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Switzerland and Liechtenstein

Executive Summary

Switzerland is welcoming to international investors, with a positive overall investment climate. The Swiss federal government enacts laws and regulations governing corporate structure, the financial system, and immigration, and concludes international trade and investment treaties. However, Switzerland’s 26 cantons (analogous to U.S. states) and largest municipalities have significant independence to shape investment policies locally, including incentives to attract investment. This federal approach has helped the Swiss maintain long-term economic and political stability, a transparent legal system, extensive and reliable infrastructure, efficient capital markets, and an excellent quality of life for the country’s 8.6 million inhabitants. Many U.S. firms base their European or regional headquarters in Switzerland, drawn to the country’s modest corporate tax rates, productive and multilingual workforce, and well-maintained infrastructure and transportation networks. U.S. companies also choose Switzerland as a gateway to markets in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and beyond. Furthermore, U.S. companies select Switzerland because of favorable and less restrictive labor laws compared to other European locations as well as availability of a skilled workforce.

In 2019, the World Economic Forum rated Switzerland the world’s fifth most competitive economy. This high ranking reflects the country’s sound institutional environment and high levels of technological and scientific research and development. With very few exceptions, Switzerland welcomes foreign investment, accords national treatment, and does not impose, facilitate, or allow barriers to trade. According to the OECD, Swiss public administration ranks high globally in output efficiency and enjoys the highest public confidence of any national government in the OECD. The country’s competitive economy and openness to investment brought Switzerland’s cumulative inward direct investment to USD 1.4 trillion in 2020 (latest available figures) according to the Swiss National Bank, although nearly half of this amount is invested in regional hubs or headquarters that further invest in other countries.

In order to address international criticism of tax incentives provided by Swiss cantons, the Federal Act on Tax Reform and Swiss Pension System Financing (TRAF) entered into force on January 1, 2020. TRAF obliges cantons to offer the same corporate tax rates to both Swiss and foreign companies, while allowing cantons to continue to set their own cantonal tax rates and offer incentives for corporate investment. These can be deductions or preferential tax treatment for certain types of income (such as for patents), or expenses (such as for research and development). Switzerland joined the Statement of the OECD/G20 Inclusive Framework on Base Erosion and Profit Sharing (BEPS) in July 2021. It intends to implement the BEPS effective minimum corporate tax rate of 15 percent by January 2024, after a referendum to amend the Swiss constitution.

Personal income and corporate tax rates vary widely across Switzerland’s cantons. Effective corporate tax rates ranged between 11.85 and 21.04 percent in 2021, according to KPMG. In Zurich, for example, the combined effective corporate tax rate (including municipal, cantonal, and federal taxes),was 19.7 percent in 2021. The United States and Switzerland have a bilateral tax treaty.

Key sectors that have attracted significant investments in Switzerland include information technology, precision engineering, scientific instruments, pharmaceuticals, medical technology, and machine building. Switzerland hosts a significant number of startups. A new “blockchain act” came fully into force in August 2021, which is expected to benefit Switzerland’s already sizeable ecosystem for companies in blockchain and distributed ledger technologies.

There are no “forced localization” laws designed to require foreign investors to use domestic content in goods or technology (e.g., data storage within Switzerland). Switzerland follows strict privacy laws and certain personal data may not be collected in Switzerland.

Switzerland is a highly innovative economy with strong overall intellectual property protection. Switzerland enforces intellectual property rights linked to patents and trademarks effectively, and new amendments to the country’s Copyright Act to strengthen copyright enforcement on the internet came into force in April 2020.

There are some investment restrictions in areas under state monopolies, including certain types of public transportation, telecommunications, postal services, alcohol and spirits, aerospace and defense, certain types of insurance and banking services, and the trade in salt. The Swiss agricultural sector remains protected and heavily subsidized.

Liechtenstein

Liechtenstein’s investment conditions are identical in most key aspects to those in Switzerland, due to its integration into the Swiss economy. The two countries form a customs union, and Swiss authorities are responsible for implementing import and export regulations.

Both Liechtenstein and Switzerland are members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA, which also includes Iceland and Norway). EFTA is an intergovernmental trade organization and  free trade area  that operates in parallel with the  European Union  (EU). Liechtenstein participates in the EU single market through the European Economic Area (EEA), unlike Switzerland, which has opted for a set of bilateral agreements with the EU instead.

Liechtenstein has a stable and open economy employing 40,328 people in 2020 (latest figures available), exceeding its domestic population of 39,055 and requiring a substantial number of foreign workers. In 2020, 70.6 percent of the Liechtenstein workforce were foreigners, mainly Swiss, Austrians and Germans, most of whom commute daily to Liechtenstein. Liechtenstein was granted an exception to the EU’s Free Movement of People Agreement, enabling the country not to grant residence permits to its workers.

