Investment Climate Statements for 2016 - Switzerland and Liechtenstein

Executive Summary

The Swiss Federal Government has a laissez-faire attitude towards foreign investment, allowing Switzerland’s 26 cantons (i.e. states) to largely shape the country’s investment policies. This federal approach to governance has helped the Swiss maintain long-term economic and political stability, a transparent legal system, an extensive and reliable infrastructure, efficient capital markets and an excellent quality of life for the country’s 8 million inhabitants. Many U.S. firms base their European or regional headquarters in Switzerland, drawn to the country's low corporate tax rates, productive and multilingual work force, and famously well maintained infrastructure and transportation networks. In 2015, the World Economic Forum once again rated Switzerland the world's most competitive economy – the country’s seventh consecutive #1 ranking. That high ranking not only reflects the country’s sound institutional environment, but also Switzerland’s ubiquitously high levels of technological and scientific research and investment.

With very few exceptions, Switzerland welcomes foreign investment, accords it national treatment, and does not impose, facilitate, or allow barriers to trade. According to the OECD, Swiss general public administration ranks #1 globally in output efficiency, while Switzerland’s public administration enjoys the highest public confidence of any national government in the OECD. Switzerland’s judiciary system is equally effective and efficient, posting the shortest trial length of any of the OECD’s 34 member countries.

Many of Switzerland's cantons make significant use of financial incentives to attract investment to their jurisdictions. Some of the more aggressive cantons have occasionally waived taxes for new firms for up to ten years; however, this practice has been criticized by the European Union and is consequently likely to be phased out between 2018 and 2020. Individual income tax rates vary widely across Switzerland’s 26 cantons. Corporate taxes also vary depending upon the country’s many different tax incentives. Zurich, which is sometimes used as a reference point for corporate location tax calculations within Switzerland, has a rate of around 25%, which includes municipal, cantonal, and federal tax.

Some formerly public Swiss monopolies continue to retain market dominance despite partial or full privatization. As a result, foreign investors sometimes find it difficult to enter these markets. Additionally, the OECD ranks Switzerland’s educational, healthcare and agriculture costs and subsidies as high when rated against output. The Swiss agricultural sector remains one of the best protected and heavily subsidized markets in the world. Despite heavy government support (direct payments comprise two thirds of an average farm income), Switzerland’s agricultural sector has the second lowest productivity among OECD members.

Switzerland is one of four members (together with Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway) of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), an intergovernmental trade organization and a free trade area that operates in parallel with the European Union (EU) and participates in the EU's single market. With one million EU citizens living in Switzerland, 400,000 Swiss citizens living in the EU, and the EU accounting for the majority of Switzerland’s trade, the EU remains a critically important relationship for the Swiss. The Swiss public’s approval of a February 9, 2014 public referendum restricting immigration into Switzerland has, however, deeply strained current relations with the EU. While not a member of the EU, Switzerland remains politically bound to the European Union through its EFTA relationship, membership in the Schengen Area, and a series of more than 120 bilateral treaties. A “guillotine clause” in Switzerland’s many agreements with the EU stipulates that if one agreement is terminated or compromised, such as the free movement of people conditions in the Schengen Agreement, then the entire body of bilateral treaties will be null and void.

The implementation of the constitutionally binding February 9th, 2014 referendum on immigration restriction – which is set to enter into force by 2017 -- could therefore have enormous economic implications for Switzerland, particularly if it is implemented in violation of the Free Movement of Persons agreement. The Swiss government is currently in discussions with the EU on resolving this matter, with very little indication of a solution to date.

Table 1



Index or Rank

Website Address

TI Corruption Perceptions index


7 of 167

World Bank’s Doing Business Report “Ease of Doing Business”


26 of 189

Global Innovation Index


1 of 141

U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions)


USD 224 billion

U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis

World Bank GNI per capita


USD 90,760

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Attitude toward Foreign Direct Investment

With the exception of a heavily protected agricultural sector, foreign investment into Switzerland is generally not hampered by significant barriers, with no discrimination against foreign investors or foreign-owned investments being reported. Incidents of trade discrimination do exist, for example with regards to the importation of luxury low-volume vehicles and carbon dioxidetargets.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The World Trade Organization (WTO) published a Trade Policy Review of Switzerland and Liechtenstein in August 2013 that includes investment information. Other reports containing elements referring to the investment climate in Switzerland include the OECD Economic Survey of November 2015.

