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Making the move What Swiss abroad must consider before heading home

A plane above the Alps

Heading back to Switzerland from abroad can be a logistical and financial challenge for citizens.

(Keystone)

Some 24,000 Swiss living abroad move back to Switzerland every year, and many more contemplate it. Are there enough resources available to help them make the transition?

“Coming back without too much of a plan can be unaffordable,” Anne-Christine Favrod says. “You need to have savings for a year or so.”

Favrod recently moved back to her home country after 12 years spent in Britain - without work lined up in Switzerland. She could rely on her own savings as well as family and friends for support but is still finding her way. 

Favrod, a canton Valais native, is now looking for part-time work to see her through until she can open her own business in complementary medicine. But she’s found the Swiss labour market to be less flexible than in Britain, where she was able to string together several jobs to make a living. Her most recent contract in the medical research field was shortened when the Brexit referendum threatened European funding for the project.

Christian Hager and his children celebrating Swiss National Day in the Philippines

(Christian Hager)

“I need someone to give me a chance because I don’t have a very traditional career, but in Switzerland taking a chance on someone is harder and the work culture is not very laid back,” she says. For her, the job search continues.

Christian Hager recently returned to his native Switzerland from the Philippines – without his young children, for now. 

“I cannot afford to bring them yet because of financial reasons,” he says. “I want them to live comfortably here in Switzerland.”

Sarah Mastantuoni, director of the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA), says her office fields some 350 inquiries per year from Swiss living outside the country who want to return. Many of their questions have to do with finances and finding work, since Switzerland is an expensive place for those used to a salary almost anywhere else in the world. This can make relocating to Swiss soil without a job difficult or impossible.

Some Swiss abroad who recently shared their thoughts about moving back to Switzerland with swissinfo.ch echoed those financial concerns. 

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Swiss abroad's thoughts on returning

Returning from elsewhere in Europe

In principle, Swiss citizens who have lived abroad are entitled to unemployment insurance and social aid. But according to the Swissemigration sectionexternal link of the Foreign Affairs Ministry, a person who becomes unemployed in an EU/EFTA country must claim benefits there before re-locating to Switzerland.

This story is part of our "Curious Switzerland" series where we report on questions from our readers about Swiss politics, culture or life in the country. Reader Juan Escobar Konanz asked, "A Swiss wants to return after living abroad. Can she receive any kind of support if she doesn't completely have the means to settle down?"

Submit your question at the bottom of this story, and we may report on it for the next story in the series.

(swissinfo.ch)

The State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) specifies that before leaving the country they are living in, that person must also apply for the export of benefits to Switzerland using a special form called the PDU2, or “Permission to receive unemployment benefits while seeking work in another country”. That form is then filed at the local unemployment office in the municipality where the returning Swiss abroad ends up registering. From that point, he or she must adhere to the same requirements as job seekers in Switzerland (regular coaching, sending a certain number of applications, etc.) to continue to receive benefits.

The benefits will be paid out by the person’s country of origin for three to six months after their arrival in Switzerland. After that point, if the person still has not found a job in Switzerland but wants to continue receiving unemployment benefits, he or she must move back to the EU/EFTA country they came from.

However, they can apply for social aid benefits in Switzerland if they have not yet found a job. 

Favrod was told by her local unemployment office that she would have to first find work in Switzerland and then lose that job before she could claim Swiss unemployment benefits. Although Britain - still officially an EU/EFTA state - must pay her benefits for three to six months under the Free Movement of People agreement, she did not apply before leaving and was therefore not eligible.

But Favrod doesn’t feel those benefits would have gotten her very far anyway, as they generally amount to a maximum of GBP70 per week for individuals older than 24. By comparison, Swiss unemployment benefits usually amount to 80% of the previous salary.

Job seeker resources

Certain job seeker resources are available to returning Swiss abroad, such as access to employment counseling through EURES (European Employment Services) either in Switzerland or in the country they are returning from.

SECO also advises on the search for a job if the return to Switzerland takes more than two months. In this case, Swiss abroad can register with AVAM (the database of public employment agencies) before returning to Switzerland by sending the necessary application documentsexternal link by e-mail to info.eures@seco.admin.ch.

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Returning from outside the EU

Swiss abroad coming back to Switzerland from a non-EU/EFTA state can generally claim Swiss unemployment benefits in the canton that they relocate to. A Swissemigration guideexternal link to re-patriation for Swiss abroad states that those returning from outside of Europe will generally be insured if they lived abroad for more than one year, were gainfully employed for at least 12 months in the past two years, provide confirmation from an employer of the duration of employment abroad and claim unemployment insurance within a year of returning to Switzerland.

The amount of aid given to a Swiss citizen returning from outside the EU/EFTA area is not necessarily 80% of their previous salary as it is in Switzerland; instead, the unemployment office adjusts the amount on a case-by case, lump-sum basis often dependent on the person’s level of education and type of previous employment.

Swiss returning from outside Europe are also eligible for social welfare benefits if they meet certain criteria, according to Mastantuoni.

For example, she says the office will consider whether an applicant from abroad still owns real estate there, and whether they have enough assets to get by in Switzerland without social aid benefits.

(Anne-Christine Favrod)

Planning ahead

In addition to uncertainty over her unemployment benefits, Favrod found herself in a Catch-22 situation regarding health insurance when moving back to Switzerland. The insurance company needed proof of her new Swiss address, while her local authorities needed proof that she had insurance in order for her to be able to register at an address. Luckily, she had begun conversations with insurance companies before making the move, and she recommends that others in a similar situation do the same in order to avoid delays and logistical challenges.

Favrod also recommends that returning Swiss check the website of the municipality they plan to move to for a list of items they will need to bring along when registering. Examples of such items include a certificate of origin from the place of origin stated on the person’s passport, a family booklet, proof of address via a rental agreement and possibly a marriage certificate.

Mastantuoni says that many returning Swiss contact the municipality they are moving to ahead of time for guidance on issues like registration and social aid benefits.

“The hard part for Swiss returning from abroad is that most people assume they know the system since they are Swiss,” she says. “But with 26 different cantons and various information points, it can be hard to understand where to turn to for help.”

“Everything that’s needed is available, it’s all just a bit complicated from an organisational standpoint.”

Unemployment benefits vs social aid benefits

Unemployment benefits refer to a monthly government stipend received by a person who is unemployed, usually for a fixed period of time. In Switzerland, unemployment benefits usually amount to 80% of the person’s previous income and those receiving them must be actively trying to find work, usually while working with a counselor at an unemployment office.

Social aid benefits amount to longer-term financial support from the government for people whose income lies below the so-called “subsistence level” with few other assets or savings. Switzerland guarantees its residents and citizens a basic right to livelihood, with access to social aid for those who need it.

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