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Reader question: How can I move to Switzerland as a self-employed person?

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
Reader question: How can I move to Switzerland as a self-employed person?
If you a self-employed foreigner, you must follow some rules. Image by Firmbee from Pixabay

If you are a foreign national and want to set up a business in Switzerland, there are some specific regulations you must follow.


The first thing you must know is that ‘self-employment’ and ‘freelancing’ are not exactly the same

Both fit under the category of “independent workers” or “independent contractors,” but the lines between the two can be a bit murky.

All freelancers are self-employed, but not all self-employed people are freelancers. The latter usually have more structured business models, while the former are more “free” in their activities (hence the term “freelancer”), handling multiple projects and clients at once, often without the need for a physical office.

Legally speaking, however, both are pretty much the same.

However, there are no work permits specifically for self-employed persons / freelancers, as most Swiss permits are tied to an employer. 

You can become a freelancer only if you are already living in the country, with a legal status that allows you to work here, which usually means either a C or B permit.

You can, however, move to Switzerland with an intention of setting up your own business. How (relatively) easy or difficult it is depends of where you are coming from.


According to State Secretariat for Migration (SEM), you are required to register within 14 days of your arrival with the local authorities of the commune in which you live, and apply for a residence permit.

You must present a valid identity card or passport, as well as documents proving you will be self-employed and will able to support yourself and your family members. The last thing Switzerland wants is foreigners who will become dependent on social assistance.

Your documents will be examined and if they are approved, you will receive a B permit. You can’t begin any professional activity until then.


Being a citizen of a third-country doesn’t automatically exclude you from setting up a business in Switzerland, but conditions for doing so are stricter.

Your ‘burden of proof’ is heavier than that required of people from EU / EFTA states.

How so?

You must demonstrate that your self-employment will have a positive impact on the Swiss labour market and is in overall economic interest.

That’s why “your application must be accompanied by a number of documents to permit a review of the financial conditions and the business's operating requirements,” according to SEM. “These documents must include a business plan, an analysis of the market, how the workforce will develop (in both quantitative and qualitative terms) and recruitment options, as well as planned investments and forecasts for turnover and profit.”

This concerns primarily medium or large enterprises; but even if you are thinking of setting up a small business, you must also provide abundant proof of how you will support yourself and how your products or services will be useful for local economy.

This official government link has plenty of information on setting up a business and becoming self-employed in Switzerland. 


Must you register your business?

This is where another difference between being a self-employed person and a freelancer lies.

The so-called 'sole proprietorship' commercial registration is required only when the annual income from a business exceeds 100,000 francs, which most freelancers can only dream of.

If, however, you are lucky enough to make that much money, you must register here.

For all the other one-person businesses, registration is optional.


What are some other important things a self-employed person must know?

They relate mostly to insurance, social contributions, and financial planning (and are just as important for foreign nationals and self-employed Swiss).

In terms of insurance, since you have no employer to provide an accident insurance for you, you must so yourself, as this is compulsory in Switzerland.

READ ALSO: How does accident insurance work in Switzerland?

A number of insurers provide accident insurance policies specifically designed for self-employed individuals, or you can also get a policy as part of your obligatory basic health coverage (KVG / LaMal).

Another insurance you should get is one that covers loss of income in case you become ill and can’t work.

A number of Swiss health insurance providers offer these policies, but as they are based on your health status, premiums can be quite high. 

Social security / pension

As a self-employed person, you cover the full cost of social security contributions yourself.

How much are they ?

According to Moneyland consumer platform, “depending on your income, your social security premiums equal between 5,196 percent and 9.65 percent of your income. You also pay an administrative fee for self-employed individuals equal to up to 5 percent of your social security contributions." 


As you are not a part of an employer’s retirement scheme, you must ensure you accumulate enough savings to live off after you stop working.

The same is also true if for some reason your business goes under and you no longer have any income — especially as you are not eligible for unemployment benefits as a self-employed individual.

How much you need to set aside depends on many factors and it is best to seek advice from a professional financial planner.


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