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Freelancing in Switzerland: What foreign nationals need to know

Whatever industry you are in, you might be tempted to use your skills and abilities as a freelancer. These are some of the rules you need to comply with in Switzerland.

There are some rules freelancers in Switzerland must comply with.
Whether you freelance from your home, a rented office, or out in the open, you must follow some rules. Photo by George Milton from Pexels

Before covering the rules and regulations of freelancing, one question that many people may ask is whether there is a difference between freelancing and self-employment.

Both fit under the category of  “independent workers” or “independent contractors”, but the lines between the two can be a bit murky.

All freelancers are self-employed, but not all self-employed people are freelancers. The latter usually have more structured business models, while the former are more “free” in their activities (hence the term “freelancer”), handling multiple projects and clients at once, often without the need for a physical office.

Legally speaking, however, both are pretty much the same.

What rules should you follow if you are foreigner?

If you hope to get a visa or a work permit to work as a freelancer in Switzerland, that is not going to happen. As many Swiss residency permits are tied to an employer, moving to Switzerland in order to become a freelancer will not confer a work permit. 

You can become a freelancer only if you are already living in the country, with a legal status that allows you to work here, which usually means either a C or B permit.

Do you have to officially register as a freelancer?

This is where another difference between being a self-employed entrepreneur and a freelancer lies.

The so-called sole proprietorship commercial registration is required only when the annual income from a business exceeds 100,000 francs, which some small, owner-operated businesses may earn, but most freelancers can only dream of.

If, however, you are lucky enough to make that much money, you must register here.

For all the other one-person businesses, registration is optional.

However, you do have other obligations as a freelancer. These are the regulations you must comply with:

Taxes

Even if your income is sporadic, you should keep detailed record of all your earnings and business-related expenses, which you will need to declare for tax purposes.

Keeping records for your taxes is a must for a freelancer. Photo by Recha Oktaviani on Unsplash

If you have a high volume of clients and income, this site can help you manage your accounting.

The amount of taxes you have to pay will depend on your income and the canton where you live.

You can find more information about how to file taxes as a freelancer here.

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

Social security

You have received your social security (AHV / AVS) number when you moved to Switzerland and you have automatically become affiliated with your cantonal compensation office.

Making social security contributions at a maximum rate of  9.7 percent of your income is a must as well.

This is a requirement even if you are in Switzerland temporarily; if you leave the country before you retire, you will receive old-age payments proportional to your contributions even if you live abroad.

Insurance

You must take out a compulsory health insurance policy, including, if you are self-employed, accident coverage.

And if you rent an office, you also need to get a personal liability insurance (Haftpflichtversicherung / responsabilité civile / la responsabilità civile) to cover any damages you may inadvertently inflict on the rented space.

READ MORE: What is Swiss liability insurance and do you need it?

Do you actually need an office?

While some freelancers like to have a physical space to work in, others prefer to work anywhere with 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.

You can find our more about this growing trend here:

Working remotely from Switzerland: What are the rules for foreigners?

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ZURICH

Jobs: Why Zurich has rebounded better than other Swiss cities from Covid

The Covid pandemic hit Switzerland hard, although the country's largest city has rebounded strongly.

Jobs: Why Zurich has rebounded better than other Swiss cities from Covid

Measures imposed due to the Covid pandemic, which began in earnest in February 2020, shuttered businesses across the country and pushed many people out of work. 

When most notable Covid rules were relaxed in Switzerland in mid-February 2022, the economic recovery – highlighted by a strong job market – began in earnest in 2021. 

READ MORE: How the Swiss job market rebounded from the Covid pandemic

Nowhere was this more evident than Zurich, Switzerland’s largest and most economically powerful city. 

How did Zurich rebound from the Covid pandemic in comparison to the rest of the country?

Even though Zurich, along with other large Swiss cities like Geneva, Basel, Bern and Lausanne, have been hit hard by the pandemic from the employment perspective, Zurich’s labour market is now growing faster than in other urban centres.

One of the reasons for this upward trend is that young, well-educated foreigners are coming back.

In the first nine months of 2021, the city’s population grew significantly.

In September alone, it recorded 2,200 additional residents.

This is mainly due to people with a B residence permit, according to Klemens Rosin, methodologist at Zurich’s Statistics Office.

During the crisis, far fewer of them left the city. “This group is made up of well-educated, younger and mobile foreigners who have made a significant contribution to Zurich’s growth”, Rosin said.

Zurich’s employment market is expect to grow even further.

READ MORE: How hard is finding work in Zurich without speaking German?

That’s because in the coming years, many Zurich workers will retire — an estimated  210,000 by year 2050 — creating more job opportunities for younger employees.

In fact, according to a study commissioned by the canton in 2021, if Zurich’s economy is to continue to flourish, it will need around 1.37 million workers by mid-century.

If these vacancies will not be filled, then income, tax revenue and the financing of social security programs will be impacted.

READ MORE: Have your say: What’s the best way to find a job in Zurich

While it is difficult to predict what jobs will be most in demand in 2050 — what new technologies will emerge in the meantime — right now and in medium term, IT workers will be especially needed, experts say, because businesses will continue to to digitalise and automate.

Lower skilled jobs will also be in higher demand, including hospitality, retail and transport. 

With hundreds of thousands of vacancies to fill, people with the permission to work in Switzerland are likely to be flush with offers – particularly skilled workers with recognised qualifications. 

READ MORE: Why finding a job in Switzerland is set to become easier 

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