Can expat Swiss get Covid-19 financial aid?

Expatriate Swiss citizens who run a business abroad face difficult choices as the Covid-19 pandemic has a devastating impact on the economy. Keystone/Armando Babani

Many of the 770,000 Swiss citizens living around the world, especially those with businesses, face a difficult financial situation owing to the coronavirus pandemic. There are question marks over whether they are entitled to state support.

This content was published on April 6, 2020

The pandemic has forced many people to close their businesses, depriving them of income. While expats are still trying to get financial help from the Swiss authorities or from the governments of their countries of residence, others have decided to return home.

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From a legal perspective, there seems to be little hope that expatriates can claim loans from the Swiss government, which approved relief packages to the tune of CHF62 billion ($63.4 billion) since March 20 to help companies and employees cope with the crisis.

“The ordinance (….) is aimed at granting timely financial aid to single-person ventures, limited partnership companies or legal entities based in Switzerland,” the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) wrote in answer to an email by Patrick Schneider.

The 42-year-old Swiss emigrated with his partner to Colombia in 2018, where they opened a nail studio and a tattoo parlour in the city of Cartagena. Both ventures with nine employees have been shut but the fixed costs remain.

“We don’t know what to do as our revenue has dropped to zero,” says Schneider.

The SECO statement appears to confirm assumptions by the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA) that expatriates are in principle not eligible for financial aid from the Swiss government relief package.

Closed shops and empty streets in the city of Cartagena. Keystone

However, the OSA said it was told that requests by Swiss Abroad citizens for social benefits can be made at local embassies until the end of April, provided there are no other options. 


Another open question is whether all expatriate business owners coming home can apply for loans or whether such aid is restricted to Swiss citizens returning from abroad for good.

A senior SECO official indicated that temporary returnees have no legal right to the Covid-19 relief aid.

The number of expatriate Swiss immigrants appears to be very limited, experts say. But the situation might change if the economic downturn forces more members of the Swiss Abroad community to reconsider their options.

As for Colombia-based Schneider, he has returned to Switzerland and has taken on a temporary job. He says he’ll try to get by without financial aid from the state before he goes back to Latin America.

He hopes he will be able to weather the crisis by making enough money in Switzerland to send some back to his employees in Colombia and to reopen his studios soon.

Schneider, a former sports journalist and art director, is also mulling new ideas. He plans to go back to Colombia but with the idea of running an independent business that is not tied to a specific location.

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