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Working abroad

In almost every country in the world, foreign nationals who want to live and work there have to obtain a work permit. As a rule, a work permit will only be issued if an employment contract has been concluded and the employer can demonstrate that it has not been possible to fill the vacancy via the domestic labour market. However, for Swiss citizens this does not apply within the EU thanks to the conclusion of the bilateral agreements.

People crossing an intersection in Tokyo.
You can upgrade both your professional and personal skills by working abroad.

You will find below comprehensive information that is intended to help you look for and take up gainful employment abroad. 

Looking for work 

The State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) maintains a central database of job vacancies together with the cantonal employment offices. As well as a tool for jobseekers, the system also collects labour market statistics. 

Looking for work in an EU/EFTA country

Free movement of persons

Following the conclusion of the bilateral agreements between Switzerland and the EU, Swiss nationals have the same rights as EU citizens regarding entry into, residence and employment in member states of the EU and EFTA. They can enter these member states with an identity card, take up gainful employment and register long-term residence there.

Unemployed Swiss nationals may spend up to three months in EU/EFTA countries in order to seek employment and are entitled to use the public employment services for this purpose, as long as they obtain the prior consent of the relevant regional employment centre (RAV). 

work.swiss: Info Service for unemployed persons

European Employment Services - EURES

The EU labour market authorities also aim to foster the mobility of workers in the EEA via the European Employment Services (EURES) web portal, in which Switzerland also takes part. This includes a job placement service for EU/EFTA countries.

EURES offers the following services to job-seekers in Europe:

  •  An interactive database for all EU and EFTA member states, listing all job vacancies.
    Database
  • Mediation of jobs in European countries by specially trained EURES consultants at Swiss regional employment centres (RAV)
    Mediation by EURES consultants
  • A database containing detailed information about living and working conditions in each country within the EURES network.
    Country information database

Information can be found on the website of EURES SWITZERLAND:

Looking for work in the EU/EFTA

EURES helps companies looking for employees to fill vacant positions and also provides them with useful information about the situation on the European labour market.

EURES for employers

Ask your local chamber of commerce about publishing job adverts in their official magazine.

Working opportunities abroad 

There are various ways you can look for a job abroad. Information on traineeships, voluntary work, working while studying, and working on a self-employed basis. 

Traineeships

Switzerland has adopted what are known as trainee exchange agreements with a number of countries so that young people can develop their professional and language skills abroad. These agreements make it easier to get the entry, residence and work permits you need in the countries listed below, regardless of the local job market situation. The State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) is responsible for this.

State Secretariat for Migration (SEM)

Voluntary work

In this field, the number of people looking for a placement is as high as the number of organisations offering work. This can make it quite confusing, so make sure you get a clear picture of your potential employer beforehand. It is also important that you meet all the entry and residence regulations in your destination country.

If you are studying abroad

If you have been given an entry and residence permit in order to study, you will not as a rule be able to get a paid job. Changing your student permit into a work permit is not allowed. If you want to get a paid job in addition to your studies, this will have to be approved by the local labour market authorities.

If you are self-employed

If you want to be successful as a self-employed person abroad, expect to face challenging requirements including in financial terms. On top of finding out about residence and working regulations, you will need authorisation from the local police authorities in charge of business activities. To apply for permission to work as a self-employed person, you will usually need to provide the following information: 

  • a written statement providing reasons for your request
  • an exact address where your business activities will be carried out (a company address)
  • a specific date for the initial set-up
  • a copy of your (valid) passport or identity card
  • a business plan
  • proof of income and assets
  • an insurance certificate (illness and accident)

Employment contracts

As in Switzerland, any employment contract for a job abroad must set out the employees' rights and obligations. Some things you need to be aware of in relation to foreign employment contracts are set out below.

Types of contract and applicable law

If you have a contract for employment abroad with a company based in Switzerland, this will usually be governed by Swiss employment law standards and the regulations applicable where you work. The contract must comply with all safeguards set out in the national employment law. Some countries and business sectors have collective employment contracts. It is important to find out which local employment safeguards and collective employment contracts in your destination country can impact your employment relationship. Contracts under Swiss law may not deviate from employment safeguards in the destination country (e.g. statutory 35-hour week in France, reinstatement in the event of abusive dismissal, redundancy payments). Contracts with foreign employers are governed by the law in that country (legislation, regulations and customs). Swiss law does not require any special form for employment contracts. You should always get a foreign employment contract in writing however, in order to avoid any misunderstandings or difficulties in providing proof. If you are going to a country where a written employment contract is a legal requirement, local applicable law must be followed. Make sure you know who the contractual partners are, i.e. who is taking on the contractual obligations of the employer, and who you can turn to if you need to lodge a claim. It is therefore very important for all parties to be clearly named in your employment contract.

