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

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.

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

“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

For members


How to dispose of unwanted furniture or whitegoods in Zurich legally

Got an unwanted mattress, fridge or sofa? Here’s how you can legally get it off your hands in Zurich.

How to dispose of unwanted furniture or whitegoods in Zurich legally

If you’ve bought a new piece of furniture in Zurich or a mattress, you may be faced with the problem of what to do with the old one. 

This is particularly the case in cities like Zurich, where space is at a premium and you may not be able to kit out your spare room with the old furniture. 

While there are waste disposal centres, even getting there without a car can be a problem. 

One man’s trash…

First things first, think about whether you really need to get rid of the thing in question. 

While you may not want it, there may be someone out there willing to take it off your hands – particularly if you aren’t going to charge them. 

The first point of call is to ask your friends and colleagues if they’re interested, with social media the perfect place to ask around. 

If you live in an apartment complex, you might try placing the item in a common area with a note saying “zu verschenken” (to give away) or ‘gratis’ (free). 

After that, there are several online options like eBay, Facebook Marketplace, Free Your Stuff Zurich, Ricardo, Anibis, Craig’s List and Tutti. 

Some of these sites will charge a fee – even if you’re giving something away – so be sure to read the fine print first. 

Another option is to donate the goods to a charity organisation. They will usually charge you money to pick it up and prices can vary dramatically. 

Caritas charge CHF35 per 100kg plus transport costs, while Sozialwerk Pfarrer Sieber will pick up small items of furniture for a flat fee, although you’ll need to send them pictures first before they give you a quote. 

Can I put old furniture on the street in Zurich? 

Although less common than many other European cities, occasionally you will see furniture out on the street in front of homes and apartment blocks in Zurich. 

While it might clutter up the sidewalk, it is technically not illegal – provided you only do so for a maximum of 24 hours. 

You also need to make sure it doesn’t block cars, bikes or pedestrians. If it does – or if you leave it out for longer – you risk a fine.

Entsorgungstram: Zurich’s recycling and waste disposal tram

One option is the Entsorgungstram, a mobile recycling centre on rails for all Zurich residents. 

This tram weaves its way through several parts of Zurich, picking up old bulky waste including electrical devices and furniture. 

If you are lucky to live near an Entsorgungstram line, just check the timetable and bring your waste items along to meet the tram. 

There are some rules, as laid out by the Zurich council. 

“The delivered items must not be longer than 2.5 meters (exception: sofa/upholstered furniture can be no longer than 2 meters) and no heavier than 40 kilograms per item. Separate the material beforehand according to its composition: flammable, large metal and landfill”. 

Unfortunately, only pedestrians and cyclists can use this service, i.e. you cannot drive from elsewhere and deposit the stuff. 

More information including route details can be found at the following link. 

Regular waste disposal

Your next option is to see whether you can get rid of it in your usual waste disposal. 

This being Switzerland, there are a lot of rules about what the waste management company will take and will not. 

If you’re throwing away a mirror, for instance, you cannot put that with your other glass waste and will need to dispose of it elsewhere. 

On the other hand, they may take things like carpets and mattresses – although you’ll need to pay a bit extra. 

The exact rules will depend on your municipality, but generally speaking you will need to buy additional waste stickers – which cost money. 

In Zurich itself, every household receives four coupons for disposal of waste (up to 100kg) each. 

When you run out of coupons, you’ll need to pay by the kilo. 

You’ll still need to bring it to the waste disposal facility, or pay a pick up fee of around CHF80. 

This may sound steep, but they do come to your home and pick it up – which will likely be cheaper than a rental car or van. 

In Winterthur, you will need to buy stickers for CHF1.80 from the council, with each sticker letting you dispose of 10kg of waste. 

Check with the retailer where you bought the new item

One option offered by furniture sellers is to buy your old furniture or whitegoods or accept them as a trade in. 

While this is likely to be more common with second hand retailers who might see potential in your unwanted item, it is also a service offered by retailers who only sell new goods. 

One example is Ikea, who will take your old mattress, furniture or electronic device and recycle it. 

This service is available at Ikea outlets for a cost of CHF10 each. 

It is also available when you get something new delivered, although you must pre-book so the driver can be sure to set aside enough space. 

This will cost you CHF80 for furniture, or CHF50 for electronic devices and mattresses. Keep in mind that (at least with Ikea) this service is only available when you buy something new. 

Several other furniture companies offer a similar service, including Schubiger Möbel, Möbel Pfister and Conforama.  

Electrical item retails will often take your old electrical goods for recycling, whether these are small like iPhones or large like fridges and washing machines. 

More information about which goods can be recycled and how in Switzerland is available at the following link. 

Moving companies

Removalist companies are another option – whether you are moving house or not. 

If you are moving house then a disposal service may be included in the overall fees. 

If not, you can still contact the company and get the item taken off your hands. 

While different companies will charge different amounts, you’ll usually pay per 100kg rather than per item, which can be a better (or worse) option than contacting the local council. 

Swiss comparison site Comparis has detailed info about how to find a moving company here