3 – Welcome to Zurich, Switzerland

You might feel a bit overwhelmed during your first weeks in Switzerland. There are countless details to consider when settling into a new home and a new job, such as your visa, insurance, pension, taxes, public transport and housing. After a few months of effort and patience and going through this document, you will have figured out most of these details. Then you will be able to help and guide others who have the same questions you had.
The city website is a great source of information, along with the ETH Welcome center [https://ethz.ch/en/the-eth-zurich/working-teaching-and-research/welcome-center.html] and consulates from all nationalities. A good information source to consult before arriving in Switzerland is the Swiss embassy or consulate. In some cases, consulates may have useful information about resources in and around Zurich, specifically for someone of your nationality – including lists of general physicians who speak your language and information about clubs for expatriates. They can be very helpful in addressing specific questions and may have information printed in your native language or in English. Some of the key issues you will need to be aware of as a foreigner are addressed below.

3.1. Ausländerausweis and Residence Permit

Every non-Swiss citizen needs a Swiss residence (“Aufenthaltsbewilligung”) and/or work (“Arbeitsbewilligung”) permit to live and work in the country (for EU17/EU8/EFTA citizens only when the stay is for longer than three months). As a future employee at ETH Zurich, if you are a citizen of an EU17/EU8/EFTA country, you will be eligible for a residency permit, other rules apply for the newer EU-country Croatia, and for the United kingdom due to Brexit more information for these countries can be found at the website. For citizens of all other countries, a request for a work permit must be submitted in advance. Employment can only start once your residence and/or work permit(s) have been issued.
EU 17/EU-8/EFTA countries are: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxemburg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Spain, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Czech Republic and Hungary.

Work permit (“Arbeitsbewilligung”)

Third-Party Country citizens are those that do not own a European or Swiss passport. The ETH HR Department must submit a request for a work permit for these citizens to the migration office (Migrationsamt) or the office for economy and labor (Amt für Wirtschaft und Arbeit) in Zurich.
Citizens who need a visa to enter Switzerland in order to get a work permit should not enter the country before the visa has been issued by the Swiss Embassy or Swiss Consulate in their respective countries. The HR Department at ETH Zurich will apply for this visa; you will be informed by your future department/institute (or supervisor) when the visa is ready at the Swiss Embassy/Consulate in the town you indicated on the application form (check out the Welcome Center website for more information).

Residence permit (“Aufenhaltsbewilligung”)

For EU-17, EU-8, and EFTA countries no special conditions apply. Citizens of these countries have to apply for a residence permit and, by law, are treated the same as regular Swiss citizens when applying for a job. They must register with the local authority at their place of residence (Gemeindehaus or Stadthaus) or at the relevant district office (Kreisbüro) in Zurich within fourteen days of arriving in Switzerland. For the registration procedure you will need your work-contract, valid passport, and living address; the whole process can take a couple of weeks. The residence permit will be forwarded to you by post, afterward you will need to uploaded a scan of your residentce permit to ETHIS to inform ETH Human Resources. For Croatia and the United Kingdom special regulations may apply for residency/work permits for more information.

Types of Residency Permits

There are different types of residency permits in Switzerland. If you are a resident of a European EU/EFTA country, visit the homepage of the Swiss Federal Office of Migration in Bern.