Job type and place of work

Make sure that your job type and place of work are set out clearly in your contract. General descriptions (e.g. foreperson, engineer) are usually not enough. If you are going to be doing different types of work in different places, make sure they are listed separately. It is a good idea to draw up a detailed description of your job and tasks, including where the scope of your activities ends and a definition of reporting lines and individual responsibilities. The contract cannot, however, specify in advance every detail of the actual work you will carry out.

Contract period

All employment contracts should have a precise starting and, if your job is fixed term, end date. If the employee cannot start work on time or at all because the formal requirements have not been met (entry visa, work permit), arrangements should be made in certain situations (full or partial salary issued by the employer, for example). Make sure you have a work permit before moving to your destination country. If your employment contract is set to end after a certain objective has been met (e.g. building work completed, local skilled workers trained), this usually means you have a fixed-term contract which, subject to other contractual agreements, can only be terminated before the agreed date under exceptional circumstances. If you cannot set an exact end date in advance, it is advisable to fix a maximum contract duration or provide for the option to terminate the employment relationship after a certain period of time. This means that if there are any unforeseen delays, you will not be bound to stay for an unreasonable length of time. 

Liability

Swiss law states that employees are only liable for damage that they cause culpably to their employer or a third party, i.e. if their actions are intentional or negligent. The legal situation regarding liability in your destination country may, however, be different so it is worth asking your employer about this.  You should also check if you need to take out liability insurance for employees.

Contractual penalties

Exercise caution when agreeing to contractual penalties (fines), i.e. when one party must pay the other if there is a breach of contract. In fact, it is best to avoid such agreements altogether.  If this is not possible, make sure there is a fixed maximum penalty; it is also essential to clarify what constitutes a breach of contract requiring a penalty to be paid. If you agree to contractual penalties, make sure you have an overall idea about the risks you are taking.

Non-competition clause

If your employer has a contractual provision prohibiting you from joining a competing organisation or engaging in any kind of competing business activity once your employment contract has ended (a non-competition clause), make sure that this is reasonably limited in terms of place, time and subject matter, i.e. it should not go beyond the geographical or material scope of the employer's business.

Disputes

If you have a dispute as an employee or as an employer, you can contact the official Swiss representation responsible for the host country. If they are unable to provide you with enough legal information, they will put you in touch with their approved law firm.

Jurisdiction and applicable law

The place of jurisdiction for employers based in Switzerland is usually the location of their head office. Depending on the legal provisions in your host country, it is advisable to state clearly that Swiss law applies to any matters that are not regulated in your employment contract, and that it shall also apply to the interpretation of said contract. However, you should also expect local regulations to apply depending on the legislation in your destination country. If your contract is governed by Swiss law, it must not deviate from any employment safeguards in that country. It is essential that you find out about these legal regulations beforehand. In some situations, they can provide greater protection for employees than Swiss law.

Legalisation

If you have a foreign employment contract and want greater legal certainty or effectiveness, you can get it legalised in Switzerland by the consulate responsible for your destination country. This ensures that foreign contracts/documents are treated in the same way as domestic ones in terms of probative value. You will also need to find out if authorisation from a specialist authority in your destination country is required. Some countries require legalisation before issuing a visa.

Authentication

If your employment contract is in a foreign language, it is a good idea to get a certified translation. The contract should specify which language takes precedence if there are any differences in wording.

A man cuts metal with a circular saw.
Working abroad usually places additional demands on employees. (© Unsplash)

Working hours 

Information and rules on working hours, which may differ from Swiss rules in certain countries, are provided below.

Probationary period

Fixing a probationary period is good for both the employee and the employer. Open-ended employment contracts usually have a maximum probationary period of three months as provided for in the Swiss Code of Obligations. This also applies to fixed-term employment contracts. During this time, either party should be allowed the same albeit not too short notice to terminate the contract.

Working hours

The number of hours you are expected to work each day/week is generally based on national regulations, but the structure of an individual working day/week may be extremely varied in some cases. The rules in Switzerland will not necessarily be the same in your destination country. 

