Ease of Doing Business Rank: 36
Switzerland is a landlocked central European country. France lies to the west, Germany lies to the north, Austria lies to the east, and Italy lies to the south.
Switzerland has three official languages: German, French, and Italian. These along with Romansh are considered national languages.
German is the most widely-spoken language (62.6%), followed by French (22.9%), Italian (8.2%), and Romansh (0.5%).
English is the most prominent non-national language spoken by 5.4% of the population. Smaller populations of Portuguese, Albanian, Serbo-Croatian, and other nationalities also exist.
The 2019 population of Switzerland is approximately 8.61 million.
Two-thirds of the population lives on the Swiss Plateau between the Jura Mountains and the Swiss Alps. The largest cities are Zürich (1.33 million), Geneva (579,227), Basel (541,001), Lausanne (409,295), and Bern (410,894).
The top industries in Switzerland are machine, electrical engineering and metals industry, watchmaking, tourism, banking and insurance, commodities trading, retail, and media.
The Times Higher Education World Rankings ranked three Swiss universities in the top 100 in the world. A further six ranked in the top 1,000 in the world.
The Legatum Prosperity Index ranks Switzerland’s education system second out of 149.
The most common business entities in Switzerland are Sole Proprietorship, Limited Liability Company, Limited Partnership, and Public Shareholding Company.
The most commonly incorporated entity in Switzerland is the Limited Liability Company.
Switzerland is divided into 26 cantons and federal, cantonal, and communal CIT rates depend on the business location. Rates vary between 11.4% and 24.2%.
Cantons compete for business investment and may offer tax credits to offset tax burden. These vary depending on the activity or industry. For instance, Nidwalden offers tax relief on the net license income gained from intangible assets (patent box). R&D activities may qualify for a super-deduction.
Many cantons also offer tax incentives for new companies for investments in expansion. These may include tax holidays or significant tax relief for up to ten years. Some economic development regions and regional centers also grant a tax holiday for federal CIT.
Qualified holding companies are also exempt from cantonal/communal CIT, except for income from Swiss real estate. Real estate is subject to 7.83% federal CIT after the deduction of mortgage expenditures.
Companies whose sole activity is administration (no commercial activity) may qualify for domicile company tax status, depending on canton approval.
When granted status, only a small portion of foreign-source income (0% to 15%) is subject to tax. The effective tax rate for remaining income is between 8% and 11%. Income from dividends, capital gains, and re-evaluation gains are typically tax exempt.
Trading companies may qualify for mixed trading company tax status. This allows the business to undertake limited commercial activities in Switzerland (20%). The remainder of income from commercial activities must be from non-Swiss sources. Cantonal and communal income taxes vary between 5% and 25%.
Switzerland offers a foreign tax credit to reduce or eliminate double taxation.
The main business areas in Switzerland are Bern, Geneva, Lugano, and Zürich. Zürich is the largest financial center in the country, rated 8th largest in the world.
Switzerland offers breathtaking scenery including the Alps, but is also packed with history and culture. The country has 12 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the longest glacier in Europe, the Great Aletsch Glacier.
Lake Geneva is Europe’s largest Alpine lake and the European seat of the United Nations. It features the Jet d’Eau, a fountain shooting water 150 meters into the air. The city also offers many cultural attractions, including the Opera House and the Grand Théâtre.
On the shores of Lake Geneva you’ll find a 12th century stronghold, Chateau de Chillon. The magnificent Great Halls, 14th century art, and unparalleled views of the lake make it a popular attraction.
The Abbey of St. Gall is one of the most important Carolingian monasteries in Europe. Built in the 8th century, its library houses some of the oldest and rarest manuscripts of the region. Its varied architectural styles reflect its 12 centuries of continuous activity.
Of course, the Alps and ritzy ski resorts are integral to the Swiss landscape. St. Moritz hosted two winter Olympics and winter sport enthusiasts flock to the area for skiing, snowboarding, skating, and bobsledding during the winter and hiking, biking, and glacier skiing during the summer.
Switzerland’s iconic mountain peak is The Matterhorn, one of the highest in the Alps. This pyramidal mountain rises to 4,478 meters, with its sides aligned with the four compass points. Its challenging steep faces attract experienced climbers from around the globe.
