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EXPLAINED: Who can work in Switzerland but live in a neighbouring country?

Hundreds of thousands of foreigners from neighbouring nations commute to their Swiss jobs every day. What permits do these people need and how to obtain them?

EXPLAINED: Who can work in Switzerland but live in a neighbouring country?
Some workers from Germany cross this border in Koblenz on the way to their Swiss jobs. Photo by NICHOLAS RATZENBOECK / AFP

At the end of 2021, 362,000 cross-border workers were employed in Switzerland, according to the Federal Statistical Office (FSO).

Most (203,689) are from France and work predominantly in Geneva and Vaud, but also in Jura and Basel, all of which border Switzerland.

The second-largest group, 86,322 workers from Italy, are employed mostly in Ticino, with some jobs also in Valais and Graubünden.

Next are people from Germany (63, 547) , who cross the border into Basel, Aargau and Schaffhausen

The smallest group (8,489) is from Austria, which shares a border with St. Gallen and Graubünden.

‘Border zones’ are defined by the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) as “the regions fixed in cross-border commuter treaties concluded between Switzerland and its neighbouring countries” — that is, regions that are in close enough geographic proximity to the Swiss border to make daily commuting to and from work feasible.

Why does Switzerland recruit these workers and what is in it for them?

Cross-border work is a win-win situation — that is to say, everyone involved benefits from this arrangement.

For Switzerland, it is a way to fill vacancies in professions for which Swiss citizens or foreign permanent residents can’t be found.

One of them is the healthcare sector, which suffers from a shortage of nurses and other skilled medical professionals.

At Geneva’s university hospital (HUG) alone, 60 percent of nurses and 9 percent of doctors are cross-border workers from France.

In Ticino, which shares a long border with Italy, about 120 doctors and 500 nurses employed in the canton’s health sector are daily commuters from the nearby Italian regions.

“Without cross-border workers, our hospitals would not be functioning”, Bertrand Vuilleumier, head of the hospital association in Vaud, said during the height of the Covid pandemic in 2020.

These workers are employed in other sectors as well, including construction, retail, and service and hospitality.

For these foreign employees, working in Switzerland means higher wages than they would earn in their own countries for the same jobs.

The fact that foreign employers can’t match Swiss wages causes staff shortages in border areas, as “everyone wants to work in Switzerland”, according to one employer in the French Haute-Savoie region.

How are cross-border employees able to work in Switzerland?

They must obtain the so-called G work permit, which is given only to eligible border area residents (see below).

Once you find a job in Switzerland, your Swiss employer will apply for this permit for you at the canton where you will be working. This is what this permit entitles you to (and not):

  • Most cross-border workers typically commute to and from work on daily basis, but they must return to their main place of residence abroad at least once a week.
  • The G-permit is valid five years, unless it’s a temporary contract in which case it is valid only for the duration of employment. The permits are limited only to the issuing cantons.
  • A cross-border permit does not grant access to permanent residence  (B or C permit), or to Swiss citizenship. This status also changes the way you will have to pay taxes and social deductions, which also depends on your country or residence and the canton of employment.

This article explains all the details:

How to get a permit as a cross-border worker in Switzerland

I live in the border region of France / Italy / Germany / Austria. Am I eligible work in Switzerland?

Yes, but only if you are a citizen or legal resident of the  country where you live (or another EU state), or of an EFTA nation (Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein).

The fact of merely living in a EU state doesn’t grant the right to work in Switzerland. However, if you are a citizen of a third nation, you can still apply for a G permit as long as you have been a legal resident of a country adjacent to Switzerland for at least six months.

If you are a Swiss citizen who just happens to live across the border (as some dual nationals do), then you obviously don’t need a permit to work in Switzerland.

READ MORE: Five things you should know if you’re a cross-border worker in Switzerland

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Switzerland and France further extend tax benefits for cross-border workers

Switzerland has again extended a set of beneficial tax arrangements for cross-border workers living in France until November, although not everyone is happy.

Switzerland and France further extend tax benefits for cross-border workers

The rules were originally put in place during the Covid pandemic, when various laws and regulations in Switzerland and elsewhere encouraged people to work from home. 

Alongside these rules, the Swiss and French governments changed the underlying tax rules to encourage people to work from home. 

These rules were originally put in place in March 2020, but have been extended several times and will now expire on October 31st. 

What are the rules? 

Under normal circumstances, anyone living in France who works in Switzerland can spend no more than 25 percent of their time working from home. 

READ MORE: Why French cross-border workers choose to work in Switzerland

If they exceed this time limit, they would have to pay social security contributions and tax charges tin France rather than in Switzerland, which would be much higher.

The agreements between France and Switzerland – along with several other countries where people resident in France work like Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany – “provide that days worked at home because of the recommendations and health instructions related to the Covid-19 pandemic may … be considered as days worked in the state where [workers] usually carry out their activity and therefore remain taxable,” according to the statement from the French Employment Ministry.

In June, cross-border worker advocates called for the agreements to be extended. 

Companies in France’s Haute-Savoie region, where most of cross-border workers employed in Geneva come from, are upset, claiming that home-office agreement makes working in Switzerland even more attractive for French workers, at the detriment of local businesses.

According to Christophe Coriou, head of the Haute-Savoie section of French employers, “these agreements accentuate the competitive disadvantage” of French companies compared to Swiss jobs — in terms of salaries, but also lower taxes and other perks.

“By emptying them of their human resources, Geneva penalises companies in Haute-Savoie”,  Coriou  said, adding that “teleworking of cross-border workers, which is perceived as an additional attraction to the salary, accentuates the competitive disadvantage of companies in neighbouring France”.

What about other countries? 

Switzerland is heavily reliant on cross-border workers, with an estimated 340,000 crossing daily from France, Germany and Italy into Switzerland to work. 

About 90,000 workers from France are employed in Geneva, but there is no official data on how many still work from home.

Italy and Switzerland signed an agreement relating to cross-border workers in March.

Germany also has its own agreement with Switzerland. 

More information about the rules in place can be found at the following link. 

EXPLAINED: What cross-border workers should know about taxation in Switzerland