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RETIREMENT

EXPLAINED: How to get a visa to retire in Switzerland

Depending on your nationality, obtaining a Swiss residence permit is not a simple matter. But it can be done if certain conditions are met.

EXPLAINED: How to get a visa to retire in Switzerland
Retirement in Switzerland can be sweet — if you have money. Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels

Foreign nationals who have lived and worked in Switzerland for many years may want to remain here after they retire.

Then there are those who have never lived here at all, but once they become pensioners in their own countries, decide to move to Switzerland.

Whether or not this is possible depends on what nationality they have and other circumstances.

EXPLAINED: Everything you need to know about retiring in Switzerland

It is much easier to retire in Switzerland for foreigners who have worked here and are holders of a B or C permit.

As they paid into the social security and pension scheme during their years of employment, they are entitled to the same benefits as Swiss citizens — provided they don’t renounce their permits after they retire and move out of Switzerland.

The most important distinction is between citizens of EU / EFTA states and third countries

If you are a citizen of a EU / EFTA nation, you must have adequate financial resources to cover the cost of living in Switzerland after retirement — the exact amounts are determined on cantonal basis; you can check out what conditions apply in your region here.

You must also take out a health insurance policy that includes accident coverage.

Stays in Switzerland for up to 90 days within a six-month period don’t require authorisation. For longer stays, you will have to register with the cantonal migration office as a non-employed person.

EXPLAINED: How to get a work permit in Switzerland

The rules for third country nationals are stricter

If you come from outside the EU / EFTA, you must apply for a visa with a Swiss diplomatic/consular mission in your country of residence.

They will check that you don’t have any criminal records.

You must be 55 years of age or older to move to Switzerland from abroad in order to retire. The Swiss retirement age is 65. 

You’ll need to demonstrate a close link to Switzerland. 

This can be past residency, family ties, frequent holidays in Switzerland or real estate. This is then a decision for cantonal authorities and is often highly discretionary, with simply owning property not necessarily enough. 

Also, in order to be considered, you must prove that you have enough financial resources to live in Switzerland without having to work or claim welfare benefits.

As part of the deal, you’ll need to transfer the bulk of your financial interests to Switzerland. You can transfer your pension to Switzerland provided there’s a bilateral arrangement with your country of origin. More information is available here. 

And like your EU counterparts, you must have Swiss health and accident coverage.

What about UK citizens?

From January 1st 2021, UK citizens planning to retire in Switzerland are no longer eligible for the same facilitated access as nationals of the EU.

Rather, they will be subjected to the same requirements as third country nationals.

Wealthy retirees have an advantage

A little-known article of the Swiss law — Article 30 of the Federal Aliens Act — allows wealthy foreigners from outside Europe to move to Switzerland.

Cantons can issue residence permits B to these people, if local authorities deem that there is a “significant fiscal interest” in such a move.

What exactly does “significant fiscal interest mean?” 

This term is defined by each canton.

For instance, the lowest annual tax rate for a non-EU foreigner is 287,882 francs in Valais, 312,522 francs in Geneva, and 415,000 Vaud. 

Every year, around 40 to 50 people ‘buy’ their way into Switzerland this way, as reported by TagesAnzeiger, which used the numbers published by the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM).

Cantons don’t release the identities of these wealthy foreigners, justifying the lack of information with data protection laws.

What is known about this select group of people is that most of them live in canton Geneva. Next are Ticino, followed by Vaud, Zug and Bern. 

READ MORE: Which Swiss canton has the most millionaires?

Just how much does it cost to live in Switzerland after retirement?

Again, this depends on your canton of residence, as cost of living will be higher in Zurich or Geneva than in central rural cantons.

As The Local wrote on Tuesday, “This question obviously depends a lot on your personal circumstances and lifestyle, however a recently completed study (from 2021) found that you should save around 14 percent of your [Swiss] salary in order to retire in Switzerland”. 

You can get more information about whether you are qualified to retire in Switzerland from your canton or SEM website.

EXPLAINED: Why are major Swiss cities so expensive?

Please note: As with all of our explainers, they are intended as a guide only and do not constitute legal or financial advice. Please discuss any financial decisions with a certified expert in the field. 

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For members

HEALTH INSURANCE

How to save money by changing your Swiss health policy

Switzerland’s compulsory health insurance is notoriously expensive, but you can lower the cost of premiums substantially by changing your company or coverage.

How to save money by changing your Swiss health policy

The cost of health insurance premiums usually represents at least 7 percent of a typical household budget.

An adult spends nearly 4,600 francs a year on average on the mandatory basic coverage (KVG / LaMal) alone – covering only medical care, not dental. If any extra policies are taken out, the cost is even higher.

Not only that, but premiums have been rising practically each year, and look set to go up again in 2023, possibly by as much as 10 percent — the sharpest hike in 20 years.

READ MORE: Why Swiss health premiums are set to rise — and what you can do about it

Even though these costs are high and climbing, many people keep the same health insurance for years.

However, significant savings — to the tune of thousands of francs a year — could be made simply by switching carriers or plans, from the more expensive to the cheapest ones, according to a new study by the cost comparison site Comparis.

How much and where

The amount of the savings varies depending on policyholder’s place of residence, because rates are determined by cantons.

However, Comparis calculated that over a 10-year period, people living in Zurich could have saved 33,396 francs in premium costs and for those living in Bern this amount is 30,064.

Lausanne residents could cut their costs by 36,494 francs over 10 years, 31, 032 in Geneva, and 33,490 in Basel-City.

“With the strong premium increases expected this fall, the savings potential is even greater,” said Felix Schneuwly, health insurance expert at Comparis.

So how can you save money? Here are some of the ways:

Increase your deductible

In Switzerland, the deductible (franchise) ranges from 300 to 2,500 francs – this represents the medical costs that you have to pay out of your own pocket before your health insurance kicks in.

As with most types of insurance, the lower your deductible, the higher your premiums, and vice-versa.

If you are young, healthy, and are not on any long-term medication then you can save substantially with the highest franchise.

Keep in mind, however, that if you choose the highest deductible and end up having an accident or falling sick and needing medical care, you will have to pay a greater proportion of the costs.

Switch to a less expensive plan.

The standard model for healthcare in Switzerland is that you can consult any medic that you want, and you do not need a referral to see a specialist.

However, there are some types of health insurance plans that have cheaper premiums, but impose certain limits on your access to non-emergency medical care.

For instance:

Health maintenance organisation (HMO)

Under this model, policyholders are required to consult a particular HMO practice. Two disadvantages of this alternative is a limited choice of doctors and you also need a referral to see a specialist.

However, the benefit is a premium reduction of up to 25 percent compared to the conventional insurance.

Family doctor model

Your family doctor, a general practitioner, will be designated by your insurance company and will be in charge of all your non-emergency medical treatment.

He or she will refer you to a specialist if necessary. 

If you opt for this option, you could save 20 percent on your insurance.

READ MORE: Five tips for getting cheaper health insurance in Switzerland

The Telmed alternative

If you choose this option, you have to call a telephone service and get a referral to a doctor or hospital.

This does not apply to medical emergencies and there are other exceptions, such as eye exams and annual gynaecological check-ups.

Total savings could range between 15 and 20 percent. 

Cancelling or changing your policy

If you want to cancel your current insurance policy and take up a cheaper one , you have to do so by registered letter before November 30th.

By then, you will know what your premiums will be in 2023 because your carrier must notify you of the new rates by October 31st.

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