Before you make preparations for leaving the country, be sure to obtain all the necessary information about the living conditions in the country of destination and the potential consequences of emigrating.
Foreign representations in Switzerland
The official foreign rapresentation in Switzerland (embassies or consulate) are your contact for many questions (entry requirements and customs).
If you are not able to get the information you need in Switzerland, contact the Swiss representation responsible for your destination country. They can usually help you clarify any specific issues you may have at cost. There is also a great deal of useful information relating to Switzerland on the websites of the various Swiss representations (e.g. how to register with the representation, questions about civil status, etc.).
Entry and residence requirements
Each country has its own entry and residence requirements. Some are very reluctant to give permanent residence permits to pensioners who have recently moved to their country. If you have retired, certain countries make it easier to get a permit if you are able to invest financially in your new host country (known as an investment visa).
Passports, visas and residence permits
If you want permanent residence in a new country, you must enter with a valid passport. Some countries may also require a visa. The official representation (embassy or consulate) responsible for your destination country in Switzerland is in charge of issuing residence permits. Most of them also have websites that can give you accurate information on the entry and residence requirements. Some countries have a special pensioner visa that is valid for several years and can be extended. In most cases, you will need to prove that you have a certain lifelong income security (confirmation of your entitlement to a pension, bank statements, bank guarantee). Some countries require you to deposit a certain amount of money in a bank (CHF 50,000 or more). Pensioners are also usually expected to have health insurance. As a foreign pensioner, you will probably need a residence permit – even if you do not live there all year round. This means that even if you do not plan to emigrate for good – only spending the winter abroad, for example – you will still have to follow your host country's residence requirements. Find out the latest information on entry, residence and customs requirements from the official representation responsible for your destination country.
Retiring in an EU/EFTA country
- a valid identity card or passport
- a valid health and accident insurance policy
- confirmation of your entitlement to a pension (OASI/IV, OPA, private cover) as proof of sufficient financial means. Your financial resources must be more than the minimum welfare benefit provided by your destination country. When you apply, your residence permit will automatically be extended for at least five years provided you meet all the requirements. However, you will not be entitled to social security benefits.
The Swiss-EU bilateral agreements mean that Swiss nationals are treated like EU citizens. If you have retired, you are entitled to a residence permit that is valid for five years provided you have the following documents for yourself and your family:
Registering in your destination country
Most countries require new arrivals to register with the immigration authorities, usually within a certain period of time. Make sure you know where and by when in advance.
If you are a Swiss national and have deregistered from your commune of residence, you must register with the Swiss representation abroad (embassy or consulate) which covers your destination country. Once you have deregistered in Switzerland, you have 90 days to register with the right Swiss representation abroad. You do not have to pay a fee for this, but it means you can be contacted more easily if there is an emergency. It also helps with administrative formalities – if you need an identification document or marriage, birth or death certificate issued – and to keep a connection with your home country. To register as a Swiss national living abroad, you need your passport (or ID card), deregistration certificate and, if available, your certificate of origin. You can also register directly via the online desk. Once you have done this, you will be able to vote in elections and referendums in Switzerland, although you will need to register separately to do so. You will also receive a free subscription to the Swiss Review.
If you are planning to move all your household effects, find out in advance from the official representation responsible for your destination country about the exact customs rules and whether you will have to pay any duties or fees. A number of countries allow people to move their household effects (i.e. removal goods) duty and tax free, but some collect customs duties and VAT. If you do not find out about importation regulations in your destination country, you may be in for an unpleasant surprise when you arrive (fees, confiscation, fines). There may also be certain rules and restrictions on food, alcohol, tobacco, medicines, electrical appliances and items in their original packaging. Expressly prohibited or restricted categories usually include plants and animals, weapons and ammunition, as well as drugs and pornographic material. Find out about the customs regulations of your destination country beforehand. It is a good idea to hire an international moving company to handle all transportation and importation issues. Find out more from the Federal Office for Customs and Border Security (FOCBS).
Federal Office for Customs and Border Security (FOCBS)
There are special regulations for importing motor vehicles. You will also need to find out about authorisation requirements (number plate, insurance, certain technical issues) and whether your Swiss driving licence can be converted without having to take a test.
