Switzerland - Income Tax

Switzerland - Income Tax

Taxation of international executives

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Tax returns and compliance

When are tax returns due? That is, what is the tax return due date?

For most cantons, a tax return must be filed every year normally within three months after the end of the tax period. These returns cover the federal, cantonal, communal, wealth, and church taxes.

What is the tax year-end?

In Switzerland, the tax year corresponds to the calendar year, thus the tax year-end is 31 December.

What are the compliance requirements for tax returns in Switzerland?  

Residents

Residents in Switzerland are subject to unlimited tax liability (that is, they are subject to tax on their worldwide income). In the absence of a tax treaty, foreign-sourced income is taxed gross of any foreign income taxes or withholding taxes imposed on such income by the source country.

Residents have to file their tax returns by either the 15 or 31 March of every calendar year depending upon their canton of residence. Extensions for filing are often granted up to the end of June, September, or in some cases, November, following the end of the tax year; these extensions are based on the canton of residence. The return is submitted to the cantonal tax authority as they administer the tax assessment for both cantonal and federal tax.

If the taxpayer fails to file his/her tax return on time, he/she may be subject to default taxation. In such a case, the tax authorities will assess the taxpayer on the basis of a reasonable estimate. This tax basis would usually be substantially higher than the actual tax basis and is likely to be more expensive for the taxpayer. No appeal is available if action is not taken within 20 or 30 days (depending on the canton) of the issue of this final assessment. Late filing penalties may also be issued and these can be based on an individual’s level of income rather than being a flat rate per year.

Many cantons impose a wage withholding tax on resident foreign nationals (Quellensteuer/impôt à la source). This tax includes all ordinary taxes (Swiss federal, cantonal and communal taxes, and church taxes). The employer generally levies the wage withholding tax on a monthly basis. In certain cantons, wage withholding tax is required only if the salary received is below certain amounts. For higher brackets, the tax is levied through the ordinary assessment procedure. In most cantons the wage withholding tax is imposed on all resident foreigners, irrespective of their range of salary, but subject to the type of work permit they hold and the place from which they are being paid.

In most cantons those individuals whose employment income exceeds a certain limit (gross salary of CHF 120,000 (gross salary CHF 500,000 in Geneva)) must also file an ordinary tax return, and any tax withheld at source is simply regarded as a prepayment.

In certain circumstances, it is possible to obtain an exemption from withholding taxes provided certain conditions are met. However, the tax authorities are becoming stricter regarding such applications, and advice should be sought before proceeding with any such exemptions. In addition it is possible to obtain an exemption from withholding tax if the employer files a declaration of guarantee with the tax authorities.

If a taxpayer fails to pay taxes due within the prescribed deadline, late payment interest is added to the liability (the rates depend on the canton concerned).

Non-residents

Non-residents are subject to Swiss (federal and cantonal) income taxes with respect to certain Swiss-sourced income only. They are subject to a withholding tax levied on wages and salaries in the event that employment costs are recharged or borne by the Swiss entity or if the conditions to establish a Swiss economic employer are met (depending on canton).

Tax rates

What are the current income tax rates for residents and non-residents in Switzerland? 

Residents

The federal income tax rates for 2015 for married taxpayers are as follows:

Income tax table for 2015

Taxable income bracket Total tax on base Tax rate on excess
From CHF To CHF CHF Percent
0 28,300   0.0%
28,301 50,900 0 1.0%
50,901 58,400 226 2.0%
58,401 75,300 376 3.0%
75,301 90,300 883 4.0%
90,301 103,400 1,483 5.0%
103,401 114,700 2,138 6.0%
114,701 124,200 2,816 7.0%
124,201 131,700 3,481 8.0%
131,701 137,300 4,081 9.0%
137,301 141,200 4,585 10.0%
141,201 143,100 4,975 11.0%
143,101 145,000 5,184 12.0%
145,001 895,900 5,412 13.0%
895,901 Over 103,028.50 11.5%

If the taxable income exceeds CHF895,900 the entire income is subject to the rate of 11.5 percent.

