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Quick tips when relocating to Switzerland

By Chris Eaborn - Topics: Switzerland, Uncategorised
This article is published on: 3rd September 2014

House Contents Insurance and Civil Liability Insurance

It is cost-effective to insure your own possessions, as well as the act of damaging someone else’s property or person through a combined “RC Ménage” policy. The liability cover also covers you for accidental damage (not wear and tear, which you are not responsible for) to a rented property which can be helpful as landlords here are VERY strict about any damages when you eventually vacate your property. An average family household costs approximately CHF 300-500frs per year in total for the combined policy of Contents and Liability insurance, although this will differ depending on circumstances. Jewellery should be separately listed.

Fire/Natural Disaster Insurance

This applies only if you live in Canton of Vaud: you have to buy a “fire/natural damages” insurance policy through an agency called the ECA. This cover is not expensive but it is compulsory. Normally, you will be sent a questionnaire in French to complete a few weeks after you move in to your new home. In the interim you are NOT insured, therefore we strongly recommend that you take the initiative to enrol as soon as you move in. We can provide the simple enrolment forms in English for you and a full summary of cover in English. This policy costs approximately CHF 50-100frs a year.

Legal Insurance (“Protection Juridique”)

Attorneys are very expensive and local law is complicated. You can buy a very good insurance policy that pays your legal expenses if you are sued or wish to pursue another person/company (for example, a dispute with a neighbour, or with a service provider, or with your employer). Such a policy costs around CHF 350 per year for a whole family and covers you worldwide, including litigation concerning a driving incident and costs approximately CHF 200 for an individual per year.  In addition, and if you prefer, you can exclude driving which makes it even less-expensive still. This insurance is highly recommended as Swiss law is complex, attorneys are expensive and even minor legal disputes, such as defending yourself against a driving offense, can be stressful and distracting if you are trying to handle them by yourself.  In the event of major disputes, which could incur a huge cost along with expensive attorney fees, it allows you to choose a lawyer who speaks a language of your choice such as English.

 Arriving to/Departing from your Rental Property

When you arrive, make sure you inform the landlord promptly of anything that is not working or that you did not see during the initial inspection or the landlord will expect you to pay for it. When you vacate a property there is a very strict inspection. You will have to have cleaned it to such a degree that they will check for dust in the extractor fans!! It is recommended to get a professional cleaning company to do this or you may have a long wrangle over your deposit and unwanted hassle at the close-out.

Rental Guarantee Insurance: If you do not wish to tie up, typically three months’ rent, you can have this released by taking out a rental deposit insurance. It costs around 5% of the rental deposit amount, per year, so for a CHF 10’000 deposit, you instead pay about 500frs per year.

In Case You Ever Have a Fire or Burglary – Video/Photo your possessions!

We strongly recommend you take a video of your house contents to act as an aide-memoire in case of a fire/burglary. If you were unfortunate enough to have a fire and a total loss of everything, imagine how difficult it would be to sit down and list “everything” right down to the smallest items. This video would also be hugely helpful to an insurance company as it would show that you did own all of the items you listed, even though you would not be expected to have receipts for absolutely everything you own (you could also include a scan of any receipts that you have for larger items such as jewellery/furniture). It will probably only take 15 minutes of your time to do this and you could upload the video to a Cloud storage service or place the disk drive in a bank safety deposit box or give it to a family member to store for you off premises from your home.

A home safe is also a great idea for storing financial papers and family photos on disk (it costs a few hundred francs for a good safe- go for as heavy a model as possible, preferably 100kg-200kg).

Driving

Car insurance: Please be aware that Swiss insurers are strict about reducing/dismissing claims for break-ins where something is left visibly in the car. We suggest that you never leave anything in plain view – lock it in the boot/trunk or in the glove-box (preferably with it locked).

Speed limits are VERY strictly policed here, and if you are caught at 30kph over the limit you face not a civil action but a criminal one – with a 3 months ban PLUS a fine of up to 20% of your salary – PLUS your car insurance premiums will go up. Better to know now as there is no lenience because you “did not know”!

Drink driving– Switzerland has a very low limit, and it is strictly enforced, so it is advisable to avoid alcohol or grab the train.

It is also the law that you drive with your headlights on all of the time.

For motorway driving you have to purchase a “Vignette” from any petrol station or Post Office and display it prominently in your car windscreen. The police enjoy random checks especially in February/March to try and catch people out who don’t have one!

Train

If you use the train more than a few times a year, buy a 50% discount card. The Half-Fare travel-card is available for 1, 2 or 3 years and allows you to buy 1st or 2nd class tickets for half the price.

Order your Half-Fare travel-card at your local station or on the Internet at SBB Ticket Shop.

The Half-Fare travel-card is valid for the entire Swiss public transport network, which covers a total of 26,800 kilometres. The map on their website gives details of the routes and public transport services included.

It costs CHF175 for one year, CHF 330 for 2 years and CHF 450 for 3 years. It also gives discounts on the Metro, buses and ferry-boats.

There is a special offer (as of January 2014) for 16 year olds, for a half-fare card for CHF 98frs.

Local-Amenities Guide In English

There is a great book called “Know It All Passport” which includes everything you need to know, in English, about local services and leisure amenities. This is a great resource to help settle you in, especially if your French is still a “work in progress”! www.knowitall.ch lists the outlets where you can buy it.

