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How to Find a Job in Switzerland as a Foreigner?

Located right in the center of Western Europe, Switzerland is an attractive location for many foreigners wanting to live and work in Europe. It is known for its gorgeous mountains, stunning lakes, and high salaries. The gross median wage in Switzerland is 6,354CHF (US$7,175) per month, which is among the highest in the world!

But Switzerland is also a challenging country to enter for foreign workers. The unemployment rate is low, below 5%, largely thanks to strict rules that ensure that residents are always considered for vacancies first. It can be challenging for foreigners to work in Switzerland because it is not part of the EU and has strict visa rules, plus the job market is highly competitive and demands multilingual competency.

Nevertheless, it is possible for foreigners to get a job in Switzerland that will qualify them for a residence permit. Read on for a general overview of the job market in Switzerland, information on who can work in the country, advice for searching for jobs in Switzerland, and tips for the application and interview process.

Switzerland’s Job Market

While Switzerland is within the Schengen Area, it is not a member of the European Union. This has given the country a great deal of control over economic growth and immigration. The result is a strong economy, high salaries, low unemployment, and excellent social security.

Switzerland consistently ranks as the country with the highest average monthly net salary after tax, and has a generous unemployment insurance scheme. For example, if a Swiss resident worked for 18 months and then lost their job, they would be eligible to receive 70-80% of their average salary for almost two years. But a variety of government programs are in place to help them find new work much sooner. 

There is no specific minimum wage in Switzerland, but that does not mean that the job market is not regulated. All employees are entitled to a minimum of four weeks of annual leave each year plus public holidays. Working weeks are also capped at 45 hours for industrial workers and 50 hours for other workers. Taken together this creates a country with a positive work-life balance.

The economy is strong in finance, pharmaceuticals, technology, manufacturing, and tourism. It is home to many international companies such as Nestlé, Novartis, Roche, and UBS.

Switzerland is a multilingual country with four official languages, German, French, Italian, and Romanish, with the dominant language depending on the region. English is also widely spoken in the workplace. Multilingualism is a valued skill.

While one in five people working in Switzerland is a citizen of another country, the rules for foreign workers are extremely strict, and most foreign workers are considered highly skilled.

Who Can Work in Switzerland

While Switzerland has paths of entry for EU and European Free Trade Association (EFTA) citizens, it is more challenging for other foreigners to obtain a work visa to live and work in Switzerland.

EU and EFTA Citizens

EU and EFTA citizens have the right to stay in the country and look for work for up to three months without the need to obtain a residence permit. If they need more time to find a job, they can then apply for a special work permit and residence permit that will allow them to stay for an additional three months as they continue their search.

Residents of neighboring countries can work in Switzerland as cross-border commuters, without the right to reside in Switzerland. This is known as a Permit G, and workers must return to their home country at least once a week.

You can find detailed information on where foreign workers in Switzerland hail from here. The vast majority, more than 80%, come from other European countries. At the top of the list are Germany, Italy, and Portugal. But there are also a notable number of immigrants from the Balkan Peninsula including Kosovo, Serbia, North Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and Hungary.

Unlike other foreign workers, for whom employers must generally demonstrate that they are “highly skilled”, Europeans can apply for hotel jobs and hospitality work, and can qualify for a visa with a part-time job.

Citizens of Croatia should be aware that as of 1 January 2023, they are subject to the same visa quota system as non-EU citizens (see below).

Non-EU Citizens

Each year, the government sets a quota for how many visas it will offer to non-EU foreign workers. It was set at 8,500 in 2022 and the number has been consistent for several years. It is always better to apply for a work visa near the start of the year while there are still many available.

It is worth noting that PhD researchers are not counted within the Swiss visa quota and generally have an easier time qualifying for a permit to work and live in Switzerland.

To obtain a work visa you must be sponsored by an employer, but there are a number of hoops that the employer will need to jump through before a vacancy can qualify for a foreign worker visa.

The company must prove that there are no suitable candidates to fill the position in Switzerland or the European Union before they can consider foreign applicants. They must also register their vacancy on the national unemployment exchange and verify that there are no suitable candidates available there before they can publicly advertise the vacancy.

In addition to this, when foreign employees are considered, the company must be able to demonstrate that they are highly qualified, with vocational or higher education qualifications, that they have extensive relevant experience, and that the candidate meets prerequisites for integration into Swiss society. This usually means proficiency in the local language of the region.

The exception to this application process for non-EU citizens is for employees who work for an international company with offices in Switzerland and are transferred to the Swiss office. These workers do not need to meet the same extensive requirements and can bypass the visa quota scheme.

Swiss cities have a very high percentage of foreigners, but due to strict immigration policies, it can be difficult to move here without an EU passport. It is best to transfer to a Swiss office within an international company or enter a PhD program. If you are applying for a work visa, it is better to look for a job and apply for a residence permit at the beginning of the year, when the annual quota for the number of visas has not yet been spent.

