Nine steps to setting up your own business

Setting up a company requires a clear action plan. This action plan has nine main steps as detailed below.

The following steps illustrated in this section provide concrete examples of companies.

Step 1: Intellectual property

With dogged perseverance, based on a fledgling idea, your company develops innovations and concrete designs in the form of technical inventions, eye-catching brands, product designs and original packaging. Don’t wait to figure out how you want to protect your intellectual property from misuse. You must also be careful not to infringe on the intellectual property rights of others.

You can protect your:

  • product names and logos with brand protection
  • technical inventions with patents
  • original shapes and designs with design protection
  • artistic works (such as lyrics and songs) with copyright protection

While copyright automatically protects intellectual works, trademarks, patents and designs are protected only if you have requested this protection from the Swiss Federal Institute of Intellectual Property (IPI). This request must be periodically renewed.

As an intellectual property rights owner, you can allow or prohibit any third party from using protected property for economic purposes (e.g. through licensing).

Step 2: Legal structures

Anyone who does business independently must choose the appropriate legal structure. According to Swiss law, the following issues come into play:

Sole proprietorship: an individual working independently on his or her own behalf and in his or her own name, on any commercial or industrial activity. 

Partnerships: limited and general partnerships

Companies with share capital: these include, among others, limited companies (SAs) and limited liability companies (SARLs). For companies with share capital, liability can be reduced because for legal entities, company assets are held separately from its owners. In other words, the owners are not liable for the company’s debts.

Step 3: Trade register

Each canton has one or more trade registers. The Swiss Confederation is responsible for the strict supervision of all registers. The register contains all of the important business information about companies registered in Switzerland.

By law, all commercial or industrial businesses must be registered with the trade register. Registered companies are required to keep their accounts in order. By registering with the trade register, the name of the company (corporate name) is protected. 

Step 4: Swiss social security

The Swiss social security system consists of:

  • Old-Age and Survivors' Insurance (OASI)
  • Disability Insurance (DI)
  • Income Compensation Allowances (APG)
  • Accident Insurance (UV)
  • Occupational Pension (OP)
  • Unemployment Insurance (ALV)
  • Health Insurance (KV)

  It is based on the three-pillar concept:

  • OASI/DI/APG make up the first pillar. It is mandatory for everyone whether in the active workforce or not.
  • The second pillar concerns occupational pension insurance (OP). It is only mandatory for employees whose salaries do not exceed a certain threshold. And this amount is regularly adjusted.

The third pillar concerns private pensions. It is especially important for self-employed persons working as sole proprietors or in partnerships who, unlike employees, cannot pay into occupational pension plans. As a rule, founders of sole proprietorships have the status of self-employed workers and are largely responsible for paying into their own social security.

Step 5: Value-added tax

Value-added tax (VAT) is a general tax on consumption.

The Federal Tax Administration, or the Liechtenstein Tax Administration, is responsible for collecting tax on domestic sales and on the profits earned for services provided internationally. The Federal Customs Administration charges VAT on imports. 

Step 6: Taxes

Companies established in Switzerland are automatically subject to taxes levied by the:

  • Confederation
  • cantons
  • municipalities

The main taxes on companies are for:

  • stamp duties (Confederation)
  • tax on company profits (Confederation, cantons, municipalities)
  • capital tax (cantons, municipalities)
  • property tax (cantons, municipalities)

As the cantons and municipalities set their tax rates independently, the company’s location is significantly important.

Step 7: Labor law

Labor law focuses mainly on the following:

  • The employment contract
  • Working time
  • Daytime and nighttime work
  • Paying salary, even when the employee cannot do his or her job
  • Vacation and days off
  • Terminating the employment contract
  • Registration for Swiss social security
  • Work safety 

Step 8: Economic development

Financial assistance and tax breaks are the main measures fostering economic development. Funding support is provided through the following instruments:

  • Tax breaks under regional policy. Through its regional policy, the Federal Council intends to improve the economic conditions of rural, mountain and border regions
  • Occupational re-employment measures based on the unemployment insurance law which are communicated by Regional Employment Centers (RAVs)
  • Regional initiatives such as municipal funds

Step 9: Import/export

Those who have an import business must be informed about the following:

  • Free trade agreements signed by Switzerland
  • Different customs systems
  • Import formalities
  • Customs clearance procedures
  • Customs-related import formalities
  • Customs tariffs

A successful export business requires being informed about the following:

  • Provisions, customs tariffs and technical standards of the destination country
  • Free-trade agreements signed by Switzerland
  • Export formalities
  • Customs-related export formalities


Last modification 15.02.2020

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