Link to the OECD reports / papers:

Link to the WTO report:

Laws/Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The major laws governing foreign investment in Switzerland are the Swiss Code of Obligations, the Lex Friedrich/Koller, Switzerland’s Securities Law, and the Cartel Law. There is no screening of foreign investment beyond a normal anti-trust review. There are few sectoral or geographic preferences or restrictions. Several exceptions are described below in the section on performance requirements and incentives.

Some former public monopolies retain their historical market dominance despite partial or full privatization. Foreign investors sometimes find it difficult to enter these markets due to high entry costs and the relatively small size of the Swiss market.

There is no pronounced interference in the court system that should affect foreign investors.

Useful websites:

The Swiss Code of Obligations including an unofficial English translation:

Information on the acquisition of property in Switzerland by persons abroad:

Unofficial English translation of the Federal Act on Stock Exchanges and Securities Trading:

The Federal Act on Cartels and other Restraints of Competition including an unofficial English translation:

Business Registration

Switzerland has a dual system for granting work permits and allowing foreigners to create their own companies in Switzerland. Employees from the EU/EFTA area can benefit from the Free Movement of Persons Agreement. Entrepreneurs from third states who are not citizens of an EU/EFTA country and want to become self-employed in Switzerland have to meet Swiss labor market requirements. The criteria for admittance are contained in the Federal Act on Foreign Nationals (FNA), the Decree on Admittance, Residence and Employment (VZAE) and the provisions of the FNA and the VZAE

Unofficial translation of the Federal Act on Foreign Nationals (FNA):

Decree on Admittance, Residence and Employment (VZAE), not available in English:

Provisions of the FNA and the VZAE (not available in English):

Once preliminary questions regarding the nationality of a company’s founder or employees have been addressed, company registration is outlined on

Depending on where you want to set up your company in Switzerland, you have to register at a regional Commercial Registry. The cost for registering a company through this process is typically $1,100 - $15,000, depending on the type of company being registered. These costs mainly cover the Public Notary and entry into the Commercial Registry.

Other steps/procedures for the registration include 1) place the paid-in capital in an escrow account with a bank, 2) draft articles of association in the presence of a notary public, 3) file a deed certifying the articles of association to the local commercial register to obtain a legal entity registration, 4) pay the stamp tax at a post office or bank after receiving an assessment by mail, 5) register for VAT and 6) enroll employees in the social insurance system (federal and cantonal authorities).

The World Bank Doing Business Report ranks Switzerland 69th in starting a business, as the process in Switzerland involves six steps, a duration of 10 days to set up a company, and relatively high capital requirements.

Switzerland defines small companies as those having less than 49 employees, and medium-sized companies as those having 50 to 249 employees, and large companies as those with more than 250 employees.

Switzerland Global Enterprise (SGE) has a nationwide mandate to attract foreign business to Switzerland. Larger regional offices include the Greater Geneva Berne area (that covers large parts of Western Switzerland), the Greater Zurich area, and the Basel area. The different districts usually have an office dedicated exclusively to business promotion, helping facilitate real estate location, beneficial tax arrangements, and employee recruitment plans. There is no minimum threshold in terms of the number of jobs created or investment for foreign companies to qualify to receive help in getting established in Switzerland. Nevertheless, Swiss promotion offices generally focus on attracting medium-sized entities (creating between 50 and 249 jobs in their region).


Micro companies (less than 10 persons) and other companies can get support for the creation of a company:

Switzerland Global Enterprise plays a role in connecting the companies with their potential host regions:

Some of the larger promotion offices are:

Greater Geneva Bern Area:

Greater Zurich Area:

Basel Area:

Industrial Promotion

Various Swiss promotion efforts focus on job creation in manufacturing and services. Industrial promotion is uniform and generally effective throughout the country, with a number of effective global industry clusters taking root in med-tech, pharma, precision tools, banking, finance, and light manufacturing.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign and domestic enterprises may engage in various forms of remunerative activities in Switzerland and may freely establish, acquire and dispose of interests in business enterprises in Switzerland. There are, however, some investment restrictions in areas under state monopolies, including certain rail transport services, some postal services, and certain insurance services and commercial activities (e.g. trade in salt). Restrictions (in the form of domicile requirements) also exist in air and maritime transport, hydroelectric and nuclear power, operation of oil and gas pipelines, and the transportation of explosive materials. Additionally, the following legal restrictions apply within Switzerland:

Corporate boards: There are no laws authorizing private firms to limit or prohibit foreign investment or participation. The board of directors of a company registered in Switzerland must consist of a majority of Swiss citizens residing in Switzerland; at least one member of the board of directors that is authorized to represent the company (i.e., to sign legal documents) must be domiciled in Switzerland. If the board of directors consists of a single person, this person must have Swiss citizenship and be domiciled in Switzerland. Foreign controlled companies usually meet these requirements by nominating Swiss directors who hold shares and perform functions on a fiduciary basis. Mitigating these requirements is the fact that the manager of a company need not be a Swiss citizen and company shares can be controlled by foreigners (except for banks). The establishment of a commercial presence by persons or enterprises without legal status under Swiss law requires an establishment authorization, according to cantonal law. The aforementioned requirements do not generally pose a major hardship or impediment for U.S. investors.