Alice Schlosser

Career advice in Switzerland | Contact Alice

Searching For Jobs in Switzerland

While the job market in Switzerland is highly competitive and restrictions can make obtaining a work visa challenging, there are many desirable jobs for foreigners in Switzerland, and demonstrated by the fact that around a fifth of workers are foreigners. But how do you find work in Switzerland for foreigners?

Swiss Cantons

Before you start your job search, it is a good idea to know what to expect from the different regions of Switzerland. Remember that the country has four official languages, including German, French, Italian, and Romansh, and English is also widely spoken. 

German is by far the most widely spoken language in Switzerland, but Swiss German is pronounced quite different from Standard German and will take some practice.

Zurich is the largest city in Switzerland and there are many jobs in Zurich available for foreigners. The local economy is particularly strong in banking, insurance, fintech, and IT. German is the principal language.

Bern, the capital of Switzerland, speaks a mixture of German and French. This is where many government organizations and international companies are based.

French is predominantly spoken in Geneva and the strongest industries in the region are manufacturing, IT, and it is also the base of many international organizations.

The locals in Basel predominantly speak German. This is where you will find many of the big pharmaceutical and chemical companies.

Jobs for EU and EFTA Citizens

If you are a citizen of an EU or EFTA country, you can apply for job vacancies in Switzerland, and your potential employer does not need to obtain a visa for you within the work visa quota allowance.

There are several tools out there to help Europeans seeking cross-border jobs. EURES and Europass both provide job listings for European vacancies and tools to help European citizens apply across borders and manage challenges such as social security investment and health coverage. 

Skill Shortages

While the Swiss workforce is highly qualified, there are some significant skill shortages. It tends to be easier to find employment in a skills shortage industry as a foreigner.

According to a recent study by the Adecco Group, University of Zurich, and Switzerland Job Market Monitor (SMM), the following are among the most in-demand workers in Switzerland.

  • Medical Staff – including nurses, pharmacists, surgeons, doctors, and anesthesiologists
  • Construction Workers – especially civil engineers, architects, surveyors, draftsmen, structural engineers, and laborers
  • IT and Software Development – companies are actively seeking IT experts, software engineers, developers, and testing engineers

If you have a qualification and demonstrable experience in any of these areas, you stand a relatively good chance of finding work in Switzerland.

Medical and Nursing Jobs

Doctors and other medical roles are among the highest paid jobs in Switzerland. You should be aware that if you received your medical training in another country, you will need to have your qualifications recognized in Switzerland. You can do a pre-check of your qualifications to see whether they are likely to be accepted before completing the full recognition application. The recognition process usually takes three to four months and costs between 500-1,000CHF depending on the type of qualification.

Nursing jobs are in high demand across Switzerland with salaries starting from around 80,000CHF (US$89,500) per year. There is also an extremely high demand for doctors, and the median wage for doctors is 257,000CHF (US$287,500) per year.

You can find medical roles in Switzerland via the Swiss Medical Network and Expomedics

Construction Workers

The average salary for construction laborers in Switzerland is around 72,000CHF (US$80,500) per year. More specialized jobs have higher wages. Architects are estimated to earn around 115,000CHF (US$128,600) per year, while civil engineers are estimated to earn an average salary of 118,000CHF (US$132,000) per year.

IT and Software Development Jobs

IT jobs, especially in systems architecture, are among the highest paying jobs in Switzerland. According to GlassDoor, IT jobs have an average salary of 103,000CHF (US$115,340) per year, which is over 8,500CHF per month. You can keep up-to-date with the latest IT jobs in Switzerland on IT Jobs Switzerland, SwissDevJobs, and Experis Switzerland.

International Companies

If you work for an international company with offices in Switzerland, asking to be transferred to the Swiss office can be an effective way to bypass Switzerland’s strict quotas and requirements for work visas. Many of these companies also do the majority of their business in English, which can be a bonus.

Some international companies with offices in Switzerland include:

Company Industry Region
Glencore International Commodities Trading Barr
Nestlé Food and Beverage Vevey
Novartis Pharmaceuticals Basel
Zurich Insurance Group Insurance Zurich
Roche Group Pharmaceuticals Basel
Credit Suisse Financial Services Zurich
UBS AG Financial Services Zurich
ABB Group Engineering Zurich
Alliance Boots Retail Drugstore Zug
Xstrata Plc Mining Zug
Coop Group Retail Basel
Adecco Group Staffing Glattbrugg
Swiss Re Reinsurance Zurich
Migros Retail Zurich
Holcim Concrete Jona

Other international organizations with offices in Switzerland include the United Nations, World Trade Organization, World Health Organization, Red Cross, World Economic Forum, and International Olympic Committee.

I recommend looking for a job in international companies, because they give you more chances to prove yourself and integrate.

