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.
Returning to Switzerland
All the steps that returning Swiss nationals need to take are set out below.
Entry and customs formalities
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).
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 Office for Customs and Border Security (FOCBS).
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).
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.
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.
- 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.
Report your new address to
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.
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).
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).
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.
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.
Military and civilian service
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).
Looking for work in Switzerland
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.
Unemployment and social security
- 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.
- provide confirmation from your employer of the duration of your employment abroad
- claim any benefits within one year after your return/entry into Switzerland.
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:
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:
Contact your unemployment insurance fund beforehand to clarify any questions about your benefits.
AVIG-Praxis ALE B199 ff. (de, fr, it)
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.