The capital city of Bern includes a medieval old town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It includes cobblestone streets, the tallest cathedral in Switzerland, the Zytglogge medieval clock tower with moving puppets; and six kilometers of shopping. Bern is also a major Swiss cultural center with the impressive Zentrum Paul Klee and the Bern Museum of Art.
Zürich is Switzerland’s largest city, best known for banking. However, it is also packed with cultural treasures and outstanding shopping. The Bahnhofstrasse offers designer goods, including Swiss watches. The city also has 50 museums and 100 art galleries featuring the history and art from the country’s origins until today.
The earliest known people of Switzerland were Celts that arrived around 500 BC. Later, the Romans dominated the area, but withdrew after an attack by a confederation of Germanic tribes.
Several other groups settled in the area, but by 600 AD the Franks overtook the area and most of Europe under Charlemagne. When Charlemagne died, his empire was divided amongst his heirs. By the 13th century, most of Switzerland was governed by the Austrian Hapsburg family and trade and commerce boomed.
However, Hapsburg rule was challenged in 1291 AD when several cantons formed a Swiss confederation and won a battle in 1315. Later, several other cantons joined, the Hapsburgs rallied, and the confederation defeated them again in two more battles.
Switzerland’s power grew and by 1513, 13 cantons were in the Swiss confederation. However, they suffered a defeat in 1515 AD against the French and began to take a more neutral position.
Switzerland felt the effects of the Reformation in the 16th century. Urban areas embraced Protestantism, but seven cantons in poorer rural areas remained Catholic. The Catholics won out after a war and further armed conflicts were avoided.
During the 17th century Switzerland prospered. The Confederation managed to keep out of the Thirty Years War between 1618 and 1648 due to complex set of alliances they had formed with many European countries during the 16th century.
Although the Confederates were not directly involved in the war, at its end all European powers formally recognized Swiss independence. The country detached from the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation in 1648.
In the 18th century, Switzerland’s industry grew especially due to the arrival of Huguenots (French Protestants) fleeing religious persecution. However, Napoleon invaded the country in 1798.
Napoleon abolished Swiss cantons and established the Helvetic Republic. However it was short lived. The Swiss cantons were restored in 1803, but under French control until 1815.
In 1845, seven Catholic cantons formed the Sonderbund to protect their interests against a centralization of power. Civil war broke out in 1847, but the Sonderbund was defeated. This led to the emergence of Switzerland as a federal state.
The Swiss economy developed rapidly in the late 19th century. The country became known for tourism, their chemical industry, precision engineering, and chocolate.
Switzerland remained neutral during World War I; however, it led to a great chasm between the wealthy entrepreneurial class and farmers. In 1918, workers successfully called a general strike for better working conditions and benefits.
The twenties were prosperous, but the country suffered during the Great Depression. The Swiss economy did not recover until the late 1930s. The Swiss Confederation maintained armed neutrality in World War II.
During the post-war period, Switzerland experienced an economic boom. The service sector overtook the industrial sector and employed three-quarters of the labor force. This led to a significant increase in the standard of living, a steady improvement in working conditions and social security, and more consumer goods.
In 2002, Switzerland joined the UN. It is not a member of the European Union, but has adopted various provisions of European Union law in order to participate in the Union’s single market.
In 2017, the Federal Statistical Office reported 65.6% of Swiss are Christian, 26.0% do not claim a religious affiliation, 5.4% are Muslim, 0.3% are Jewish, and 1.4% are from other religions.
According to Index Mundi, 65% of the population is German, 18% French, 10% Italian, 1% Romansch, and 6% other ethnicities.
According to Forbes’ 2019 Best Countries for Business, Switzerland is the 10th best country in the world for conducting business.
The 2019 Index of Economic Freedom rates Switzerland 4th globally and states, “After an exchange-rate ceiling with the euro was abandoned in 2015, Switzerland’s steady, prosperous, and modern market economy stabilized, buttressed by a transparent legal system, a sound regulatory regime, a highly skilled labor force, exceptionally well-developed physical and communications infrastructure, efficient capital markets, and low corporate taxes.”
World Bank’s “Doing Business” rankings rate Switzerland 38th for ease of doing business in the world.