Cantonal tax rates

For cantonal tax purposes, each canton has its own basis of taxation and tax rates, which vary considerably across Switzerland. In addition to cantonal taxes, communes also levy taxes as do some municipalities and churches. Taxpayers should consult a tax adviser to obtain the relevant cantonal tax rate tables.

Residence rules

For the purposes of taxation, how is an individual defined as a resident of Switzerland?

Residence is defined as the place where a person stays with the intention of settling permanently and which therefore provides the centre of his/her personal and business interests.

Is there, a de minimus number of days rule when it comes to residency start and end date? For example, a taxpayer can’t come back to the host country for more than 10 days after their assignment is over and they repatriate.

A person will also be considered resident for federal tax purposes if he/she remains in the country for a protracted period, typically more than 90 days (30 days if working), even if he/she is not engaged in gainful activity.

What if the assignee enters the country before their assignment begins?

Assignees may come to Switzerland before their assignment begins for an exploratory tour, but they are forbidden to work before they obtain a valid working visa. This is typically obtained once they begin their assignments.

Termination of residence

Are there any tax compliance requirements when leaving Switzerland?

Before leaving Switzerland, a taxpayer must secure clearance from the tax authorities. This clearance is given when evidence is shown that all taxes due up to the date of departure have been fully paid (e.g. withholding taxes have been deducted) or provisionally paid. Alternatively, the taxpayer can appoint a Swiss agent to deal with outstanding tax issues after departure. In some cantons the authorities may insist on the departure tax return being filed before the clearance to leave is granted.

What if the assignee comes back for a trip after residency has terminated?

International assignees may always return to Switzerland provided they have a valid tourist visa, do not work in Switzerland, and do not stay longer than is permitted by this visa (usually three months). Short business trips by the assignee to the host country after assignment end, with no recharge to the host entity, should not trigger any income tax liability. Business trips for a duration of more than 30 consecutive days could trigger a tax liability based on national tax laws.

Do the immigration authorities in Switzerland provide information to the local taxation authorities regarding when a person enters or leaves Switzerland?

Generally, no. However, it is a requirement that individuals register with the local authorities within 14 days (Zürich) of arrival for the work permit to be valid.

A person will be considered resident for tax purposes if he/she remains in the country for a protracted period, such as 90 days (30 days if working), even if he/she is not engaged in gainful activity.

Filing requirements

Will an assignee have a filing requirement in the host country after they leave the country and repatriate?

Assignees may be required to file returns for the departure year and pay tax on income earned in the final period of the assignment. In other cases, a return may not be required although the individual may still be subject to Swiss withholding taxes (source tax final) in respect of any Swiss sourced income received post departure (such as, annual bonuses). Returns should usually be filed within 30 days of the departure date from Switzerland and limited filing extensions are available. However, some cantons may insist on the departure return being filed prior to the individual leaving Switzerland. 

Economic employer approach

Do the taxation authorities in Switzerland adopt the economic employer approach to interpreting Article 15 of the OECD treaty? If no, are the taxation authorities in Switzerland considering the adoption of this interpretation of economic employer in the future?

In some cantons (such as Zurich), the answer is yes – the economic employer rule is applied. The authorities will take into account various factors (e.g. reporting lines, nature of projects and benefiting entity, etc.), with the recharge of costs being a major consideration. It is important to note that the economic employer practice is not applied consistently across all Swiss cantons.

The Zurich practice is likely to spread to the other cantons in due course.

De minimus number of days

Are there a de minimus number of days2 before the local taxation authorities will apply the economic employer approach? If yes, what is the de minimus number of days?

Generally, 30 days. By law, a tax liability could be triggered after 30 days. For practical reasons, some cantons do not review a case if the assignment period does not exceed 90 days. However, this is not statutory law and each case has to be reviewed on a case by case basis. Cantonal practices may vary.   

Types of taxable compensation

What categories are subject to income tax in general situations?

