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In this page: FDI in Figures | What to consider if you invest in Switzerland | Protection of Foreign Investment | Procedures Relative to Foreign Investment | Office Real Estate and Land Ownership | Investment Aid | Investment Opportunities | Sectors Where Investment Opportunities Are Fewer | Finding Assistance For Further Information

 

FDI in Figures

According to UNCTAD's World Investment Report 2021, FDI inflows to Switzerland stood at USD -47 billion in 2020, compared to USD -79 billion in 2019. FDI flows thus remained negative for the third consecutive year. Although the country has built a strong industrial base in both the services and manufacturing sectors, resulting in a large stock of FDI (USD 1.5 trillion at the end of 2020), the recent negative values mainly reflect the pattern of a significant part of the country's annual flows. The chemicals and plastics category accounted for the bulk of investment in manufacturing due to takeovers of Swiss companies by foreign investors, while the services sectors suffered disinvestment from withdrawals in the case of finance and holding companies. Luxembourg and the Netherlands are by far the largest investors in Switzerland, accounting for more than half of total stock. The sectors holding most of the FDI stock are finance and holding (58.7%), trade, and chemicals and plastic industries. According to the latest data from OECD, in the first half of 2021 FDI flows to Switzerland stood at USD 5.4 billion, compared to disinvestment of USD 48.3 billion recorded in the same period one year earlier.

Switzerland is an attractive destination for foreign investors because of its economic and political stability, transparent and fair legal system, reliable and extensive infrastructure and efficient capital markets. Despite its attractiveness, FDI flows to Switzerland remain highly volatile due to the country's large exposure to international trade dynamics and political stability. Several Swiss cantons have used tax incentives to attract investment into their jurisdictions, including tax exemptions for new companies for up to ten years in some cases.  After criticism from the European Union, this practice was severely restricted: the Federal Act on Tax Reform and Swiss Pension System Financing (TRAF) now obliges cantons to offer the same corporate tax rates to both Swiss and foreign companies. Nevertheless, the law allows cantons to continue setting their own rates and to offer incentives for corporate investment through deductions and preferential tax treatment. The major laws regulating foreign investment in Switzerland are the Code of Obligations, the Lex Friedrich/Koller, and the Cartel Law. There is no screening of foreign investment; however, foreign investment controls do apply to certain industries and sectors (i.e banking, securities and real estate). The country ranks 36th out of 190 in the latest Doing Business report of the World Bank, gaining two spots compared to the previous edition. In the AT Kearney Foreign Direct Investment Confidence Index, Switzerland is ranked 10th in 2021.

 
Foreign Direct Investment 201820192020
FDI Inward Flow (million USD) -68,313-79,077-47,172
FDI Stock (million USD) 1,418,4731,453,8971,536,254
Number of Greenfield Investments* 129115128
Value of Greenfield Investments (million USD) 2,2492,0483,010

Source: UNCTAD, Latest available data.

Note: * Greenfield Investments are a form of Foreign Direct Investment where a parent company starts a new venture in a foreign country by constructing new operational facilities from the ground up.

 

FDI STOCK BY COUNTRY AND INDUSTRY

Main Investing Countries 2019, in %
Luxembourg 28.0
The Netherlands 28.0
Ireland 7.0
United Kingdom 6.0
USA 6.0
France 3.0
Main Invested Sectors 2019, in %
Finance and holding 58.7
Trade 17.2
Chemicals and plastics 7.1
Electronics, energy, optical and watchmaking 4.3
Insurance activities 1.6
Transportation and communication 1.4

Source: Swiss National Bank - Latest available data.

 
Form of Company Preferred By Foreign Investors
The stock corporation [société anonyme (SA)/Aktiengesellschaft(AG)] is the most widespread form of business organization, though the limited liability company [société à responsabilité limitée (SARL)/Gesellschaft mit beschränkter Haftung (GmbH)] has recently been used more frequently because of its less stringent regulatory structure.
Main Foreign Companies
For a comprehensive list of foreign companies active in Switzerland, refer to the "Leading Companies" section on the S-GE website.
Sources of Statistics
Swiss National Bank

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What to consider if you invest in Switzerland

Strong Points

Switzerland is the 36th country in terms of the ease of doing business according to the World Bank's annual report (Doing Business 2019). The main strengths of the Swiss economy include:

