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Freelancing in Switzerland: What foreign nationals need to know

Whatever industry you are in, you might be tempted to use your skills and abilities as a freelancer. These are some of the rules you need to comply with in Switzerland.

There are some rules freelancers in Switzerland must comply with.
Whether you freelance from your home, a rented office, or out in the open, you must follow some rules. Photo by George Milton from Pexels

Before covering the rules and regulations of freelancing, one question that many people may ask is whether there is a difference between freelancing and self-employment.

Both fit under the category of  “independent workers” or “independent contractors”, but the lines between the two can be a bit murky.

All freelancers are self-employed, but not all self-employed people are freelancers. The latter usually have more structured business models, while the former are more “free” in their activities (hence the term “freelancer”), handling multiple projects and clients at once, often without the need for a physical office.

Legally speaking, however, both are pretty much the same.

What rules should you follow if you are foreigner?

If you hope to get a visa or a work permit to work as a freelancer in Switzerland, that is not going to happen. As many Swiss residency permits are tied to an employer, moving to Switzerland in order to become a freelancer will not confer a work permit. 

You can become a freelancer only if you are already living in the country, with a legal status that allows you to work here, which usually means either a C or B permit.

Do you have to officially register as a freelancer?

This is where another difference between being a self-employed entrepreneur and a freelancer lies.

The so-called sole proprietorship commercial registration is required only when the annual income from a business exceeds 100,000 francs, which some small, owner-operated businesses may earn, but most freelancers can only dream of.

If, however, you are lucky enough to make that much money, you must register here.

For all the other one-person businesses, registration is optional.

However, you do have other obligations as a freelancer. These are the regulations you must comply with:

Taxes

Even if your income is sporadic, you should keep detailed record of all your earnings and business-related expenses, which you will need to declare for tax purposes.

Keeping records for your taxes is a must for a freelancer. Photo by Recha Oktaviani on Unsplash

If you have a high volume of clients and income, this site can help you manage your accounting.

The amount of taxes you have to pay will depend on your income and the canton where you live.

You can find more information about how to file taxes as a freelancer here.

READ MORE: What freelancers in Switzerland need to know about paying tax

Social security

You have received your social security (AHV / AVS) number when you moved to Switzerland and you have automatically become affiliated with your cantonal compensation office.

Making social security contributions at a maximum rate of  9.7 percent of your income is a must as well.

This is a requirement even if you are in Switzerland temporarily; if you leave the country before you retire, you will receive old-age payments proportional to your contributions even if you live abroad.

Insurance

You must take out a compulsory health insurance policy, including, if you are self-employed, accident coverage.

And if you rent an office, you also need to get a personal liability insurance (Haftpflichtversicherung / responsabilité civile / la responsabilità civile) to cover any damages you may inadvertently inflict on the rented space.

READ MORE: What is Swiss liability insurance and do you need it?

Do you actually need an office?

While some freelancers like to have a physical space to work in, others prefer to work anywhere with decent wi-fi connection.

This kind of work / lifestyle has given rise to the term “digital nomads” — people who are not tied down to any one physical or geographical location, but work from wherever they happen to be.

You can find our more about this growing trend here:

Working remotely from Switzerland: What are the rules for foreigners?

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WORKING IN SWITZERLAND

Reader question: Can I go on vacation while receiving Swiss unemployment benefits?

You may think that being out of a job and having lots of time on your hands is a good time to go on holidays. But are you allowed to do so in Switzerland?

Reader question: Can I go on vacation while receiving Swiss unemployment benefits?

It is a mistake to think that not having to go to work every day means you will have time for leisure and recreational activities, and can ‘sneak out’ for a little rest and relaxation without the authorities finding out you are gone.

Unemployment benefits in Switzerland are more generous than in many other countries, but they also come with strict rules attached, which don’t include vacation time.

In fact, being out of work in Switzerland is actually… hard work.

Rules and conditions

Once you start collecting unemployment benefits, you will have quite a few obligations you will need to comply with, such as; 

  • Showing up for all appointments with your unemployment counsellor
  • Sending out a certain number of job applications per month (and proving to the unemployment office that you have)
  • Attending continuing education courses 
  • Participating in programmes to improve your skills and your employability
  • Showing up for job interviews

If you fail to follow any of these rules (except if you are sick and can present a medical certificate), your benefits could be reduced.

Swiss ordinance on this matter states that “an unauthorised stay abroad will result in the denial of entitlement to benefits for the duration of the stay, even if the insured person is easily reachable and can return to Switzerland quickly to comply with an assignment.”

This does not exclude a weekend trip, but you do have to be present in Switzerland and, more specifically, at your home, during the week.

There, are, however, some (though rare) exceptions to those rules.

For example, the unemployment office will likely ‘excuse’ your absence if you have to leave the country temporarily  for imperative reasons — for instance, if there is death or serious illness in your family, or if you yourself require urgent medical treatment in a place other than your community.

Another exception would be if you have a job interview elsewhere than your place of residence and have to travel there.

None of these, scenarios, however, includes vacation breaks.

There is also another ‘way out’ of these rules.

If you have sufficient savings to live on while looking for a job on your own, without relying on the state unemployment scheme and having to comply with all its regulations, then you are of course free to do whatever you want with your time — including taking a vacation if your finances allow it.

READ ALSO: What you need to know if you’re unemployed in Switzerland

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