In general, all amounts paid to, or on behalf of, an employee are considered taxable income in his/her hands. The treatment of various elements of a typical expatriate compensation package is discussed below. Please see section on Expatriate Concessions for additional deductions.

  • School tuition reimbursements are generally taxable. However, in most cantons, contributions paid to schools attended by an expatriate’s non-German/French native tongue children are allowed as a deduction in the tax return process for the respective employee if he/she meets the criteria for the expatriate concessions (see the Expatriate Concessions section).
  • The private element of home leave cost reimbursement is taxable.
  • Cost-of-living allowances are taxable.
  • Expatriation premiums are taxable.
  • In general, the value of free housing or reimbursement of rent for private accommodation is considered additional remuneration and, as such, fully subject to income tax. However, in exceptional cases, if the apartment or house is also used for representative purposes and, in addition, one room is used exclusively as an office, a portion of the rent may be treated as business expenses not to be included in the taxable remuneration. The costs might also be treated as tax-free or allowed as a deduction if the expatriate meets the expatriate criteria and if some other conditions are met (reference is made to the Expatriate Concession section).
  • Moving expenses paid by the employer for the purposes of starting a new job in Switzerland may be considered taxable remuneration to the employee. The tax authorities might make an exemption when the moving expenses are incurred or charged to the former employer abroad. A lump-sum relocation allowance is fully taxable.
  • Incentive compensation is typically sourced on a pro rata basis based on the vesting period.
  • Taxation rules in regard to deferred compensation vary depending on the canton and nature of the deferral. 

Tax-exempt income

Are there any areas of income that are exempt from taxation in Switzerland? If so, please provide a general definition of these areas.

  • certain benefits-in-kind
  • pension and social security contributions
  • certain loans
  • representation allowances.

Certain benefits-in-kind

Certain benefits-in-kind, such as a company car (if only used for business purposes) and meals in a company-owned restaurant are not taxable.

Pension and social security contributions

Pension and social security contributions paid by the employer on behalf of the employee are not taxable. Additional voluntary personal contributions made by an individual are also tax deductible (subject to certain limits).

Certain loans

If loans are granted interest-free or at below-market rates by the employer to the employee, the value of the interest reduction is not included in taxable income. In certain cases, the cantonal tax authorities may insist that the loan be available to all employees.

 

Representation allowances

If there is an approved representation allowance and the conditions are met, then a lump-sum payment can be granted tax free.

Expatriate concessions

Are there any concessions made for expatriates in Switzerland?

Tax concessions apply to expatriates, defined as executive employees or employees with specialist skills, seconded by their employer to Switzerland for a temporary assignment, for a maximum period of five years. In some cantons, the deductions may only be granted if the company has obtained a written ruling for such deductions with the Swiss Tax Authorities and advice must be taken before assuming that a payment is a tax free payment. The deductions are as follows.

  • Reasonable costs for accommodation in Switzerland. It is necessary for the expatriate to show that he/she maintains a permanent abode (house or apartment) outside Switzerland during the period of his/her stay in Switzerland. It should be noted that to qualify for the deduction, the overseas residence must be permanently available for the expatriate’s use.
  • Moving costs to Switzerland and back to the home country.
  • Travel expenses to and from Switzerland for the taxpayer and his/her family at the beginning and at the end of the employment in Switzerland, respectively.
  • Tuition fees (only tuitio fees, not all schooling expenses) for the taxpayer’s children for a foreign-language private school, to the extent that the public schools do not offer adequate schooling.

In some cantons, a flat rate expatriate deduction has to be taken instead of the above itemized deductions. This is usually equivalent to around CHF 1,500 per month.Swiss tax practice over the last years is towards a more restrictive approach to these concessions.

Salary earned from working abroad

Is salary earned from working abroad taxed in Switzerland? If so, how?

In general, there is no exemption from taxation for salary earned in respect of foreign business travel.

However, for Swiss residents who spend a substantial amount of their professional time on business abroad, a pro rata portion of income may be exempt if the individual renders services for a company in a treaty country, the cost of compensation is borne by a non-Swiss company and the salary for working abroad is subject to income tax in the other country. In such cases, the exempt salary is only taken into consideration in order to determine the applicable tax rate (an exemption with progression).

Proof of the overseas taxation can be requested by the Swiss authorities before granting the exemption.

Taxation of investment income and capital gains

Are investment income and capital gains taxed in Switzerland? If so, how?

Dividends and interest from domestic and foreign-sources are included in taxable income for the purposes of federal, cantonal, and municipal taxes. Swiss-sourced investment income, such as bank and bond interest, dividends, and investment fund distributions, is generally subject to a 35 percent withholding tax, which is creditable in full against Swiss (federal, cantonal, and municipal) tax on income and wealth due from a Swiss resident.

For federal tax and for tax in certain cantons, a limited exemption for interest income is granted, sometimes in combination with other allowances, such as insurance premiums payable.

Swiss-sourced rental income is taxable in Switzerland. Many foreign nationals living in Switzerland own real estate in their home country. During the period of Swiss residence, this real estate may be rented and may produce rental income. This income is not taxable in Switzerland. It is, however, taken into consideration in order to determine the applicable tax rate (an exemption with progression).

According to Swiss tax law, a resident taxpayer owning a house or an apartment and living in this house or apartment will generally be taxed on the deemed rental value of this property, which will be added to the individual’s taxable income. Certain expenses such as maintenance costs and mortgage interest expense are allowable as deductions to offset this imputed income charge. The rental value of immovable property located abroad is taken into account in determining the rate of tax. If the property is rented out then the actual net rents are taken into account.

For federal tax purposes, capital gains realized upon the disposal of personal movable property (such as shares or other securities) are generally not included in taxable income unless the taxpayer is deemed to be a professional trader. All cantons treat gains in the same way.

Gains from immovable property (that is real estate located in Switzerland) are not subject to direct federal tax except where a taxpayer is engaged in a trade or a business and thus required to keep accounting records. On the other hand, all cantons subject such private capital gains to tax, in most cases, a special tax. If the person disposing of immovable property has owned it for a long time, there is usually a reduced rate of tax available to him/her depending on the length of the period of ownership. However, where ownership has been for a short period of time, the tax may be increased by way of a speculation surcharge.

Disposals of shares in a real estate company can also give rise to property gains tax. No capital loss carryover is permitted if the taxpayer is not engaged in a trade or a business and thus required to keep accounting records.

Dividends, interest, and rental income

Dividends and interest from domestic and foreign-sources are included in taxable income for the purposes of federal, cantonal, and municipal taxes.

Swiss-sourced investment income, such as bank and bond interest, dividends and investment fund distributions, is generally subject to a 35 percent withholding tax, which is creditable in full against Swiss (federal, cantonal, and municipal) tax on income and wealth due from a Swiss resident.

Gains from stock option exercises

Residency status: Taxable at:
  Grant Vest Exercise
Resident N N Y
Non-resident N N Y

In Switzerland, the taxation point is at exercise with grant to vest sourcing.

Foreign exchange gains and losses

Switzerland does not tax gains made on disposal of investment, personal or business assets with the exception of real estate owned in Switzerland.

The rules and rates for capital gains on the disposal of real estate vary from canton to canton and depend on how long the property was held. There is no federal income tax on capital gains.

If you become a resident in Switzerland for Swiss tax purposes, you will not be subject to capital gains tax on your worldwide assets. However, worldwide net assets are subject to a wealth tax, the rate of which varies between cantons.

General deductions from income

What are the general deductions from income allowed in Switzerland?

Most cantons and the federation allow a lump-sum deduction for business expenses. Reimbursed actual business expenses do not constitute income for the employee.

In some cantons, the employer can elect to provide the executives with lump-sum reimbursements expressed as a percentage of base salary or as a fixed amount. Such reimbursements are not considered taxable income provided that they do not appear excessive and approval for the lump-sum payment has been granted by the tax authorities.

For federal and cantonal tax purposes, only the cost of traveling to work by public transport is deductible. However, if there is no public transportation or the taxpayer is dependent on his/her (private) car, a deduction for car expenses is allowed.

