Starting a business in the Basel Area: What you need to know
he Basel Area is a beautiful and diverse region in the northwest corner of Switzerland that is made up of three cantons: German-speaking Basel-Stadt (Basel City) and Basel-Landschaft (Baselland), as well as the country’s youngest canton, French-speaking Jura. Global leaders, including Novartis, Roche, Fossil, Bayer, Ricola, Dufry and Panalpina, among others, are based in the Basel region. But it’s not only big corporations that are here to innovate and grow. The Basel Area has one of the highest proportions of venture-capital-backed startups in Switzerland.
Like Switzerland, the Basel Area is linguistically, culturally and industrially diverse. Basel is the country’s third largest city, a cosmopolitan urban area with a long history. Split in the middle by the Rhine River and resting right on the French and German borders, for centuries the city has been a hub for international networking and innovation, and acts as a modern base for diverse global industries like biotech, pharmaceuticals and watchmaking. Basel prides itself on innovation, with one of Switzerland’s best success rates for startup funding, high wages and relatively low taxes. As a result of this support, Basel-Stadt has been at the forefront of startup development in central Europe, boasting one of the highest investment amounts per capita. According to the 2021 Swiss Venture Capital Report, in 2020 Basel posted a new record, receiving over a quarter of all the startup funding in the country, totalling CHF 0.5 billion.
But the area isn’t just a business hub. It is also home to the renowned University of Basel, one of Europe’s oldest educational facilities, and to some of the best museums and cultural institutions in the country. In fact, it’s known as the cultural capital of Switzerland. Outside the city, the picturesque cantons of Basel-Landschaft and Jura both offer idyllic lifestyles with their own unique cultures and traditions to explore.
What do I need to know before I move to the Basel Area?
Switzerland is home to an international workforce but getting a work permit isn’t always easy, so it’s important to have your documents in order. The best places to start are the cantons’ websites: Basel-Stadt, Baselland and Jura. Also consult the Swiss Secretariat for Migration (SEM) website for information and resources to help plan your move. Whichever canton you move to, renting can be complex when you’re new, so book temporary accommodation first to allow you to get organized.
Basel prides itself on innovation, with one of Switzerland’s best success rates for startup funding, high wages and relatively low taxes
Do I need a visa or work permit?
Swiss citizens are prioritized for positions and their hiring is incentivized by both the local and federal governments. EU/EFTA citizens can spend up to three months in the country looking for a job on a tourist visa, which can be prolonged to a year with a short-term permit. Register with a regional employment center, which can help you with changing permits.
Non-EU/EFTA citizens must apply for a visa before entering the country. The permit types are identified by letters: L permits are for short-term residence, and B permits are standard residence permits that can be renewed or eventually turned into a C permit, which is for longer-term settlement. Only approximately 8,500 temporary B and L permits are issued each year, which means that it can be tough to get a visa if you’re not in a prioritized field like STEM, or lack the educational or language skills these job quotas favor. You should check your canton’s specific employment and permit requirements on its website, and also consult the SEM site for more details.
If you’re having a hard time getting a visa that allows you to work, you might be able to join the thousands of workers who commute to the region from France and Germany. Freelance visas are more accessible in these two countries, allowing for a dynamic transnational lifestyle.
What language do they speak in the Basel Area?
Switzerland has four official languages: German, French, Italian and Romansh. Multilingualism is a fact of life and it’s quite common to start a conversation with a new person by talking about language. In Basel-Stadt and Baselland, the Baseldytsch dialect of Swiss German is spoken, but Standard German is taught in all schools and the Swiss are used to switching. In Jura, French is spoken. The city of Basel is very international, so you’ll have no problem finding English speakers, but language is a critical component for successful integration, so it’s important to make an effort if you’re planning to stay.
Depending on your permit level and canton, you may actually need to prove some proficiency in your canton’s primary language. The SEM website has a comprehensive list of requirements, and there are plenty of language schools in the region to help, including Berlitz and Inlingua.
What is life in the Basel Area like?
