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TAXES

What is Switzerland’s TV license fee and can you cancel it?

In Switzerland, even if you don’t own a TV set, you still have to pay a tax for it. Here’s what you need to know about this fee.

The pleasure of watching television is not free in Switzerland. Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash
The pleasure of watching television is not free in Switzerland. Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Many foreigners who move to Switzerland are surprised to discover that they are automatically charged a TV and radio license fee.

It doesn’t matter whether you watch television often, rarely or never, or if you don’t even have a TV set in your house — most households are liable to pay this charge anyway.

That’s because in the June 2015 referendum, the Swiss voted to change the ‘device system’ to device-independent one, based on the idea that new technologies such as smartphones, computers and tablets can also be used to watch television.

This system came into force on January 1st, 2019. From that date, the license costs 365 francs a year per household, down from 451 francs previously (which proves that prices in Switzerland sometimes do go down).

This fee is compulsory for most households, though some can be exempted  from it (see below). The amount of 365 francs is the same for all private homes, regardless of how many people live there.

The bill is automatically sent out once a year by a company called SERAFE, which collects this fee on behalf of the government from private households. The Federal Tax Administration is responsible for collections from businesses.

The total amounts to 1.37 billion francs.

READ MORE: Switzerland’s strangest taxes – and what happens if you don’t pay them

Your taxes at work: where does this money go?

It is used to fund public broadcasters like the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation and other TV and radio stations across Switzerland.

“In this way, the public service will be guaranteed in all parts of the country and democracy will be strengthened; the entire country and all its inhabitants will benefit”, according to the Federal Office of Communications (OFCOM), which is responsible for the scheme.

This map shows which stations are subsidised by the government:

Image: OFCOM

OFCOM determines how the money generated each year from the TV license fee is split among these public stations.

Can you cancel the TV license fee?

As this payment is mandatory, you can’t cancel it or opt out of it, just as you can’t legally avoid paying your income tax.

However, if your household meets certain criteria, it can be exempted from the obligation to pay:

  • Households with persons who receive supplementary Old Age, Survivors’ and Invalidity (OASI / AHV-IV) insurance benefits from the federal government
  • Households with no means of receiving radio or television (no radio, no television, no computer, no tablet, no smartphone, no car radio, etc.)
  • Households of deaf-blind people, provided that there are no people liable for the fee living in the same household
  • Households of diplomats

What will happen to the TV license tax if  the “Federal Act on a Package of Measures to Benefit the Media” is accepted by the voters in a referendum in February?

On February 13th, the Swiss will vote (along with three other issues) on whether the government should offer subsidies to financially-strapped print, broadcast and online media outlets.

But even if this measure is approved at the polls, it will benefit private radio and television stations, not public ones, so the vote will not impact the TV license fee.

READ MORE: Tobacco, tax and animal testing: What’s at stake in Switzerland’s February referendum?

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For members

MONEY

EXPLAINED: What is ‘church tax’ in Switzerland and do I have to pay it?

Switzerland is one of only a handful of countries where most people must pay taxes to support religious institutions. This is what you should know about it.

EXPLAINED: What is ‘church tax’ in Switzerland and do I have to pay it?

Switzerland is already widely known as a tax haven, but it seems it could be called a tax heaven as well, with millions of Swiss regularly contributing a portion of their wages to religious institutions. 

However, not everyone in Switzerland pays church tax. 

Whether or not you must pay the church tax depends on where you live and what religious denomination you belong to.

If you have moved to a Swiss community, chances are you had to declare your religious affiliation while registering your arrival at the Gemeinde / commune / comunità locale.

And if you identified yourself as a member of a Roman Catholic or Protestant (including Reformed) Church, then you can expect to be slapped with a so-called ecclesiastical tax. 

People in other religions, such as Islam or Judaism, or some of the less common protestant faiths, are not required to pay this tax. 

As is also the case in Austria, Finland, Germany, Denmark and Sweden, Switzerland’s churchgoers must finance the costs of their local churches, with funds ultimately being used to upkeep the facilities, clergy’s salaries, as well as other operating costs.

This is a long-standing and common practice in most cantons, with the exception of Geneva, Neuchâtel, Vaud, and Ticino.

People attending religious institutions of other than Catholic and Protestant denominations, or those living in the four cantons that don’t impose this tax, are free to make a voluntary, tax-deductible contribution to their church, but are not obligated to do so by law.

And it’s not just private individuals who are liable to pay church tax — most cantons, except Basel-City, Schaffhausen, Appenzell Ausserrhoden, and Aargau also levy it on businesses.

READ MORE: Switzerland’s strangest taxes – and what happens if you don’t pay them

This is a somewhat paradoxical situation, as Switzerland recognises the principle of separation of church and state, which would normally preclude public funding of religious groups.

Yet, the country’s main denominations are authorised to collect church taxes; in fact, Swiss Constitution expressly allows cantons to regulate the relationship between church and state on their territories — including the right to levy taxes.

How much is this tax and do you have to pay it?

Again, the amount depends on the canton you live in, but on average it is 15 percent of the income and wealth tax for Roman Catholics and 10 percent for those attending Protestant churches.

If you officially declared your religious affiliation and if you live in a canton other than Geneva, Neuchâtel, Ticino, and Vaud, then yes, you must pay this tax.

How do you opt out of paying the tax?

There is, however, a relatively simple way to opt out of the church tax.

If you move to a new community, just don’t declare yourself as a member of either a Roman Catholic or Protestant parish.

If you already have done so, then send a registered letter to the parish in your municipality and inform them that you are no longer a member of the church.

Importantly, if you have already declared yourself a member of the church in one municipality, this information will follow you to your next municipality, i.e. the communes will pass on information between each other. 

Therefore, simply moving a declaring no religious status will be insufficient. You will need to send the resignation letter. 

Send a copy of this letter to your cantonal tax office. If you are in Valais, you should send your letter to the baptism parish. 

A copy of the form you need to send is available here (in German). 

You don’t have to give a reason why you chose to leave the church; certainly don’t mention it is because you don’t want to pay taxes!

READ MORE: How to navigate your way to a lower Swiss tax bill

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