Liechtenstein is one of the world’s wealthiest countries. Liechtenstein’s gross domestic product per capita amounted to USD 162,558 in 2019 (latest data available). According to the  Liechtenstein Statistical Yearbook , the services sector, particularly in finance, accounts for 63 percent of Liechtenstein’s jobs, followed by the manufacturing sector (particularly mechanical engineering, machine tools, precision instruments, and dental products), which employs 36 percent of the workforce. Agriculture accounts for less than one percent of the country’s employment.

Liechtenstein’s corporate tax rate, at 12.5 percent, is one of the lowest in Europe. Capital gains, inheritance, and gift taxes have been abolished. The Embassy has no recorded complaints from U.S. investors stemming from market restrictions in Liechtenstein. The United States and Liechtenstein do not have a bilateral income tax treaty.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings – Switzerland
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2021 7 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/
research/cpi/overview
Global Innovation Index 2021 1 of 129 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2020 USD 211,936 https://apps.bea.gov/international/
factsheet
/
World Bank GNI per capita 2020 USD 82,620 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/
NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

3. Legal Regime

4. Industrial Policies

5. Protection of Property Rights

6. Financial Sector

7. State-Owned Enterprises

The Swiss Confederation is the largest or sole shareholder in Switzerland’s five state-owned enterprises (SOEs), active in the areas of ground transportation (SBB), information and communication (Swiss Post, Swisscom), defense (RUAG, which was divided into two companies in January 2020 – see below), and aviation / air traffic control (Skyguide). These companies are typically responsible for “public function mandates,” but may also cover commercial activities (e.g., Swisscom in the area of telecommunications).

These SOEs typically have commercial relationships with private industry. Private sector competitors can compete with the SOEs under the same terms and conditions with respect to access to markets, credit, and other business operations. Additional publicly owned enterprises are controlled by the cantons in the areas of energy, water supply, and a number of subsectors. SOEs and canton-owned companies may benefit from exclusive rights and privileges (some of which are listed in Table A 3.2 of the most recent WTO Trade Policy Review – https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp455_e.htm ).

Switzerland is a party to the WTO Government Procurement Agreement (GPA). Some areas are partly or fully exempted from the GPA, such as the management of drinking water, energy, transportation, telecommunications, and defense. Private companies may encounter difficulties gaining business in these exempted sectors.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

The Swiss Confederation and Swiss companies are generally aware of the importance of pursuing due diligence to responsible business conduct (RBC) and demonstrating corporate social responsibility (CSR). In response to criticism from civil society about the business practices of Swiss companies abroad, the Swiss government commissioned a series of reports on the government’s role in ensuring CSR, particularly in the commodities sector, and in December 2016 published a national action plan in conjunction with its commitments under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights ( https://www.admin.ch/gov/en/start/documentation/media-releases.msg-id-64884.html ). In June 2017, the Swiss government concluded that Switzerland promotes voluntary principles, such as the upholding of human rights standards, and also supports including mandatory CSR market incentives, such as minimum conditions for the protection of workers abroad, in forthcoming legislation. In January 2020, the Swiss government approved the CSR Action Plan 2020-2023 , which covers sixteen measures – particularly promoting sustainability reporting and due diligence by companies, stakeholder dialogue, and the alignment of private section CSR instruments with the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.

The latest updates on corporate social responsibility are available on https://www.seco.admin.ch/seco/en/home/Aussenwirtschaftspolitik_Wirtschaftliche_Zusammenarbeit/Wirtschaftsbeziehungen/Gesellschaftliche_Verantwortung_der_Unternehmen.html 

In November 2020, a referendum known as the “Responsible Business Initiative,” which would have placed new obligations on Swiss companies to protect human rights and the environment internationally, was narrowly rejected by Swiss voters. Instead, a proposal of Parliament came into force in January 2022, obliging covered companies to report on environmental and labor issues, human rights and the fight against corruption and to exercise due diligence with regard to conflict minerals and child labor. After a one-year transition period, the new reporting obligations will apply as of 2023, and companies will submit their first reports in2024. Also, Swiss companies involved in minerals extraction abroad are required to source all minerals in compliance with international labor standards and applicable environmental laws, and must report on measures to ensure their international activities do not involve or support child labor.

In March 2021, Swiss voters approved a free trade agreement between Indonesia and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), of which Switzerland is a member. The agreement requires that any palm oil imported under preferential tariffs be produced sustainably. This is said to be the first-ever agreement of its type that links trade preferences to sustainable methods of production.

