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Which jobs pay the most and least after a Swiss apprenticeship?

Apprenticeships — also called “Vocational Education and Training” (VET) — are a very common career path in Switzerland, with nearly half of all high school graduates opting for this kind of education rather than university. But how much can they expect to earn?

Which jobs pay the most and least after a Swiss apprenticeship?
Nurses earn good salaries after apprenticeships. Photo by ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT / AFP

VET has been very popular in Switzerland for many years, with 44 percent of students following this path after their obligatory schooling, according to the Federal Statistical Office (OFS).

In all, 212, 347 students were in vocational training in 2020, OFS figures show.

The most frequently chosen fields were business and administration, wholesale and retail, and building and civil engineering.

During three or four years — depending on the chosen field— students follow a dual-track approach combining practical training at a host company with a part-time classroom instruction at a VET school.

Business organisations determine skills that are most in demand in the labour market, ensuring that apprentices will be adequately trained to meet the demands of the country’s economy.

After the completion of training, students receive a Federal Certificate of Proficiency (EFZ in German, CFC in French, and AFC in Italian), which entitles them to work in their chosen field.

Which post-apprenticeship jobs are most and least lucrative?

Overall, the average salary five years after completing their training is 5,270 francs a month, according to OFS.

In the IT sector, the salary is 1,100 francs above this average, while in sales, the monthly income is less than 5,000 francs.

The second-highest gross median income for full-time employment is that of nurses.

With an average of 6,060 francs / month after five years of employment, they are followed by apprentices with degrees in “electricity and mechanical construction” (5,445 francs), “architecture and construction” (5,425 francs), “accounting, marketing and secretariat ”(5,367 francs) and “ the social sector ”(5,349 francs).

Lowest wages — below 5,000 a month — are in the retail and “personal services” sector.

REVEALED: What are the best and worst paid jobs in Switzerland?

Higher education pays off

However, after completing their basic VET training, many students go on to further their education by enrolling in higher professional institutions to receive their Bachelor degrees; some even follow up with the master’s program.

These people can expect to earn 10 percent more than their colleagues who have not continued their education.

People who have obtained a higher-level diploma from a university or a university of applied sciences have a median income of 5,990 francs — 800 francs per month more than those who didn’t opt for further education after completing their initial vocational training.

Salary disparities

The figures cited above are national averages.

There are, however, disparities among the different cantons: five years after the completion of apprenticeship, the median income is 4,850 francs in Ticino, 5,270 francs in German-speaking Switzerland, and 5,200 francs in the French-speaking part.

This does not necessarily mean that professionals in Ticino have less purchasing power. “In order to correctly interpret the regional differences in terms of disposable income, it is also necessary to take into account the price level”, the OFS said.

On average, consumer prices are lower in Ticino than elsewhere in Switzerland.

READ MORE: Why is Switzerland so expensive?

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Switzerland: How to get money back when cross-border shopping in Germany

Crossing into Germany to go shopping is usually cheaper - and that’s before you add the tax savings. Here’s how you can claim back tax when shopping in Germany.

Switzerland: How to get money back when cross-border shopping in Germany

There are a range of reasons why most things are cheaper in Germany than in Switzerland. 

While there are some exceptions to this – the most notable one being petrol – generally speaking you pay a premium on goods purchased in Switzerland. 

EXPLAINED: Why is Switzerland so expensive?

If you shop in Germany, you can also save on VAT, which is generally 19 percent and added to most goods. 

Here’s what you need to know. 

What are the tax rules for shopping in Germany? 

Residents of Switzerland, as a non-EU country, do not need to pay VAT in Germany on purchases over 50 euros. 

Your country of residence rather than nationality is important here. 

Therefore, a German living in Switzerland and shopping in Germany does not need to pay the tax. 

A Swiss living in Germany however would need to pay the amount. 

Importantly, you need to physically be in Germany when you make the purchase. 

In order to qualify for the tax exemption, you must bring the goods back to Switzerland with you. 

The specific rules for this are laid out by German Customs here, but they need to be either in your carry on or checked baggage, or in a car that you are travelling in personally. 

These rules are to ensure people are buying the goods for themselves rather than intending to sell them on. 

What kind of goods? 

Goods bought in Germany and taken back to Switzerland are exempt from VAT. 

You will generally however be required to pay tax on services rendered or completed in Germany. 

For instance, bus or train tickets in Germany, restaurant bills, hotel stays, massages etc. 

There are also a range of rules which apply to vehicles. 

If you are getting your car repaired, filling up with petrol, affixing bumpers, mirrors or other additions or even getting a car wash, you will need to pay VAT. 

How do I get the money back? 

Unfortunately, you do not get a discount at the place of purchase.

Instead, you need to claim the money back after you have purchased the product on which you paid the tax. 

In most large stores or shopping centres, you will be able to do this on site. 

You need to have a copy of the receipt and fill in the VAT refund form (Ausfuhrschein) with your name, address and Swiss residency permit number. 

You can get one of these forms at larger stores or you can download it and print it here. 

You will need to do one for each invoice. 

Once you have done that, you can take the completed form to the German customs office (Zoll), which you can find at most border crossings and get the paper stamped. 

Then, you need to return the paper to the place of purchase, where they will issue with a refund of the VAT. 

Some stores require you to return after three months, some six and some 12, so be sure to check the store policy. 

Note that some online stores will automatically deduct the VAT if you have a Swiss delivery address. 

Cost of living in Switzerland: How to save money if you live in Zurich

One thing to keep in mind however is that Switzerland charges its own VAT, which is either 2.5 percent or 8 percent. More on that below. 

What’s with all this paper? 

For anyone who’s spent even a few hours in Germany, the country’s reluctance to embrace digital methods of payment and record keeping is clear. 

While cash remains king in many stores and restaurants, claiming back money from shopping in Germany is also a paper-heavy endeavour. 

Fortunately for people not so keen on paperwork, a change is afoot – although exactly when it will take place remains unclear. 

In February 2022, the German government announced it had kicked off a project to make a digital export certificate possible. 

In addition to saving time and paper, the government indicated it expected to save around 6.2 million euros in personnel expenses as around 100 customs officers are currently assigned to the Swiss border alone. 

No deadline has been given for when the change will come into effect. 

Cost of living: How to save on groceries in Switzerland

Swiss customs rules

When bringing goods into Switzerland, you will need to pay VAT if the amount exceeds 300 francs. 

While border patrols are rare, those who make a habit of exceeding this amount – even if it is for goods for personal use – run the risk of falling foul of the authorities. 

There are several different rules in place for bringing in different items, including meats, cheeses and alcohol. 

The limits for each of these items can be found here. 

Keep in mind that while the CHF300 applies now, Switzerland is set to reduce this to CHF50 in the future – although final approval of this has not yet been secured. 

Tax change: Switzerland to introduce 50 franc limit on cross-border shopping

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