Footloose billionaires head to Switzerland

Jorge Paulo Lemann, a Brazilian billionaire stakeholder in Anheuser-Busch InBev, lives in Switzerland with his wife Keystone

High quality of life and low taxes continue to lure the richest people in the world to Switzerland, now home to the second-highest number of foreign-born billionaires in the world. 

This content was published on March 23, 2017 - 17:00

Chinese-based media group Hurun Report closely follows the fortunes – and migration routes – of the wealthiest people on the planet. In the Hurun Global Rich List 2017External link it reveals that while Switzerland has the sixth-highest concentration of billionaires in the world, only half are home-grown. The rest are made up of people arriving from other countries. The United States tops the list.

Some of Switzerland’s best-known billionaires hail from other countries, such as AB InBev brewery magnate Jorge Paulo Lemann (from Brazil), industrialist Viktor Vekselberg (Russia) and commodities mogul Gennady Timchenko (Armenia). Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad was Switzerland’s richest resident for a long time before decamping back to his native Sweden. 

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Tax incentives 

One of the biggest incentives is the preferential tax treatment many cantons give to those with at least a few million in spare change. The system of lump sum taxation ignores income and wealth by levying an annual charge equivalent to seven times the rental value of the taxpayer’s property. 

There are a couple of conditions: the taxpayer should derive all of their income abroad and must be properly resident in Switzerland. Voters have recently cancelled this arrangement in Zurich and some other cantons, but a nationwide bid to dispel lump sum taxation failed at the polls in 2014, so it still exists in some cantons. 

Notably, Geneva is listed by the Hurun Report as the city with the third-highest number of immigrant billionaires in the world (12), behind London and Moscow. Zurich does not appear in the top ten. 

Location and language

Location is also important. Situated in central Europe, Switzerland is one of the best places for the wealthy to hop into a private jet to visit properties or businesses in the US, the Middle East and Asia. 

Switzerland is also right next door to its biggest billionaire exporter, Germany. Twelve billionaires currently resident in Switzerland had only a short hop across the border, while five others arrived from Italy and Britain and four from France. For most of these rich immigrants, Switzerland’s multilingualism would have helped them feel more at home. 

And then there is the quality of life. Swiss trains run on time to take people to breathtaking alpine scenery and outdoor activities. In addition, clean streets and a relatively low crime rate help make the country attractive. Switzerland’s political neutrality is also a magnet for billionaires who hail from less stable countries. 

Camera-shy wealthy folk have also cited the natural discretion of the Swiss as an attraction. In short, they can enjoy more privacy than at home. 

Little wonder the United Nations recently named Switzerland as the fourth-happiest country in the world – and not just for billionaires.

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