Switzerland ranked 3rd out of 180 countries in the 2020 Yale University-based Environmental Performance Index (EPI).

The Swiss government implements the OECD Due Diligence Guide for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict and High-Risk Areas. Switzerland is a member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative and supports the Better Gold Initiative, which promotes responsible gold mining in Peru, Bolivia and Colombia. Switzerland’s Point of Contact for the OECD Guidelines at the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) may be contacted at: https://mneguidelines.oecd.org/ncps/switzerland.htm . Information about the Swiss Better Gold Association is available at:  https://www.swissbettergold.ch .

Switzerland has signed a number of nonbinding agreements outlining best practices for corporations, including the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights and the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers. The latter was the result of a multi-stakeholder initiative launched by Switzerland.

Switzerland is also a signatory state of the Montreux Document, a non-binding instrument on the obligations of states under international law with regard to the activities of private military and security companies.

9. Corruption

Switzerland is ranked 7th of 180 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2021, reflecting low perceptions of corruption in society. Under Swiss law, officials are not to accept anything that would “challenge their independence and capacity to act.” In case of non-compliance the law foresees criminal penalties, including imprisonment for up to five years, for official corruption, and the government generally implements these laws effectively. The bribery of public officials is governed by the Swiss Criminal Code (Art. 322), while the bribery of private individuals is governed by the Federal Law Against Unfair Competition. The law defines as granting an “undue advantage” either in exchange for a specific act, or in some cases for future behavior not related to a specific act. Some officials may receive small gifts valued at no more than CHF 200 or CHF 300 for an entire year, which are not seen as “undue.” However, officials in some fields, such as financial regulators, may receive no advantages at all. Transparency International has recommended that a maximum sum should be set at the federal level.

Investigating and prosecuting government corruption is a federal responsibility. A majority of cantons require members of cantonal parliaments to disclose their interests. A joint working group comprising representatives of various federal government agencies works under the leadership of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs to combat corruption. Some multinational companies have set up internal hotlines to enable staff to report problems anonymously.

Switzerland ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption in 2009. Swiss government experts believe this ratification did not result in significant domestic changes, since passive and active corruption of public servants was already considered a crime under the Swiss Criminal Code.

A review by the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) in 2017 recommended the adoption of a code of ethics/conduct, together with awareness-raising measures, for members of the federal parliament, judges, and the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) to avoid conflict of interests. These measures needed to be accompanied by a reinforced monitoring of members of parliament’s compliance with their obligations. In March 2018, the OECD Working Group on Bribery in International Business Transactions recommended that Switzerland adopt an appropriate legal framework to protect private sector whistleblowers from discrimination and disciplinary action, to ensure that sanctions imposed for foreign bribery against natural and legal persons are effective, proportionate, and dissuasive, and to ensure broader and more systematic publication of concluded foreign bribery cases. The OECD Working Group positively highlighted Switzerland’s proactive policy on seizure and confiscation, its active involvement in mutual legal assistance, and its role as a promoter of cooperation in field of foreign bribery. Regarding detection, the OECD Working Group commended the key role played by the Swiss Financial Intelligence Unit (MROS) in detecting foreign bribery.

A number of Swiss federal administrative authorities are involved in combating bribery. The Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) deals with issues relating to the OECD Convention. The Federal Office of Justice deals with those relating to the Council of Europe Convention, while the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (MFA) deals with the UN Convention. The power to prosecute and judge corruption offenses is shared between the relevant Swiss canton and the federal government. For the federal government, the competent authorities are the Office of the Attorney General, the Federal Criminal Court, and the Federal Police. In the cantons, the relevant actors are the cantonal judicial authorities and the cantonal police forces.

In 2001, Switzerland signed the Council of Europe’s Criminal Law Convention on Corruption. In 1997, Switzerland signed the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention, which entered into force in 2000. Switzerland signed the UN Convention against Corruption in 2003. Switzerland ratified the UN Anticorruption Convention in 2009.

In order to implement the Council of Europe convention, the Swiss parliament amended the Penal Code to make bribery of foreign public officials a federal offense (Title Nineteen “Bribery”); these amendments entered into force in 2000. In accordance with the revised 1997 OECD Anti-Bribery Convention, the Swiss parliament amended legislation as of 2001 on direct taxes of the Confederation, cantons, and townships to prohibit the tax deductibility of bribes.

Switzerland maintains an effective legal and policy framework to combat domestic corruption. U.S. firms investing in Switzerland have not raised with the Embassy any corruption concerns in recent years.

