As Chartered Financial Planners our mission, at AES International, is to simplify the complexities of financial transitions for expatriates. A significant number of British expatriates, having spent considerable time in Switzerland, face the intricate task of managing their pension assets upon their return to the UK. This article aims to demystify the process, focusing on the technicalities of the Swiss pension system, the tax-efficient transfer of pension assets, and the strategic use of different cantons to minimise tax liabilities.

Understanding the Swiss Pension System

Switzerland’s pension system is structured in three pillars: the state pension (first pillar), occupational pensions (second pillar), and private pensions (third pillar). The first pillar is designed to cover basic living costs, while the second and third pillars aim to maintain the individual’s standard of living post-retirement. For expatriates, the second pillar, known as the ‘berufliche Vorsorge’ in German or ‘prévoyance professionnelle’ in French, is of particular interest. This pillar is typically mandatory for all employed persons in Switzerland and comprises both a pension fund (‘Pensionskasse’) and a lump-sum savings account (‘Freizügigkeitskonto’) for periods of non-employment or self-employment.

Transferring Pension Assets to the UK

When returning to the UK, expatriates may have the option to transfer their accumulated Swiss pension assets to a UK pension scheme or taking the withdrawal as a single cash payment (subject to Swiss pension rules). This transfer can be complex due to the differences in the pension systems and tax implications. However, with careful planning and the right advice, it’s possible to manage this transfer in a tax-efficient manner.

One of the primary considerations is the tax treatment of these assets. Under the Double Taxation Agreement (DTA) between Switzerland and the UK, pension income or lump-sum payments are subject to taxation. However, the actual tax liability can be significantly reduced with proper structuring. For instance, transferring pension assets into a QROPS (Qualifying Recognised Overseas Pension Scheme) may offer tax benefits, as it allows for the pension to be structured in a way that is compliant with both Swiss and UK tax laws, potentially keeping the money outside of the UK tax net if it aligns with the individual’s investment and tax planning strategy.

Tax Liabilities and the DTA

The DTA between Switzerland and the UK provides a framework to avoid double taxation on income, including pensions. When withdrawing pension assets as cash, the tax liability in Switzerland can be relatively low, depending on the canton in which the pension is held. This is because different cantons have varying tax rates and allowances for lump-sum pension withdrawals. Therefore, selecting the right canton at the point of transferring the pension back to the UK is crucial in minimising tax liabilities.

Leveraging Cantonal Differences

Switzerland’s federal structure means that tax rates can vary significantly from one canton to another. For expatriates planning to transfer their pension assets to the UK, it can be advantageous to transfer their pension fund to a canton with favourable tax rates for lump-sum withdrawals before making the transfer. This requires a thorough understanding of the tax laws in each canton and strategic planning to ensure that the transfer is made in the most tax-efficient manner possible.

Investment and Tax Planning

Once the pension assets are transferred to the UK, or potentially kept outside the UK in a compliant scheme, the next step is to invest them in a manner that aligns with the individual’s financial goals and tax planning strategy. This may involve a diverse portfolio of investments that can offer growth, income, or a combination of both, depending on the individual’s retirement plans and risk tolerance.

Tax planning is an integral part of this process, ensuring that the investments are structured in a way that minimises tax liabilities. This might involve utilising tax-efficient wrappers, understanding the implications of the UK’s tax bands and allowances, and potentially leveraging the tax benefits of residing in different jurisdictions.


For British expatriates returning from Switzerland, managing pension assets can be a complex but manageable task with the right guidance. By understanding the intricacies of the Swiss pension system, the tax implications under the DTA, and the benefits of strategic cantonal selection, it’s possible to transfer pension assets in a tax-efficient manner. At AES International, our expertise lies in providing tailored advice to navigate these complexities, ensuring that your pension assets are managed in a way that aligns with your financial goals and tax planning needs.

As you embark on this transition, remember that early planning and professional advice are key to maximising the benefits of your pension assets. Our team is here to guide you through every step of this journey, ensuring a smooth and tax-efficient transition of your pension assets from Switzerland to the UK.

Contact us today to understand how we can help you to transfer your Swiss pensions back to the UK. 


About AES Adviser

AES Adviser advises expatriate clients worldwide on all financial planning matters including wealth management, estate planning, offshore bank accounts, savings and investment, insurance, multi-generational wealth transfer and generating income, from wealth accumulated, to support retirement.