Leave

It is useful to specify leave and holiday pay in your employment contract and to find out about the legal regulations in your destination country.  If you are unable to take any remaining leave you are owed after your contract ends, your employer should pay your accrued holiday time in cash. In some situations it may be a good idea to include the timeframe when annual leave is to be taken or granted, or the process for determining this, in your contract. If you go to work in the tropics or subtropics, after one or two years it is usual to be given more leave so that you can stay in Europe for one to three months (depending on the climate in your host country). If your spouse stays in Switzerland while you work abroad, you may also want to fix arrangements for them to be able to visit you.

Public holidays

Public holidays vary from country to country. Some non-Christian countries may not recognise Christian holidays, for example. If it is important to you to have certain days off, this should be mentioned explicitly in your contract. Your salary for leave and public holidays also needs to be clarified. Even if your contract provides for days off, this does not necessarily mean that you will be paid for them. To make sure you will be paid during leave or public holidays, it must be set out and agreed on in your contract. Find out in advance about the legal entitlement to (paid) holidays in your destination country.

Termination of employment

General information

If you have an open-ended employment contract – one that does not expire after a certain period of time but can only be terminated – make sure that the terms for an ordinary termination are clearly set out, i.e. both employer and employee have the same notice period. Some countries have extensive statutory protection against dismissal. If your destination country does not, you can have this included in your contract, e.g. severance pay in case your employer terminates your contract through no fault of your own. Please note that even if your contract says nothing to this effect, Swiss (and usually also foreign) law allows for both fixed and open-ended employment relationships to be terminated by either party without notice if there is good cause. 

Remuneration

Your employment contract must include precise terms governing financial matters such as salary, travel and other expenses, and payment. Further information is set out below. 

Travel costs

If your contract to work abroad states that your employer will pay your travel costs, make sure that the travel class for your journey by air, rail or sea has been clarified. Your contract should also specify which of the following costs your employer is responsible for: transporting removal goods (maximum weight) or a vehicle, visa/work/residence permit fees where applicable, any deposits that need to be paid on arrival in your destination country, customs duties, transport insurance or other charges related to your move. You should also make a similar arrangement for your return journey. Most employers will ask you to use the first available means of transport. If your contract is terminated early, any contractually-agreed return travel costs may no longer be valid; this will depend on your individual case. Your contract should therefore state when your employer still has to comply with these contractual provisions even if the working relationship has been terminated early (e.g. repatriation because of illness or withdrawal of residence permit during contract term; see also section on termination). For such situations, make sure your contract states that your employer is still obliged to pay your return travel costs and, if appropriate, those of your family – if neither you nor your family can be held responsible for the illness or expulsion. If your contract is for a longer period of time, it is usual for employers to also cover travel expenses for your spouse and children, even if they will only join you at a later date. If an employment contract is terminated early through no fault of the employee (including serious illness), the employer is obliged to pay all return travel costs.

Salary

Your salary will depend on many things, including the cost of living in your destination country. The most important factors are your performance, experience, age and profession. Your employer's economic performance may also be a factor. Minimum wages, whether statutory or as set out in collective wage agreements, will also be taken into account. Before signing your contract, make sure that the following points are absolutely clear: your salary amount and what it consists of, compensation for overtime, bonuses or allowances (e.g. for work at night or on Sundays), as well as where, when and how your wages will be paid. You should also clarify whether the salary you are agreeing to is the net or gross amount. Many countries have legal regulations for these matters. For example, you could agree that your employer will pay your taxes and social security contributions in the host country, which means the salary in your contract is the net amount. Employees must be able to see what their net earnings will actually be. The type of salary should be clearly regulated, i.e. whether you are paid on the basis of working time or piecework, for example, whether your wage is performance-related, or whether (e.g. in the agricultural or sometimes hospitality sector) there are also benefits in-kind that you may get on top of your cash wages. Your contract should also specify whether you are entitled to a share in your employer's profits or revenue. Your employer should provide you with a detailed salary statement with each pay slip.

Expenses

Where appropriate contracts should also provide for employees to be reimbursed for work-related expenses, particularly travel, food and accommodation costs on business trips. The safest option is to agree to reimbursing actual expenses; fixed rates tend to make it difficult to assess whether an expense is appropriate or not. If you are entitled to be reimbursed for expenses on a regular basis, you may want to agree to a flat-rate remuneration based on an estimate of all your likely expenses in advance. If your employer provides you with a vehicle or if you use your own vehicle for work, your contract should also regulate the conditions of use and any issues concerning costs for maintenance, repairs, oil and fuel as well as liability insurance and taxes. 

