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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?
If you are a member of Protestant or Catholic congregation (like this one in Solothurn), you must pay church taxes. Photo by Pixabay

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

Member comments

  1. ‘certainly don’t mention it is because you don’t want to pay taxes!’ 🙂
    I got caught ten years ago on arrival in CH by this. Did the usual declared myself on the form as RC (at birth) and spent four years wondering why my take home was a bit less than I thought it should be! Took a letter and a follow up phone call from the church to get this removed.

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High earners in Switzerland to get tax cut from 2023

Switzerland will scrap the ‘solidarity surcharge’ for those in the highest income bracket from 2023.

High earners in Switzerland to get tax cut from 2023

People in Switzerland’s richest income bracket will see an effective tax cut from 2023 onwards, after the government decided to abolish the ‘solidarity surcharge’. 

The ‘solidarity’ contribution is charged to people in the highest income bracket in Switzerland to pay for unemployment insurance 

A spokesperson for the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) confirmed to Swiss media on Thursday, after the news was leaked earlier in the week. 

This system was introduced in 2011, when the unemployment insurance scheme was in debt and more money was needed to compensate for the deficit. 

In effect, the surcharge is split between the employer and the employee. 

While the normal deduction amounts to 2.2 percent of wages (1.1 percent paid by the employee and 1.1 percent by the employer), an additional one percent, split between the two, has been deducted from gross wages of above 12,350 francs per month. 

This is the solidarity surcharge. 

These highest earners constitute 10 percent of Switzerland’s workforce. 

Since the payment was implemented, it contributed around 340 million francs annually to Switzerland’s budget. 

The reason they will no longer need to shell out the extra money is because unemployment insurance is on track to build up an equity of 2.5 billion by 2023 — a threshold that had to be reached before solidarity contributions could be discontinued.

While the government acknowledged the economic uncertainty due to the war in Ukraine, it was confident the threshold would be reached by 2023 and the solidarity payments would no longer be needed. 

READ MORE: What is the average salary for (almost) every job in Switzerland?

The change will not impact people in other income brackets. 

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