Most cantons and the federation grant deductions for meals if they are not provided by the employer. The deduction is generally reduced if the employee can buy meals at a reduced cost in an employer-provided cafeteria or gets lunch vouchers from the employer. Lunch vouchers or reimbursement of meal costs, up to a certain amount, are generally exempt from income tax.

For federal and cantonal taxes, standard deductions and allowances vary from canton to canton and provision is made for the following:

  • additional costs of board and lodging away from home and shift-work expenses
  • earned income of spouse
  • reimbursed medical expenses
  • education.

In general, no deductions for car depreciation or home computers are allowed. However, should the car or the computer be used for business purposes, a portion of the costs (such as mileage and purchase price) may be deductible.

Losses from other business ventures are fully deductible against other income.

Tax laws vary widely from canton to canton. However, some examples of deductions generally accepted by the tax authorities (subject to certain limitations), as follows:

  • insurance premiums (such as life, medical, and so on)
  • non-reimbursed medical expenses to the extent that these exceed 5 percent of net income
  • charitable contributions to Swiss charities
  • social security contributions
  • interest expenses
  • investment management expenses
  • alimony or child support payments
  • general business/standard deduction.

Tax reimbursement methods

What are the tax reimbursement methods generally used by employers in Switzerland?

The reimbursement method used is current year gross-up.

Calculation of estimates/prepayments/withholding

How are estimates/prepayments/withholding of tax handled in Switzerland? For example, Pay-As-You-Earn (PAYE), Pay-As-You-Go (PAYG), and so on. 

Residents

Swiss nationals or foreigners holding a C permit will normally pay provisional tax through three installments during the tax year (on the 30 of June, 30 of September, and 31 December) whilst in some cantons the taxes may be due on a monthly basis. Final taxes will be paid once the annual return has been assessed. Provisional federal tax bills are usually issued by 31 March following the end of the tax year with the final tax bill being issued once the annual return has been assessed.

Persons holding B or L residence permits will be subject to monthly withholding tax (Quellensteuer) on their salaries, wages, or similar remuneration paid in Switzerland, as well as bonuses or similar remuneration. These withholding taxes may not be the final tax liability for the year and in many cases they will just be a prepayment of the individual’s annual tax liability. Advice should be taken for any individuals living in the canton of Geneva as monthly withholding taxes may not be due in certain circumstances.

A different treatment applies to certain frontier workers exercising work in Switzerland.

Non-residents

All non-residents are subject to withholding tax (Quellensteuer) on Swiss-sourced income. Quellesteuer tables take into account the marital status, family size, and religion—in some cases even gender), and differ from canton to canton.

Relief for foreign taxes

Is there any Relief for Foreign Taxes in Switzerland? For example, a foreign tax credit (FTC) system, double taxation treaties, and so on?

A broad network of income tax treaties exist, some of which also cover income as well as wealth taxes.

Switzerland generally applies the exemption method for qualified foreign-sourced income and not a tax credit method. However, when dividends, interest, and royalties are derived from a country with which Switzerland has concluded a tax treaty, a refund is available in certain situations. Dividends derived from non-treaty countries must be reported gross before deduction of foreign withholding tax. There is no credit for foreign taxes paid in non-treaty countries.

A separate treaty claim to apply for the refund of withholding taxes is normally required and there are strict time limits for filing such claims.

In accordance with internal Swiss law and treaty regulations, foreign-sourced income is excluded from taxable income when derived from a permanent establishment located in a foreign country (as defined by treaty law or, in the absence of a treaty, by Swiss internal law). Also excluded is income from real estate located abroad. In addition, certain types of income (such as directors’ fees, special pensions, partnership profits, and so on) may be exempt in Switzerland, if a treaty so provides. However, the exempt income is normally taken into account in determining the effective rate of Swiss tax (an exemption with progression).

All other foreign-sourced income is basically taxable in Switzerland. In the absence of a tax treaty, foreign-sourced income is taxed gross of any foreign income taxes or withholding taxes imposed on such income by the source country.