Hostile takeovers: Swiss corporate shares can be issued both as registered shares (in the name of the holder) or bearer shares. Provided the shares are not listed on a stock exchange, Swiss companies may, in their articles of incorporation, impose certain restrictions on the transfer of registered shares to prevent hostile takeovers by foreign or domestic companies (article 685a of the Code of Obligations). Hostile takeovers can also be annulled by public companies; however, legislation introduced in 1992 made this practice more difficult. Public companies must now cite in their statutes significant justification (relevant to the survival, conduct, and purpose of their business) to prevent or hinder a takeover by a foreign entity. Furthermore, public corporations may limit the number of registered shares that can be held by any shareholder to a percentage of the issued registered stock. In practice, many corporations limit the number of shares to 2-5% of the relevant stock. Under the public takeover provisions of the Stock Exchange and Securities Law (1997), a formal notification is required when an investor purchases more than 3% of a Swiss company's shares. An "opt-out" clause is available for firms which do not want to be taken over by a hostile bidder, but such opt-outs must be approved by a super-majority of shareholders and must take place well in advance of any takeover attempt (i.e., any takeover already launched).

Banking: Those wishing to establish banking operations in Switzerland must obtain prior approval from the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (FINMA). The Swiss Federal Banking Commission, the Federal Office of Private Insurance, and the Anti-Money Laundering Control Authority were merged in January 2009 to form FINMA. This body aims to promote confidence in financial markets and protect customers, creditors, and investors. FINMA approval of bank operations is generally granted if the following conditions are met: reciprocity on the part of the foreign state; the foreign bank's name must not give the impression that the bank is Swiss; the bank must adhere to Swiss monetary and credit policy; and a majority of the bank's management must have their permanent residence in Switzerland. Otherwise, foreign banks are subject to the same regulatory requirements as domestic banks.

Banks organized under Swiss law have to inform FINMA before they open a branch, subsidiary or representation abroad. Foreign or domestic investors have to inform FINMA before acquiring or disposing of a qualified majority of shares of a bank organized under Swiss law. In case of exceptional temporary capital outflows threatening Swiss monetary policy, the Swiss National Bank may force other institutions to seek approval before selling foreign bonds or other financial instruments. On December 20, 2008 government protection of current accounts held in Swiss banks was raised from CHF 30,000 to CHF 100,000.

Insurance: A federal ordinance requires the placement of all risks physically situated in Switzerland with companies located in the country. Therefore, it is necessary for foreign insurers wishing to provide liability coverage in Switzerland to establish a subsidiary or branch there.

U.S. investors have not identified any specific restrictions that create market access challenges for foreign investors.

Privatization Program

Switzerland has no current plans to privatize any of its state-owned enterprises.

Screening of FDI

Foreign investments are subject to review by the Federal Competition Commission if the value of the investing firm's sales reaches a certain worldwide or Swiss-market threshold. An investment or joint venture by a foreign firm can be canceled on the grounds of competition policy, although there is no evidence that regulators have applied these rules in a discriminatory manner. With the exception of natural monopolies (rail, utilities, etc.), Switzerland maintains non-discriminatory competition between foreign and domestic commercial entities.

Competition Law

The Swiss Federal Competition Commission initiates investigations against entities suspected of damaging competition and issues decisions after an analysis of economic competitiveness in the sector. Price Controls are part of the Swiss Ministry of Economy, Education and Research. Price Controllers can suggest price modifications in the areas of radio, television, the federal railway system, postal services, water, waste removal, and the medical sector.

Legislation on competition within Switzerland has not changed substantially since 2004. Four main laws continue to regulate competition: the Federal Law on cartels and other impediments to competition of October 6, 1995 (Cartels Law, LCart, RS 251), amended in 2004; the Federal Law against unfair competition of October 22, 1992 (LCD, LR 24), amended in 2002; the Federal Law on the internal market of October 6, 1995 (LMI, RS 943.02), amended in 2006; and the Law on price surveillance of December 20, 1985 (LSPr).

