Start a business in Switzerland

business center in Switzerland
Updated 2018-08-17 14:27

Switzerland is known to be a land of opportunities. Thousands of businessmen and foreign investors from across the world travel to Switzerland every year with the aim of setting up a profitable business project there. In fact, Swiss authorities have set up regulations in order to encourage and better monitor the creation of small and medium enterprises in the country. But if you want to set up a company in Switzerland, you should take into consideration the different formalities that can apply depending on your nationality. You should also be prepared to prove to the authorities that you have enough resources to make ends meet.

If you're an EU/EFTA national

Although some of the restrictions are still in place for certain countries like Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania (consult our Work Permits section to find out more), it's generally easy for EU/EFTA nationals to become self-employed in Switzerland. You are allowed to set up your own business and perform any commercial activity of your choice in Switzerland for five years, although some restrictions apply to regulated professions. Five years is the maximum duration of the residence permit you can get at first as self-employed, but you can extend this period by proving that you are making enough money from your business to be completely self-sufficient. If you are unable to support your business financially and if you are relying on the Swiss welfare assistance, your residence permit is likely to be revoked. You will then have to look for a job if you wish to stay in the country.

To acquire a self-employed person's permit, you will need to procure some documentation. You should consult your cantonal authority for specifics or go to the Swiss Authorities Online website and enter your municipality to see what's needed in your case (scroll to the end of the article for link). But as a general rule, you'll be needing the following:

  • A business plan
  • Proof of company's successful registration in the commercial register
  • Proof of rental contract in Switzerland for your business' headquarters
  • Proof of contributions to the Swiss Accident Insurance Fund (SUVA) or the Old-Age and Survivors' Insurance Fund (OASI)
  • Proof of cash-flow/making enough money to support yourself and not require welfare
  • Your interim balance and further book-keeping data

Good to know:

As an EU/EFTA national, you enjoy the same rights as Swiss citizens for the purchase of property even if it is a commercial property. But if your company is based abroad, you must obtain an authorization to buy a property with a commercial purpose. Foreigners wishing to buy a property must also obtain a permit.

If you're a non-EU/EFTA national

It is considerably more difficult for a third-country national to be given a residence permit based on self-employed work ' but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try! You just need to have a solid commercial project in hand before moving to the country. The project will first be evaluated by the Swiss authorities, who will determine if it will be beneficial to the country's economy together with maintaining existing relationships among Swiss companies. When submitting your application, you will have to produce your company creation documents and justifications regarding your company's commercial registration.

As a non-EU/EFTA national, you are generally eligible to a B permit which has a maximum one-year duration. The permit may be renewed each year provided there is no official objection (legal or social) in this regard. You can also opt for a short-term permit: a one year permit which may be extended for an additional year.

Once these steps are completed, you are required to register your company with the Swiss Federal Tax Administration as your company will have to pay taxes. Consult our section "Taxes in Switzerland".

Company types

In general, you can create different types of businesses in Switzerland: individual company, partnership, limited liability company, etc.

In the case of sole proprietorship company, you will be the company's sole owner and you will need a residence or work permit. Regarding partnerships and sponsorships, you can have many investors but they will not necessarily be involved in the company's management.

If you choose the limited liability company option, then a Swiss resident will have to represent any foreign investors: the company's moral representative has to be a Swiss resident.

Useful links:

The Swiss Authorities Online: Self-Employment
SME Portal
Swiss Federal Tax Administration

We do our best to provide accurate and up to date information. However, if you have noticed any inaccuracies in this article, please let us know in the comments section below.