How to Start Your Own Business as an Expat in Switzerland

If you are an expat or expatriate-to-be looking to start a business in Switzerland, then there are a number of things you’ll have to keep in mind and various bureaucratic hurdles to clear. In the following article, our fabulous partner InterNations has simplified the process to walk you through step-by-step decisions that make founding your business faster and easier!

Business in Switzerland

Are you qualified to play?

Not every expat may start a business in Switzerland. In order to be able to do so, you will first of all need to have the right to both live and work freely in the country. Whether this is the case for you depends on a number of factors, not least of all your country of origin. If you are a national from an EU/EFTA country (Romania and Bulgaria currently not included), you do have that right and your so-called B permit is normally validation enough for you to be able to start a business. The same is the case for permanent residents (C permit holders), their spouses, as well as the spouses of Swiss citizens. If you do, however, not fall into any of these categories, you will have to submit an official application with the respective cantonal authorities if you want to be the one representing your own business. Whether this application is accepted or not depends on various factors, not least of all the need for your business idea to prove a lasting and positive contribution to the Swiss labor market.

Pick your Token: Choose a Legal Structure and Name

If you are qualified to start a business in Switzerland, you will then have to choose what type of company you are going to establish. The most common forms of legal structures are: A sole proprietorship where you are the sole owner of your company, a general or limited partnership for a small business, a limited liability company, called GmbH, or maybe even a joint-stock company referred to in Switzerland as AG. While the owner or all partners of the first two options need to have valid work and residence permits in Switzerland, the the latter two legal structures only need to be represented by a minimum of one person who is in possession of valid work and residence permits. Additionally, before you can start your play, you will also need to pick a name for your business. It will have to be both, still available and in accordance to the official specifications (you are not, for example, allowed to use symbols such as # in your name).

Get your Money Sorted

Depending on what legal structure you have decided on, you may need to deposit a minimum amount of money on an account with the bank (i.e. any Swiss bank) before you can start your own business. For both sole proprietor- and partnerships, there is no minimum capital regulated by law. Limited liability companies (GmbH) and joint-stock companies (AG), on the other hand, require a minimum of CHF 20,000 and 100,000 respectively. The capital of a GmbH needs to be deposited in full and the deposit at the bank for an AG needs to cover at least 50% of the legal minimum capital.

Register your Company and Start the Game

Once you have made all your preparations and informed yourself about the rules of the game (with outside help allowed and in most cases even highly recommended), it is time to get moving. Get all the necessary documents notarized and use them to register your company at the local commercial register. These documents include the official application form as well as any further documents needed for your particular legal structure, such as for example confirmation of your deposit of capital in case of limited liability and joint-stock companies. Should your company’s capital exceed CHF 1 million, you will also have to pay stamp duty following your successful registration. And last but not least, don’t forget to check if you are liable for VAT and make sure to get social insurance for your employees and yourself. You wouldn’t, after all, want to lose your income and have to go to jail without passing ‘Go’, now would you?

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For more hands-on tips, you can get in touch with fellow expats and  exchange information and experiences on InterNations, the biggest online network for expatriates around the world.

One thought on “How to Start Your Own Business as an Expat in Switzerland

  1. We had an excellent comment from a reader on LinkedIn that was worth posting here as well:

    Comprehensive overview! Just wanted to add two points regarding risk and taxation: As an owner or in a senior management role of an AG / GmbH in a loss making situation, you usually do not have access to unemployment benefits until you have sold your shares and/or removed yourself from the position in the trade register. On the other hand, GmbH and AG offer a number of (legal) opportunities to lower your tax base especially for small/family companies, so it is wise to look for an experienced, qualified and pro-active trustee (Treuhänder).

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