Australia and Switzerland - Frequently Asked Questions 



When did the Agreement start?

The Agreement started on 1 January 2008.

What does the Agreement do?

Under the Agreement, Australia and Switzerland share the responsibility for paying pensions to people who would not otherwise be entitled to a pension from one or both countries. Under Australia's residence based system, this could be because they do not have enough (permanent) residence here and/or are not living in Australia. Under Switzerland's pension system, this could be because of their lack of citizenship. In summary, the Agreement helps people to qualify for a pension by overcoming restrictions in each country's domestic legislation.

What payments are covered by the Agreement?

The social security pensions covered by the Agreement are as follows:

Australia

  • age pension
  • disability support pension for the severely disabled
  • pensions payable to widowed persons
  • double orphan pension
  • carer payment.

Switzerland

  • old-age pension (including supplements for supported wife or children)
  • disability pension (including supplements for supported wife or children)
  • pensions for survivors.

Note: A person who is, or has been, an Australian resident may claim Australian payments under the Agreement. To claim a Swiss payment in Australia, a person must be either an Australian citizen or Swiss National.

What are the main features of the Agreement?

Australian legislation requires a person to have a minimum of 10 years Australian residence before they can claim an age pension or disability support pension (this rule changes if the person becomes disabled after they take up permanent residence in Australia). It also requires the person to be an Australian resident and in Australia on the day the claim for pension is lodged.

The Agreement allows people to include periods of insurance in Switzerland towards the 10 years Australian residence required to qualify for an age pension or disability support pension. Australian citizens will still be able to receive Swiss lump sum refunds of their contributions when they leave Switzerland, after the Agreement commences. However people who receive a refund will not be able to receive a Swiss pension and will not be able to use those periods of insurance in Switzerland to help them qualify for an Australian pension.

The Agreement also allows a person to claim an Australian pension while residing in Switzerland or a third country with which Australia has an Agreement that allows for claim lodgement.

Note: To use the Agreement to claim an Australian pension while residing in Switzerland, a person must have lived in Australia during their working life (Australian working life residence is between 16 years and age pension age) for at least 12 months.

Centrelink has information on residency requirements for all payments covered by the Agreement.

Swiss domestic legislation currently requires a person to have at least 1 year of coverage in the Swiss social security system between the ages of 16 and 65 years (for men) and 64 years (for women) to be eligible for an old-age pension. Swiss Pensions are calculated on the basis of average annual income and the years of contributions.

From 1 January 2008, Swiss domestic legislation will require a person to have at least 3 years of coverage in the Swiss social security system to be eligible for a disability pension.

This Agreement does not allow people to use periods of Australian working life residence to meet the minimum periods required to qualify for Swiss pensions covered by the Agreement. The Agreement allows people to qualify for a Swiss pension if they live in Australia without having to return to Switzerland. This is because the minimum qualifying period for a Swiss old-age pension is 1 year.


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How much pension will I get if I am paid under the Agreement?

Australian pension for a person not living in Australia.
The rate of Australian pension payable outside of Australia is affected by two things:

  • the length of Australian working life residence; and
  • the amount of income and assets in excess of specified limits.

Australian pensions paid overseas are paid at a proportional rate reflecting the length of Australian working life residence. A person with 25 years Australian working life residence (between 16 and age pension age) could be paid a full age or disability support pension (subject to the means test). With less than 25 years, the rate is worked out on a proportional basis. For example, a person with 20 years Australian working life residence would receive 20/25ths (or 80%) of the means-tested Australian pension.

The income and assets tests also apply, so that a person with 25 years Australian working life residence may receive only a part pension if their income or assets exceed allowable limits. Centrelink has more information about the current income and assets tests.


Australian pension for a person living in Australia
When a person is granted a pension in Australia under the Agreement (eg where the person does not meet the minimum 10 year residence requirements), the person receives the normal means tested pension less the amount of any Swiss pension they also receive. That is, the Swiss Pension reduces the Australian pension on a dollar for dollar basis.

Once a person qualifies for an Australian pension in his or her own right (without needing the Agreement) any Swiss benefit is treated under the usual income test rules.

Following are examples of how the Agreement assists people living in Switzerland:


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Example 1

A person who lived in Australia for 20 years during working life (between age 16 years and 'Age pension' age) is now living in Switzerland and is already receiving a Swiss old-age pension. The person left Australia before receiving an Australian Age pension.

Entitlement

  • Without the Agreement
    Although this person has more than 10 years Australian residence, he/she does not qualify for payment because the person is not an Australian resident and in Australia at the time of lodging the claim.
  • With the Agreement
    Australian Age pension can be claimed while the person is in Switzerland. The pension rate will be proportionalised, that is, the person may receive 20/25ths of the means-tested rate. The same proportion of Swiss pension will be regarded as income under Australia's pension income test.

Example 2

A 65 year old woman in Switzerland is already receiving a Swiss old-age pension. She lived in Australia during her working life (between age 16 and 'Age pension' age), but only for 9 months.