For residents of a NON-European EU/EFTA country different regulations apply, which you can find here:
– Permit C for permanent residence – Only non-EU/EFTA immigrants who have lived in Switzerland for 10 continuous years can apply for a Permit C and become permanent residents. For EU/EFTA nationals and US and Canadian citizens, the time you have to live in Switzerland before you apply for the C Permit is five years. The Swiss C Permit allows you to change jobs as many times as you want, work for any employer, and live where you want in Switzerland.
– Permit B for initial or temporary residence – To EU/EFTA nationals, this permit is issued for five years, whereas for non-EU/EFTA nationals, it is for one year. However, it can be renewed if needed. You will receive a B permit if you want to move to Switzerland to work or study there. For this, you will need to have a work contract valid for at least 1 year or be enrolled in a Swiss educational institution. Sometimes, the Swiss B permit can have restrictions such as having to work in a specific job or live only in the canton which gave you the permit.
– Permit G for cross-border commuting – This type of Swiss residence permit is issued to workers who live in another country, but work in Switzerland. These types of workers usually commute on a daily or weekly basis. The G permit requires that they return to their country at least once a week, and it doesn’t grant the holder the same rights as a resident. The permit can be renewed each year, and is valid for the duration of the work contract. However, it cannot exceed five years.
– Permit L for short-term residence – This permit is valid for up to one year, and can be renewed to a maximum of 24 months. People who move to Switzerland to work in a specific job or company receive this permit. If you change jobs, you may not receive a new permit.
With an L-permit, you might encounter problems signing contracts with a long-term commitment, e.g. housing, credit cards or mobile phones. In case you have questions or problems regarding your permit, always contact ETH HR instead of dealing directly with the Migration Office.

A Zurich residency permit is only valid for the Canton of Zurich. If you intend to live in a different Canton, you should contact ETH Zurich HR in advance, and they will help you with the necessary arrangements and contact with any of the 26 Cantons immigration offices. Switzerland is a federal republic consisting of 26 cantons which reserve the authority to decide which immigrants they welcome. They each have their own cantonal migration offices that issue residence permits, and cantonal labor offices which issue work authorizations. You must apply for a residence permit at the cantonal immigration office of the canton you want to live in. The different cantons may have different and specific requirements. They are the first point of contact and information when you want to apply for your Switzerland residence permit. You can find the addresses, webpages, and information about each cantonal immigration office.
In the case that you lose your Swiss Residence Permit while abroad, you can apply for a Switzerland Return visa. You can apply for your return visa at the Swiss embassy of the country where you are staying. Depending on the country, you may or may not need an appointment beforehand. However, in all cases, you have to submit your application in person and pay a fee.

When you submit your return visa application, you must provide the following documents:
– Long-stay visa (national or D-visa) application form, completed and signed.
Two recent passport-sized pictures
– Your passport, which must be valid for at least three months after planned leave from Schengen area and have at least 2 blank pages.
– Photocopies of your passport’s relevant pages (personal information, issue and expiry date, copies of all previous visas)
– Note: In some cases, you will also have to provide a police report, proving you have reported your Swiss residence permit as lost/stolen.

After you submit your application to the Swiss authorities, they will forward it to the cantonal migration office at your place of residence in Switzerland. If the cantonal authorities authorize your application, then the Swiss embassy will contact you. The processing time can take around 5-8 days. The cantonal offices are in charge of processing the Swiss return visa.

If you come across further difficulties or have basic questions you do not know who to address to, contact AVETH counselling and you will not be alone in finding the answers. 

3.2. Housing and Finding a Place to Stay

Do not expect your employer to arrange or provide you with accommodation when you arrive in Zurich. Ask within your group for help finding a short-term solution for accommodation to give you time to search for a flat or room to rent. Be prepared to spend some time finding suitable accommodation as the demand for reasonably priced housing in Zurich is high. The most common housing possibilities in Zurich are a room in a “WG” (Wohngemeinschaft – shared flat), your own flat or a room in a family’s house. It can happen that 50 people or more fight for a cheap and conveniently located flat. Plan plenty of time for the flat-hunt.

ETH-Zurich Owned Apartments

ETH-Zurich has some studios for Doctoral students who are coming from abroad and have a contract with ETH Zurich. They also have a bulletin board where you can find WG rooms or flats. You can apply for a studio at: www.wohnen.ethz.ch.