2. Conversion and Transfer Policies

Foreign Exchange

On January 15, 2015 Switzerland’s National Bank (SNB) made the remarkable and largely unanticipated move of abandoning the Swiss Franc’s 1.20 Euro peg, roiling global currency markets. In the wake of the SNB’s announcement, the Swiss Franc dramatically increased in value by over 30 percent against the Euro, before settling to an 8 percent appreciation at 1.0 Euro:1.10 CHF. The Swiss Franc currently trades around parity with the dollar, with one Swiss Franc equaling 1.01 USD (03/15/2016). The strength of the Swiss Franc has not only lowered import prices in Switzerland, but has it also deeply eroded Swiss export competitiveness, introducing volatility risk into the previously stable Swiss market.

Remittance Policies

There are currently no restrictions on converting, repatriating, or transferring funds associated with an investment (including remittances of capital, earnings, loan repayments, lease payments, royalties) into a freely usable currency and at the a legal market clearing rate

3. Expropriation and Compensation

There are no known cases of expropriation within Switzerland.

4. Dispute Settlement

Legal System, Specialized Courts, Judicial Independence, Judgments of Foreign Courts

Switzerland has a civil legal system divided into public and private law. Public law governs the organization of the State, as well as the relationships between the State and private individuals (or other entities such as companies). Constitutional law, administrative law, tax law, criminal law, criminal procedure, public international law, civil procedure, debt enforcement, and bankruptcy law are sub-divisions of public law.

Private law governs the relationship between individuals. Swiss civil law is mainly contained in the Swiss Civil Code (which governs the status of individuals, family law, inheritance law, and property law) and in the Swiss Code of Obligations (which governs contracts, torts, commercial law, company law, law of checks and other payment instruments). Intellectual property law (copyright, patents, trademarks, etc.) are also areas of private law. Labor is governed by both private and public law.

Judiciary organization differs from canton to canton. In smaller cantons, only one court may exist, but larger cantons may have many more. All the cantons have established a high court, but only four cantons (Zurich, Bern, St. Gallen and Aargau) have a specialized commercial court that is part of the high court. There are no specialized courts on matters related exclusively to intellectual property rights. Verdicts of the cantonal high courts can be appealed to the Swiss Supreme Court. The court system is independent, competent and fair.

Switzerland is also a participant in a number of bilateral and multilateral treaties governing the recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments. A multilateral treaty (the Lugano Convention) tying Switzerland to European legal conventions entered into force in 2011, replacing an older legal framework with the same name. A set of bilateral treaties are also in place to handle judgments of specific foreign courts. There is no such agreement in place between the U.S. and Switzerland, although Switzerland operates under the New York Convention on Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Law, meaning local courts must enforce international arbitration awards under certain circumstances.


The World Bank’s “Doing Business” survey ranks Switzerland 44th out of 189 countries in resolving insolvency. The average time to close a business in Switzerland is three years (as opposed to 1.7 years across the OECD), with an average of 47.6 cents on the dollar recovered by claimants from insolvent firms (as opposed to 70.6 cents OECD average).

The Swiss Federal Statute on Private International Law (PILS, articles 166-175, in force since January 1, 1989) governs Swiss recognition of foreign insolvency proceedings, including bankruptcies, foreign compositions, and arrangements. Swiss law requires reciprocity for recognition of foreign insolvency.

Investment Disputes

No investment disputes have been recorded involving U.S. or foreign entities in Switzerland in the past 10 years.

International Arbitration

The Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Basel, Bern, Geneva, Lausanne, Lugano, Neuchâtel and Zurich have also established the Swiss Chambers’ Arbitration Institution, which offers dispute resolution based on Swiss Rules of International Arbitration and Swiss Rules of Commercial Mediation. According to the Swiss Chambers’ Arbitration Institution, 104 cases were submitted in 2014, all of which were related to the purchase and sale of goods. Ninety-seven of these cases were accepted under Swiss rules; 23% of the cases were Swiss, 51% were Western European, 4% were from North America.

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Switzerland has been a member of the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) since June 14 1968 and a member of the New York Convention on Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Law since June 1 1965, meaning local courts must enforce international arbitration awards under certain circumstances.

Duration of Dispute Resolution – Local Courts

The duration of dispute resolution depends on the parties. If a party appeals the decision of a first instance court and the (Cantonal) high court up to the Supreme Court, a verdict may take one to two years.

5. Performance Requirements and Investment Incentives


Switzerland is a member of the WTO and adheres to the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Investment Measures. U.S. businesses operating in Switzerland have not raised inconsistencies with the WTO TRIMS obligations.

Investment Incentives

Many of Switzerland's cantons make significant use of financial incentives to attract investment to their jurisdictions. Some of the more aggressive cantons have occasionally waived taxes for new firms for up to ten years; however this practice has been criticized by the European Union. Individual income tax rates vary widely across the 26 cantons. Corporate taxes also vary depending upon the country’s many different tax incentives. Zurich, sometimes used as a benchmark for corporate location tax calculations, has a 25% tax rate, which includes municipal, cantonal, and federal tax. In its “Doing Business” survey the World Bank ranks Switzerland as the 26th most attractive destination for doing business in the world. The Swiss-based International Institute for Management Development (IMD) World Competitiveness Scoreboard ranks Switzerland fourth. However, the approval of a February 9, 2014 public referendum restricting immigration has strained relations with the EU. The implementation of this referendum – which is set to take place by 2017 -- could have negative economic consequences for Switzerland, particularly if it is implemented in violation of the European Free Trade Area’s “Free Movement of Persons” agreement (i.e. Shengen). The Swiss government is currently in discussions with the EU on this matter.

Research and Development

Scholars and artists from the U.S. can apply to the State Secretariat for Education and Research for Swiss Government Excellence Scholarships. The Swiss National Fund’s strategy states “Universities, governments and research funding bodies negotiate and implement co-operation agreements with the aim of supporting the international component of research and creating an institutional framework to promote co-operation.” Switzerland has various instruments in place to promote research and innovation such as: the National Institutions for Research and Innovation Promotion, the National Centers of Competences in Research, the National Research Programs, or the Research in Swiss Government Departments.

Performance Requirements

The Swiss government does not mandate local employment or impose any other performance requirements, such as local content requirements.

Data Storage

There are no “forced localization” laws designed to force foreign investors to use domestic content in goods or technology (i.e. storage of data within Switzerland). Nevertheless, the Swiss Federal Council decided on February 5, 2014 to exclude foreign-held companies from working with the Swiss government or related entities when the work was in relation with critical infrastructure. The interpretation of this decision is still pending in the Swiss court system.

Businesses also need to be aware that Switzerland follows strict privacy laws and certain data may not be collected in Switzerland as it is deemed personal and particularly “worthy of protection.” The collection of certain data may need to be registered at the office of the Federal Data Protection and Information Commissioner.

6. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Physical property rights are recognized and enforced within Switzerland, which currently ranks 16th out of 189 countries in “registering property” according to the World Bank’s Doing Business Report.

Intellectual Property Rights

Customs authorities in Switzerland have the authority to seize counterfeit goods if asked by owners of intellectual property (i.e. patent, trademark or copyright) or related interest groups (i.e. professional associations). Goods can be seized for 10 days if there is reasonable suspicion. Provisional measures can also be obtained from a Swiss court to ensure evidence is not destroyed. If the destruction of goods is requested by an intellectual property owner, the owner of the goods can dispute that claim in writing within 10 days. The owner of the intellectual property covers the costs for the destruction of the goods. (Does Switzerland track and report on seizures of counterfeit goods? If available, please provide statistics or provide a link.)

While Switzerland effectively enforces intellectual property rights linked to patents and trademarks, Swiss authorities are less thorough in enforcing copyright laws, particularly on the internet. This issue stems from the interpretation of a September 2010 Swiss court verdict (the “Logistep” case), in which the Swiss High Court ruled that internet protocol addresses required protection, and subsequently could not be used to identify violators of copyright on the internet.

Although uploading of copyright-protected material remains illegal within Switzerland, in practice downloads have become widespread throughout Switzerland. Swiss prosecutors continue to refuse to engage in legal proceedings against alleged violators or service providers. Switzerland has subsequently become a haven for global piracy, with a number of global piracy platforms managing their operations in and from Switzerland. In 2014, the U.S. House of Representative’s “Creativity and Theft-Prevention Caucus” included Switzerland, alongside Russia, China, and India, as one of the world’s worst environments for protecting copyrights. There is currently an amendment of the copyright law pending in the Swiss parliament that would allow copyright holders to more effectively engage with internet and access providers and to identify uploaders of protected works and to bring them to court. The new law will not come in to force until 2019, if at all.

For additional information about treaty obligations and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at

Resources for Rights Holders

Jeremy Beer, Economic/Commercial Officer
Raphael Vogel, Economic Specialist
U.S. Embassy in Bern, Sulgeneckstrasse 17, 3003 Bern, Switzerland
+41 31 357 7319

Country / Economy resources

Swiss American Chamber of Commerce
Talacker 41
8001 Zurich
+41 43 443 72 00

7. Transparency of the Regulatory System

The Swiss government uses transparent policies and effective laws to foster a competitive investment climate. Proposed laws and regulations are open for public comment (including interested parties, interest groups, cantons and cities) then discussed within the bicameral parliamentary system and may be subject to facultative or automatic referenda that allow the Swiss voters to reject or accept the proposals.

8. Efficient Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The Swiss government’s attitude toward foreign portfolio investment and market structures are positive, as demonstrated through frequent high global rankings.

Money and Banking System, Hostile Takeovers

Switzerland is home to a sophisticated banking system that provides a high degree of service to both foreign and domestic entities. Switzerland also has an effective regulatory system that encourages and facilitates portfolio investment. Domestic and foreign bidders are treated equally when it comes to hostile takeovers within Switzerland. The professional services firm Deloitte estimates that Switzerland’s banks manage around USD 2 trillion in investments, with 14% growth since 2008. Switzerland also maintains an independent central bank.

In Switzerland, U.S. citizens may face discrimination from smaller Swiss banks as a result of ongoing tax evasion investigations being conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice.

9. Competition from State-Owned Enterprises

Switzerland’s five State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) are active in the areas of ground transportation (travel), information and communication, defense, and aerospace (services). These companies are typically involved in “public function mandates,” but may also cover commercial activities (i.e. Swisscom in the area of telecommunications). The five companies in which the Swiss Confederation is either the largest shareholder or the sole shareholder are: CFF, Swisscom, Skyguide, Swiss Post, and Ruag.

Other SOEs controlled by the cantons are active in the areas of energy, water supply, and a number of subsectors. SOEs may benefit from exclusive rights and privileges (some of them are listed in the WTO Trade Policy Review in Table A3.1). SOEs typically interact with private industry and are also active in foreign markets (i.e. Swisscom and Ruag). Private sector competitors can compete with SOEs under the same terms and conditions with respect to access to markets, credit, and other business operations.

Switzerland is a party to the Government Procurement Agreement (GPA). Some areas are partly or fully exempted from the GPA such as the management of drinking water, energy, transportation, telecommunication or defense. Due to these exceptions and their often historical monopolies in Switzerland, private companies may find it difficult or impossible to compete with these Swiss SOEs.

OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance of SOEs

Switzerland adheres to the OECD Corporate Governance Principles and OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance for SOEs. Swiss SOEs are required to report annually to the Federal Council on the achievement of their strategic goals. While consulting with the competent ministries, the Federal Council approves the reports from the SOEs and their annual budget. The Swiss parliament then considers whether the Federal Council has supervised the SOEs appropriately. SOEs have not been involved in investment disputes, but they often block private actors from winning bids due to their status in their market segment (i.e. privileged partner of the Swiss government).

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Switzerland does not have a sovereign wealth fund or an asset management bureau.

10. Responsible Business Conduct

The Swiss government and Swiss companies are generally aware of the importance of pursuing the due diligence approach 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 has commissioned a series of reports on the government’s role in ensuring CSR, particularly in the commodities sector. In April 2015, the Swiss government announced a national action plan on CSR:

The Government of Switzerland takes an active role in developing and promoting global RBC standards within multilateral organizations. As an OECD member, Switzerland adheres to the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprise, and is currently drafting a national action plan in conjunction with its commitments under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The Swiss Government also participated in the drafting and implementation of the OECD Due Diligence Guide for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict and High Risk Areas, is a member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, and supports the Better Gold Initiative, which promotes responsible gold mining in Peru, with plans to expand to Bolivia and Colombia. The State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) houses Switzerland’s National Contact Point for the OECD Guidelines and can be contacted at:

Switzerland has signed onto 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. An ongoing political debate exists over whether Swiss courts should exercise jurisdiction to hear cases of alleged harm (human rights and environmental) done by Swiss companies in foreign countries.

Of additional note, Switzerland was recently ranked 1st out 178 countries evaluated by the Yale University-based Environmental Performance Index (EPI). In 2013, Swiss voters also approved a referendum allowing shareholders to curb excessive executive pay. Lastly, the Switzerland-based "Thun Group" is a global leader in translating the RBC risk-based due diligence approach to voluntary guidelines for the financial sector.

Latest update to the Background report on Commodities:

Information about the Swiss Better Gold Association:

11. Political Violence

Political violence is very rare in Switzerland but is perpetrated by representatives of both left and right-wing groups, including nuclear power opponents and neo-Nazi groups. The most relevant act in recent years occurred in April 2011 when a letter bomb targeting employees of a lobbying organization for nuclear power exploded. A group of Turkish nationalists similarly clashed with a group of Kurdish independence supporters on the streets of Bern (the nation’s capital) in 2015, angered by the ongoing conflict between their two ethnic groups in the Middle East. During the resulting violence two protestors were killed and a number of people were injured.

12. Corruption

UN Anticorruption Convention, OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery

Switzerland ratified the UN Anticorruption Convention on September 24, 2009 and signed the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention in 1997. It entered into force on May 1, 2000.

Switzerland also maintains an effective legal and policy framework to combat domestic corruption. US firms investing in Switzerland have not complained of corruption to the Embassy in recent years, and laws appear to be enforced effectively. The giving or accepting of bribes in Switzerland is subject to criminal and civil penalties, including imprisonment up to five years.

In February 2001 Switzerland signed the Council of Europe's Criminal Law Convention on Corruption, and signed the UN Convention against Corruption in December 2003. In order to implement the Council of Europe’s 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 on May 1, 2000. In accordance with the revised 1997 OECD Anti-Bribery Convention, the Swiss parliament amended legislation on direct taxes of the Confederation, cantons, and townships to prohibit the tax deductibility of bribes. These amendments became effective on January 1, 2001.

Under Swiss law, officials are not to accept anything that would "challenge their independence and capacity to act." According to the law, the range of permissible receipt of “individual advantages” is a sliding scale, depending on the role of the official. Some officials may receive no advantages at all (e.g., those working for financial regulators), while others are allowed to receive several hundred Swiss Francs. The upper-limit value of presents, such as bottles of champagne and watches, is a grey area that varies according to department and canton. Transparency International has recommended that a maximum sum valid at the federal level should be fixed. Some multinationals have assisted with the fight against corruption by setting up internal hotlines to enable staff to report problems anonymously.

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, and the government generally implements these laws effectively. Investigating and prosecuting government corruption is a federal responsibility. A majority of cantons also 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.

On September 24, 2009, Switzerland ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption. Government experts believe this ratification will not result in significant changes, since passive and active corruption of public servants is already considered a crime under the Swiss Criminal Code (Art. 322).

In October 2013, the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO, Council of Europe) concluded “that the current low level of compliance with the recommendations is ‘globally unsatisfactory.” Areas which needed particular attention were transparency of party funding, criminalization of trading in influence, and the dual criminality requirement. Switzerland maintains its official reservations on the relevant articles in the Criminal Law Convention on Corruption.

A number of Swiss federal administrative authorities are also 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, and the Department of Foreign Affairs deals with the UN Convention. The power to prosecute and judge corruption offenses is shared between Swiss cantons and the Swiss 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.

Resources to Report Corruption

Contact at government agencies:

Michel Huissoud
Swiss Federal Audit Office
Monbijoustrasse 45
3003 Bern / Switzerland
Ph. +41 31 323 10 35

Contact at “watchdog” organizations:

Martin Hilti
Executive Director
Transparency International Switzerland
Schanzeneckstrasse 25
P.O. Box 8509
3001 Bern / Switzerland
Ph. +41 31 382 3550

13. Bilateral Investment Agreements

While the United States and Switzerland do not share an investment agreement, Switzerland has concluded numerous investment protection treaties with developing and emerging market economies; over 120 BITs and 30 relevant FTAs remain in force. See the UNCTAD Investment Policy Hub for a full listing:

Bilateral Taxation Treaties

Switzerland concluded an Income Tax Treaty with the United States in 1996. A 2009 Protocol to this Treaty has been ratified by Switzerland, but not by the U.S. Senate.

14. OPIC and Other Investment Insurance Programs

Switzerland has not signed a political risk insurance agreement with any Western European country or the United States. Switzerland's economy exceeds the cap for U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation activity. However, Switzerland is a member of the World Bank Group's Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA).

15. Labor

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. 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 minimum wage law.

Foreigners not only fill low-skilled, low-wage jobs, but also fill highly technical positions in the manufacturing and service industries. Roughly 29% of Switzerland’s estimated labor force of approximately 4.9 million people is foreign, and they make up significant portions of the industrial (38.9%) and services sectors (28%). Many foreign nationals are long-time Swiss residents who have not applied for or been granted Swiss citizenship. Only 3.3% of the workforce is employed in agriculture, where foreign seasonal workers take many low-wage jobs.

In a February 9, 2014 national initiative, Swiss voters decided to impose limits on immigration, which could possibly negate the Swiss-EU Free Movement of Persons Agreement and carries potentially significant implications for the immigrant-dependent labor market. The Swiss Federal Council has been working to develop a proposal on how to implement this initiative by a 2017 deadline without curtailing Switzerland's participation in EU programs and market access, but negotiations with the EU have yet to commence. In the wake of the 2014 immigration referendum, the government has also introduced a series of measures aimed at bringing traditionally underemployed elements of the Swiss labor market – namely women, older job seekers, refugees, and temporarily accepted asylum seekers – into the labor market, and businesses are increasingly experiencing difficulties in acquiring work visas for skilled labor from countries outside EU/EFTA even though new constitutionally mandated immigration limits are not yet in place.

Switzerland generally prohibits commerce on Sunday. Swiss voters narrowly accepted a 2005 revision of the Swiss Federal labor law in order to provide flexible working hours, such as Sunday openings, in major railway stations and airports. Shopping hours outside of airports and railway stations remain regulated by cantonal laws. Employees in the retail sector and in restaurants, and bars, in cooperation with other interests, have been successful in resisting the easing of the federal and cantonal laws governing opening hours. Shop-hour restrictions are nevertheless loosening gradually in centers such as Zurich, Geneva, and Bern.

Approximately one-fourth of Switzerland’s full-time workers are unionized. Labor/management relations are good, with a willingness on both sides to settle disputes by negotiations rather than by labor action. Some 606 collective agreements exist today in Switzerland (of which approximately 1% concern the agriculture sector, 39% the secondary sector and 60% the third sector) and are usually renewed without major problems. Since 2002, trade unions have complained that too little of the Swiss labor force is covered by collective agreements. Although days lost to strikes in Switzerland are among the lowest in the OECD, Swiss trade unions have encouraged workers to go on strike on several occasions in recent years. In difficult economic times, employers may temporarily shift their full-time employees to part-time by registering with cantonal authorities and justifying reductions as necessary to business activities. Employees can reject the shift to part-time work but risk dismissal. Responsibility for establishing and enforcing rules for part-time work ultimately belongs to the Federal Council.

The prohibition on strikes by Swiss public servants was generally 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.

At the macro level, Swiss salaries increased by 0.8% in 2014. The average unemployment rate was 4.5% in 2014 (according to the ILO method of calculation). The average unemployment rate was 9.4% for foreigners and 3.1% for Swiss citizens. All cantons bordering EU countries suffer higher unemployment rates than Switzerland. Young workers aged 15-24 and persons aged 25 and 39 also faced higher unemployment rates, 8.5% and 4.9%, respectively.

16. Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Not applicable.

17. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy


Host Country Statistical source*

USG or international statistical source

USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other

Economic Data






Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD)




$701.0 billion

Foreign Direct Investment

Host Country Statistical source*

USG or international statistical source

USG or international Source of data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other

U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions)


$222.5 billion


$152.8 billion

Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions)


$253.5 billion**


$224.0 billion

Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP





*Data are from either the Federal Statistical Office ( or the Swiss National Bank (

**Including Canada

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI

Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data

From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)

Inward Direct Investment

Outward Direct Investment

Total Inward



Total Outward






United States









United States









United Kingdom









"0" reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment

Portfolio Investment Assets

Top Five Partners (Millions, US Dollars, June 2015)


Equity Securities

Total Debt Securities

All Countries



All Countries



All Countries



United States






United States






United States


















Cayman Islands



United Kingdom



United Kingdom



United Kingdom







Liechtenstein’s investment conditions are virtually identical in most key aspects to those in Switzerland, due to its dependence on the Swiss economy. The two countries have their own customs union and Swiss authorities are responsible for implementing import and export regulations. Additionally both countries are members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), an intergovernmental trade organization and a free trade area that operates in parallel with the European Union (EU) and participates in the EU's single market. Liechtenstein has a stable and open economy that has created almost 36,700 jobs, practically exceeding the domestic population of 37,400 – requiring a substantial number of foreigners (mainly Swiss and Austrians) to fill many of these jobs. Liechtenstein is also a very wealthy country – when adjusted for purchasing power parity, its per capita gross domestic product (GDP) is the highest in the world. According to the Liechtenstein Statistical Yearbook , the tertiary sector creates 60.4% of Liechtenstein’s jobs, particularly in the finance sector, followed by the secondary sector (especially manufacturing tools, precision instruments, and dental products), which employs 38.8% of the work force. Agriculture accounts for less than 1% of the country’s employment.

The country reformed its tax system in 2011. The corporate tax rate, at 12.5%, 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.

Link to statistical yearbook of Liechtenstein:

18. Contact for More Information

Jeremy Beer, Economic/Commercial Officer
Raphael Vogel, Economic Specialist
U.S. Embassy in Bern, Sulgeneckstrasse 17, 3003 Bern
+41 31 357 7319