Detailed guide: Switzerland: providing services after EU Exit

Introduction

If the UK leaves the EU on 29 March 2019 without a deal, UK firms and service providers will face additional steps or potentially even barriers to trade.

You will need to comply with local rules in the following areas:

  • cross-border trade
  • establishing and structuring your business
  • business travel and visa requirements
  • recognition of UK professional qualifications
  • data protection

The UK has reached an agreement with the Swiss government which protects the rights of UK workers living in Switzerland, and of service providers with existing contracts.

Find out more about the Swiss Citizens’ Rights Agreement.

Cross-border trade

If you’re a UK business providing services in Switzerland, you’ll need to follow Swiss regulations about:

  • acquiring authorisations or licences to provide a service
  • complying with specific local business regulations

You may benefit from the part of the Swiss Citizens’ Rights Agreement which deals with service provision. This would apply to service provision contracts which have been agreed and where implementation has started before exit day.

Consider appointing an English-speaking lawyer in Switzerland to help you comply with specific regulations.

There may be regulated sectors in Switzerland where local nationality requirements could prevent you from providing services.

To find out if these apply to you, contact the appropriate competent authority.

Contact the Competition Commission if you have complaints or queries about anti-competitive practices.

There are also non-governmental organisations that provide advice to UK businesses operating in Switzerland, for example the British-Swiss Chambers of Commerce.

These organisations are not associated with the UK government, and their views are not representative of any government policies.

Establishing and structuring your business

Europe’s trade relationship with Switzerland involves several sector-specific bilateral agreements, such as insurance and air transport. There is no overarching right of establishment for businesses and service providers.

Due to this, if you’re a UK service provider or business, you may face restrictions on your ability to own, manage or direct a company registered in Switzerland when the UK leaves the EU.

You should consider if you’re likely to face:

  • additional requirements on the nationality or residency of senior managers or directors
  • restrictions on the structure of your business in certain regulated sectors

To ensure your business remains compliant with the legal requirements in Switzerland after exit day you should check the requirements for your sector and contact the relevant competent authority.

Setting up a business

The rules for establishing and structuring UK businesses in Switzerland will largely be set by the relevant competent national authorities.

You can find out how to set up a business in Switzerland on these websites:

Sector specific information

As the Statutory Audit Directive does not apply in Switzerland, audit firms should continue to consult local regulatory authorities for information about recognition and eligibility.

If you’re a UK legal professional who has investments in law firms in Switzerland, you should contact the Swiss Bar Association for further information on the implications for your investment.

If you’re a UK citizen, service provider or business operating in Switzerland and in any doubt about your legal position, seek appropriate professional advice or contact the Swiss government for more information about ownership, management or directing a company.

Business travel and visa requirements

UK citizens

When the UK leaves the EU, the rules for travelling in Europe will change

Find out about passport requirements after Brexit

In the event of no deal, the European Commission has proposed granting UK citizens visa-free travel to the Schengen area after the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union.

Under these conditions, if you’re a UK citizen you’ll be able to travel to Switzerland without a visa for up to 90 days in any 180-day period, for the purpose of:

  • business meetings
  • training
  • sports or cultural events
  • short-term study

Should you need to undertake activities not listed above or intend to stay beyond 90 days in any 180-day period, you will need to check with host country authorities, as visa requirements can vary between Schengen member states.

Professionals

If you’re engaging in a professional activity in Switzerland you’ll be subject to different requirements, depending on:

  • your occupation and situation
  • whether you are self-employed or an employee
  • your business and the length of your stay

Certain professions may have to meet extra conditions and you may be required to show supporting documentation at the border.

The State Secretariat for Migration website has more information about:

  • supporting documentation
  • work and residence permits
  • other conditions
  • visas including intra-corporate transfers

Recognition of professional qualifications

The EU’s Mutual Recognition of Professional Qualifications (MRPQ) Directive provides a framework of rules on professional qualification recognition amongst the members of the EEA and Switzerland.

If the UK leaves the EU without a deal, the MRPQ Directive will no longer apply to the UK.

The Swiss Citizens’ Rights Agreement includes specific arrangements for the recognition of professional qualifications held by Swiss nationals and UK nationals.

You can read the Swiss Citizens’ Rights Agreement Explainer for more information.

Information on the EU-wide recognition of professional qualifications

The European Commission’s Regulated Professions Database (REGPROF) can help you identify:

  • professions that are regulated in each EEA state and Switzerland
  • contact details of the member states’ appropriate authority for that regulated profession

Information on the recognition of professional qualifications in Switzerland

If you are offering professional services in Switzerland, look at NARIC, the information centre for the academic and professional recognition of qualifications

Statutory auditors

If you’re a statutory auditor working in Switzerland, your access to the audit profession will not be affected by the UK leaving the EU.

Switzerland is treated as a third country in UK and EU law as it does not follow the Audit Directive. This arrangement will continue.

The Swiss competent authority should be able to provide further information.

The Lawyers’ Services Directive enables EEA and Swiss nationals to provide regulated legal services in another member state, without the need to register with the host state regulator. Lawyers provide services under their existing home professional title.

The Lawyers’ Establishment Directive enables EEA and Swiss nationals to practise reserved legal activities in another member state, provided that they have registered with the relevant host state regulator. Lawyers provide services under their existing home professional title. This route also allows lawyers that are practising in another member state to be admitted to the profession after 3 years of practice in the law of that member state.

As such, if you’re a UK-qualified lawyer registered and working in Switzerland on a permanent basis, and under a UK title, you will continue to be able to practice while you remain registered in Switzerland.

If you’re not registered in Switzerland, UK-qualified lawyers have 4 years from the date the UK leaves the EU to register or to start the application to register, to permanently work under a UK professional title, or to transfer or to start the process of transferring to a Swiss professional title.

If you’re a UK-qualified lawyer who has transferred to a Swiss-professional title before exit day, you will continue to have this transfer recognised, while you remain registered in Switzerland.

UK lawyers and law firms who want to provide temporary services should refer to the cross-border trade section above.

If you’re practicing in Switzerland under an EU qualification and professional title, you should contact your local regulator for specific advice.

Contact the Swiss Bar Association for more information.

Data protection

UK businesses will need to continue to comply with data protection laws if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) provides information on data protection and Brexit including the ‘6 steps to take’ checklist.

International data transfers

The UK government is legislating to provide that, on the UK’s exit from the EU, transfers of personal data from the UK to countries that had an agreement with the European Commission (for example Switzerland) will be permitted.

No additional steps need to be taken at this point if you plan to only transfer personal data from the UK to Switzerland.

You should review your privacy information and your internal documentation to identify any details that will need updating when the UK leaves the EU. Find out more on documentation requirements in the ICO’s 6 step guidance.

If you receive personal data transfers in the UK from Switzerland, the Swiss Federal Data Protection and Information Commissioner (FDPIC) has so far indicated that transfers of personal data from Switzerland to the UK can continue without additional requirements.

Find out more about the FDPIC’s current position on Brexit and other relevant information relating to data protection in Switzerland.

You can also read ICO guidance on international data transfers.