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TAXES

EXPLAINED: What can I deduct from my tax bill in Switzerland?

Switzerland is approaching a major tax deadline on March 31st. Taxes are as inevitable as death and each canton does things differently. But here’s how you can try and reduce your tax burden.

Pencils and paperwork sits on a desk ahead of tax time
Here are some common tax deductions in Switzerland. Photo: Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich from Pexels

Each and every year, those liable to pay tax in Switzerland – i.e. most workers – will need to complete a tax return. 

The deadline for filing individual tax returns falls on March 31st for the 2021 tax year. 

Due to the complicated nature of tax returns, many internationals will often opt to have their return completed by an accountant or tax professional. 

It is also possible to do it yourself – and has gotten easier in recent years with tax declaration software and online returns. 

For those who have decided to do their own return – or are considering it – here are some common tax deductions you should know about. 

Keep in mind however that there are variations from canton to canton, so check with local authorities. 

The amount you will pay will also depend on whether you are married or not, with married couples – or those in registered partnerships – expected to complete their tax returns together (how romantic). 

Also if you are a cross border worker, some of these deductions will apply to you but some will not. 

READ MORE: Tax rules cross-border workers in Switzerland need to know

Covid-19

The Swiss government has made several changes to the tax rules as a consequence of the Covid pandemic. 

In addition to delaying the deadlines for when your tax is due, one major change impacting your 2020 return has been the rules around working from home. 

Although working from home was made mandatory in Switzerland and is still recommended for anyone who can do it, Swiss employees will not be stopped from claiming work-related expenses. 

That means that even though you may have worked from home for some or all of the year, you will not be prevented from claiming travel expenses, meal expenses and standard expense deductions. 

READ MORE: What freelancers in Switzerland need to know about paying tax

You can also claim for training expenses, provided it’s related to your work (no, your online sourdough course isn’t deductible, unless of course you’re a baker and in that case congratulations on working from home). 

On the other side however, you are not allowed to claim costs for working from home – i.e. rent, electricity etc for your ‘home office’. 

Lunch

If you have not been working from home, then you are allowed to deduct a flat rate for lunch. 

You are allowed to deduct CHF15 per day, which adds up to over CHF3,000 in a standard year. 

If you’ve got a work canteen or your boss otherwise provides subsidised meals, you can claim 7.50 per day – around enough to buy you a cup of coffee in most Swiss cantons. 

Childcare

The high costs of childcare are a frequent complaint of many a parent in Switzerland. 

While this of course varies dramatically from canton to canton, the average cost of a day in childcare in Switzerland is CHF130. 

The average Swiss family spends 41 percent of their net income on childcare, three times the OECD average of 13 percent. 

Fortunately, you are able to deduct childcare costs, including the costs of a private nanny. 

In order to do so, you need to provide proof of payment. Parents can deduct a maximum of 10,100 francs per child per year (federal tax), according to Swiss finance comparison site Comparis. 

Completing a tax declaration (Steuererklärung in German, déclaration fiscale in French or dichiarazione fiscale in Italian) can be incredibly difficult. Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Kids

Having kids in Switzerland can be an incredibly expensive exercise. 

Estimates suggest that a child will cost you around CHF200,000 from birth until it turns 20. 

READ MORE: How much does it cost to raise a child in Switzerland?

Fortunately, you can deduct some of the expenses – at around CHF6,500 per year per child. 

If you have a disabled dependent who is of age, you can also deduct the same amount per year, provided it costs you that amount or more to care for them. 

Health insurance – and other forms of insurance as well

Another cost which some foreigners find difficult to swallow at first is health insurance. 

Fortunately, you can also deduct this. 

In fact, you can deduct most of your insurance premiums from your tax in Switzerland, including health, accident, pension and life insurance. 

The maximum you can deduct is 1,700 francs as an individual, or 3,500 francs for registered partners/married people. 

Medical expenses

In addition to health insurance, you can also deduct medical expenses from your tax. 

While Swiss healthcare is such that most of your standard expenses will be free as a consequence of your medical insurance, expenses for additional treatment can be deducted. 

In the most cases, this will be expenses related to dental care. The amount you can pay here is capped by the cantons, but is usually not more than five percent, according to Comparis. 

Pensions

Switzerland always has one eye on the future, which is why money paid into the pension fund can be deducted from your tax in Switzerland. 

Money paid into your pillar 3a account is tax deductible, with a maximum deduction of CHF6,883 in 2021. 

You can also deduct payments made into your second pension pillar. 

READ MORE: How much should you save for a comfortable retirement in Switzerland? 

Donations

If you’re thinking of making a charitable donation, don’t just be motivated by the kindness of your heart – think of the tax benefits!

