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A simple guide to health insurance in Switzerland if you’ve just landed here
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A simple guide to health insurance in Switzerland if you’ve just landed here

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Welcome to Switzerland, the land of cheese, gorgeous mountains and mandatory health insurance. You’ve just landed in Switzerland and you most likely have so many questions about this hot topic – let’s take it step by step and answer the most important ones. 

By the time you finish this article you will have a clear idea of what health insurance for new expats in Switzerland means and how you can choose the best insurance and insurer for you.

30 November Deadline!

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We have compiled a list of questions received from new expats in Switzerland about health insurance. The answers to these questions will cover all the basics of health insurance for new expats in Switzerland. 

So, ready?

What are the main differences between health insurances in Switzerland versus other countries?

Switzerland’s health care system is not subsidized by the state, as in the UK or France, nor is it a combination of state subsidies and private insurance (as in Germany). The Swiss health care system resembles more the US health care system, where contributions are entirely private. 

What are some of common misconceptions foreigners have about health insurance in Switzerland? 

If you’re coming from the UK, then you’ll have a bit of a cultural shock when you find out you’re entirely responsible for choosing and paying for your health insurance. However, the franchise system is a silver lining, since you do not have to finance all health costs by yourself. Your insurer contributes for you. We explain more on the very important notion of ‘franchise’ below. 

Before we go into more detail, let’s quickly cover the most important questions and misconceptions foreigners have when landing in Switzerland:

If I have private insurance in my home country – why is this not enough? Why do I still need Swiss health insurance?

If you live or work in Switzerland, it is mandatory by law to have Swiss health insurance.

I’m here for less than 3 months. Should I get insurance? What if something happens to me and I need hospital care? Will I be charged an enormous amount of money?

As soon as you have a Swiss resident permit, you need to have mandatory Swiss health insurance. Students can buy a special student insurance that fulfills the specific requirements. Guests from abroad that visit family members in Switzerland can buy a so-called “Guest insurance”.

What about dental insurance? Is it included in the overall health insurance?

No. A separate insurance needs to be signed for dental insurance. Read on to find out more on this topic.

Is health insurance mandatory in Switzerland? 

Yes. Within 3 months of your arrival in Switzerland, you will be asked by the local authorities to provide proof that you have health insurance coverage. Once you choose your health insurance provider, you are only able to change the provider once a year, until 30 November of the following year.

Thinking about postponing this until the last minute in order to optimize your costs? Then you should know that there is no advantage in waiting until the third month to take out the policy, because you will have to pay for all three months regardless of when you sign the insurance contract.

Is anyone exempt from having to buy a health insurance policy in Switzerland?

Yes, and here are the exceptions:

  • Cross-border employees with residence (and hence insurance) in a neighboring state

  • Diplomatic staff 

  • Retired persons who receive a pension in an EU/EFTA state

  • Students who reside in Switzerland temporarily and have insurance in their home-country

  • Students who reside in Switzerland temporarily and have insurance in their home-country

How does Swiss health insurance work?

Now that we’ve covered the basics of health insurance for new expats in Switzerland, let’ take a look at what you can expect from your insurance provider and how the system works. To be able to have access to health care in Switzerland, you’ll pay monthly insurance premiums and also part of the cost of medical treatment or any kind of medical interventions.

You will contribute to these costs, together with your health insurer. All your medical invoices must go to your insurer. You will have to pay all of them until you reach your franchise limit. After that limit, it is the insurer who handles the costs. Your share of the payments depends on the type of coverage you have. 

Not sure what coverage to choose? We get it! It may seem complicated to navigate all the options and make the best choice for your medical needs. So let’s explain the main terms you’ll be dealing with when it comes to health insurance: 

Mandatory or basic coverage

Basic insurance is compulsory for all persons residing in Switzerland and all Swiss insurers offer the same benefits here. It covers basic health care costs and hospitalization in the canton where you live. Please note that the rates of basic insurance are not the same with all providers. It depends on the model you choose, the region, and the insurance company. As with any other product, the cheapest option is not necessarily the best.

Supplementary coverage

This is what differentiates between the various insurance companies and this is what you should pay attention to when you select your insurer. Supplementary insurance covers dental care, alternative medicine, travel insurance, hospital care etc.

Some insurers (not all) offer free choice of clinic in Switzerland, or free choice of doctor/ specialists in their field. Some cover various extra services (visits to the gym/ spa/ acupuncture/ TCM, etc.) or private room in the hospital. When you receive a health insurance quote, carefully check what is included under Supplementary coverage.

