Getting a job in switzerland

Switzerland is a country which has defended its independence and sovereignty for centuries. To this day it remains one of the few viable small states in Europe, even in the presence of the European Union.

Switzerland is an advanced economy, but with a twist. Switzerland's history and location have made it a quite unique economic entity. Switzerland has remained aloof from Europe's calamities since Napoleon's time, creating a role for itself as a trade and financial center.

Wages are high, and the quality of life is among the highest in the world. The immigration laws are moderately restrictive, if not unlike countries like Canada and the US in several respects.

The restrictions, however, have created a minor illegal immigrant problem, though not on the scale of other European countries. So Switzerland's immigration and visa policies are a bit tougher than some.

Don't even think about illegal immigration, period.

As in our other articles, job seekers are strongly advised to make sure they understand every step of the process.

If there's anything at all you don't understand, find out.

Visas and work permits

EU citizens

If you are a citizen of the so-called EU15 states, you do not require a visa for the first three months of your stay.

If you are a citizen of Hungary, Malta, Cyprus, Lituania, Estonia, Latvia, Slovenia, Slovakia, Czech Republic or Poland, you will require a visa, due to treaty arrangements between the EU and Switzerland. (The visa treaty predates the entry of those states into the EU.)

Non-EU citizens do require visas.

Residence Permits

Residence permits are required for all non-Swiss nationals to live in Switzerland.

Residence permits are also required to work in Switzerland.

Residence permits do not allow access to Swiss social security services or benefits.

Work permits

An employer must make a formal job offer for issue of a work permit.

The employer then applies for a residence permit from the police immigration section of the local canton.

A pre-authorization is issued for a residence permit. This document forms part of the materials to be lodged for a residence permit.

The actual work permit is obtained after this process. There is no real guarantee that the permit will be issued, and the decision is up to the Swiss canton, not the employer.

The process of getting a work permit can also be lengthy, several months.

Like many other countries the decision on granting a permit depends on a series of variable criteria such as the type of job, qualifications, etc.

Note: Switzerland is within its legal rights to withhold issue of a work permit. Issuing of a residence permit is a preliminary requirement, but it isn't a guarantee of a work permit.

Members of international organizations

International organizations have a special role in Switzerland, because so many are based there. Members of international organizations do not require a work permit, and have other rights in relations to customs, housing, and immigration.

Job search in Switzerland

Switzerland's job market is small, but busy. The volume is lower than people from bigger countries might expect. The positive side to that is you're not having to wade through huge searches, and it saves time and patience.

General job searches, a few pointers:

Switzerland is a quadro-lingual country, with the official languages being German, French, Italian and Rumantsch. The majority of people (74%) speak German . 21% speak French, and 4% speak Italian. The other languages including Rumantsch average about 1% more or less.

Because of its status as a hub for international organizations, it's also a very cosmopolitan place. That's a significant plus for foreign jobseekers, because Switzerland is probably the least insular country in the world, in terms of exposure to foreign businesses and cultures.

English speaking jobs: Jobs In Geneva.com is the obvious site for English speakers:

4icj.com is another always-useful international site:

Efinancial Careers Co UK is a very useful site, given Switzerland's high profile in the financial world.

Job Applications

It's advisable to get a good idea of your industry's employment prospects in advance. Even with the good intentions of employers, getting the job will equate to getting the work permit. If the industry is in demand, the odds are that your job in Switzerland will be easier to get.

Switzerland doesn't actually need huge numbers of people. It has a relatively small workforce. Because some people have also been abusing their immigration system, you can see why this is a bit different from getting a job in other European countries.

So work permits, and therefore job applications, need to be targeted to areas where hiring is stronger. Like any other country, Switzerland requires skilled and professional people on a more or less ongoing basis, so those jobs offer better chances of success.

When searching, remember that Switzerland can and does attract high-end candidates from all over the world. It's probably not the place to go looking for an entry level job, although internships aren't out of the question.

As a career move, however, working in Switzerland can be regarded as a step up. In many professions, particularly the financial sphere, Switzerland is definitely a positive, horizon-expanding, and perhaps, for bankers, in particular, a necessary, experience.

Job applications

Swiss job applications and formats are basically the same as in any other developed country, although they may vary somewhat with individual employers requiring lodgment of online forms, etc.

You're dealing with a tri-lingual workplace, and your language skills should be excellent.

CV formats vary at least a bit, around the world, and you'd be advised to make sure you know what the Swiss employer wants, before sending them anything.

We generally recommend direct contact with foreign employers.

In Switzerland there are several good reasons for this:

  • You need to know the employer's requirements and expectations regarding your application
  • You need to ask any questions you have about the job itself
  • You will almost certainly need to check the suitability of your qualifications, degrees, etc.
  • You need information from the HR officer regarding any special requirements for foreign applicants
  • In the case of Switzerland, you will need assistance in getting your work permit, and you should have a working knowledge of how the employer does this, and what's required from your end

Job interviews

You can expect a full repertoire of screening interviews, etc., depending on the nature of the job.

There's no specifically Swiss form of interview, but you can safely assume that the interview will be in line with international best practice.

Your language skills are highly relevant, and you can expect that one of the requirements will be for fluency in one of the official languages.

(You'd also be well advised to make sure your French, German or Italian is up to scratch, because you will be speaking at least one of those languages on a regular basis.)

Working in Switzerland

Switzerland is a relatively expensive place to live, but wages are high. Swiss wages, unlike many other countries, are negotiable, so you're in a position to do some marketing of your skills.

Salaries are subject to an annual review, usually at the end of the year.

Also unlike other countries, Switzerland has maximum hours of work.

Your actual working hours are subject to the employment contract, but the maximum hours are no more than 50 hours a week. Generally, however, Swiss working hours are longer than most other Western countries. Flexible working hours are common, and although the employer can create some variations on the basics, there are legal requirements for lunch breaks, morning and afternoon breaks, leave, sick leave, etc.

Flexible working hours arrangements are also required to take into account employee's needs wherever that's possible. That applies to planning work schedules, rosters, and other time setting matters, where the employees are required to be consulted on their hours.

Annual leave

Swiss law requires a minimum of four weeks leave for employees and apprentices over 20 years old and five weeks for those up to 20 years old.

Leave is supposed to be granted within the corresponding year of service.

As you can see, Switzerland is a pretty civilized place to work, if you can get a job there.

The standard of living leaves nothing to be desired, with Switzerland a regular entrant in the top ten countries for quality of life.

It's also an excellent place to base yourself to see the rest of Europe. You're about an hour or so by place from most of the other major European countries, Your Swiss wages mean you can literally explore the continent without too much suffering to the pocketbook, and be home in time for dinner.