You can deduct charitable donations made in Switzerland, provided they are to public or non-profit organisations. 

You can deduct these donations up to 20 percent of your total income. 

Travel 

Now we’d all love to deduct the costs of our trip to the Canary Islands, unfortunately this is limited to work-related travel expenses – but that includes travelling to work in some cases. 

While these are likely to have been down on previous years, they can still be deducted as per usual. 

You can deduct the cost of travelling to work provided you do so via public transport, cycle or scooter. You are allowed to deduct up to CHF3,000. 

If you travel to work via car, you can only do so in certain circumstances. 

If you have a disability which prevents you from travelling via the above methods – bike, moped or public transport – then you can deduct your car expenses.

You may deduct car travel if you save more than an hour travelling by car (when compared to the other methods listed above), or where your home and/or your place of work are more than one kilometre from a public transport stop. 

Debt

You are allowed to set off any debt you have against your savings for the purposes of tax. 

You are allowed to deduct the interest paid on personal loans or credit cards, but not for car payments. 

We’ve tried to delve into how this works, but we don’t really understand it at all, so speak with a tax advisor for more information. 

As with all of our tax and financial summaries, this is a guide only and should not be taken to constitute specific and tailored financial advice. For tax advice which is personalised to your situation, please contact an accountant or tax specialist. 

Member comments

  1. Please double check the deductibility of medical expenses. My understanding it that they are no capped, on the contrary: they need to be higher than 5% of your income to be deductible.

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READER INSIGHTS

‘Curate your messages carefully’: Our readers on dating in Switzerland

In June, we asked our readers for their tips for what to do - and what not to do - when dating someone from Switzerland. Here’s what they had to say.

'Curate your messages carefully': Our readers on dating in Switzerland

Finding love – or pursuing lust – can be tough at the best of times, but a new cultural environment will undoubtedly throw up its own challenges. 

These differences can be fun, surprising or downright shocking. 

We asked our readers about their dating life in Switzerland. We wanted to know if they’d had any struggles or challenges – and how they could avoid them. 

Half had an ‘odd experience’

We had just over 30 responses to the survey, which is a relatively strong result for any Local Switzerland poll not focused on Covid measures. 

Approximately half – 53.1 percent – said they’d had an odd experience when dating someone from Switzerland. The rest – 46.9 percent – said they had not. 

‘Cold’, ‘closed’ and ‘cheap’

For those who said they had an odd experience, we got a full spectrum. Some of the responses were similar to previous reader callouts, while others were somewhat surprising. 

Jessica, who lives in Lucerne, said the Swiss – perhaps the richest country in Europe – can sometimes be cheap dates. 

“He claimed he forgotten his wallet and (on the) second date, the same excuses”. 

Several readers said the person they dated was “cold” and would not open up. 

READ MORE: Are the Swiss really unfriendly – or are foreigners to blame? 

Mariah, who lives in Zurich, said Swiss men can be closed and may not want you to be a part of their lives. 

“I am Brazilian and come from a very open and affectionate culture. I was dating a Swiss-French guy for 2 months and one day he organised a trip to the mountains. 

“He was during the whole way in the train talking about how amazing his birthday party would be in a few weeks and “everyone” would be there but he was never mentioning to invite me.”

“I mentioned to another Swiss friend and she said this is normal.”

Another reader, from Zurich, agreed, saying anyone making themselves vulnerable could mean they get hurt.

After telling a Swiss German man relatively early on that she loved him, the relationship changed permanently. 

“As soon as I had sent it, I realised “OMG, that is not what I meant to send…”, she told The Local. 

READ MORE: Great salaries but ‘no human warmth’: Your views on living and working in Geneva

 “It was not the way I had felt (yet), but the previously very cheeky and chatty (by Swiss German standards) guy suddenly started responding in typical very polite Swiss style, and only when I messaged him.” 

“This might have scared off someone from another culture, but as the Swiss Germans typically take their time to get to know people it was obviously unforgivable.”

Simon, who lives in Nyon, said he struggled with Swiss women. 

“Be careful, they are very feminist and can be domineering.”

What advice do you have for dating a Swiss?

Mariah said it was important to have a clear conversation about boundaries and expectations. 

“Don’t assume you will be part of their life without talking openly about it and don’t assume the relationship status either.”

Another, from Zurich, said you should think twice about what messages you send as the Swiss can be quite literal. 

“Curate messages carefully. Things can be taken very literally, and not easily be laughed off as a slip of the tongue / Freudian slip!”

Claudia said some cultural norms can be surprising at first. 

“They are super comfortable getting changed (naked) in public”, she said. 

She did however say that foreigners criticising the Swiss for being closed minded should take a good hard look in the mirror first. 

“Actually they are more fun than we think! Be open minded!”

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