For members


EXPLAINED: The rules that cross-border workers shouldn’t break in Switzerland

There are a number of restrictions imposed on G-permit holders — people who are working in Switzerland but living in neighbouring countries.

EXPLAINED: The rules that cross-border workers shouldn't break in Switzerland
Cross-border workers can't use their personal car for professional purposes in Switzerland. Photo by Samuel Foster on Unsplash

Who are the Swiss cross-border workers?

Cross-border commuters are, according to the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) “foreign nationals who are resident in a foreign border zone and are gainfully employed within the neighbouring border zone of Switzerland”.

SEM defines the term “border zone” as the countries with which Switzerland shares a border — that is, France, Italy, Germany, and Austria.

The 360,000 G-permit holders who cross the border into Switzerland each day are subject to certain restrictions that the other 1.718 million foreign nationals residing permanently in Switzerland under C, B, or L permits are not.

These are some of the rules pertaining specifically to cross-border commuters.

Restrictions concern the use of vehicles

For instance, under the current rules, cross-border commuters are allowed to drive to and from jobs in their vehicles registered abroad, but they can’t use their personal cars for professional reasons.

Instead, they must use a vehicle provided by their Swiss employer.

However, a parliamentary motion, supported by the Federal Council, calls for changes to this regulation, arguing that it limits employment opportunities for certain workers.

This is the case, for instance, in the cleaning sector, where it is customary for employees to go to the place of work directly from home, bringing the necessary material with them.

However, “due to the regulations in force, this way of proceeding is not allowed for cross-border commuters,” according to MP Martin Schmid, who filed the motion now being debated in the parliament.

By the same token, if you receive a company car registered in Switzerland from your Swiss employer, you can use it only to commute to work and back, as well as for professional activities. 

However, EU customs regulations prohibit private use of the Swiss company car in your EU home country.

But that’s not all: if you live in an EU state, never borrow cars registered in Switzerland and drive them abroad. That is because EU residents are banned from driving a Swiss car in an EU country — unless the Swiss owner of the car is sitting next to you and can vouch that this is their vehicle and you are just driving it on their behalf.

Residence rules

There are other restrictions imposed on G-permit holders as well, mostly concerning residence rights.

For instance, cross-border commuters must return to their main place of residence abroad — if not each day, then at least once a week.

While a person with a G permit can’t purchase Swiss property to be used as their main residence (since they don’t have a permanent resident status), they are allowed to  buy a secondary residence, but only in the vicinity of their Swiss employer.

This means that, if, for instance, you live in the Haute-Savoie region of France and work in Geneva or Vaud, you can’t buy a house 230 km away in Zermatt.

Also, while you are allowed to own this property, you can’t rent it out.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: Who can work in Switzerland but live in a neighbouring country

Be aware of taxes

Cross-border workers should be aware of tax rules so they don’t inadvertently break them. The specific rules all depend on which country employees are travelling from. 

For instance, there’s an agreement between Switzerland and France, Italy, and Germany authorises cantons to subtract withholding tax (also known as taxation at source) from cross-border workers’ wages.

This system is different from the one used by resident workers, who declare their income and pay taxes in monthly instalments throughout the year.

The taxes that cross-border workers pay in Switzerland are deducted from their tax liability in their country of residence.

To determine the withholding tax rate, the total gross income from all employment, including supplementary earnings such as benefits from invalidity or accident insurance, are calculated. 

Employers then forward the levied amounts to cantonal tax authorities. 

READ MORE: What cross-border workers should know about taxation in Switzerland

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For members


EXPLAINED: Switzerland’s planned work quotas for third-country nationals

While people from the EU/EFTA states can get a Swiss work permit relatively easy, citizens from third countries are subject to quotas, which are renewed each year.

EXPLAINED: Switzerland's planned work quotas for third-country nationals

For 2023, the government will issue the same number of work permits to non-Europeans as it had this and last year, the Federal Council has announced.

This means 8,500 skilled workers from third countries can be employed in Switzerland: 4,500 will benefit from a B and 4,000 from a L permit.

In addition, 3,500 permits are set aside for workers from the UK, as British citizens benefit from separate quotas: 2,100 under a B permit and 1,400 under an L permit.

Why do British citizens have a separate quota?

From January 1st, 2021, people from Great Britain are no longer considered to be EU nationals and are subjected to the same rules as other citizens of third nations.

In other words, they will be “admitted to work here provided if this is in Switzerland’s overall economic interest”, according to State Secretariat for Migration (SEM). 

However, this  doesn’t apply to British nationals who had moved to Switzerland before the end of the Brexit transition period (December 31st, 2020) — they will retain all their existing rights for residence and employment.

How can a third-country national apply for a Swiss work permit?

“Authorisations are issued according to the needs of companies and taking into account the economic interests of Switzerland,” the Federal Council said,  adding that “priority is given to workers already present in the country.”

If you are not in Switzerland but want to apply from abroad, “you may only do so if you are highly qualified, i.e. if you are a manager, specialist or other skilled professional,” according to SEM.

“This means, essentially, that you should have a degree from a university or an institution of higher education, as well as a number of years of professional work experience.”

And, you must have a job offer in Switzerland, that is, someone who can attest they want to employ you. 

Another condition is that your potential employer must prove that there is no suitable person to fill the job vacancy from Switzerland or from an EU/EFTA state, SEM said.

How do you find an employer who might want to take you on?

In the same way as anyone else — Swiss or EU / EFTA national — would: look at posts advertised in Switzerland and if you see a job listing you like, you can apply in the usual manner — send your CV and other documents required by the company.

If you do get hired because you fulfil all the criteria — that is, you are highly skilled and no Swiss or EU candidate can be found to fill this position — your employer will apply for a work permit for you. Cantonal authorities will then decide, based on the quota system mentioned above, whether to grant the authorisation.

You can find more information in this article:

EXPLAINED: What are your chances of getting a job in Switzerland from abroad?