Where to Look for Apartments

Check out these addresses and locations:
– ETH Whiteboard 
– ETH Wohnen Service 
– The public bulletin boards at ETH Zurich and the University, especially those in the – Polyterrasse building, mostly advertise WG rooms
– You can also search for WGs and single rooms at the student organization WOKO 
– Flat sharing: www.wggesucht.de/en and www.wgzimmer.ch
– Apartments and flat sharing: www.homegate.ch, www.students.ch/wohnen and www.flatfox.ch/en/
– It can also be worthwhile to keep a look out in different Facebook groups. Whatever the platform you search on, always be alert for possible scams.
– You might also consider hiring an agent www.livit.ch/en to look for flats for you. But be aware that you usually have to pay a fee of one month’s rent in case of a successful deal. The comfort here is that you don’t have to compete with other applicants, so even though this might cost a bit more it is the least stressful option.

First Few Days

Unless you have already found a flat or made other arrangements, you will probably need to stay at the city’s youth hostel, a backpacker’s hotel or a more expensive hotel. Business or Airbnb apartments are another accommodation option, at least for the beginning of your Ph.D. They are usually cleaned, fitted with a kitchen and bathroom, and fully furnished. Business apartments can be rented monthly and cost somewhere in the range of 1’500-2’000 CHF.

Rental Contracts

In any rental agreement (“Mietvertrag”), there should be clear rules about what costs are included in the rent and what extras need to be paid, e.g. water, electricity, heating. The usual period of notice for vacating a flat (“Kündigungsfrist”) is three months. If you are not the principle tenant, you will get a sub-contract (“Untermietvertrag”). Make sure you get this contract from the tenant when you move into a shared flat (“WG”) to avoid trouble when you leave. Usually, you have to pay a deposit for your flat or room, which is normally one to three months’ rent, in some cases it is possible to arrange a special deposit-account in your bank. You can find your rights as a tenant at: www.mieterverband.ch, (only in German). Keep in mind that there are strict rules with regard to noise restrictions before 06.00 and after 22.00. If you want a dishwashing machine or washing machine you might have to sign an addendum to the contract taking all risks of water damage.
In most buildings, a washing machine is provided by the landlord. Swiss caretakers are generally very creative in making up reservation procedures for the washing machine. Rules of conduct in the washing and drying cellar can be as strictly defined as any major law. You should take them as seriously as if they were written laws.

The Actual Move to Zurich

The application process for renting a flat can be quite tedious: apart from proving that you can pay the rent, you might be asked for an excerpt of the Swiss debtor’s register (“Betreibungsauszug”). Coming from abroad, you will not be able to provide this to the landlord, but you might get something similar in your country of origin that confirms your creditworthiness. If you relocate in Zurich, you can get the Betreibungsauszug at the respective Kreisbüro in your district (“Kreis”) or order it online. For the application, you might have to present some additional references from people living in Switzerland, such as your professor or supervisor, vouching for your trustworthiness.
For the actual process of moving to Zurich (or within Zurich), it might be useful to hire “Parking-prohibited” signs from the city police force to prevent others from parking in the space you need for your car for a few hours. These cost about CHF 60. Simply call the police department of the district you will move to.
A low-price alternative for buying household goods are the second-hand department stores called “Brockenhaus” or the flea-market at Helvetiaplatz every Saturday. If you prefer new furniture at a low price, have a look at: ikea, also tutti and Ricardo do secondhand and cheaper furniture.


Most Zurich households are connected to the electricity grid via the Canton-based energy supplier EWZ (www.ewz.ch). As a tenant, you can choose between different contracts (depending on your financial situation and environmental consciousness). However, there is not much choice when it comes to the gas supply as this is usually decided by your property owner.

