Retiring in Switzerland: A Guide for U.S. Citizens

Retiring in Switzerland offers expats a blend of stunning scenery, a high quality of life, and excellent healthcare. Known for its gorgeous natural beauty, excellent infrastructure, and safety, Switzerland is ideal for American retirees seeking tranquility and an active lifestyle.

Retiring in Switzerland as a U.S. taxpayer involves some research because the process can be easier or more difficult depending on the strength of your ties to the country. Additionally, understanding retirement age, US pension distributions, and health insurance requirements are essential. But, don’t let the to-do list dissuade you!

In this guide, we’ll cover these key areas, helping you determine whether Switzerland is a potential retirement destination fit for you. From the efficient healthcare system to financial considerations, we’ll explore everything you need to know to make a decision about whether or not to retire in Switzerland.

What is the retirement age in Switzerland?

As a result of the 2024 pension reform, the retirement age in Switzerland is now set at 65 for both men and women. (1) (There are transitional provisions for women born between 1961 and 1969.)

Additionally, in English versions of government communications around the Switzerland retirement age, the term “retirement age” has been replaced by “reference age.”

In the U.S, the retirement age for those born in or after 1960 is 67. So, theoretically, a US citizen could retire in Switzerland “early” by US standards. But as you’ll see, retiring in Switzerland is not necessarily an easy immigration pathway for US citizens.

A note on early retirement in Switzerland

US citizens retiring in Switzerland who are younger than 65 will be required to pay Swiss social security taxes (as well as income taxes) until retirement age is reached, even if they aren't working. If you do not have a spouse who is paying minimum contributions and you do not have income early retirement contributions will be tied to your wealth and pension income. (2)

Legal and residency requirements

In general, retiring abroad will require you to prove two key things: that you can support yourself financially and that you have adequate health insurance coverage. Switzerland is no exception here.

The Switzerland Retirement Visa application process

If you are moving from the US to retire in Switzerland, you will need to apply for a long-stay residency (Type D) visa. (3) This visa is also known as a “National Visa.”

Although this is often referred to as “the Switzerland Retirement Visa” there is no designated retirement visa for foreigners seeking to retire in Switzerland.

All applications for the Type D visa will go through your nearest Swiss consulate.

Eligibility & requirements to retire in Switzerland

The requirements for an American to retire in Switzerland are a little different than for those for citizens of EU/EFTA countries.

US citizens moving to Switzerland to retire will need to ensure they meet the following requirements when applying for a Switzerland long-stay visa:

  • Over 55 at the time of applying
  • Have close connections with Switzerland (e.g., previous residency such as from working, family members in the country)
  • Not pursue gainful employment within Switzerland or abroad
  • Proof of sufficient financial resources*
  • Proof of sufficient health and accident insurance recognized by the Swiss government (note that US Medicare does not qualify)

*The exact amount of financial resources you will need varies by canton. A canton is like a Swiss state, and there are 26 of them in Switzerland. Similarly to the US states, each canton conducts their affairs slightly differently, and each has a corresponding immigration office.

Next steps: Applying for a Swiss B permit once in Switzerland

Once your long-stay residency visa is issued, you will have 14 days from the time of arrival in Switzerland to apply for a “B” residency permit.

This is done at the cantonal immigration authority in which you wish to reside, and retirees should request a “non-working residency permit.”

After this process is completed and your residency is approved, you will receive an identification card noting your Permit B immigration status.

You will be required to renew your residency permit every year. After five years, US citizens may request a permanent residency card (“C” permit).

Cost of living in Switzerland vs USA

The cost to retire in Switzerland will require a careful analysis of the overall cost of living. According to Livingcost.org, the cost of living is 19% higher in Switzerland than in the USA, (4) although it’s worth noting that both countries are considered extremely expensive to live in.

Even though American retirees in Switzerland will have different priorities than Americans working in Switzerland, cost of living remains an important factor to consider when evaluating a country for retirement.

As one US citizen formerly living in Switzerland as a retiree put it, “...you just have to be mindful of what you want vs. what you need and what part of the country you want to live in.” (5)

Housing options and costs

Housing in Switzerland is typically prohibitively expensive. Both rental costs and property prices have surged in recent years, and only 36% of Swiss households own property. (6)

Does Switzerland tax retirees living in Switzerland?

A key aspect of a US citizen’s ability to retire in Switzerland hinges on their willingness to make the country the center of their personal interests. This includes for tax purposes.

Now, Switzerland may be one of the most expensive countries in Europe in which to live, but establishing Swiss tax residency can also come with some significant benefits. As with anything, though, planning will be key.

When tax residency is established, American retirees living in Switzerland will still be liable for US expat taxes. Fortunately, a strong double taxation agreement (DTA) between the United States and Switzerland (7) enables nimble financial planning maneuvers when executed correctly.

That all said, there are some US tax tripwires to be mindful of.

Accessing US pensions and retirement distributions from abroad

Switzerland will have the right to tax U.S.-qualified, tax-deferred retirement accounts. It’s also worth noting that Roth IRAs are generally considered for Swiss wealth tax. (Don’t forget, this will vary by canton.)


Currency risk and management when retiring in Switzerland as an American

The question of, “How much money do you need to retire in Switzerland?” is actually quite complex when we consider that the US dollar has been steadily declining in value against the Swiss franc since 2001. (8)

This phenomenon evokes a need for currency risk management, particularly in cases where the majority of an American’s wealth is concentrated in US dollars.


Inheritance taxes in Switzerland

Living in Switzerland


Planning for retirement inevitably involves planning for the transfer of your wealth and distributions of your assets. Retiring abroad adds complex planning wrinkles to this. With respect to Switzerland, the country does not levy an inheritance tax at the federal level, however, inheritance taxes may apply at the cantonal level.


Retiring in Switzerland after having worked there

Earlier on, we mentioned that retiring in Switzerland can be complicated if you can’t demonstrate personal ties to the country. One of the best ways to prove ties is by demonstrating that you have previously lived and worked in Switzerland. In this case, you may also have access to the Swiss pension system.

If you need a refresher on the Swiss pension pillars, be sure to check out the following three articles where we break down the distinctions between each one:

When planning to retire in Switzerland, you may find it helpful to work with a cross-border financial planner specialized in the US and Switzerland who can advise as to the most efficient path forward considering your particular expat profile.

Reviewing the US-Switzerland Totalization Agreement

The Totalization Agreement (9) exists to help streamline benefit claims when a US citizen contributes to both Swiss Pillar 1 and US social security. It will be particularly important for those who have worked and contributed to retirement accounts in both countries to understand the implications of the Windfall Elimination Provision. (10)


References

  1. Preparing for Retirement in Switzerland
  2. Non-employed contributions to Old-Age and Survivors’ Insurance (OASI), disability Insurance (DI) and Income Compensation Insurance (IC)
  3. Visa requirements - Federal Department of Foreign Affairs FDFA
  4. Expat Retiree Profile: Testing the Waters in Switzerland
  5. Switzerland vs US Comparison: Cost of Living
  6. Swiss households that own property
  7. US/Switzerland Tax Treaty
  8. US Dollar Swiss Franc Exchange Rate (USD CHF) - Historical Chart
  9. Totalization Agreement US/Switzerland
  10. Windfall Elimination Provision