Remember that you have to deregister from your cantonal road traffic office before leaving Switzerland.
Cantonal vehicle licensing offices (de, fr, it)
If you want to take your pet with you, there will also be certain conditions (vaccinations, quarantine). Make sure you find out from the official representation responsible for your destination country before your move.
Health and prevention
Before retiring abroad you will need to look at the healthcare available in your chosen country and, if necessary, discuss your needs and circumstances with your GP in advance. Further information on health and prevention is available below.
It is important that you clear up any potential health risks posed by your destination country beforehand. Make sure you get vaccinated in Switzerland before travelling if need be.
- What medical services are available?
- Will I be able to communicate with the doctors there? Do they do house calls? How can I contact a doctor in an emergency?
- Are there any good hospitals? Can I get surgery done there, or would I have to go back home for a major operation?
- Do I have the right health cover? Or do I meet the requirements for comprehensive health and accident insurance (and can I afford this)?
- If you can, visit the hospital beforehand.
- If my state of health no longer allows me to live independently, what are my options? Are there any care facilities? Do I have the financial means for this?
- Who is my emergency contact?
When it comes to medical treatment in your destination country, think about the following:
Some Swiss representations abroad have a list of hospitals or can give you the contact details of their approved medical practitioner. This type of information can also be found on the websites of some European countries.
Preparing properly for your retirement abroad includes looking at your finances. You will therefore need to consult the relevant organisations in good time regarding pension payouts and insurance.
Make sure that your benefits (old-age, survivors’ and invalidity insurance, pension plan and other insurances) are transferred correctly. If you change your place of residence, you must inform the OASI compensation office, your pension fund and insurance providers. The Swiss Compensation Office (SCO) sends a certificate of life and marital status each year to anyone receiving benefits. To make sure that your pension continues to be paid without any gaps, you must get the completed form endorsed by the right authority and returned within 90 days.
Standard pension benefits can be transferred to any place of residence. Payment is made directly by the SCO in the currency of the country of residence as a rule. You may also choose to have your benefits paid into a personal postal or bank account in Switzerland. Please note that helplessness allowances and supplementary benefits are only paid out if you are resident in Switzerland. Find out more from the Central Compensation Office (CCO).
As a rule, you can draw occupational pension benefits when abroad. Your pension fund can provide you with more information.
Living abroad without paid work before retirement age
It is important to obtain extensive pension planning advice to ensure that your retirement abroad is financially secure.
If you are a citizen of Switzerland or an EU/EFTA country and have not yet reached retirement age, are not covered by the compulsory insurance system, and have moved to a third country outside the EU/EFTA, you may be able to join the voluntary OASI/IV system in order to avoid gaps in your contributions. This is not possible if you move to an EU/EFTA country. Please note, however, that any contributions made after you are already entitled to claim old-age benefits will not be taken into account when calculating your pension. This also applies to old-age benefits drawn in advance. Check with your cantonal compensation office, particularly if you move abroad and have withdrawn your pension early, or if you did not have a paid job before drawing your pension.
Pension or lump-sum withdrawal at retirement age in line with pension fund rules
Although your 2nd pillar benefits will depend on the regulations of your current pension fund, all pension schemes must provide the statutory minimum benefits for the mandatory part of OPA. Most benefits regulations provide for early retirement. The earliest possible age (by law) for drawing retirement benefits as a pension or lump sum is 58. The regulations of your current pension fund will determine whether you can withdraw your pension as a lump sum (see also section on claiming your pension). If you stop earning money after 59/60 years of age, i.e. before the statutory retirement age, your 2nd pillar assets will be transferred to a vested benefits institution and can then be withdrawn as a lump sum at any time.
Cash payment options before retirement age (in line with pension fund rules)
Cash payments may be possible if you leave Switzerland on a permanent basis before 59/60 years of age. If you move to an EU/EFTA country however, you can only withdraw the non-mandatory part under certain conditions; the mandatory part will remain parked in a vested benefits account or policy until you reach 59/60 years of age. Before finding out about your occupational pension assets, it is worthwhile contacting your current pension fund and the central office for the 2nd pillar before emigrating as they will be able to tell you if you have any other 2nd pillar assets.
You can draw benefits from your 3a pillar from 59/60 years of age regardless of where you reside. Find out about the different pay-out options from your pension provider.
With regard to health insurance, different rules apply depending on whether you settle in a country within the EU/EFTA or in a third country. Follow the instructions below and contact the relevant authorities for detailed information.
If you are a pensioner with residence in an EU/EFTA country, there are special provisions. You will generally remain under the compulsory health insurance system in Switzerland if the only pension you receive is a Swiss one. Some EU countries allow you to choose which national insurance scheme takes precedence in your individual case. For more details, visit the websites of the Federal Office of Public Health (information on persons with residence in an EU/EFTA state and applicability of health insurance cover) and the HIA Collective Institution. Hospital costs and doctors' fees can be expensive abroad, so make sure you have good health insurance cover. You should discuss this with your insurance provider before reaching retirement age.
- Depending on what country you are in, a public (usually cheaper) hospital can be a problem if you do not have the right language skills.
- At the other end of the scale, it is also important to know what services are actually covered, particularly in a private clinic.
- If you want to get a residence permit, you will usually have to provide proof of the right insurance cover.
If you move to a third country (outside the EU/EFTA), you can no longer take out statutory health insurance (LAMal basic insurance) in Switzerland. Please note the distinction between basic and private insurance. Good insurance cover is important, so make sure you approach this issue as thoroughly as possible and get the right cover e.g. through private insurance. Specialised insurance providers can advise you on non-mandatory insurance. International insurance options can be very expensive after you reach a certain age, so expect there to be some reservations (depending on your state of health). Make sure you compare the different offers and find out from the authorities in your destination country whether health insurance is compulsory there. Please also note the following:
Health insurance: Persons resident abroad, FOPH
Health insurance: Recipients of a Swiss pension living abroad, FOPH
HIA Collective Institution (de, fr, it)
Under the Accident Insurance Act (AIA), only paid workers in Switzerland have to be covered by the compulsory accident insurance scheme; everyone else is covered by the LAMal. If you are a pensioner, you should therefore first find out whether continuing your LAMal insurance is possible in Switzerland (e.g. if you have residence in an EU/EFTA country). If this is the case, you will remain insured against accidents under the compulsory health insurance system. If you leave the basic compulsory insurance scheme however, you must arrange your own accident cover. Private health insurance usually also covers accidents. You should also find out if there is an obligation to take out accident insurance in your country of residence. You can take out a private global accident and life insurance policy but these are rather expensive.
If you leave Switzerland for good, you will no longer be subject to full tax liability. If you have immovable assets (e.g. property) or income from a business activity based in Switzerland however, you remain subject to limited tax liability. There is no withholding tax for OASI pensions in Switzerland, but lump-sum benefits from Swiss pension funds and institutions for tied pension provision (2nd and 3a pillars) are always subject to withholding tax. If there is a double taxation agreement between Switzerland and your country of residence that assigns the right of taxation to that country, you can request the withholding tax to be refunded. Withholding tax is only deducted from pensions and board member fees if Switzerland has the right of taxation. It also imposes a 35% withholding tax on dividends paid by Swiss companies, the interest on bonds issued by Swiss borrowers, and the interest on Swiss bank deposits. This can also be partially (or in exceptional cases fully) reclaimed if there is a double taxation agreement with your country of residence. Which income or assets will be taxed depends on the taxation law in your country of residence.
Find out more on the website of the State Secretariat for International Finance (SIF).
Swiss nationals living abroad and Swiss banks
Because of stricter regulations and international tax requirements, Swiss banks are doing less business with customers living abroad, or have tightened their conditions and scales of charges for managing accounts. The relationship between a bank and its client is governed by private law. If you are affected, it is a good idea to talk to your bank while you are preparing to go abroad so that you can find a solution that both meets your needs and complies with the bank's regulations. This is an area that is changing all the time. The Consular Directorate and Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA) are following developments closely. You can also follow the discussion on the OSA's website and the SwissCommunity.org forum.