Radio and Television Fees, Serafe

When registering at the Kreisbüro, it is a good idea to pick up the booklet on applying for your radio and television license. You have to pay annual fees for Swiss radio and television if you own a radio or television or a computer/tablet/smartphone with internet access. It does not matter whether you watch TV or listen to the radio at all, you still have to pay. It’s frustrating, but unavoidable. If you don’t pay the fees, the fine could be as high as CHF 5’000. Since January 2019, a relatively new system has been put in place to collect these fees. You will find more information here: www.srgssr.ch/en/who-we-are/funds/radio-and-tv-fee, www.serafe.ch

Internet at your Apartment

There are several major home internet providers in Switzerland: Swisscom and UPC, formerly known as Cablecom. Both offer various bundles for both internet and television. Please note that the radio and television-fee previously mentioned is independent from internet access. Since Switzerland has a very advanced communication infrastructure, several other mobile companies now offer packages for home and mobile internet all-in-one. You can check out Sunrise or Salt websites for this information.
If you are tempted to use Cablecom, keep in mind that you can do a „Plombierung” yourself, which means to physically deactivate the connection, more information on „Plombierung” can be found at the end of this chapter by going to the 20min.ch link listed in the table.. This can save you some of your ancillary costs, up to 30 CHF/month. If you consider that for that price you can get a cheap internet connection with a fiber provider, it’s worth it. iWay is one of the best and fastest, but it will cost you a bit more, and you may consider Fiber7. Source : www.pbworks.net/useful-infos-for-new-expats-in-zurich-switzerland/.
Rather than buy an internet and a mobile phone contract, some people choose a mobile package that gives them unlimited data and then hotspot their other devices through their mobile.

Mobile Phone Providers

In Switzerland, four major providers exist offering a huge variety of contracts: swisscom, salt, wingo and sunrise. However, you will need to have a residency permit and a bank account to be allowed to sign a contract. Another option (at least for starters) might be prepaid rates (e.g. m-budget and yallo which also offers cheap international calls). For Sim cards with internet data you can also go with Lyca Mobile. It’s the cheapest if you need just internet. Check also the various mobile contracts on comparis.

Swiss Waste Management

Sustainability is important in Switzerland. Hence, waste management is taken very seriously.

You will need to separate your waste into:
– Paper, which has to be packed and tied into small piles. These have to be put out on the street at specific times of the month for collection. This is usually picked up every other week on a specific day of the week from a specific location, more information can be found of the website of your municipal administration (“Gemeinde”), who will also annually send an information booklet to your household.
– Cardboard is treated similarly to paper. However, you are also supposed to separate it! The cardboard will be picked up once a month, with this system there is something to put out on the street every week.
– Plastic bottles are divided into two categories (PET and PE) and can deposit both in the recycling center at the supermarkets.
– Glass bottles and metal cans, are separated into glass (white, brown, green) and metal containers (found throughout the city).
– For biowaste, some houses have a green litter bin with biodegradable bin bags which you can buy in the supermarkets. This biowaste can subsequently be deposited in the big green containers on the corners of each street.
– Other waste has to be put into Zürisäcke (~2 CHF/each), which can be bought at supermarkets and are the financial incentive to separate your waste as well as possible – it would be very costly to put all your plastic, glass and cardboard in these expensive bags. It’s worth shopping around for the sacks they may be cheaper at e.g. Aldi or Lidl or Coop Online.

