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Digital nomads: Who can work remotely in Switzerland?

These days it is possible to be physically located in Switzerland, while working remotely for a company based in another country. Here’s what you should know about this growing 'digital nomad' trend - and how to do it in Switzerland.

Digital nomads don’t need a physical office; they can work anywhere.
True digital nomad can work from anywhere, including the bench. Photo by Polina Kovaleva from Pexels

Modern technology means that many jobs can be done from anywhere in the world with only a laptop and a 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.

They could be working remotely for a company overseas, or be self-employed, providing services for clients abroad. 

True nomads don’t even have an office in a traditional sense of the word, preferring to be mobile and work from different locations. And this kind of work model is becoming more commonplace.

Some countries, including Spain, are even offering digital nomad visas to tempt people to head to under-populated areas of the country.

Switzerland offers no such incentives, which is not  surprising, as any kind of work visas or permits are notoriously difficult to obtain here. However, there is a small community of these location-independent workers in the country.

EXPLAINED: An essential guide to Swiss work permits

“The scene of digital nomads in Switzerland is relatively small, but active and growing”, Lorenz Ramseyer, president of the Swiss Digital Nomads’ Association, told The Local in an interview.

His association currently has 151 active members and the Facebook group has 1,602 members, who work remotely in such fields as web design / layout, software development, consulting, coaching, virtual assistants, writing and teaching.

What are the rules digital nomads must follow in Switzerland?

If they are on staff of a company, their employer must comply with Switzerland’s labour laws, including rules pertaining to teleworking.

Most nomads, however, are the so-called independent contractors — that is, freelancers.

If this is your case, you have to comply with the laws governing those who are self-employed.

For residents of Switzerland, this includes declaring your income and paying taxes, even if you don’t have a physical office address, making social security (AHV / AVS) contributions at a maximum rate of  9.7 percent of your income, and taking up the compulsory health insurance including, if you re self-employed, accident coverage.

As many Swiss residency permits are tied to an employer, moving to Switzerland in order to become a self-employed freelancer will not confer a work permit. 

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

What are some other things nomads in Switzerland should consider?

People who don’t want to be stuck to their desks all days long — and true nomads don’t — should consider different options, Ramseyer said.

For instance, “they can buy a discount day pass and work on the train while travelling through Switzerland”.

Swiss digital nomads working on a train. Photo: Swiss Digital Nomads’ Association

He also recommends that digital nomads consider different co-working and co-living possibilities — shared living / working spaces for remote workers.

Are there resources specifically for digital nomads in Switzerland?

On November 6th, the Swiss Digital Nomads Association will hold a conference focusing on “practical information about working remotely and living as a digital nomad”, according to Ramseyer.

Different aspects of digital nomadism, including location-independent working, entrepreneurship, and building value-creating projects, will also be discussed.

The conference, in English, will be held in Impact Hub in Bern, and Covid certificate is mandatory for all participants.

The conference will additionally be streamed remotely via Zoom.

You can get the sense of what remote jobs are currently available in Switzerland here.

READ MORE: Five insider tips to find a job in Switzerland

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HEALTH INSURANCE

How to save money by changing your Swiss health policy

Switzerland’s compulsory health insurance is notoriously expensive, but you can lower the cost of premiums substantially by changing your company or coverage.

How to save money by changing your Swiss health policy

The cost of health insurance premiums usually represents at least 7 percent of a typical household budget.

An adult spends nearly 4,600 francs a year on average on the mandatory basic coverage (KVG / LaMal) alone – covering only medical care, not dental. If any extra policies are taken out, the cost is even higher.

Not only that, but premiums have been rising practically each year, and look set to go up again in 2023, possibly by as much as 10 percent — the sharpest hike in 20 years.

READ MORE: Why Swiss health premiums are set to rise — and what you can do about it

Even though these costs are high and climbing, many people keep the same health insurance for years.

However, significant savings — to the tune of thousands of francs a year — could be made simply by switching carriers or plans, from the more expensive to the cheapest ones, according to a new study by the cost comparison site Comparis.

How much and where

The amount of the savings varies depending on policyholder’s place of residence, because rates are determined by cantons.

However, Comparis calculated that over a 10-year period, people living in Zurich could have saved 33,396 francs in premium costs and for those living in Bern this amount is 30,064.

Lausanne residents could cut their costs by 36,494 francs over 10 years, 31, 032 in Geneva, and 33,490 in Basel-City.

“With the strong premium increases expected this fall, the savings potential is even greater,” said Felix Schneuwly, health insurance expert at Comparis.

So how can you save money? Here are some of the ways:

Increase your deductible

In Switzerland, the deductible (franchise) ranges from 300 to 2,500 francs – this represents the medical costs that you have to pay out of your own pocket before your health insurance kicks in.

As with most types of insurance, the lower your deductible, the higher your premiums, and vice-versa.

If you are young, healthy, and are not on any long-term medication then you can save substantially with the highest franchise.

Keep in mind, however, that if you choose the highest deductible and end up having an accident or falling sick and needing medical care, you will have to pay a greater proportion of the costs.

Switch to a less expensive plan.

The standard model for healthcare in Switzerland is that you can consult any medic that you want, and you do not need a referral to see a specialist.

However, there are some types of health insurance plans that have cheaper premiums, but impose certain limits on your access to non-emergency medical care.

For instance:

Health maintenance organisation (HMO)

Under this model, policyholders are required to consult a particular HMO practice. Two disadvantages of this alternative is a limited choice of doctors and you also need a referral to see a specialist.

However, the benefit is a premium reduction of up to 25 percent compared to the conventional insurance.

Family doctor model

Your family doctor, a general practitioner, will be designated by your insurance company and will be in charge of all your non-emergency medical treatment.

He or she will refer you to a specialist if necessary. 

If you opt for this option, you could save 20 percent on your insurance.

READ MORE: Five tips for getting cheaper health insurance in Switzerland

The Telmed alternative

If you choose this option, you have to call a telephone service and get a referral to a doctor or hospital.

This does not apply to medical emergencies and there are other exceptions, such as eye exams and annual gynaecological check-ups.

Total savings could range between 15 and 20 percent. 

Cancelling or changing your policy

If you want to cancel your current insurance policy and take up a cheaper one , you have to do so by registered letter before November 30th.

By then, you will know what your premiums will be in 2023 because your carrier must notify you of the new rates by October 31st.

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