Your Country of Residence Takes Precedence
First of all, the authorities in your country of residence need to be contacted in order to learn what kind of support is available – be it for you personally or for your company. There is a wide range of measures in different countries, especially for companies. For example (as of April 7, 2020) Germany and Switzerland have general short-time work programs, whereas in Greece this is only possible for half of the workforce, and in China or Russia such instruments are completely absent. The situation is similarly varied regarding help for the self-employed or additional support for SMEs.
Depending on the legal regulations applicable in your country of residence, it may well be that you as a Swiss abroad, and in particular your company based in that country, can also benefit from local relief and support measures, as well as from the general social security system. Thus, first and foremost, you should contact local authorities.
Measures taken by the Swiss government to cushion the consequences of the Corona crisis cannot, in principle, benefit Swiss nationals abroad or their company. That is because, according to Art. 3 of the COVID-19 Solidarity Guarantee Ordinance (German), companies applying for aid must be domiciled in Switzerland.
Nevertheless, there is a range of offers of assistance from both official and private sources for Swiss citizens abroad and for returnees, as summarized below. However, the emphasis remains clearly on personal responsibility.
Help from official Swiss side
For Swiss people abroad:
- Based on the Swiss Abroad Act (SAA) and the complementary Swiss Abroad Ordinance (SAO), it is possible, under certain conditions, to receive social assistance on a one-off or recurrent basis. This may help to cover basic living expenses, vital medical treatment or a return trip to Switzerland. However, these contributions are generally to be restituted. You can apply for social assistance at the Swiss representation responsible for your country of residence. The conditions and formalities are listed here (German, French or Italian).
- If no entitlement to social assistance or other support may be granted, the Confederation can grant one-off non-refundable contributions from the “Support Fund for Swiss Nationals Abroad” in cases of special hardship.
- If Swiss nationals find themselves in an emergency situation in a country where they are only staying temporarily (i.e. in a third country), the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) may also offer support in the form of Emergency Loans to enable, for example, to return to Switzerland, to overcome special hardship, or to finance vital medical treatment. For more information, contact the Swiss representation responsible for your country of residence. Further information can also be found here: Art. 47 SAA and the Swiss Abroad Ordinance.
For Swiss abroad with temporary residence in Switzerland:
- For temporary stays in Switzerland, for example if you are currently unable return to your country of residence due to the Corona crisis, urgent social assistance may be granted in accordance with 41 para. 2 SAO. This can also include assumption of the costs of necessary medical treatment. Generally, such contributions are to be restituted. In order to receive this form of support, you should contact the commune or canton, in which you are currently staying.
For repatriated Swiss abroad:
- Under certain conditions, returnees who are OASI (AHV) or ID (IV) recipients may apply for supplementary benefits.
- As far as unemployment benefits are concerned, if you previously worked in an EU or EFTA country, you are generally required to claim your benefits from that country. If your country of employment was a third country, you might obtain Swiss unemployment benefits under certain conditions. Further information can be found in the FDFA’s guide “Returning to Switzerland Swiss citizens living abroad” as well as on the website of the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO).
- If you contact the Swiss representation before you return home, the representation will also coordinate possible social assistance benefits (link not available in English) with your future canton of residence in Switzerland, including accommodation for the initial period – that is, if you are entitled to it. If you have already entered Switzerland, you may apply for social assistance directly in your commune of residence. The Swiss Conference on Social Assistance currently provides specific information on social assistance during the Corona crisis (link not available in English).
Privately organised financial support
- Soliswiss members in need may apply for a contribution of up to CHF 2,500 from the Soliswiss Aid Fund until 20 April 2020.
- The E.O. Kilcher-Fonds of the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad offers under certain conditionsfinancial support to Swiss returnees in the form of an interest-free loan.
- Otherwise, crowd funding may also be an option to take the initiative in asking for support for one’s SME or oneself. These include the Swiss platforms wemakeit.com or Raiffeisen Bank’s lokalhelden.ch (link not available in English) as well as the US top dogs kickstarter.com or gofundme.com.
The FDFA offers more useful information under the following links:
- “What does the FDFA advise?”
- The FDFA’s Guide “Returning to Switzerland Swiss citizens living abroad”