Groceries and Wine/Beer- ordered online- delivered to your door

www.leshop.ch is an online grocery order service (English available) for Migros, one of the largest and best supermarkets here. They provide excellent service, deliveries are normally very accurate and arrive in good shape. No more heavy shopping bags and check-out queues! Other grocery stores also offer this service.

Tax Returns

Everybody with income over CHF 120k is required to make an annual tax return. If your company does not provide access to an accounting firm to do this for you, we can introduce you to excellent local accountants who are English-speaking, not too expensive and will take the hassle of this from you.

If you earn less than CHF 120K, you should make a “Simplified Tax Return” as there are personalised deductions you can apply for that can’t have been taken into consideration at payroll level. For example, you can deduct credit/mortgage interest and you can deduct for contributing to the 3rd Pillar (mentioned later)….

Tax-Savings

You may be able to make additional back-payments into your company pension.  Currently, this is up to 20% of your salary per year for 5 years, which will be fully tax-deductible.  Additionally, in the event that you decide to stay in Switzerland and buy a house, this can be pledged as collateral to the bank, thus reducing the size of deposit that you need. We can help you understand the pros/cons of making back-payments.

“3rd Pillar”- this is a private pension which you control. It is totally separate from the company pension and is portable. You can invest CHF 560 per month (maximum CHF 6’739 per year and the amount increases slightly periodically).  If you think you will be here for a while, this is a good idea, as both as a disciplined savings vehicle and to help reduce your taxes – and even possibly assist in buying an apartment/house. There are some very attractive products that offer excellent investment returns potential, with a guaranteed capital along with a minimum return every year, even if the investment markets go down!  Plus, you benefit from the markets when they go up. Again, we can help you evaluate the various different options available and “what happens if?” scenarios. Products vary hugely in terms of cost/benefits so a comparison is highly advisable.

Buying a House

This typically requires a 20% deposit but it is now possible for Swiss and certain European nationals to obtain a 90% mortgage. Interest rates are extremely low (roughly 2% if you have a mix of variable and fixed rates) and mortgage interest is tax deductible. We recommend you consider buying only if you plan to be here at least 5 years or would be prepared to leave your capital locked-up and rent out the property if you leave Switzerland.  This is simply because there are around 5% fees in buying (“Frais Notaires”) plus, if you sell, there are capital gains taxes and realtor sales commissions to pay.  Therefore, it may not be a good investment in the very short term.

You can borrow to finance not only a main residence but also a secondary residence such as a ski chalet.

There are various types of mortgage on the market- if you would like information, again, we can assist you in choosing the right type of mortgage and setting it up with leading partner banks and insurance companies who offer home-loans and help you to set it up in the most tax-optimised way. We can also assist with mortgages in France and in other countries.  Please contact me on the phone numbers or email address listed below.

Banking / Private Banking

We can refer you to a local personal banker who speaks English and will take care of “everything” for your everyday banking needs as well as to international banks who specialise in dealing with expatriates.

We have also negotiated exclusive conditions for top-end Private Banking. Again, you can contact me on the numbers and email address listed below.

Making or Updating Your Will (Testament)

If you are not Swiss, you should have a local Will or your Estate is very complicated because local Estate law is similar to France in that it is under the Napoleonic Code (forced-heirship rules), meaning that your money would not necessarily go where you want it to! Non-Swiss nationals have the right to nominate the law of their home country in the administration of their Estate. We can provide you with guidance to write your own Swiss Will, which is relatively simple and does not cost you anything.

Investment Planning

We can help you review any existing investments and pensions and advise you on the impact of your move to Switzerland, as well as about any savings/investment you may wish to make now that you will be Swiss resident. We are Independent and can choose from across the wide choice of institutions on the market. We also have access to structures where you can deal assets yourself, if you wish to.

In particular, we are specialists in finding savings/investment solutions for internationally-orientated clients who may have careers that move them around and who do not simply wish to accumulate small “pots” in each country in which they work.

Foreign Currency Transfers

If you have regular payments, perhaps for funding an overseas mortgage, or you move money to/from Swiss francs, than using your regular bank for this service can be extremely expensive. Margins are undisclosed and, typically, include a spread of 4-5% with even commission on top! This is even if you move money from, for example, a CHF account to a Euro account with the same bank! We can arrange a free account with a leading currency-transfer specialist company through which you can convert currency at institutional rates, saving significantly versus foreign currency transfers through your bank.

Helicopter Rescue Service (Rega)

Helicopter rescue may be covered by your health insurance. However, the service itself is privately funded, receiving no State aid and, if you become a patron (currently CHF 70 a year for a family or CHF 30 a year for an individual), all fees for their services are waived.

Below is a link explaining the benefits in English.

www.rega.ch/en/goenner/goennerbestimmungen.aspx

Health Information and Service Providers

The below link is an excellent resource for finding a doctor nearby, as well as general information in English.

www.health.ch/english/index.html

Although some of the information may seem a little overwhelming, once initial formalities have been taken care of, living in Switzerland is extremely straightforward. We hope that some of the information contained here is helpful and that you will agree it is a fantastic place to live!

We will be delighted to assist you both now and in the years to come, whether you remain here indefinitely or move around the world!

Please note that this document is intended for general information purposes only for private use. E&OE.

Article by Chris Eaborn

Chris EabornIf you are based in Switzerland you can contact Chris at: chris.eaborn@spectrum-ifa.com for more information. If you are based in another area within Europe, please complete the form below and we will put a local adviser in touch with you.

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