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Returning to Switzerland

Returning to Switzerland after a long period living abroad? You also need to prepare your return to Switzerland carefully. Essentially, the process is similar to emigrating, which means you may need to deregister in your host country, complete customs formalities, find somewhere to live, register in your new place of residence, look for work, or join the social security scheme.

A homeward bound flight with Swiss International Air Lines.
A homeward bound flight with Swiss International Air Lines. (© Unsplash)

All the steps that returning Swiss nationals need to take are set out below. 

Entry and customs formalities

Requirement to report to the authorities

If you are a Swiss citizen you can return to Switzerland at any time; you can decide where you want to live and get a paid job. However, you must register with your residents' registration office before the deadline (this depends on the canton).

Customs

Used household effects for personal use belonging to natural persons who are transferring their residence to Switzerland are exempt from duty. Complete form 18.44 to apply for such an exemption. You can get the form and more information about import formalities from the Federal Customs Administration (FCA).

Federal Customs Administration (FCA)

Form 18.44

Family

Non-Swiss spouse

In principle, your non-Swiss spouse or partner is entitled to a residence permit under the provisions for family reunification. Depending on their nationality however, an entry visa may be required. This can be issued by the Swiss representation responsible for that country. It is important that you find out in detail about the entry formalities for your spouse or partner. You can also get more information on this and residence permits from the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM). 

Life partner

Depending on their nationality, unmarried/unregistered life partners may need a visa to enter Switzerland and must – once their residence in Switzerland is certain – make a personal application to a Swiss representation abroad for entry in order to take up residence, or for a residence permit as a co-habiting partner. The (cantonal) immigration authorities responsible for this will ask for documents proving your cohabitation has lasted several years; there are also other conditions you will be required to meet (joint residence, declaration of guarantee, obligation to register, etc.). Foreign nationals are not allowed to work in Switzerland without a residence permit. Non-Swiss children of co-habiting partners may be issued with a residence permit under the provisions for family reunification.

Administrative matters

As with emigration, various administrative tasks also arise when returning to Switzerland. Below you will find information regarding change of address, health insurance and social security as well as OASI/IV and taxation. 

Change of address

Report your new address to

  • the authorities of your current country of residence abroad
  • the Swiss representation (consulate or embassy) where you are registered. You can also record your new address directly via the online desk.
  • Swiss Post, banks, insurance companies, electricity/water providers, etc.
  • the residents' registration office of your new place of residence in Switzerland (within 14 days of arrival)
  • if you are in the Swiss Armed Forces, notify your section head at your new place of residence in Switzerland within 14 days of taking up residence. 

Health insurance

Under the Federal Health Insurance Act (LAMal), everyone with residence in Switzerland must have basic health insurance. If you are returning to Switzerland, you must arrange cover with a health insurer within three months of taking up residence. This will be applied with retroactive effect to your entry date so that there is no gap in your basic insurance cover (regardless of age and without reservations). The Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) is in charge of health insurance at the federal level.

Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH)

Swiss old-age and survivors' insurance (OASI) and invalidity insurance (IV)

When you return to Switzerland, you will in principle be required to make OASI/IV contributions again. If you have any questions, please contact your OASI compensation office, IV office or the Swiss Compensation Office (SCO).

OASI compensation offices and IV offices

Swiss Compensation Office (SCO) Social security

Social security

If you keep your residency in Switzerland whilst living abroad, you will usually remain under the compulsory Swiss insurance system. Find out more about the Swiss social security system from the Federal Social Insurance Office (FSIO).

Federal Social Insurance Office (FSIO)

Contributions to Swiss social security made before your return home (compulsory or voluntary OASI/IV, employer pension plan) have a significant impact on the calculation of the pension you are entitled to in Switzerland. Switzerland has bilateral social security agreements with all EU/EFTA states and with many other countries. These agreements ensure that you will receive any benefits you are entitled to from your (previous) country of residence. Make sure you keep all documents proving that you have paid social security contributions.

Taxation

If you need information on Swiss tax law, contact the tax authorities in your canton or commune, or talk to your tax adviser. The government office in charge of taxation matters is the Federal Tax Administration (FTA). The State Secretariat for International Financial Matters (SIF) can answer questions on international taxation law, e.g. double taxation.

