In November 2023, Soliswiss, together with the experts of the Banque Cantonale de Genève (BCGE), held a webinar on pension solutions for Swiss nationals living abroad. The webinar was not recorded and there is no written transcript available. However, as the interest in this topic is at such a high level, we have decided to present in our blog seven key points that you should definitely consider.
Pension Solutions for the Swiss Abroad
A job offer abroad can be very tempting. Indeed, the dream of becoming self-employed is sometimes easier to realize abroad than in Switzerland itself. For others, there are family reasons, or simply the desire for an adventure abroad. Opportunities have to be seized; they usually only arise once in a lifetime. Understandably, in the moment the focus is not on old age benefits and pension plans. Eventually though, as retirement looms larger on the horizon, that question may become central. How will my finances look like in old age, what pension benefits will I have? Am I investing enough for my old age? Will it be sufficient to live abroad? Could I return to Switzerland without being dependent on the Swiss state, considering that a foreign pension may very well not cover the high cost of living in Switzerland?
We have put together seven thought-provoking points on pension solutions for Swiss nationals living abroad.
1. Clarify whether you can continue to pay into the Swiss pension scheme
Today, the 1st pillar of the Swiss pension system, the AHV/AVS alone is usually no longer sufficient to cover the cost of living in Switzerland, but in other countries, an AHV/AVS pension may by itself guarantee a good standard of living. If an AHV/AVS pension is paid in addition to other Swiss or foreign retirement benefits, it looks even more attractive, whether abroad or in Switzerland. Especially if you are moving outside the EU/EFTA or working for a Swiss employer, it is worth checking whether you can continue to pay into the AHV/AVS. We will be happy to evaluate with you whether it is possible to remain in the AHV/AVS, what has to be taken into account and whether remaining insured in the AHV/AVS makes sense in your particular situation from a financial point of view.
In case of doubt, we always recommend to remain insured under the AHV/AVS for the time being – if it is possible -, because while you can, for example, terminate the voluntary AHV/AVS at any time at the end of the quarter, you cannot join it once certain deadlines have expired. Contrary to popular opinion, you cannot pay AHV/AVS contributions retroactively after a return to Switzerland. You can only pay retroactively for up to five years if you were actually subject to AHV/AVS and failed to make the payments. Every year of an AHV/AVS gap will cost you around 2.3% of your AHV/AVS pension.
You can only pay into the 2nd pillar of the Swiss pension system if you are affiliated to the mandatory AHV/AVS, for example if you work for a Swiss employer abroad and continue to be insured under the AHV/AVS with the consent of the employer. Voluntary AHV/AVS insurance is not sufficient for affiliation with a pension fund of the 2nd pillar. Further payment into the 3rd pillar is also not envisaged without being domiciled in Switzerland, but in most cases, this would not make sense anyway if the contributions cannot be deducted from the taxes. 3rd pillar products, which include insurance benefits, can also pose problems if you are moving abroad. For these, it’s important to clarify your options with regard to your individual circumstances.
2. Deciding what to do with your pension savings in Switzerland
If you have already worked in Switzerland, you may have paid into a 2nd pillar pension fund or into the 3rd pillar. When you leave the country, you have to decide what to do with those funds. From today’s perspective, the safest choice is to keep these funds as old age savings. In this case, pension funds are transferred without incurring taxes to a vested benefits account. In some cases, however, it can be financially attractive to withdraw the funds in order to build a life abroad, to acquire a property or even to invest the funds independently, possibly even to buy back into a pension fund later on. If you are an expat in a country outside the EU/EFTA, you can withdraw the funds in full. If you settle in a country of the European Union or EFTA, you may only withdraw the funds that have been voluntarily paid in (3rd pillar and any non-compulsory payments made into the 2nd -pillar pension fund). There are other exceptions, for example, withdrawal is possible if you no longer work in the EU/EFTA country of residence and no longer pay into the pension system there – but this requires the approval of the LOB Guarantee Fund. In addition, withdrawal is possible for the purchase or renovation of a property that you use as your primary residence, based on similar rules as in Switzerland.
