The first option is to open a company (such as a managing or holding company, a production company, agency or branch of a foreign company). Registering a company or businesses is a highly reliable, yet very expensive way to immigrate to the country nowadays. Almost every foreigner has the right to register a company in Switzerland, to work for it, to obtain permission to work as a manager or a specialist for the company and on this basis to obtain a residence permit with a view to further obtain permanent residence (in 10 or even 5 years) and nationality (in 12 years).
However, to obtain a residence permit, simply registering your company is not enough. The company must perform a real activity (real estate acquisition does not count), create jobs for local residents, pay taxes and contribute to economic development in a region of the country.
Requirements for the size of investment and the number of jobs created vary depending on the region. In order to be of interest to local authorities, the investment must be multi-million dollar, while at least 10 jobs should be created. It is important to understand that different cantons have different needs for investment. For example, the cantons of Zurich, Zug, Geneva and Lausanne are more interested in large investments, while Neuchâtel, Jura and Graubünden might be interested in more modest projects.
Thus it is necessary to take into account the permanent annual cost of maintaining the company, keep control over its activities, develop a business plan, pay lawyers and pay taxes. There is also a risk that a work permit will be denied due to the applicant’s lack of experience or qualifications.
The second way for obtaining a residence permit is purchasing an already-existing business. As opposed to opening a new company, this option entails significantly less administrative and time costs for registration (since the business already exists). But do not underestimate the costs of maintaining and monitoring the activities of the company, preparing a business plan, etc.
It is possible that at this initial stage, while your application for a residence permit is being considered (this may take from 6 months to 1 year), you will have to entrust the business to your local manager. When filing a petition for a residence permit, it is also necessary to prove your participation in the business that is being acquired (i. e. confirm your qualifications and experience in the given industry). In this case, the chances for obtaining a residence permit as a manager or a leading specialist for the company improve. The required size of the acquired business and the number of personnel involved in it sufficient for obtaining a residence permit also depend on the canton and its economic situation.
Another way to obtain a residence permit in Switzerland with minimal investment is getting hired by an employer in Switzerland who is ready to take on all the hassle involved with getting a work visa and then a residence permit. Although this method is the least expensive in terms of required investments, the reality of finding an employer in Switzerland is not so easy.
If there is sufficient capital (usually a few million Swiss francs), it is possible to obtain a residence permit in Switzerland on the basis of the so-called ‘tax agreement” (also used are the terms “lumpsum tax” and “flat tax”).
The bottom line is that the authorities do not determine the exact size of your income and capital, as competent international tax planning and availability of assets in different countries make it very difficult to do, while the “conventional” or “standard” lifestyle involves owning or renting property in Switzerland, car, staff, education for the children, annual vacations to summer homes located abroad, etc. As a result, an unspecified amount, also known as the “basis”, is determined based on a person’s annual income and applied to it as an income tax, which is the subject of the agreement. In some cantons, the agreement is just for 5 years with an option to obtaining a permanent residence permit in the future, while in other cantons, it is renewed annually. a residence permit for the entire family is issued based on the tax agreement.
Since each of the 26 cantons of Switzerland has its own rules and norms, the size of the minimum annual tax payments may likewise vary among the cantons.
The decision is made individually at the cantonal level, but then approved at the federal level. In fact, Bern, as the federal center, tries to ensure that tax payments in all cantons are roughly the same level, although in practice this is not always possible to achieve. The lowest rate at the end of 2010 for nationals from countries outside the EU or EFTA was approximately CHF 200,000 in developing cantons, such as Nidwalden and Neuchâtel. In the cantons of Geneva, Lausanne and Zug, this amount exceeded CHF 350,000, while it totaled CHF 1 million in the canton of Zurich, where, in 2009, a decision was made to completely abandon the practice of tax treaties. For citizens of the EU / EFTA countries, tax rates are usually lower.