You can find more info about recycling in Zurich at: www.stadt-zuerich.ch

3.3. Bank Account

Shortly after your arrival in Switzerland, you should open an account at either a bank or the post office (“postfinance”). Despite the mystique of the Swiss banks, this is relatively easy. Some banks may hesitate to open an account for you if you only have the “Zusicherung der Aufenthaltsbewilligung” and not a regular “Ausländerausweis”. Tell them they are about to lose a future manager as a customer and go to a different bank if they remain stubborn. Some banks have special offers with favorable conditions for students, such as no fees, a free credit card and or other benefits (The “ZKB” for example pays the student’s costs when using night buses or trains in Zurich, which normally costs a surplus of 5 CHF to the normal ticket). The quality of the Swiss post banking services is comparable to that of ordinary banks. Maestro or Postcard payments are the most widely accepted forms of direct debit payments in Switzerland, but credit cards are almost everywhere accepted as well. However, you will only be issued these cards after some money has been deposited in your account (e.g. the first salary). The cheaper Postfinance account offers no Visa, preventing online payments with many companies, and several businesses don’t accept them in person either. Next to paying with cash, mastrocard or credit card, twint is an often used payment method in Switzerland.
Give your account details to your group secretary or HR contact person as soon as possible so that your salary payments can be made to the right account. If you have waited a couple of months before setting up your bank account then you will receive the salary of multiple months on your new account. Salary can only be given out to Swiss bank accounts or via the cash desk. If you are able to save money, you will need to file a simple application form for the tax authorities every two years to claim back the 35-percent tax (“Verrechnungssteuer”) levied on any interest earned. For Swiss citizens, this form automatically comes with the income tax forms. Foreigners are entitled to the refund if they have been living in Zurich since January 1 of the current year. They need to collect the form from the “Formularkanzlei” of the “Steueramt” (the City of Zurich’s tax office). Once applied, foreigners will also receive the form automatically in future.
A short, additional word on financial matters: Sooner or later, you will be confronted with a payment slip (“Einzahlungsschein”). One will most probably come with your ETH-Zurich admission papers. You can pay directly through e-banking or go to a Swiss bank or post office with this form and pay the dues in cash. If you are not in Switzerland, try to ask a group member to loan the money to you and take care of the “Einzahlungsschein” because it could be extremely expensive to pay the dues from abroad.

3.4. Salary, Finances and Taxes

Doctoral students find themselves between the worlds of education and work, which is reflected in their salaries. Salaries are deposited regularly on or near the 24th of each month directly into your bank account. For those who cannot afford to live during their first working month in Switzerland while they wait for the salary, it is possible to get an advance payment at the cash desk in ETH Zurich’s main building. Ask for more details from your group’s administrative assistant or your HR representative.
You can get your salary from a number of sources: A few doctoral students per professor are paid directly by ETH Zurich, which makes life quite easy for them. If your research project is financed by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF), it might be necessary for you to write an application for your funding. Others are financed by industry, which necessitates a special agreement. Some are paid by funds that are tax examined. In this case, you most likely are not paying unemployment insurance and therefore are not eligible for unemployment benefits. Whether you have to manage your funding all by yourself or your supervisor or the workgroup’s secretary does all the administrative work for you, depends greatly on the style of your professor. According to ETH regulations, doctoral students receive a fixed-rate salary, which was described above in section ‘2 – Finding a position – contract and salary’.
A starting point for questions on income tax, or “Quellensteuer”, is the “Steueramt” of the City of Zurich. The responsibilities, especially for foreigners, are shared by offices of the Canton and city you live in, and you will have to find out who is responsible for each individual question. As a foreigner, you do not need to worry much about taxes because they are deducted directly from your salary, and you do not have to file a tax declaration.
The only reason you might get a tax refund is if you pay extra money into the pension fund (“Pensionskasse des Bundes PUBLICA”) or a private pension fund (called tier 3a, see section above). If you have made such contributions, you have to send proof of the payments together with your annual salary statement and an informal letter indicating a bank account to the cantonal tax office (Kantonales Steueramt, Abteilung Quellensteuer) within the first three months of the year following the payments.