10. Political and Security Environment

There is minimal risk from civil unrest in Switzerland. Protests do occur in Switzerland, but authorities carefully monitor protest activities. Urban areas regularly experience demonstrations, mostly on global trade and political issues, and some occasionally sparked by U.S. foreign policy. Protests held during the annual World Economic Forum (WEF) occasionally draw participants from several countries in Europe. Historically, demonstrations have been peaceful, with protestors registering for police permits. Protestors have blocked traffic; spray-painted areas with graffiti, and on rare occasions, clashed with police. Political extremist or anarchist groups sometimes instigate civil unrest. Right-wing activists have targeted refugees/asylum seekers/foreigners, and more recently have organized protests against COVID-19 restrictions. Meanwhile, left-wing activists (who historically have demonstrated a greater propensity toward violence) usually target organizations involved with globalization, alleged fascism, and alleged police repression. Swiss police have at their disposal tear gas and water cannons, which are rarely used.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

The Swiss labor force is highly educated and highly skilled. The Swiss economy is capital intensive and geared toward high value-added products and services. In 2021, 77.2 percent of the workforce was employed in services, 20.4 percent in manufacturing, and 2.4 percent in agriculture. Full-time work compared to part-time work is more prevalent among foreign workers than among Swiss workers: 40.4 percent of the Swiss population works part-time, compared to 27.8 percent of the foreign working population. Part-time work is three times more common among women than men. Wages in Switzerland are among the highest in the world. Switzerland continues to observe International Labor Organization (ILO) core conventions. Government regulations cover maximum work hours, minimum length of holidays, sick leave, compulsory military service, contract termination, and other requirements. There is no federal minimum wage law.

Foreigners fill not only low-skilled, low-wage jobs, but also highly technical positions in the manufacturing and service industries. In 2021, foreigners account for 26.4 percent of Switzerland’s labor force estimated at about 4.7 million people. Many foreign nationals are long-time Swiss residents who have not applied for or been granted Swiss citizenship. Foreign seasonal workers take many lower-wage jobs in agriculture. Switzerland has one of the smallest informal economies in Europe, accounting for approximately 6% of GDP since 2016.

In the wake of a 2014 referendum to impose limits on immigration, the government introduced a series of measures aimed at bringing traditionally underemployed groups into the labor market – women, older job seekers, refugees, and temporarily accepted asylum seekers. In 2018 the Federal Council implemented a parliamentary decision that companies in sectors with more than 5 percent unemployment provide information on job openings to government-run employment centers, which make the openings available to cross-border commuters and EU nationals as well.

Trade union density – the percentage of the workforce represented by trade unions – is on the decline in Switzerland, according to OECD data. From over 20 percent in 2000, trade union density had fallen to 14.4 percent by 2018, according to the OECD (latest data available). Labor-management relations are generally constructive, with a general willingness on both sides to settle disputes by negotiation rather than labor action. According to the Federal Office of Statistics, some 581 collective agreements were in force in Switzerland in March 2018 (latest data available). Of these, approximately 64 percent concern the services sector, 34 percent the manufacturing sector, and one percent the agricultural sector; these are usually renewed without major difficulties. Trade unions continue to promote a wider coverage of collective agreements for the Swiss labor force. Although the number of workdays lost to strikes in Switzerland is among the lowest in the OECD, Swiss trade unions have encouraged workers to strike on several occasions in recent years. A general prohibition on strikes by Swiss public servants was repealed in 2000, although restrictions remain in place in a few cantons. The Federal Council may now only restrict or prohibit the right to strike where it affects the security of the state, external relations, or the supply of vital goods to the country.

In difficult economic times, employers may temporarily shift full-time employees to part-time by registering with cantonal authorities and justifying reductions as necessary to business activities. This practice, known as Kurzarbeit (“short-time work”), allows for the government to make partial salary payments through the unemployment insurance fund. Employees can reject the shift to part-time work, but risk dismissal in that case. Kurzarbeit became widespread with the onset of the COVD-19 crisis and the temporary shutdown of wide segments of the Swiss economy in 2020. By October 2021 this was drastically reduced to 48,264 affected employees from 7,917 companies, compared to 1.91 million employees in May and 219,388 in October 2020. . The Swiss government has continued expanded financial support for the Kurzarbeit program throughout the pandemic.

Switzerland’s average unemployment rate was 4.8 percent in 2020 under ILO Labor Force Survey methodology, while according to Swiss authorities registered unemployment in 2021 was 3.0 percent. Cantons bordering EU countries experience higher unemployment rates than Switzerland as a whole.

14. Contact for More Information

Theodore Fisher
Economic/Commercial Officer
U.S. Embassy in Bern, Sulgeneckstrasse 19, 3003 Bern
+41 31 357 7011
Business-bern@state.gov

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