Sorting out your insurance needs isn’t easy when you’re a newcomer to Switzerland. AXA employee Elodie Le Goistre still remembers the pitfalls she encountered when relocating from Germany to Switzerland.
For Elodie, taking up her new role with AXA in Winterthur meant relocating from Munich to Switzerland. It required a lot more effort than the 34-year-old Frenchwoman had initially estimated. “Despite working at an insurance company, the Swiss insurance system was a big unknown for me at the beginning,” she recalls. “Everything is much more complicated here, and involves a lot more effort than in Germany or France – where I’m originally from.”
Elodie’s experience is similar to that of many newcomers. Switzerland is known as an “insurance nation” par excellence. Even many Swiss have trouble navigating the insurance jungle. Some types of insurance are mandatory, while others are voluntary.
“The first thing I did was take out basic health insurance with a health insurance fund,” Elodie explains. She had to take care of this herself. Newcomers to Switzerland have three months in which to take out insurance, and are able to choose from around 50 health insurance funds. The basic insurance funds are obliged to accept you – regardless of whether you’re sick or healthy. The choice of health insurance funds facing the newly relocated AXA employee was daunting. “But the tips I received from colleagues proved really helpful,” she adds. It’s worth comparing offers, because all basic insurers have a legal obligation to provide the same benefits. If you wish to change providers, you can cancel your basic insurance by November 30 of a particular year.
“The health insurance funds cover the same medical treatments and drugs – which I didn’t realize initially,” the actuary says. But there are big differences when it comes to monthly premiums: These vary by chosen insurance model, age, gender and place of residence.
"Unlike in Germany and France, dental treatment in Switzerland isn’t covered by basic insurance,” Elodie explains. Adults and children can take out supplementary insurance on a voluntary basis to cover dental work, glasses, complementary medicine, free choice of hospitals and doctors, as well as treatment abroad. Providers of supplementary insurance are not obliged to accept applicants, and can refuse potential customers due to their age or state of health. “It’s a bit similar to private health insurance in Germany – only in Switzerland you don’t need a specific income for supplementary insurance,” says the 34-year-old AXA employee.
You don’t need to take out your basic and supplementary cover with the same health insurance fund. “I didn’t realize I could be insured with two different health insurance funds, but it makes total sense. It can save you several hundred francs a year.” Elodie also discovered that the lowest franchise makes more sense for her than the highest one – and she will be altering her policy accordingly for next year.
Accident insurance is the only type of health insurance that is partly paid for by your employer. People who work more than eight hours a week for the same employer are automatically insured. Premiums are split between the employer and the employee. If you work fewer than eight hours a week, you must take out your own accident insurance with your health insurance fund.
Personal liability insurance is another – recommended, though not compulsory – type of insurance . You can use it to protect yourself against any losses you cause to third parties. “I would advise everyone to take out such a policy,” says Elodie.
If you haven’t taken out a motor vehicle insurance, you will not be able to obtain a Swiss license plate for your car. Liability insurance is mandatory and pays for losses caused to third parties. Limited or comprehensive accidental damage insurance is voluntary and offers benefits in case of damage to your own vehicle as well as financial support for the driver and passengers after an accident.
The Swiss pension system is based on the three-pillar principle. The first and second pillars are compulsory, and employee contributions are deducted directly from your monthly salary. The third pillar comprises voluntary savings for old age. “I think it makes sense to pay into Pillar 3a because of the tax advantages that are available,” explains Elodie, who has lived in Switzerland since the start of 2019. However, you should bear in mind that funds paid into Pillar 3a are blocked until five years before you reach AHV age.
To avoid the many pitfalls, the new arrival sought professional help: "The conversation with an advisor was important in terms of finding my way in the nation of insurance."
Understanding Swiss health insurance jargon We explain the key terms.
Contribution to medical costs. In each calendar year, you need to pay your own medical costs in accordance with your chosen franchise (between CHF 300 and CHF 2,500). After that, the basic health insurance policy covers the bills and the policyholder only pays a small deductible. As a matter of principle, the higher the franchise, the lower the premium.
Amount of medical costs paid by policyholders themselves. Deductible is paid once the franchise has been exhausted. This amounts to 10% up to a maximum of CHF 700 per calendar year.
Standard: Directly to physician or specialist of your choice
HMO: Group practices with doctors, specialists and therapists as your first point of contact
General practitioner: Your general practitioner is your first point of contact.
Telmed: Medical hotline is your first point of contact.
Where basic and supplementary insurance are not provided by the same health insurance fund.
Includes glasses, vaccinations, misaligned teeth in children, complementary medicine, prevention and fitness.
This includes free choice of hospitals and doctors as well as emergency treatment abroad. Your choice of privacy (single or twin room) for hospital stays is included here.