Social security and insurance

Switzerland has concluded international social security agreements with 44 countries. The main purpose of these agreements is to ensure that citizens of the states parties to the agreements are treated equally, to determine the applicable legislation and to regulate the payment of social security benefits abroad. Between Switzerland and South Africa there is no international social security agreement.

Social security system

As there is no compulsory insurance scheme in South Africa's social security system, immigrants are advised to make their own provisions.

Retirement benefits

The South African state provides minimum welfare benefits for people who are old, sick or infirm, and for children. However, this amounts to no more than emergency assistance and is not comparable with European standards. Furthermore, such benefits are only granted to citizens of South Africa, people with permanent residence, or recognised refugees.

In South Africa, provision for retirement can only be undertaken privately – people wishing to draw a pension must therefore take out private insurance. Employers often contribute to pension schemes or funds. Pensioners with permanent residence can apply for a state pension provided they meet the various requirements.

Health and accident insurance

In South Africa there is no statutory health insurance but there are a number of occupational and personal group insurance schemes that are financed jointly by employers and employees. Additional private health insurance is strongly recommended. The private insurance market is governed by the country's Insurance Act. The objective of this Act is to, in a manner consistent with the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996, promote the maintenance of a fair, safe and stable insurance market for the benefit and protection of policyholders, by establishing a legal framework for the prudential regulation and supervision of insurers and insurance groups that:

  • facilitates the monitoring and the preservation of the safety and soundness of insurers;
  • enhances the protection of policyholders and potential policyholders;
  • increases access to insurance for all South Africans;
  • promotes broad-based transformation of the insurance sector; and
  • contributes to the stability of the financial system in general.

South Africa's public healthcare system, which is taxpayer-funded and provides free treatment for those in need, has deteriorated significantly in recent years. Private hospitals provide medical care that meets the usual requirements in Switzerland. Common medications are also widely available in pharmacies in the larger towns.

Occupational pension scheme

The Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act 130 of 1993 provides for compensation for disablement caused by occupational injuries or diseases sustained or contracted by employees in the course of their employment, or for death resulting from such injuries or diseases; and to provide for matters connected therewith.

The compensation fund is for permanent employees, casual workers, trainees and apprentices who meet with an accident or fall ill at work and lose their income as a result.

Unemployment insurance

In case of unemployment, there is a fund with compulsory membership governed by the Unemployment Insurance Act No. 63 of 2001.

The purpose of this Act is to:

  • establish the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF);
  • provide for the payment from the UIF of unemployment benefits to certain employees, and for the payment of illness, maternity, adoption and dependant’s benefits related to the unemployment of such employees;
  • provide for the establishment of the Unemployment Insurance Board, the functions of the board and the designation of the Unemployment Insurance Commissioner; and
  • provide for matters connected therewith.

To this end, each employee contributes part of their monthly salary to the UIF. If they lose their job, they are entitled to remuneration based on their last net salary for up to six months. Upper limits on benefits are relatively low and are often adjusted. The UIF also covers continued pay in the event of illness or maternity leave.

Foreign nationals working in South Africa on a temporary contract are not entitled to UIF benefits.

Swiss old-age and survivors' insurance (OASI) and invalidity insurance (IV)

Payment of ordinary pensions

Ordinary OASI and IV pension payments (except quarter pensions under the IV scheme) for Swiss nationals can be transferred to their place of residence anywhere in the world. The pension is paid out directly by the Swiss compensation office, generally in the currency of the country of residence. You may also choose to have your benefits paid into a personal postal or bank account in Switzerland. Helplessness allowances and supplementary benefits are only paid if you are resident in Switzerland.

Voluntary OASI/IV

Swiss nationals who do not live in an EU/EFTA member state may join the voluntary OASI/IV scheme if they had compulsory insurance cover for at least five consecutive years immediately prior to their departure. Enrolment in the Swiss voluntary OASI/IV system does not exempt you from enrolling in a compulsory insurance system in your country of residence or employment. Employed persons contribute 10.1% of their salary to the pension fund. The minimum annual contribution is CHF 950. The voluntary OASI/IV system offers protection against the risks of old age, disability and death, in particular to persons who are not gainfully employed and who in many cases are not entitled to join a foreign social security scheme.

Special provisions for people employed by a Swiss company

Special provisions apply to persons who live abroad and are employed and on the payroll of an employer based in Switzerland and to their accompanying spouses abroad provided they are not gainfully employed. For further information, please contact your OASI office.

OASI pensioners (1st pillar) and pension fund beneficiaries (2nd pillar)

Make sure that pension payments from your old-age and survivors' insurance (OASI), your pension fund or other insurance policies you have taken out are being properly transferred to you. Whenever you change your address, you must inform the OASI compensation office, your pension fund and insurance provider. The Swiss Compensation Office (SCO) sends all persons who are receiving benefits a certificate of life and marital status form each year. To ensure uninterrupted payment of your pension, please return the form to the SCO within 90 days, duly endorsed by your local authority, or any other officially recognised administration.

Taxation of pension fund income

Switzerland imposes a withholding tax on pension fund income if the beneficiary resides abroad. Double taxation agreements sometimes allow the withholding tax to be waived or to be reclaimed by the pension recipient in their country of residence.

Social assistance for Swiss citizens abroad

In certain circumstances, the FDFA's Social Assistance Service for the Swiss Abroad (SAS) provides social assistance to Swiss nationals living abroad who have run into financial difficulty. If you find yourself in financial distress, you must first make every effort to manage with your own resources. If you really cannot manage on your own, you should try to get financial help from your family or from friends or acquaintances. You should also find out what social assistance or other support you can receive from the authorities in your country of residence. Support from the SAS should be a measure of last resort.


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