Alice Schlosser

Career advice in Switzerland | Contact Alice

Job Search Websites

Many job search websites list vacancies available in Switzerland. The sites below tend to have the most comprehensive vacancy listings for Switzerland.

Recruitment Agencies

There are many recruitment agencies and private employment services active in Switzerland. Among the biggest agencies active in the country are ManPower, Adecco, and Swisslinx. For jobs in the finance industry you may want to contact Robert Walters, Alpha for management positions, and Diversity for medical and pharmaceutical roles.

Public Employment Services

If you are a foreigner resident in Switzerland, you can take advantage of Work.Swiss, the public employment service. Not only does it provide job listings, but resources that can help with searching and applying for jobs, and information about visas, the local job market, and your rights as an employee.

Can You Work Remotely in Switzerland?

Increasingly jobs are remote and you do not need to be physically in a location to work for a company. However, Swiss companies offering remote jobs are still obliged to advertise their job vacancy to Swiss candidates before looking elsewhere. If you wish to be based in Switzerland, your employer must still sponsor your work visa within the quota system.

You may also wish to live in Switzerland while working remotely for a company elsewhere in the world. This type of work will not qualify you for a work visa in Switzerland, and the country does not currently offer a digital nomad visa to enable remote workers to live in Switzerland.

If you are an independently wealthy entrepreneur, you may be able to qualify for the Switzerland Golden Visa. This requires significant investment. You can either pay a lump sum of tax to the canton in which you intend to live of 200,000CHF (US$223,815), or you can invest the equivalent of 1,000,000CHF (US$1,120,000) in a Swiss company, new or existing.

Tips for Applying for Jobs in Switzerland

Searching for a job in Switzerland is much the same as searching for work elsewhere in the world. You need to cast your net wide when looking for opportunities, look for how you can ensure you have the qualifications and experience needed, tailor your application for each vacancy, and be patient with what can be a lengthy process.

But every job market does have its unique aspects. Consider the tips below to adapt to the Swiss job market.

  • Include a photo as part of your CV. While this is not common practice in the United States and the United Kingdom, it is a very common feature of resumes in some European countries, including Switzerland.
  • Include personal details such as your marital and visa status in your application. Also be prepared to be asked personal questions such as whether you have children or your gender. While some countries discourage these kinds of personal questions, they are common in Switzerland.
  • Submit your resume and application letter in the language that the job is advertised in. If in doubt, or you are proactively contacting employers, submit your information in English in the first instance.
  • Have your foreign education qualifications recognized in Switzerland using Bear in mind that 12 years of primary and secondary education is considered mandatory in Switzerland.
  • Share which languages you speak. Speaking the national language for the region in which the job is located and/or English is usually a minimum requirement. Swiss companies tend to value multilingualism, and proficiency in Russian and Mandarin are also considered attractive skills.
  • Be prepared for multiple interview rounds. It is not unusual for Swiss companies to administer aptitude tests while selecting candidates, and to schedule telephone or video interviews before proceeding to in-person interviews. It is also not uncommon for Swiss interviewers to deliberately create tense situations during the interview to see how you handle yourself under stress.

Know your strengths and the value that you can offer into a company before applying for a job and going into an interview so that you can confidently and honestly explain why you are the best fit for the role.

How to Get a Job in Switzerland

While Switzerland may have one of the more competitive job markets, the rewards are well worth effort. Swiss workers enjoy high salaries, excellent benefits, and a good work-life balance. The jobs on offer tend to be for highly skilled workers and highly rewarding.

Because it is such a tight market, when looking for a job in Switzerland it is important to stand out from the crowd and ensure that you match your skill and experience to the career that you want.

While you may be an expert in your profession, most people aren’t experts when it comes to applying for jobs. It can be beneficial to talk to professionals with a deep understanding of recruitment and the local job market. These are the kinds of services that EP Advisory offers.

You can book a call with our career consultant Alice, who has been in Zurich for eight years helping both recent graduates and experienced professionals find positions with Swiss companies.

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What are the most in-demand professions in Switzerland?

Currently, in Switzerland, there are local skills shortages in medicine, pharmaceuticals, construction, and IT, so these are the most in-demand industries for foreign workers. There is also a high demand for professionals in finance and related services, biotechnology, and tourism.

Which international companies have large offices in Switzerland?

Many big companies that function internationally have offices in Switzerland. Among the largest are Adecco (an employment agency) Nestlé (food and beverages), Glencore International (commodities trading), Credit Suisse (finance), Roche Group and Novartis (pharmaceuticals).

What are salaries like in Switzerland?

Switzerland has one of the highest average salaries in the world at 6,354CHF (US$7,175) per month after tax. Switzerland doesn’t have a minimum wage, but the lower threshold is between 2,200-4,200CHF (US$1,980-3,720) per month for unskilled workers and 2,800-5,300CHF (US$2,480-4,700) per month for skilled workers.

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