3.5. Insurances
Health Insurance

Swiss law requires every person living in Switzerland to have health insurance. For more information also check out the welcome center website on health insurance [https://ethz.ch/en/the-eth-zurich/working-teaching-and-research/welcome-center/Insurance-and-pension/health-insurance.html]. There is no state insurance, so this must be acquired from a private insurance company. There are three important concepts concerning health insurance and the optimal amount of money to spend on it:
The coverage – the cheapest insurance policies offer the basic coverage defined by law (KVG). Smaller luxuries, such as therapies, choice of medication, choice of hospital where you are to be treated or getting a new pair of glasses every year will, at best, only be partially covered. You can pay extra if you want your insurance to cover more. For instance, you might want an additional insurance policy for a free choice of hospital or dental care. Dental care is always an additional insurance item so do not be surprised to see your colleagues cleaning their teeth after every coffee break.
The deductible (“Franchise”) – If you feel rather confident about your health, you can decide to take a share of risk on your own account by telling your insurance that you will pay the first ~2500 CHF per year for health issues yourself (this amount varies between companies and across different tariffs in the same company). The insurance will then only pay out after this deductible is exceeded, thus making your monthly rate much cheaper. Some insurance companies offer a split deductible, for which the deductible amount is lower for the more costly hospital treatment and higher for the less common ambulance treatment.
The own risk (“Selbstbehalt”) – You will have to bear 10% of the costs for basic coverage exceeding the franchise up to a maximum of 700 CHF per year. After that, the insurance will cover any additional costs completely.
Example: If you have chosen a franchise of CHF 1’500 per year and you need hospital treatment that amounts to CHF 10,000. You will have to pay CHF 2’200 (Franchise + 10% of the next CHF 7’000, i.e. 1’500 + 700 = 2’200). If you have any other medical treatment in the same calendar year, your insurance will pay 100% of it. By law, every insurance company must accept you for basic coverage, but they may refuse you for top-up insurance. Some weeks after your registration in Zurich, you will automatically receive a letter from the city of Zurich’s public health office (“Städtische Gesundheitsdienste”). They want to be sure you are going to get basic health insurance. They also offer a list of the most common insurance companies. If you fail to obtain basic health insurance or if you do not answer the letter within three months, the public health office will oblige you to take a standard health insurance policy – which will probably not be the optimum solution.
International students could apply for exemption from compulsory health insurance, which is cheaper but only temporarily. Different options exists for EU/EFTA and non-EU/EFTA students.

Some of your health insurance fees may be refunded by the city of Zurich in a process called “Individuelle Prämienverbilligung” (IPV; individual fee reduction), but only if
– Your income is low enough (there are several income levels corresponding to several yearly refunds)
– You are insured by a Swiss health insurance company
– You move to Zurich from a different Canton as opposed to from a foreign country: IPV is only possible if you have lived in Zurich from January 1 of the current year.

To apply for the IPV, write a letter to the public health office stating the expected duration of your stay in Switzerland and which health insurance you are covered by. Enclose a copy of your employment contract. The public health office will decide whether you are entitled to an IPV, but the IPV will be paid by the social insurance agency of Zurich (“Sozialversicherungsanstalt”, SVA). Note that you will not get the money directly, but it will be paid to your insurance company, which will subsequently lower your insurance fees by this amount. Regulations for the IPV change from time to time and thus the way things are carried out in practice might deviate from the routine described above. Insurance prices change frequently and it is a good idea to compare prices and switch insurance companies from time to time. This can be done easily via the internet.

Further useful information on health insurance can be found on comparis website.

SUVA Accident Insurance

Accident insurance: Insurance coverage for accidents is provided by the Swiss National Accident Insurance Fund (SUVA, “Schweizerische Unfallversicherunganstalt”) through ETH Zurich and will be deducted directly from your salary. If you are employed more than eight hours per week, it is valid at all times for accidents that occur both on and off ETH-Zurich premises. The coverage also provides for recreational mishaps; if you are injured while participating in a sporting activity, you are still covered. If your employment contract is for less than eight hours per week (which is never the case for doctoral students), SUVA coverage is only valid during official working hours and not during the weekends. However, you are covered for accidents that occur while traveling to and from work.
SUVA covers any treatment after any accident which includes extensive physiotherapy and any continuous visits to specialists in the hospital without exception. If you are not aware of your employee insurance number, do not worry during an accident. When in need of emergency assistance in the hospital, you can ask them to allow for submitting that information a few days after treatment.

Household and liability insurance

The Swiss like insuring themselves and their property and are generally very well covered. They are among the world’s best payers of insurance premiums. As a basic principle, personal liability and household insurance are not mandatory in Switzerland, although they are advisable. Premiums and insurance benefits differ markedly between providers. At comparis, you can compare prices and benefits across the various providers and ETH provides further information.