Entitlement

  • Without the Agreement
    This woman is entitled to Swiss pension only. No Australian pension can be paid because she is not an Australian resident and also because she is not living in Australia.
  • With the Agreement
    No change. This woman will still receive a Swiss Pension but won't be entitled to an Australian pension because the minimum period of Australian working life residence required for an Australian in these circumstances is 12 months.

Example 3

A 65 year old man in Switzerland has also lived in Australia, as a permanent resident, for 6 years. Apart from that he has a total period of insurance in Switzerland of 35 years.

Entitlement

  • Without the Agreement
    He is entitled to Swiss pension only. No Australian pension can be paid because he has not lived in Australia for at least 10 years and also because he is not living in Australia.
  • With the Agreement
    He can add 6 years as an Australian resident to the 35 years of insurance in Switzerland in order to meet the minimum 10 years Australian residence required to qualify for Australian 'Age pension'. His Australian pension rate will be proportionalised, that is, he will receive 6/25ths of the means-tested rate. The same proportion of Swiss pension will be counted as income.

Example 4

A 67 year old man, who is a Swiss national, is living in a third country, which has claim lodgement provisions under an Agreement with Australia. He has spent 7 years living in Australia and a total period of insurance in Switzerland of 15 years.

Entitlement

  • Without the Agreement
    He is entitled to Swiss pension only. No Australian pension can be paid because he has not lived in Australia for 10 years and also because the person is not living in Australia.
  • With the Agreement
    He can add the period of 7 years as an Australian resident to the 15 years of insurance in Switzerland in order to meet the minimum 10 years Australian residence required to qualify for Australian 'Age pension'. His Australian pension rate will be proportionalised; that is, he will receive 7/25ths of the means-tested rate. The same proportion of Swiss pension will be counted as income.

Swiss lump sums
Where a partial pension is equivalent to less than 10 per cent of the corresponding full pension, an Australian national or their survivor who does not reside in Switzerland or who is permanently leaving Switzerland will receive a lump sum payment.

Where a partial pension is equivalent to more than 10 per cent but not more than 20 per cent of the corresponding full pension, an Australian national or their survivor who does not reside in Switzerland or who is permanently leaving Switzerland may choose between having a pension or a lump sum.

How do seconded workers benefit under the Agreement?

The Agreement contains provisions which avoid the requirement for contributions to be made into both countries systems for an employee who is seconded to work temporarily in the other country. The Australian Taxation Office is responsible for the administration of these provisions.
Contact the Australian Taxation Office if you require more information on this aspect of the Agreement.

Where and how can people lodge claims for social security pensions?

In Australia

  • People living in Australia can lodge claims for Australian and Swiss pensions with any Centrelink office.

In Switzerland

  • People living in Switzerland can lodge claims for Swiss and Australian pensions at any Swiss Federal Social Insurance Office or Disability Insurance Office.

When does payment start?

In Australia's case, payment starts from the later of: the date the claim is lodged, or the date the person qualifies for payment.

The date of receipt of a claim lodged in Australia or Switzerland, can be deemed to be the date of lodgement of that claim.

Age pension claims can be lodged up to 3 months in advance of qualification.

How are pensions and benefits paid?

Pensions in Australia are paid by Centrelink directly into bank accounts every 2 weeks.

Australian pensions in Switzerland are paid by Centrelink directly into bank accounts usually every 4 weeks.

Some people may get pensions from both countries, and will receive two separate payments - one from Australia and one from Switzerland.

What documents do I need to make a claim?

Australian Pensions
When you claim an Australian pension you need to complete a claim form and provide documents to prove your identity and periods of residence in Australia.

Proof of Identity
Some of the acceptable documents to prove your identity are:

  • birth certificate or extract;
  • current Australian passport;
  • certificate of Australian citizenship.

Helpful documents that can assist you to do this include:

  • Australian or overseas passport that shows your date of arrival in Australia;
  • Entry visa;
  • Australian citizenship papers.

Note: These are only a few of the documents that can be used to prove your identity and your Australian residence. Centrelink is able to provide more information on other acceptable documents. If you are claiming an Australian pension while you are living in Switzerland, you will still need to provide proof of identity and proof of previous Australian residence to the Swiss authorities.

Swiss Benefits
The Swiss authorities can advise of the documentation needed when claiming a Swiss benefit.


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What are the most important things to know about the Australian social security system?

All claimants for Australian Agreement pensions need to meet other qualifications (eg age limits, income or assets test) required for that pension under Australia's social security laws.

Australian pensions are means tested; that is, an assets test is applied and then an income test is applied, and whichever produces the lower rate is used for assessment. Centrelink has information about the current income and assets test limits.

Australian working life residence is the period of Australian residence between age 16 and Age Pension age.

Who handles claims and questions?

Claims and questions relating to the Agreement are handled by:

  • The Caisse Suisse de Compensation, Av. Edmond-Vaucher 18, Case postale 3100, 1211 Gèneve 2, SUISSE in Switzerland.
  • Or by contacting Centrelink International Services:

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