The Swiss are famous for their punctuality, attention to detail and orderliness, and these qualities are apparent both in working culture and social life. Newcomers might face some culture shock, as everything from waste disposal to home noise levels is highly regulated.
You’ll also notice cultural differences in architecture, food and lifestyle between cantons, especially between the different linguistic regions. This cantonal diversity is one of the most interesting parts of living in Switzerland. But wherever you live, it is essential to be an active member of the community and stay up to date with what’s going on in your area.
You will soon notice that your neighbors are always voting on referendums, and this direct democracy is something that can impact you directly as an immigrant. If you ultimately decide to apply for citizenship after a few years, in some cantons your neighbors might be voting to approve your application, so being a good neighbor could be an investment in your future.
Is it expensive to live here?
While the Basel Area has a lower cost of living than other Swiss metropolitan areas, living in Switzerland is still expensive. Rent, which generally does not include utilities, ranges between CHF 1,500 and 2,000 per month for a one- bedroom in Basel city center, with rates dropping only slightly in the suburbs.
Jura and Baselland have more affordable housing options. Mandatory health insurance starts around CHF 300 per month for a basic plan and can go well into the thousands depending on your deductible and family size. Full-time childcare costs CHF 60–CHF 150 per day. If you plan on using public transport regularly, get the SBB Half Fare Travelcard, which reduces the cost of tickets by half, and costs CHF 185 per year. Budget CHF 550–CHF 750 per month for food and utilities for one person. All told, the average cost of living for a single adult before rent starts at around CHF 1,500. In general, it’s best to plan on things costing more than elsewhere in Europe.
In general, it’s best to plan on things costing more than elsewhere in Europe.
How do I set up a company in the Basel Area?
The Basel Area is on track to become one of the biggest startup hubs in central Europe, and the region has taken significant steps to make starting a business easier. In some cases, you can even set up a business entirely online through easygov.swiss. However, if you don’t have Swiss/EU/EFTA citizenship or permanent residency, your canton must first authorize you to open a business. This involves submitting a very detailed business plan to the local authorities and proving that the company will have a long-lasting, positive impact on the community. Once your project is approved, you will be granted a short-term permit to start your business.
Each canton has its own business and entrepreneurial support resources and contacts that can be accessed via its website. For example, Jura has streamlined the process for startups with its Economic Promotion division. This is a one-stop shop where you can get help with everything from the legal requirements to infrastructure and even hiring qualified locals. Agencies including Basel Area Business & Innovation can help you get set up or move an existing business to the area, but self-employment and freelancing still have some legal limitations if you’re not Swiss or an EU/EFTA national. All the information and checklists you need can be found at kmu.admin.ch or your canton’s business resources page. You can also use a specialist service like LEXPAT to help start your company.
How do I open a bank account?
The Swiss are known for international banking, and financial institutions are everywhere. Some banks might require you to have a B or C permit to open an account, but PostFinance, the national postal service bank, is legally required to provide banking options to every resident.
Credit Suisse and UBS are the two biggest banks in the country and have extensive English-language customer service and international client solutions, making them reliable options. Every canton also has its own Kantonalbank, which often have special offers for local startups, so check your specific Kantonalbank’s site.
In most cases, banking is still a personal affair, so you’ll need to go to a branch to finalize your account. Past issues of tax evasion and privacy breaches can make the application process harder for people from specific nationalities. Depending on your citizenship, additional documentation might be needed to open a bank account, and different fees and regulations may apply. In daily life, cash is still important in most of the country, but most places also accept cards.
What are taxes like in the Basel Area?
Swiss taxes are much lower than in the rest of Europe, and they are collected on a federal, cantonal and local basis. This means that there are advantages to living in different cantons and municipalities — Baselland and Jura will almost certainly be cheaper than Basel-Stadt.
Newcomers who do not hold a C permit have their taxes deducted automatically from their salaries, as long as they do not exceed CHF 120,000 per year. This is also the case for B permit holders for the first five years of living in Switzerland. If you commute into Switzerland from another country, you must submit proof of residence to demonstrate that your income is being taxed elsewhere.
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Written by Samuel Miller
Repackaged by Anastasia Ilcov