3.6. Social Security System/Pension

Switzerland’s retirement plan is based on a three-tiered pension scheme:

1st Tier: AHV/IV (“Säule 1”): The AHV/IV is the mandatory state pension and covers basic needs. This is covered on your pay check under “AHV-Beitrag”. The AHV is the general and compulsory national social security insurance for everybody residing or gainfully employed in Switzerland. Its purpose is to provide retirement pensions and it forms part of the federal insurance network. 5.275% is deducted from your monthly gross salary. The same amount is paid by your employer. A share of this AHV fee is used for the invalidity-insurance (IV). The AHV will send you an A6-format, grey insurance card with your AHV number on it. You will need this little piece of paper if you ever want to benefit from your insurance fees. Your AHV number serves as an important identifier in many administrative affairs.

2nd Tier (“Säule 2”): Occupational pensions (pension fund): Together with the 1st tier, occupational pension plans allow the continuation of the accustomed standard of living in an appropriate manner. The occupational pension plan is mandatory for employees with a minimum annual gross salary of CHF 21’150 and is guaranteed by the pension fund. On your salary sheet, you will find a deduction for the pension fund. Similar to the AHV, the law requires your employer pay at least as much into your pension fund as you do (For ETH employees the ratio is 36:64). Every employer in Switzerland is required by law to offer a pension scheme to its employees. ETH Zurich’s pension fund is “Pensionskasse des Bundes PUBLICA”. The salary deduction is calculated on the basis of the “versicherter Verdienst” (insured income): your gross salary minus the maximum yearly pension AHV pays for a single person.

3rd Tier (“Säule 3”): Private pension plans (optional). Private pension plans form the third pillar of the Swiss three-tier concept. Tier 1 and 2 pensions may be significantly lower than what you earned before retirement (pension gap). Private pensions or private equity can help expand the pension scheme. Each year a certain amount can be saved for this purpose tax free (pension plan at bank or insurance company). Under tier 3, there are two options: a) the money is tied up for a certain amount of time and the Swiss state offers a tax reduction, and b) the money is freely accessible and no tax benefits apply.

Tier 3a individual retirement accounts offer several advantages: on the one hand, saving over the long term (wealth accumulation) provides state tax benefits and, on the other hand, private pension plans can also be drawn in the event of death and/or disability. Consequently, it is a good idea to get an early start when laying the foundations for a comfortable retirement by adding another pillar of support. The longer you pay in, the more savings you accumulate.

Each bank offers their own portfolio for people who want to use tier 3a. You can invest in funds or simply deposit your money in an account. You can check the most suitable options at comparis.ch under the Finances menu.

Tax Deduction for Tier 3a

The state offers tax incentives to people who pay into tier 3a private pensions. The prerequisite for benefiting from the tier 3a tax relief is to be gainfully employed. If you belong to a pension fund, you can deduct up to CHF 6’768 (2015) per year from your taxable income.


You can receive benefits from your 61st birthday if you are a man or from your 60th birthday if you are a woman and, at the latest, on the day before your 66th birthday if you are a man or the day before your 65th birthday if you are a woman. If you have a third-pillar pension and can prove that you are still gainfully employed, you can postpone the payout of benefits up to a maximum of five years after reaching the official retirement age.
An early payout (before retirement age) of the second and the third-pillar pension is possible in the following cases: if you become self-employed, if you buy residential property or if you leave Switzerland for good (only Tier 3a is paid out before retirement age if you settle down in a non EU/EFTA country). Early payout of the AHV pension is usually impossible. For more information please check expatica.

