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Can I live in Switzerland without a Social Security number?

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
Can I live in Switzerland without a Social Security number?
Anyone in the official capacity can see your AHV/AVS number. Photo: Pixabay

All Swiss residents get a 13-digit identification number attached to their name. But how important is it to have one?


In Switzerland, like in many other countries, the Social Security number (AHV in German; AVS in French and Italian) is an integral part of each resident’s identity from birth on — or from the time they arrive and settle in the country.

The number, which starts with 756 for everyone, is followed by 10 other, randomly generated digits.

You are not required to remember them all because you will never be expected to recite them from memory — unlike, for instance, most people in the United States, who know their their nine-digit Social Security numbers by heart.

That’s because your personal ID number is inscribed in official registers at various levels of the government (federal, cantonal, and communal) and in other administrative records as well, and will automatically pop up when your name is entered into the database.

How do you ‘get’ an AHV / AVS number?

Since 2008, for all individuals born in Switzerland, this number is attributed automatically at the time of inscription into the birth register.

If you are a foreign national coming to live in Switzerland, you are not required to actively ‘do’ anything, as this number will be created and assigned to you from the moment you have a contact with Swiss administration.

Typically, it would happen when you receive your work permit and your employer will be tasked with obtaining the number for you.

If, however, you are self-employed, a freelancer, or retired, you must apply for the number yourself, directly at the AHV/AVS office in your canton of residence. 

Another option is getting the number when you purchase the compulsory health insurance — the number will be created for you by the provider and printed on your health insurance card.

READ ALSO: What is Switzerland’s health insurance card and how do I get it?


Must you have a Social Security number and what happens if you don’t?

Yes, the AHV/AVS number is obligatory for all of Switzerland’s residents, no ‘but’s’ or ‘if’s.’

This is compulsory, even if you have a Social Security number from your country — one is not a substitute for another.

There is no legitimate reason why anyone living in the country legally should not want to have this personal identifier, because it will help you obtain various benefits and services that you will be eligible for if you contribute into the AHV/AVS scheme (as all working-age population must).

They include first-pillar pension and unemployment benefits, along with welfare and other financial assistance, if you ever need it.
 READ ALSO: The most essential pieces of paperwork you’ll need in Switzerland


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