Premiums

This is your monthly contribution. The lower the franchise, the higher the monthly premiums. These can change every year. 
 

Franchise or deductible

The franchise is your part of the yearly medical costs. This can be as low as CHF 300 per year, which means you contribute only this amount (in addition to the monthly premium you pay). In this case, if you choose the lowest franchise, your premiums (=monthly contributions) will be higher. The maximum you can contribute, the highest franchise, is CHF 2,500 per year. In this case, your premiums will be much lower than in the first case. If you have frequent medical problems you should consider choosing the lowest franchise. For normal persons in good health, the highest franchise is usually the most common choice. 

How can I choose the right franchise for me? 

To decide on the type of franchise, low or high, you would need to consider you yearly medical costs, how often do you visit the doctor's office, and if you need any special treatment. If you often have medical problems and would need to visit a doctor on a regular basis, consider a low franchise and therefore pay a higher monthly premium. 

Your choice of health insurance policy will determine whether you are free to choose your doctor, free to choose a clinic, in which clinic and in which region of Switzerland you may undergo medical treatment, and many other factors.  Bigger insurance companies offer different models of basic insurance. If you are choosing e.g. an HMO Model, you can save money on the premium side, but must respect the rules combined with the model. Nowadays this is a very common selection. . 

The right franchise varies from individual to individual and from family to family. Take your income into account to make the right decision: how much can you afford to pay in case you need medical treatment unexpectedly? If you choose a franchise that’s too low compared to your income, you will end up paying very high premiums. On the other hand, if you opt for a high franchise, it might be hard to you to make the payment when/if the time comes.

How much can I expect health insurance to cost?

The costs of health insurance for new expats depend on the level of coverage, your age and medical history. A healthy adult around 40 years old can expect to pay anywhere between 300 – 400 CHF/ month, while the premium for a child is roughly around CHF 90/ month. Additional coverage is usually recommended, so the final premium varies depending on the additional coverage you choose. 

What are the various insurance models? With or without doctor? There are so many options! How can I know which is the best for me? 

You can choose between various insurance models, depending on insurer – some offer free choice of doctor, other offer only the GP model. We cover these models in this article.

Dental care insurance

Dental care is NOT covered by most health insurance policies, which is a major difference versus other countries. Dental care is also quite expensive in Switzerland, so most expats usually handle dental issues when they visit their home countries or they simply make appointments in neighboring countries, fearing the high Swiss costs. For dental insurance you would need to close a separate insurance and conditions are quite strict. 

Children’s health insurance 

Children have to take separate health insurance. They are not automatically listed on the parents’ policies as in other countries. In case of pregnancy, it is highly recommended to do a pre-birth registration for your unborn child. Not every insurance company offers prenatal insurance for babies, so make sure you choose your provider carefully if you are expecting a child soon.

When it comes to basic insurance, prenatal insurance is recommended, but it is not mandatory. Every insurance company must provide basic insurance for a child when an application is made. This is not the case with supplementary insurance. In this case, prenatal insurance is worth it. If the baby has a medical condition, insurance companies may deny supplementary insurance.

The franchise for children is usually 0 CHF, which means all costs are covered by the insurer. You are, however, required to pay 10% of medical fees but only up to 350 CHF per year. Most insurance companies also offer higher franchise models (ex. 200 CHF, 400 CHF or 600 CHF) in return for a lower annual premium. 

Accident insurance

This is usually covered by your employer, provided that you are employed by the same employer for more than 8 hours a week. Check this before you include accident insurance in your private health insurance plan, you don't want to pay twice for the same coverage. On the other hand, if you work less than 8 hours a week, do include accident coverage in your basic insurance.

In conclusion, some final pieces of advice for newcomers in Switzerland

You’ll have to stay with your insurer for a minimum of one year, so make sure you choose wisely. It may seem daunting to have to make so many choices as soon as you arrive in Switzerland, but your insurance policy is one of the most important decisions you have to make as an expat here, so it’s recommended you treat it with extra care.

One last piece of advice: if you don’t speak the local language, make sure you choose a company who offers customer service in English. This is extremely helpful in the initial onboarding process, but more importantly, when you need to deduct invoices and deal with medical bureaucracy in general. Some insurance companies also offer contracts and all relevant documents in English.

Too much too handle? Don’t worry, you don’t have to do everything alone

Get the help of an English-speaking adviser who can help you navigate all the intricacies of health insurance for new expats in Switzerland.

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How to choose your GP in Switzerland