Switzerland is organised federally - the division of responsibilities between federal and cantonal authorities means there is no homogenous, nation-wide social security system. Different types of insurance can vary between cantons as to how they work and are organized.
The complexity of the Swiss social security system can often be quite confusing for foreigners arriving to work in Switzerland. We have brought together some general information about the Swiss insurance system to help get you oriented. More detailed information can be obtained from the relevant insurance office.
The pillars of the social security system
In Switzerland, social security covers sickness insurance, family allowances, pension, survivors’ and invalidity insurance and accident insurance, the latter covering work accidents and non-work accidents as well as occupational diseases.
Who must join the social security system?
Regardless of nationality, all Swiss residents must be covered by compulsory basic sickness insurance from the day they are born or the day they officially take up residence in Switzerland (there are some statutory exceptions to this rule). See our section on health insurance for further details.
Old-age and survivors’ insurance as well as invalidity insurance are compulsory for anyone in paid employment, as well as all unemployed people over 20. Even if you come to Switzerland to live from your savings (i.e. you are very rich), you will still be obliged to pay pension contributions. In principle, family allowances, accident insurance and occupational pension insurance are only obligatory for salaried workers.
Social security authorities
With the exception of unemployment insurance and cantonal family allowances, social security in Switzerland lays within the responsibility of the Federal Office for Social Insurance, which is part of the Federal Department for Home Affairs.
The different branches of social security are managed in a decentralized way by offices (compensations funds) for old-age and survivors’ insurance and family allowances, occupational pension funds, invalidity insurance funds, sickness insurance companies and accident insurance funds, and are all monitored by the Federal Office for Social Insurance.
As a rule, the Swiss social security system is funded by contributions paid by those who are insured and their employers. However, employers do not contribute towards sickness insurance for their employees.
With the exception of accident insurance and occupational pensions, additional funds are contributed out of the central state budget – in the case of sickness insurance, through individual premium reductions by the cantonal authorities.
Applications for benefits should be made in writing to the relevant insurance funds – sickness insurance companies, accident insurance funds, occupational pension funds and compensation/invalidity funds – to which you have contributed. For certain benefits a doctor’s certificate or a medical diagnosis must be provided.
The Federal Office for Refugees (FOR) published a brochure in May 2003 entitled "Social insurance: sojourn in Switzerland and departure" with the collaboration of the Federal Office for Social Security (FOSS) and the Federal Office of Immigration, Integration and Emigration (IMES). This brochure is available in six languages (French, German, English, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish).