Doing business in Switzerland, where to start?
Situated in the heart of Europe, between lakes and mountains, Switzerland is one of the world’s most prosperous nations, which enjoys a quality of life among the highest in the world. Switzerland has 4 official languages: German (63.5%), French (22.5%), Italian (8.1%) and Romansh (0.5%), for a population of 8.3 million. GDP per capita is 84,000 USD.
Switzerland is well known for numerous strengths: innovation, dynamism in economic development and in investments, productivity, a high quality education system, political stability, an attractive tax system, a highly qualified and cosmopolitan workforce, extremely competitive financial services and a rich and varied economy.
Often known for its watch manufacturers (see here in the Neuchatel region) and delicious chocolate producers (see here), Switzerland is also very active in various high-tech industries such as Medtech, Cleantech, Robotics and Neurosciences.
Bilateral agreements with the EU
Before doing business in Switzerland, you have to know that it is not a member of the EU and is not likely to join in the near future. Relations are governed by a series of bilateral agreements. Protectionist measures remain in some areas.
Help from the Swiss government
Officially the Swiss Confederation is a federal republic and it consists of 26 cantons. The federal Trade promotion agency is named Switzerland Global Enterprise (S-GE, formerly OSEC), but each canton provides his own support for doing business in Switzerland as well. For example, the Greater Geneva Bern Area (GGBA), the Zürich Greater Area (ZGA) and the Basel Area (BA). Those regional Trade promotion agencies are working for the different canton to attract foreign companies to invest in Switzerland. Finally, each canton has its own economic promotion agency, for example the canton de Vaud provides service through the Développement Economique Vaudois (DEV) or the canton of Bern through Berninvest. See here how those Trade promotion agencies can be useful to your company and help you doing business in Switzerland.
Creating a company in Switzerland
Creating a company in Switzerland is not as straight forward as in other EU countries. In fact, it’s a process that can be seen as long and painful. But it’s for the good, Swiss companies are well set up, financially solid when they start (minimum capital for a limited liability company is 20,000 CHF, and for a limited company is 100,000 CHF). On top of that, a notary must do it for you, which will cost you from 1,000 to 5,000 CHF, depending on the complexity. You can also choose to operate as a sole proprietorship, but it appears to be more risky. Those points explains why on the ease of doing business ranking, Switzerland only ranks 71 (DB 2017 Rank) for the section “Starting a Business”.
Code NOGA vs. NACE
In the whole EU, the industrial classification used by all countries is the NACE. When doing business in Switzerland, the NACE classification is replaced by the NOGA classification, dedicated to the Swiss market. Nevertheless, a correspondance table exists, as those 2 classifications are pretty similar. Find your NACE code here NACE-finder, and see Swiss companies lists related to each code.
Official company information available
The Swiss government does not provide as much information on companies as other EU countries do. In fact, all financial informations are not provided and remain private. Companies (not listed) are neither obliged to publish any revenue numbers nor balance sheet every years. Company information is pretty hard to find though, information that can be key to the success of doing business in Switzerland.
Swiss commerce registry information is available for free, provided by the federal government on this website Zefix.
Recruit top talents
Doing business without the top talented employees wouldn’t work properly. Swiss Universities and Top ranked business schools are also amongst the top institutions in the world (see how they rank here). If you are looking for top engineers, Ecole polytechnique fédéral de Lausanne (EPFL) or ETH Zürich (see here their alumni association) are top technical schools, training world-class engineers. Switzerland also have well-known business Schools, amongst those are IMD, HEC Lausanne or HSG.
Find business partners and clients in Switzerland easily
In order to have a good understanding of the Swiss market, you can easily gain awareness and identify Swiss companies using the advanced company search engine Business-Monitor. This tool uses some smart technologies to collect open source data on the web related to every Swiss companies. With that, you can do keyword searches and advanced filtering to get a perfect understanding of the market.