Payment

How and where you are paid depends on the foreign exchange regulations of your host country. For example, EU states must allow people to transfer their wages to their home country. Currency differences and high bank charges can, however, be counterproductive. Some contracts may therefore base payment on a hard currency under certain circumstances, in order to limit potential losses from a fluctuating exchange rate. A hard currency is one that can be exchanged freely by both nationals and non-nationals, like the US dollar, Swiss franc or Euro. Countries with a soft currency (which cannot be exchanged by nationals or non-nationals) do not often permit wages to be set or paid in a hard currency (foreign currency debt). In some countries, currency agreements of this type and foreign exchange transfers require government approval. If this is the case in your destination country, your employer should show you proof of such authorisation before you enter the country. This would also mean checking up to what amount and at what rate you will be able to transfer money back to Switzerland. Ask your employer to pay for any foreign exchange taxes, surcharges, handling fees, etc. and get this written in your contract. If your salary is fixed and paid in the national currency and you want to protect yourself against a loss of purchasing power, the only way is to link your salary to the official cost-of-living index, e.g. by adjusting your salary to the index or negotiating a wage adjustment if the index rises above a certain contractually-fixed level.

Taxation

General information

It is important to find out whether Switzerland has a double taxation agreement with your destination country; in some cases it is possible that you will have to pay taxes twice. If you have any questions, contact the State Secretariat for International Finance (SIF).

State Secretariat for International Finance (SIF)

Social security

It is also essential to consider social security benefits and provisions governing social security should be included in the contract. General information on pensions, health insurance and accident insurance is provided below. 

Illness

Your contract should specify what benefits the employer provides in case you fall ill, including any family members living in the same household if necessary. Find out whether your destination country obliges employers to provide benefits in case you fall ill and to what extent. If you need to make a contractual arrangement, make sure it is clear which benefits the employer is responsible for, what type of insurance needs to be taken out (nursing care, sick pay) and who pays the premiums.

Accidents

Occupational accidents are usually covered by compulsory accident insurance. This means that your employer is responsible for most of the premiums, which is not usually the case for non-occupational accident insurance. You should therefore check what types of cover are available and whether the benefits they provide are enough.  Otherwise, your employer would need to agree to extra benefits such as paying contributions for private accident insurance.

The Swiss Accident Insurance Fund (SUVA) has published a brochure on accident insurance for employees working abroad.

SUVA (de, fr, it)

Pensions

State social security benefits abroad (which are not available everywhere) are rarely as high as in Switzerland. If you are working abroad, you might not even be able to claim benefits in your host country because you will not have been employed for long enough to meet the minimum contribution and waiting period requirements. If you work in an EU/EFTA country, you will usually be asked to pay into that country's pension scheme so that when you retire, you will get a partial pension (pro rata system). If you are sent abroad by your Swiss employer, you will usually remain covered by the social security system in Switzerland. If you are going to a non-European country, you can continue your Swiss OASI/IV contributions on a voluntary basis. For more information:

OASI/IV leaflets and forms

Recognition of qualifications 

General information

Recognition of your Swiss upper-secondary vocational, tertiary-level professional or higher education qualification depends on your destination country.

EU/EFTA states usually recognise all Swiss qualifications. Under the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons, Switzerland cooperates closely with the EU and is part of the European system of academic qualifications recognition. If you want to practise your profession in an EU/EFTA state, find out whether it is regulated from the authority responsible for this, or from the official contact point for qualifications recognition in your destination country.

EU contact point for academic qualifications recognition

ENIC-NARIC gateaway to recognition of academic and professional qualifications

If you want to practise your profession in a non-EU/EFTA state, you will need to find out about the conditions and recognition procedure from the authority responsible for this in your destination country. The local Swiss embassy may also be able to help you.

The authority responsible for recognising foreign qualifications in your destination country will usually ask for a certificate issued by the competent body in Switzerland, which provides information about your level of education. They can also issue specific certificates about your professional activities and experience, which some foreign authorities require for EU/EFTA citizens. Find out more from the contact point for the recognition of foreign qualifications at the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI).

State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI)

EU Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons

General information

The Swiss-EU bilateral agreements give Swiss nationals in EU/EFTA countries the same rights to enter, stay and work as EU citizens. This means you can enter an EU/EFTA country with your ID, start working and register for permanent residence whilst there.

If you do not have a paid job (e.g. students and pensioners), you also have the right to enter and reside in an EU/EFTA country provided you can prove that you have enough money as well as health insurance.

If you are unemployed, you can look for work in an EU/EFTA state for up to three months. You can also use your host country's official job placement services provided you have a permit from the right regional employment office (RAV).

Last update 16.03.2022

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