Federal Tax Administration (FTA)

Double taxation agreements, SFI

Driving licence

General information

Register with the road traffic authority of your canton of residence within 14 days of your return and find out how you can convert your foreign driving licence into a Swiss one. Vehicle licensing office (de, fr)

Vehicle licensing office (de, fr)

Military and civilian service

General information

If you return to Switzerland after living abroad, depending on your age and fitness for service you will in principle be fully liable for military service again. If this applies to you, you must report back to the section head responsible for you within 14 days of your arrival so that you can be called up again for military service. If you lived abroad for more than six years in a row you are exempt. However, you will still be required to do your civilian service and pay compensation for non-performance of military service. If you are liable for civilian service, you must report to the regional office responsible for you within 14 days of your return to Switzerland. If you lived abroad at a young age and have since taken up residence in Switzerland again, you may be called up for military service up to the age of 25. You have until the age of 32 to complete your basic military training. If you have any questions about compulsory military service for Swiss nationals living abroad, please call or write to the Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sport (DDPS). 

Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sport (DDPS)

Education

General Information

The Swiss education system is regulated at the cantonal level. Ask the school authorities in your planned place of residence about enrolling your children into the local school. The following organisations can also advise you on post-compulsory schooling.

educationsuisse

Looking for work in Switzerland

Looking for work

If you are a Swiss citizen who used to live abroad, you do not need a permit to work in Switzerland but you do have to comply with the provisions on regulated professions. Speak to the relevant regional employment office (regional RAV) about job opportunities.

work.swiss

SECO

The State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) maintains a central database of employment vacancies together with the cantonal employment offices. This system is designed as a tool for jobseekers and for collecting labour market statistics. All vacancies can be accessed free of charge under the job room at work.swiss.

Job room

Unemployment and social security

Returning to Switzerland without a job

If you are returning to Switzerland without a guaranteed job, you should register with the job centre in your new place of residence as soon as you arrive so that they can help you find work.

Job centres

Unemployment insurance

As a rule, Swiss nationals who have been living in an EU/EFTA state must claim their benefits in the country where they last worked. If you return to Switzerland from outside the EU/EFTA, you will normally be entitled to claim unemployment benefits if during the 24 months prior to registering with an unemployment insurance provider, you were either:

  • paid as an employee in Switzerland for at least 12 months, or
  • paid as an employee abroad for at least 12 months and paid as an employee in Switzerland for at least six months.

It does not matter whether the required periods of paid employment in Switzerland were completed before you left or after you returned. What is important is that the periods of employment in Switzerland and abroad were completed during the 24 months prior to your registration with an unemployment insurance provider. You must also:

  • provide confirmation from your employer of the duration of your employment abroad
  • claim any benefits within one year after your return/entry into Switzerland.

Contact your unemployment insurance fund beforehand to clarify any questions about your benefits. The regulations on periods of employment in Switzerland for Swiss nationals returning from non-EU/EFTA states have been in force since 1 July 2018.

Unemployment Insurance Act, Art. 23 and Art. 14, para. 3 (de, fr, it)

Unemployment Insurance Ordinance, Arts. 11-13 paras. 2 and 3 (de, fr, it)

AVIG-Praxis ALE B199 ff. (de, fr, it)

Social welfare

Swiss nationals who are unable to adequately support themselves from their own resources, private contributions or assistance from their country of residence, may under certain conditions be granted welfare benefits by the Swiss state. Find out more from the Swiss representations abroad or from the Consular Protection Division (social welfare for Swiss nationals living abroad) of the FDFA's Consular Directorate.

If you have already returned to Switzerland, please contact social services in your municipality of residence for advice and assistance. 

The Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA) has a fund which, under certain conditions, can be used to grant small, interest-free loans to Swiss citizens returning from abroad provided they returned within the previous year. The loans can be used to help people bridge gaps in their finances during difficult times, but also so that they can reintegrate through language or computer courses, or back-to-work programmes for example, giving them a foothold in the job market again. Please note that this fund is secondary to welfare and unemployment insurance benefits.

Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA)

Last update 25.01.2022

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