If your pension funds are in a vested benefits account, you can receive a pay-out, whether at retirement age or before, only as capital and not as a pension.
You do not have the same choice with regard to AHV/AVS. In general, it is not possible for Swiss citizens to receive a pay-out of the AHV/AVS contributions they paid while living abroad. You will receive a pension for these funds later, provided that you have paid in for at least one year.
3. Find out about tax-advantaged solutions in the new country of residence
Solutions to provide for old age in a tax-advantaged manner are also available outside Switzerland. However, if you are not yet sure where life will take you, you should always clarify the conditions under which you can withdraw the funds while being resident in another country, whether early or at retirement age. Do not forget to consider any tax consequences in the future country of residence.
4. Private pension plans
In addition to the various options offered by the state for old age provisions, there are also a whole range of private pension options, which are offered by banks and insurance companies, as well as other possibilities to invest for old age such as, among others, the purchase of investment properties. An additional private pension scheme can make sense, for example to diversify future incomes, to ensure consistency in building old age benefits despite multiple changes of residence, to provide a certain level of independence from political upheavals and reforms of the state pension systems or to be able to choose the currency of the pension scheme and the investment structure yourself. For Soliswiss members who desire old age benefits in Swiss francs, Soliswiss offers a solution with the Group Pension Plan Soliswiss. An investment fund savings plan can also be a valuable part of your pension planning. In this case, we can rely on a preferential offer with BCGE. We will be happy to provide you with contacts for the various options.
5. Avoiding tax issues
Tax consequences must always be taken into account to make sure that pension benefits will not melt away due to unexpected taxes. Special caution is required when drawing funds from the 2nd pillar pension fund and the 3rd pillar, but also from pension funds from other countries. Additionally, you have to keep an eye on the taxation of life insurance benefits. We advise that you consult an expert.
6. Make a financial and pension plan and update it periodically
Many pension solutions tie up money for the long term. Often you can only access it when you reach a certain age or in specific circumstances. Therefore, the accumulation of pension capital reduces liquidity and with certain pension products you enter into long-term payment obligations. Other solutions for saving in general and thus for saving for old age are also more or less liquid. While managing your financial needs, your old age provisions should ensure that you can maintain your standard of living during old age as much as possible. The following questions arise:
- what is your budget today, what kind of income and expenses do you have? How much could you put aside? Or maybe your income is not sufficient, and you are already depleting your assets?
- What major events are you expecting in the next three years for which you might need money? For example, if you want to buy a house in the next three years, you should not invest the money required for this in equities, as they may require a more long-term commitment. If you have to draw on savings periodically, it might be better not to invest or to opt for the safest possible short-term investments at least for a portion of your assets. For the longer-term investment horizon, how much risk can or want you to take on? You should take into account not only the expected possible profits, but also the potential losses.
- Finally, what is your retirement budget? How much pension can you expect, and how much will your anticipated assets or wealth be? What expenses do you expect? Do not forget about the eventuality of rising living costs, including health insurance premiums.
Ideally, you should update your financial and pension plan periodically. You can get help from a reputable bank, insurance company or investment advisor. You can also have your expected future AHV/AVS pension calculated free of charge.
7. Seek advice and ask the experts
For pension solutions, and in particular for related tax issues, seeking advice can be useful. It is important to ensure that the advice, whether from a tax expert, pension specialist, bank advisor, accountant, lawyer or similar, takes into account your situation and the laws and regulations both in Switzerland and in your country of residence. Good experts know their limits and are careful to make claims about other countries. As a rule, it is advisable to seek advice in both countries. This is usually money well spent and allows you to avoid nasty surprises.
If you have any questions about your pension situation, please do not hesitate to contact us.
Foto de Towfiqu barbhuiya sûr Unsplash