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Social Security for Expats in Zurich

Working in Zurich is an attractive prospect for many expats-to-be. Are you one of them? Read our guide to Zurich for an introduction to Switzerland’s economic growth engine, and find info on the regional economy, job hunting, social security, working conditions, and more.

Expats living in Zurich enjoy the benefits but also face the occasional disadvantages of Switzerland’s social security system. The latter mostly involve red tape, forms to fill out, and appointments at local offices. On the plus side, social insurance does improve the quality of expatriate life in Switzerland.

Having a health insurance policy is mandatory for all expatriates in Switzerland. The Swiss healthcare system has excellent quality standards, but they are of no use to anyone without medical insurance. To learn more about health insurance in Switzerland, read our article on healthcare in Zurich

The “Three Pillars” of Switzerland’s Social Security Scheme

The most important part of social security in Switzerland is the national pension plan. It covers old-age pensions (AHV), survivors’ pensions, and disability benefits (Invalidenversicherung), and it is financed in three different ways. These are often called the “three columns of social security”.

First, all employees, employers, and self-employed people pay a monthly contribution into the government’s pension fund. Second, everyone who earns more than 20,520 CHF per year (as most Swiss wage-earners do) is automatically part of a company pension plan (berufliche Vorsorge/Pensionskassen). The “third column” refers to private pension funds. Having a private pension plan is purely voluntary, although the available pension funds are regulated under Swiss law.

Please refer to our Switzerland Extended Guide for in-depth information on Swiss social security.

Social Security for Expatriates in Switzerland: The “First Pillar”

If you are part of your home country’s national pension scheme, your contributions to the Swiss government’s social insurance plan (AHV) may help raise your old-age benefits back home, or you’ll be entitled to draw a Swiss pension abroad once you retire.

However, this depends on whether or not your country of origin has a bilateral social security agreement with Switzerland. There are such agreements between Switzerland and all EU/EFTA states, as well as Australia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Chile, Croatia, India, Israel, Japan, Macedonia, Montenegro, the Philippines, San Marino, Serbia, Turkey, and the US.

Nationals of other countries may get a partial refund of their social security contributions when they leave Switzerland. The Federal Social Insurance Office or the SVA Zurich will answer all related questions.

Occupational Benefit Schemes and Private Pensions

For some expats, the money paid into the company pension plan remains on a Swiss account until five years before their regular retirement age. Only then will they be able to access the money and transfer it, for example, into their own pension fund back home.

However, this regulation only applies to expatriates from EU/EFTA member states that remain insured in their home country. Other foreign residents can get back the money from the occupational benefit scheme when they go home. Please contact the LOB Guarantee Fund Central Office if you have any questions on the “Second Pillar”.

If you have either a private pension plan in your home country or intend to start one in Switzerland, talk directly to the bank or insurance provider of your choice. They will be able to advise you if and how frequent moves worldwide may affect your participation in such a private benefit scheme.

Benefits for Expat Families

Expat women working in Zurich — both female employees and self-employed women — have a right to paid maternity leave. Every woman who has worked at least three months before giving birth and has paid insurance contributions for nine months or more enjoys certain financial benefits. Moreover, pregnant women may not be laid off unless they are still in the probation period of their employment contract.

For up to 14 weeks after giving birth, they will receive 80% of their former income (up to 196 CHF per day). If a new mother then wants to go back to work, though, she and her partner have to make childcare arrangements on their own. There is no paternity leave in Switzerland.

All employees in Switzerland — including expatriates — are entitled to receive family allowance for their children. As of 2013, this also applies to self-employed parents. In the canton of Zurich, you usually get between 200 and 250 CHF per child every month. Please ask the SVA Zurich how to apply for family allowance (Familienzulagen).

You can find more information on family benefits and maternity leave in Switzerland in our respective in-depth articles. 


We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete. 

Andrey Vasilyev

"I was able to connect with other expats in Zurich who enjoy cycling as much as I do and organize weekly rides."

Elin Gustavson

"At the first InterNations event that I attended, I met my wonderful partner. We now live together in a flat next to the Limmat."

Global Expat Guide