For members


Funerals, burials and wills: What you should know about dying in Switzerland

Planning for death is never easy, but living abroad can make things more complicated. From funerals to burials and inheritance, here's what you need to know about dying in Switzerland.

Funeral planning can be difficult in Switzerland. Photo by Mayron Oliveira on Unsplash
Funeral planning can be difficult in Switzerland. Photo by Mayron Oliveira on Unsplash

Switzerland has long been a haven for foreigners seeking a quiet life. For some, including iconic names like Charlie Chaplin, Coco Chanel and Audrey Hepburn, Swiss soil became their final resting place. 

The timing of the end of life, like the beginning of life, is almost impossible to predict – we know not the day nor the hour – but what if death crosses your path in Switzerland? How can you prepare and what can you expect as next of kin? 

Some 7,000 foreign residents die in Switzerland every year.

For the bereaved, there is an administrative and practical side to the experience as well as the emotional side. It’s a difficult situation where many important decisions have to be taken in a short space of time. 

First steps

Official procedures related to death fall within the authority of the commune where the death occurs. The death of a loved one must be declared within two days to the local Registry Office (Zivilstandsamt / Office de l’état civil / Ufficio di stato civile).

If the death occurs in a hospital or other medical facility, you don’t have to worry, the management is responsible for completing the declaration formalities, which includes a death certificate prepared by a doctor. An accidental death must be reported to the police. 

READ MORE: 7 things you need to know about Swiss inheritance law

If the death occurs at home, a doctor has to attend, acknowledge the death and prepare the death certificate for the Registry Office. The task of declaring the death can be delegated in writing to a firm of undertakers. Apart from handling the formalities, the undertakers will guide the bereaved in organising the funeral. 

Other documents needed to register a death include birth and marriage certificates, identity papers and residence permit, if applicable. 

Funeral arrangements

Many cities, including Zurich, Geneva, Basel, Winterthur, St. Gallen and Lausanne, offer a free basic funeral package to deceased residents, including a burial plot. 

Zurich has its own municipal undertakers while some cities designate one provider. Bern, Fribourg and Lausanne have a number of undertakers in competition with each other. In Bern, only people who die with no means benefit from a free ‘community funeral’.  

It is possible to plan your own funeral in advance by engaging funeral directors and paying up front. But very few people are this well organised. 

EXPLAINED: How does the Swiss pension system work – and how much will I receive?

It can be very helpful to have an idea of your loved one’s wishes when it comes to the basic question – cremation versus burial.

Cremation is the norm in Switzerland, a cultural change that has happened over the last 50 years. These days, around 85 per cent of people who die are cremated. 

The general trend in Switzerland is for less extravagant funerals, though undertakers will be happy to fulfil every wish. A basic coffin will cost around CHF 800 but costs quickly add up when you include the treatment of the body, upholstery, transport, flowers, type of grave or niche, gravestone, admin time, as well as the ceremony and reception afterwards. 

Eternal rest? 

With a coffin burial you have to choose a type of grave, whether you take the next grave in line in the public graveyard, which is the basic, usually cost-free option, or you reserve a grave for an annual fee in a particular place which can later be used by other family members. 

Bear in mind that the ‘line grave’ is not a permanent arrangement. There is a time limit on how long these rows are left untouched – 20 to 25 years, depending on the cemetery – after which the graves will be cleared to make room for newcomers. 

With cremated remains, you have the option of burial, keeping or scattering. In a graveyard, you can bury the ashes in a communal memorial garden without anything marking the spot, or bury it in a grave.

Most cemeteries now have a columbarium, usually a wall, with niches for urns with a named plaque, at a cost. 

At least scattering ashes is free and can be done anywhere, except on someone else’s private land. It can be comforting to scatter the ashes in the person’s home country or in a beautiful place they loved. 

Swiss inheritance law: What will change in 2022

Difficult decisions

It is possible to travel with cremated remains but not without paperwork. According to advice from the United States embassy, you need to have a certified copy of the death certificate, the cremation certificate, and “a statement from the crematorium or the funeral home confirming that the urn contains only the ashes of the deceased”. 

There are companies that specialise in the repatriation of remains from Switzerland. Your undertaker or the funeral service of the commune will be able to advise on this expensive possibility. 

Because bereaved families nowadays are generally more distanced from religion than previous generations, there is less certainty in Switzerland on what customs to follow. Even Swiss families can feel lost and helpless trying to organise a funeral.

But everyone tries to do what’s right for them. That might mean following traditional customs or opting for a secular celebrant, commissioning a custom-made urn or using an eco-friendly coffin. Your doctor or hospital can help connect you to a bereavement support group if needed.  

Finally, a topic that’s impossible to ignore when discussing death in Switzerland – assisted suicide, which accounts for almost two in a hundred deaths.

READ MORE: What you need to know about assisted suicide in Switzerland

For permanent Swiss residents, the largest assisted suicide organisation is Exit, followed by Dignitas, which also caters for non-residents.

By Clare O’Dea

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


Meals, commuting and ‘home office’: What can you claim on tax in Zurich?

Working from home has been mandatory in Zurich for much of the past tax year. What can you claim on tax - and what costs do you have to bear yourself?

Meals, commuting and 'home office': What can you claim on tax in Zurich?

On Thursday, February 17th, the Swiss government rolled back the working from home recommendation, meaning that working from home was purely up to employers for the first time since the start of the pandemic. 

Technological advances and the enduring legacy of the pandemic will see working from home – known in German as ‘Home Office’ – become more common in several industries in the coming years, which has clear tax implications. 

These can be relatively complex, particularly as many of the tax rules are in place at a cantonal level. 

Here’s an overview of what you can claim in Zurich – and what you cannot – when it comes to working from home. 

For a general guide on tax rules in Switzerland when it comes to working from home, check out the following link.

Reader question: Can I deduct working-from-home costs from my Swiss taxes?

Don’t live in Zurich – or want to know what costs other than working from home you can deduct? Check out the following extensive guide. 

EXPLAINED: What can I deduct from my tax bill in Switzerland?

What tax deductions can I have working from home in Zurich? 

Along with Zug, Geneva and Basel (both City and Country), Zurich allows residents to claim professional expenses as they would in a normal year, i.e. despite the Covid pandemic.

This means that you can claim meal costs and transport to work, even if you worked from home during this time. 

You can claim up to CHF15 per day, or 3,200 francs per year in Zurich. 

If you employer offers subsidised meals, you can claim a maximum of CHF7.50 per day (or CHF1,600)

Regarding transport costs, you can deduct up to CHF3,000 per year for your commute. 

This includes public transport, bicycles and mopeds. 

If you travel by private car, you can only deduct this if it is difficult to take public transport.

This is deemed to be the case if both your home and workplace are more than a kilometre from the nearest public transport stop, or if more than one hour is saved by travelling by car (per day). 

If you are unable to travel by public transport due to an injury, then you are permitted to deduct your car expenses. 

What about rent, electricity and other working-from-home expenses? 

While several Swiss cantons allow you to claim expenses of working from home like rent, electricity etc, Zurich authorities have expressly ruled this out. 

As the above costs (transport and meal allowances) have been kept in place, this is seen as a form of compromise. 

Taxpayers in Zurich are also able to claim the flat-rate deduction for all professional costs associated with working from home that are not covered by the employer, although this is only in relatively narrow scenarios. 

“This solution is advantageous for most taxpayers” say Zurich cantonal authorities. 

As with all our tax reports, this is intended as a guide only and should not take the place of qualified tax advice. More Zurich-specific information is available at this link.