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8 things to know about doing business in Switzerland

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Thinking about doing business in Switzerland? Here is some information to get you started.

  1. Switzerland is a landlocked country in Central Europe, neighbored by Austria, France, Italy, Liechtenstein and Germany. German, French, Italian and Romansch are all official languages, although most Swiss — 63.7 percent — speak German. The currency is the Swiss franc.
  2. Geneva is the second-most-populous city in Switzerland and a global center for finance and diplomacy. It is home to the headquarters of many international agencies, including the United Nations, World Health Organization, World Trade Organization, World Economic Forum and Red Cross. It also houses the international headquarters of many multinational companies, such as Caterpillar, Electronic Arts and Procter & Gamble. This makes Geneva, and Switzerland in general, a great place for businesses to connect with the global market.
  3. Companies can generally set up and register a Swiss office within two to four weeks. Tax laws, availability of work permits and availability and cost of facilities vary within cantons (member states of Switzerland); some offer foreign investment incentives, while others do not. Commercial enterprises must register in the commercial register. A company’s board of directors must include a majority of Swiss citizens residing within the country, although foreigners may hold majority shares.
  4. Foreign employees must have a valid passport and work permits issued by individual cantons. Obtaining these permits can sometimes take several months, and permits for long stays are difficult to obtain. There is no minimum wage for Swiss residents, but companies are liable for benefits ranging from pension plan contributions to health and accident insurance.
  5. Foreign companies have a tax liability on income attributable to a Swiss permanent establishment or income from immovable property located in Switzerland, including gains on the sale of such property. Withholding tax is levied on dividends and certain kinds of interest. Under the U.S.-Switzerland treaty on double taxation, income from industrial and commercial activities is not taxed in either country unless derived from a permanent establishment in the taxing country. Switzerland taxes only those industrial and commercial profits of a U.S. permanent establishment in Switzerland attributable to in-country activities. The same deductions are allowed in determining taxable income as for a Swiss corporation.
  6. The standard workweek is 42 hours, with a leave of four weeks per year. There are several Swiss national holidays, an average of nine per year. Some cities have local holidays in addition to national holidays. Maternity leave is generally 80 percent of full wage for 14 weeks after childbirth.
  7. Swiss business customs are generally similar to those of the United States and other Western countries. Punctuality is extremely important, and one is expected to make an appointment for meeting a business partner. You should not arrive early or late but precisely on time – even five minutes late is considered inappropriate. In addition, the Swiss enjoy exchanging business cards. When arriving for an appointment, you should present your card to the receptionist to keep on file and then to everyone you meet.
  8. The Swiss are very law abiding, and even if a behavior is not illegal, it can be frowned upon. For example, the Swiss do not litter or walk against a red light. They also are polite to their neighbors and avoid noisy activities on late Saturday night or early Sunday morning. Traffic laws are strictly enforced and infractions can result in expensive fines or imprisonment.