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Old 27.10.2008, 09:04
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Foreign Expansion to Switzerland - How To...

I received much valuable insight from this forum, and in particular a gentleman named Richard, regarding how to form a business entity in Switzerland. Having successfully worked through the gauntlet, I want to offer the process that I followed so that others may also benefit. My payback, if you will.

Background: I run an LLC in the United States that provides business consulting services to marketing organizations of world class companies. We anticipate growth to Europe and determined to set up operations in Geneva due to the location of existing clients.


Research, Research, Research. Get all your ducks in a row by reading this forum end to end, researching business entities and associated pros and cons, and outlining the process you will need to follow to establish your business in Switzerland.

My process was as follows:
  • Identify potential attorneys to manage the process to establish the business entity in Switzerland (a corporation would normally use legal services to oversee an expansion)
    • Google is a good resource to find an array of potential attorneys
    • Meet with attorneys and select one you want to work with
    • BIG DISCOVERY: With enough research, I realized that an attorney was not necessary at all, resulting in a savings of ~10,000CHF or more
    • Have preliminary meetings with attorneys anyway (free); it's a great way to learn more about how things work
  • Identify 'Representation Service' providers
    • A US entity operating in Switzerland must have a Swiss resident on the Board with full signing authority
    • The services of a 'representative' can be retained, and can often include accounting services and other business services
    • The way this piece works is that you give full signing authority for the business representative to form the business in Switzerland (this is filed with the formation documents), then you immediately sign another agreement with the business representative stating that no material action can be taken without your express written authority. This way, you still retain basic control.
  • Acquire an Office
    • For our needs, we merely needed a virtual office in Switzerland with an address and a phone number... one that would forward mail and redirect voicemail to our US operations. This was easy to find. There are many large companies that provide these services, but if you dig a little deeper you will find smaller operations that will assist you, and provide better service at a lower cost.
  • Decide what form of entity to establish (Sarl or S.A.)
    • There is a lot written on this topic so I leave you to those threads to discuss. For us, it was a no brainer to form the S.A. for our business. We wanted the added credibility that comes from an S.A. and found the hurdle between a Sarl and an S.A. to be minimal.
    • Draft an outline with all the information you will need and decisions required to form the business entity. This will include your business information, business representative information, business purpose, etc. You will find this summary helpful later.
  • Arrange to meet with a Notary
    • This role is entirely different than a 'notary' in the United States. A notary, with whom your business representative can arrange a meeting, you can complete and process all the required documentation needed to form the business entity.
    • The notary will take the lead to ask you the right questions and will process the forms with the right government offices. I don't pretend to know what those are, but I do know that a trusted notary can get it taken care of at a reasonable fee.
  • Select a Bank
    • There are myriad banks in Switzerland, but I suggest that you select one that has operations in you home country as well.
    • The array of possible banks is very easy to find online, but you just can't walk into a branch and open an account. You need to work through the group that manages corporate banking.
    • The business representative that you retained should have access to the right contacts at the various banks. Let him/her guide you
    • Meet with the bank representatives and arrange for the capitalization of the business. This requires 20,000CHF for Sarl and 50,000CHF for S.A. business entities.
    • Inform the bank which notary you used so that they can inform him/her when the funds have been fully received. The receipt of the funds is a trigger for the notary to finish the process to register the company. This is when the business, government, and money come together to form the entity
With a LOT of prep work you can work through this in a week and then allow a few more weeks for the details to run through the normal routes.

If you read this far... I hope you found this useful. I will reward you with the single greatest resource that helped us establish our operations in Switzerland. The Department of Economy and Health! No kidding. We met with their representatives whose job it is to help people and companies do business in Switzerland. They were an enthusiastic resource that provided access to fantastic contacts and references. I won't name names, but can refer you to their general web site at http://www.whygeneva.ch/. My strong recommendation is to arrange a face to face meeting, share your goals, and inquire about resources and steps in the process. They produce a PDF for Geneva, available here: http://geneva.ch/geneva_at_a_glance.htm

I hope you found this useful. Best of luck to all who read this. I look forward to many more positive interactions with this site and working in Switzerland.
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