy to consult with our clients and assist them with during their entire stay but if the plan to stay long term its better to learn the language.”

Small print matters in Switzerland
Contracts involving work, housing can have serious legal implications if not checked properly and therefore advice should not be overlooked. “You don't want to move to a new country and the first problem you have is with your landlord,” Souviron says. “

She recommends conditions of permits to be checked thoroughly because that's where big problems can occur. “For example, we have had clients who didn't realize they needed permission to change jobs and can't just move to another company or canton. Such an unauthorized move can have long term legal implications, or even be a criminal offence – and that is just one possible issue.”, Souviron adds.

Marriage certification, family regroupment, driving licenses and wills also require attention. “We ensure our clients are aware of all the rules that are applicable to them during their stay – give them a checklist, so to speak,” Souviron adds. What may seem like small things can have a huge impact – even resulting in being criminally prosecuted – which can hugely affect a foreigner's stay.

Because it's worth it
You may have to jump through a lot of hoops to get here, but don't let the regulations put you off. “Quality of life is incredible here,” Souviron says. With an international family background herself, Souviron has lived all over the world but Switzerland remains unique.

“I love the fact that the regions are very different; it's very international but you can still find beautiful, quiet countryside,” she says. Low pollution, employment opportunities, stability and safety additionally contribute to making the country a desirable place to live.

Students are also becoming aware of the benefits in considering Switzerland as a study destination. “The education system has a solid reputation with certification recognized all over the world,” Souviron says. Swissbenefits also provides unique services to students, at lower prices, with specialist consultants in various schools to help assist in choosing optimal courses and institutions.

Correct information is key
It's advisable to get a second opinion on any information regarding relocation, even if provided by an employer. “From our experience, large companies don't offer this in detail,” Souviron says. “Human resources departments are not often specialized in legalities and don't have the capacity to explain consequences beyond a first stay permit application.”

Swiss Benefits is unique in that it offers legal advice in every step of the relocation process. That means there is constant overview to ensure everything is done correctly, in due time and the processes are kept in order.

Covering the whole of Switzerland, the company assists individuals and businesses before, during and after relocation. “We can accommodate clients at any point in time but advise them to come to us as early as possible in order to make their move or establishing their company as smooth and trouble-free as possible,” Souviron adds.

This article was produced by The Local and sponsored by SwissBenefits

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