  • World-class infrastructure
  • Highly skilled workforce
  • Labour laws are less restrictive than in other European countries
  • Low unemployment rate
  • A legal and regulatory environment that is very attractive for companies and FDI
  • A strategic geographical location and excellent transport infrastructure that allows the country privileged access to European (West and East), African and Middle East markets
  • An excellent market for high-tech products and services and high-end products, making it an ideal pilot country for the introduction of new products
  • A major centre of research and development, offering excellent opportunities for partnerships and alliances (such as biotechnology and nanotechnology)
  • Political and social stability and close relations with the European Union
  • The country's relative political neutrality minimises the risks of tensions and economic sanctions that can slow down economic growth and attraction of FDI.
Weak Points

Disadvantages for FDI in Switzerland:

  • Switzerland has a relatively small economy, very open to international markets and landlocked, making it one of the most competitive markets in the world
  • The Swiss economy is highly dependent on trade, financial services and the presence of multinationals
  • Companies are also confronted with very strict regulations and standards (such as those related to the quality and packaging of products, drugs or cosmetics)
  • Overvaluation of the Swiss franc and bank secrecy (which can serve as an economic refuge) make the country sensitive to global economic affairs, thus attracting from time to time the eyes of the whole world and thus slowing FDI and other economic initiatives
  • Banks’ exposure to real estate (85% of domestic loans), with two institutions accounting for half of domestic assets.
Government Measures to Motivate or Restrict FDI
Switzerland is a country with a legal framework particularly favourable to foreign direct investment. The federal government allows all the 26 cantons (states) to set their own foreign investment attraction policies. Many cantons offer foreign investors tax exemptions and other tax incentives. For example some cantons offer ten years of tax exemption to new firms. Furthermore, there is no surveillance or screening done on foreign investments except in certain sectors like telecommunications where certain levels of performance are required in order to qualify for tax reductions. For companies working in the banking and insurance fields, government authorisation is required in order to invest in the country.
Following criticism from the European Union, a new law was passed in 2019 obliging cantons to offer the same corporate tax rates to both Swiss and foreign companies.

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Protection of Foreign Investment

Bilateral Investment Conventions Signed By Switzerland
To see the list of investment treaties signed by Switzerland, consult UNCTAD's International Investment Agreements Navigator.
International Controversies Registered By UNCTAD
Refer to UNCTAD's Investment Dispute Settlement Navigator.
Organizations Offering Their Assistance in Case of Disagreement
ICCWBO , International Court of Arbitration, International Chamber of Commerce
ICSID , International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes
Member of the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency
Switzerland is a member of the MIGA convention.
 
Country Comparison For the Protection of Investors Switzerland OECD United States Germany
Index of Manager’s Responsibility** 5.0 5.3 9.0 5.0
Index of Shareholders’ Power*** 5.0 7.3 9.0 5.0

Source: Doing Business - Latest available data.

Note: *The Greater the Index, the More Transparent the Conditions of Transactions. **The Greater the Index, the More the Manager is Personally Responsible. *** The Greater the Index, the Easier it Will Be For Shareholders to Take Legal Action.

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Procedures Relative to Foreign Investment

Freedom of Establishment
Guaranteed; however, the board of directors of a company registered in Switzerland must consist of a majority of Swiss citizens residing in Switzerland, and at least one member of the board of directors who is authorized to represent the company must be domiciled in Switzerland.
Acquisition of Holdings
Foreigners can invest and acquire stakes in Swiss companies, with some restrictions pertaining to sectors such as certain types of public transportation, postal services, alcohol and spirits, aerospace and defense, certain insurance and banking services. Furthermore, domicile requirements are applicable in air and maritime transport, hydroelectric and nuclear power, operation of oil and gas pipelines, and the transportation of explosive materials.
Obligation to Declare
At the moment, Switzerland does not maintain an investment screening mechanism for inbound foreign investment.
In order to prevent the misuse of its very liberal market framework, the Swiss government has introduced Due Diligence Guidelines in the banking industry under which banks must identify the beneficial owner of the invested funds. The government has also instructed Swiss banks to abandon anonymous numbered bank accounts, keep banking records ten years after the closing of an account and to refrain from actively assisting customers to evade tax.
Competent Organisation For the Declaration
Federal Department of Finance
Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (FINMA)
Swiss National Bank
Requests For Specific Authorisations
Companies working in the banking sectors need to seek the approval of the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (FINMA) to invest directly in the country. Furthermore, foreign and national investors alike must inform FINMA before acquiring or disposing of a qualified majority of shares of a bank organized under Swiss law.
The establishment of a commercial presence by persons or enterprises without legal status under Swiss law requires a cantonal establishment authorization.

