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Working remotely from Switzerland: What are the rules for foreigners?

Digital nomads don’t need a physical office; they can work anywhere.
True digital nomad can work from anywhere, including the bench. Photo by Polina Kovaleva from Pexels
These days it is possible to be physically located in Switzerland, while working remotely for a company based in another country. Here’s what you should know about this growing 'digital nomad' trend.

Modern technology means that many jobs can be done from anywhere in the world with only a laptop and a decent wi-fi connection.

This kind of work / lifestyle has given rise to the term “digital nomads” — people who are not tied down to any one physical or geographical location, but work from wherever they happen to be.

They could be working remotely for a company overseas, or be self-employed, providing services for clients abroad. 

True nomads don’t even have an office in a traditional sense of the word, preferring to be mobile and work from different locations. And this kind of work model is becoming more commonplace.

Some countries, including Spain, are even offering digital nomad visas to tempt people to head to under-populated areas of the country.

Switzerland offers no such incentives, which is not  surprising, as any kind of work visas or permits are notoriously difficult to obtain here. However, there is a small community of these location-independent workers in the country.

EXPLAINED: An essential guide to Swiss work permits

“The scene of digital nomads in Switzerland is relatively small, but active and growing”, Lorenz Ramseyer, president of the Swiss Digital Nomads’ Association, told The Local in an interview.

His association currently has 151 active members and the Facebook group has 1,602 members, who work remotely in such fields as web design / layout, software development, consulting, coaching, virtual assistants, writing and teaching.

What are the rules digital nomads must follow in Switzerland?

If they are on staff of a company, their employer must comply with Switzerland’s labour laws, including rules pertaining to teleworking.

Most nomads, however, are the so-called independent contractors — that is, freelancers.

If this is your case, you have to comply with the laws governing those who are self-employed.

For residents of Switzerland, this includes declaring your income and paying taxes, even if you don’t have a physical office address, making social security (AHV / AVS) contributions at a maximum rate of  9.7 percent of your income, and taking up the compulsory health insurance including, if you re self-employed, accident coverage.

As many Swiss residency permits are tied to an employer, moving to Switzerland in order to become a self-employed freelancer will not confer a work permit. 

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

What are some other things nomads in Switzerland should consider?

People who don’t want to be stuck to their desks all days long — and true nomads don’t — should consider different options, Ramseyer said.

For instance, “they can buy a discount day pass and work on the train while travelling through Switzerland”.

Swiss digital nomads working on a train. Photo: Swiss Digital Nomads’ Association

He also recommends that digital nomads consider different co-working and co-living possibilities — shared living / working spaces for remote workers.

Are there resources specifically for digital nomads in Switzerland?

On November 6th, the Swiss Digital Nomads Association will hold a conference focusing on “practical information about working remotely and living as a digital nomad”, according to Ramseyer.

Different aspects of digital nomadism, including location-independent working, entrepreneurship, and building value-creating projects, will also be discussed.

The conference, in English, will be held in Impact Hub in Bern, and Covid certificate is mandatory for all participants.

The conference will additionally be streamed remotely via Zoom.

You can get the sense of what remote jobs are currently available in Switzerland here.

READ MORE: Five insider tips to find a job in Switzerland

Jobs in Switzerland

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