3.7. Transportation
Public Transport and ETH-Zurich Subsidization

Switzerland is world famous for its excellent train and public transportation system. Any location in Switzerland is accessible via train or bus. The national railway company is called SBB. The Zurich Traffic Network (ZVV) gets you around the canton of Zurich. Tickets can be purchased online (browser, app), at a local ticket machine or at station ticket-offices. The SBB app is very useful for planning journeys, check schedules and to see whether trains are on time. The ETH Link connects the two ETH campuses, Central and Hönggerberg, in about 15 minutes and is available for free to all ETH members.
Once you have received your contract from ETH-Zurich, you are entitled to a free “Halbtax” – a half-fare card that allows you to get a 50% reduction on any purchased SBB train ticket (chose “1/2” when buying a ticket) and most other railways as well as on boats, postbuses and trams. Information on this comes with your work contract but you can already check it out here. If you intend to use public transport in all of Switzerland frequently, you might also consider purchasing a “GA” (General Abonnement), which allows you to take any train or public transportation (including some cable cars) anywhere in Switzerland. Once you have received your contract, you can also get a rebate of 15% on the GA.
If you plan to stay in Zurich most of your time, and want to use public transportation, it might be wise to buy a “ZVV Netzpass” which allows you to use all of Zurich’s public transport at a flat-rate price. Both month and year abonnements are available at zvv. For those who like to stay active, there are also lots of bike-sharing opportunities available in Zurich.

Zurich by Plane

Zurich is well connected thanks to its international airport. The easiest way to get from the airport to the city is by public transport. Tram 10 goes directly to ETH Zurich main building, and trains can take you from the airport to the city center within minutes. You will need a ticket that covers zone 121 (where the airport is) and zone 110, which covers central Zurich.

Zurich by Car

Zurich is not a car-friendly city. Still, the city is well connected via several interstates. You can enter the Zurich area from the east via Germany or Austria, or from the north via Basel (traffic jams ahead!). Be careful not to drive too fast (30 or 50 km/h zones), there are many speed cameras around and fines are high and increase without swift payment.

Driver’s License

After registering in Switzerland, you have one year to exchange your foreign driver’s license for a Swiss one. In most cases, this costs a small fee and can be done within a few days at the “Strassenverkehrsamt”. You will need to go there personally and hand it over, together with an eye test from an optician. STVA provides more information. In special cases, you could be asked to take additional theoretical and/or practical exams to exchange your driver’s license. If you don’ exchange your foreign driver’s license within the first year, you are not allowed to drive a car in Switzerland anymore. If you still want to exchange after the first year, you would need to take a Swiss driving license test which can become expensive, so do not forgot to exchange it within your first year.

Importing a Car to Switzerland

Bringing your car to Switzerland is rather challenging and not cheap. You can find all the necessary information on the webpage of STVA.

Renting a Car in Switzerland

The process of renting a car in Switzerland is similar to that in other EU/EFTA countries and requires a valid driver’s license and a credit card. As an ETH employee you get to enjoy one advantageous deal with Mobility. Mobility is a car-sharing platform widely spread in Switzerland that offers a trial subscription of four months for free, and later on an annual fee of 70 CHF has to be paid as an ETH employee, instead of the regular 129 CHF. That way, you have access to more than 2700 cars all over Switzerland with prices from 0.5 CHF/km to 2.5 CHF/h. ETH provides more information. You can find prices, conditions and references to the insurance for business rentals within Switzerland in the pricelist under downloads. For rentals abroad, please contact the international reservation center from Europcar [Tel. 0848 80 80 99, Email: reservation@europcar.ch].
In order to benefit from the ETH employee discount, the private reservation must be made with the following contract number: Contract Nr.: 80562620 Book your employee private rental online with the above mentioned contract number at europcar. For the vehicle transfer, you need to present a valid driving license, your ETH pass and a valid, private credit card. Private trips must be charged exclusively with a private credit card of the employee.

Parking Space

Parking space is rather limited in Zurich. There is only very time limited free parking available in the city (and the fees for paid places are high!). If you only need to park for a short time, go for a parking lot. If you need a daily parking permit for public lots (indicated by blue marks on the street), you can get it in advance here: www.stadt-zuerich.ch.It costs CHF 15 per day and you can buy up to 10 days in a row. If you are looking for long-term parking, you can either get a permit for the public blue zone (same link as above) or use ETH-Zurich parking lots.

3.8. Public Holidays

A list of public holidays in Zurich 2021 is available here. And dates regarding the academic year at ETH are listed here.


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