Learn more about Foreign Investment in Switzerland on Globaltrade.net, the Directory for International Trade Service Providers.

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Office Real Estate and Land Ownership

Possible Temporary Solutions
Consult InstantOffices, CoWorker, Regus, etc
The Possibility of Buying Land and Industrial and Commercial Buildings
EU/EFTA citizens living in Switzerland enjoy the same rights as Swiss citizens when it comes to buying real estate.
Third-country nationals do not require a permit to buy a main residence when they live in Switzerland and meet the following requirements:
- hold a valid residence permit, generally a B permit for foreign nationals.
- live in that main residence for as long as you hold residence in that location.
- wish to build on the land within one year from the purchase.
An authorization is required to purchase the following types of apartment: holiday apartment, housing unit in an apparthotel (hotel with flats), second home.

Foreigners living abroad are subject to restrictions, which may vary according to the canton.

In any case, no permit is needed for the purchase of land to be used for economic activities.

Risk of Expropriation
The constitution guarantees the property rights. There has not been any major expropriation in the recent past. However as per their constitutional powers, the federal and cantonal governments can, through a legal process, expropriate or restrict property for reasons of public interest. In such cases, full compensation is paid.

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Investment Aid

Forms of Aid
Investment incentives are offered at the federal and canton levels, which could include: tax holidays or reduced tax rates up to 10 years, subsidies on interest of bank loans, loan guarantees, employee recruitment plans, facilitation of real estate location, etc.
Privileged Domains
As FDI incentives are generally under the competence of the cantonal authorities, it is advisable to consult the canton-specific promotion agencies' websites, including the ones of Greater Zurich, Western Switzerland (Greater Geneva and Bern area), and the Basel area.
Privileged Geographical Zones
Large scale investments in manufacturing and service sectors with potential for job creation are preferred.
For further information, consult the "Industries" section of the S-GE website.
Free Zones
Each canton has a business promotion office dedicated to promoting foreign investments. Similarly, cantons can develop their investment incentives schemes. Since 2020, however, cantons are obliged to offer the same corporate tax rates to both Swiss and foreign companies.
No free zones exist in the country.
Public aid and funding organisations
Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.

Swtizerland Global Enterprise.

Swiss Bankers Association.

 
 

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Investment Opportunities

The Key Sectors of the National Economy
Travel & tourism, medical and security equipment, scientific and educational equipment & instruments, aircraft and automobile spare parts, electricity generation and distribution, information technology & telecommunications, agriculture, luxury, gastronomy, pharmaceuticals, medical technology.
High Potential Sectors
Bio- and nano- technology, IT & telecommunications, High-tech equipment, precision engineering, scientific instruments, blockchain and distributed ledger technologies.
Privatization Programmes
Privatisation programs have been carried on in sectors like railways, post office, telecommunication and energy (although often formerly public companies continue to dominate their markets). At the moment, the main operation of privatization is the one that involves the aerospace and defence company RUAG, which has been split in two at the beginning of 2020, with the part that includes non-armaments aviation and aerospace businesses to be fully privatized.
Tenders, Projects and Public Procurement
Simap, Public procurement
Tenders Info, Tenders in Switzerland
Ted - Tenders Electronic Daily, Business Opportunities in the European Union
DgMarket, Tenders Worldwide

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Sectors Where Investment Opportunities Are Fewer

Monopolistic Sectors
Some formerly public Swiss monopolies continue to retain market dominance despite partial or full privatization, in markets such as telecommunications, certain types of public transportation, postal services, alcohol and spirits, aerospace and defence, certain types of insurances and banking services. Furthermore, the Swiss agricultural sector remains protected and heavily subsidized.

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Learn more about Investing in Switzerland on Globaltrade.net, the Directory for International Trade Service Providers.

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Latest Update: May 2022