General tax credits

What are the general tax credits that may be claimed in Switzerland? Please list below.

Switzerland does not use tax credits and there are therefore no further credits available than those already referred to in the previous sections.

Sample tax calculation

This calculation3 assumes a married taxpayer resident in Switzerland with two children whose three-year assignment begins 1 January 2014 and ends 31 December 2016. The taxpayer’s base salary is USD 100,000 and the calculation covers three years.

  2014
USD
2015
USD
2016
USD
Salary 100,000 100,000 100,000
Bonus 20,000 20,000 20,000
Cost-of-living allowance 10,000 10,000 10,000
Housing allowance 12,000 12,000 12,000
Company car 6,000 6,000 6,000
Moving expense reimbursement 0 20,000 20,000
Home leave 5,000 0 0
Education allowance 3,000 3,000 3,000
Interest income from non-local sources 6,000 6,000 6,000

Exchange rate used for calculation: USD1.00 = CHF1.00.

 

Other assumptions

  • All earned income is attributable to local sources.
  • Bonuses are paid at the end of each tax year, and accrue evenly throughout the year.
  • Interest income is not remitted to Switzerland.
  • The company car is used for business and private purposes and originally cost USD 50,000.
  • The employee is deemed resident throughout the assignment.
  • Tax treaties and totalization agreements are ignored for the purpose of this calculation.

Calculation of taxable income

Year-ended 2014
CHF
2015
CHF
2016
CHF
Days in Switzerland during year 365 365 365
Earned income subject to income tax      
Salary 100,000 100,000 100,000
Bonus 20,000 20,000 20,000
Cost-of-living allowance 10,000 10,000 10,000
Net housing allowance 12,000 12,000 12,000
Company car 5,000 5,000 5,000
Moving expense reimbursement 0 20,000 0
Home leave 5,000 0 5,000 
Education allowance 3,000 3,000 3,000
Total earned income 155,000 170,000 155,000
Other income 6,000 6,000 6,000
Total income 161,000 176,000 161,000
Deductions 47,531 67,531 47,531
Total taxable income 113,469 108,469 113,469

Calculation of tax liability

  2014
CHF
2015
CHF
2016
CHF
Taxable income as above 113,469 108,187 113,469
Swiss tax thereon (percent) 13.51 13.01 13.51
Swiss tax thereon (cantonal/communal*) 13,092 12,218 13,092
Swiss tax thereon (federal) 2,236 1,936 2,236
Total Swiss tax 15,328 14,154 15,328

* Zurich cantonal communal tax applied. No church tax, no wealth tax. 

Footnotes

1Certain tax authorities adopt an "economic employer" approach to interpreting Article 15 of the OECD model treaty which deals with the Dependent Services Article. In summary, this means that if an employee is assigned to work for an entity in the host country for a period of less than 183 days in the fiscal year (or, a calendar year of a 12-month period), the employee remains employed by the home country employer but the employee’s salary and costs are recharged to the host entity, then the host country tax authority will treat the host entity as being the "economic employer" and therefore the employer for the purposes of interpreting Article 15. In this case, Article 15 relief would be denied and the employee would be subject to tax in the host country.

2For example, an employee can be assigned to Switzerland for a period not exceeding three months before the tax authorities will apply the ‘economic employer’ approach.

3Sample calculation generated by KPMG AG, the Swiss member firm of KPMG International, based on the Swiss Federal Tax Administration, the various cantonal tax administrations and the Swiss Social Security Administration.

© 2016 KPMG Holding AG is a member of the KPMG network of independent firms affiliated with KPMG International Cooperative (“KPMG International”), a Swiss legal entity. All rights reserved KPMG International Cooperative (“KPMG International”) is a Swiss entity. Member firms of the KPMG network of independent firms are affiliated with KPMG International. KPMG International provides no client services. No member firm has any authority to obligate or bind KPMG International or any other member firm vis-à-vis third parties, nor does KPMG International have any such authority to obligate or bind any member firm.

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