Wikimedia Chapters Association/Place of registration/Geneva

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Switzerland in Europe


  • In Switzerland there is no specific process to be recognized as Association. As soon the bylaws is ready, the Association is legally formed. Basically the current WCA is already an Association for the Swiss law and may start to look for the subsequent items. The formal recognition is required only to receive the tax exemption for the donors and the process is easy and short. Anyway, this formal recognition may be subsequent to the establishment of the association. Essentially as soon the WCA decides, the day after the CAGI will start to propose the offices and to help for the recruitment.
  • Even if the cost of life in Switzerland seems to be high, the taxation is low and for NGOs is basically absent. For instance the social costs and taxes for hired people is 20-30% and the VAT is 8%. The taxes and the exceptions are variable in every canton.
  • The bureaucracy in Switzerland is basically absent. The local administration is efficient and the financial management and the accountancy is easy. The same HR management is done easily.


Living environment[edit]

Geneva seen from Mount Salève (France)
Lake Geneva (Lac Léman) with Jet d'Eau
  • Geneva is a small city (350 000 inhabitants, including suburbs).
  • Geneva ranks third in the Mercer “Quality of Living Survey” (cf article in Wikipedia)
  • Train station and international airport within 15-20 minutes.
  • Extensive public transportation.
  • Low income taxes as compared to other European countries.

Professional environment[edit]

  • 36 international organizations are headquartered in Switzerland, of these 25 are based in Geneva.
    • Of interest for Wikimedia: WIPO.
  • Over 250 non-governmental organizations (NGO) are based in Geneva.
  • A number of administrative buildings are devoted specifically to NGOs, and the rent is subsidized.
  • The Geneva Welcome Centre (CAGI,, funded by the Swiss Confederation and the Geneva government, provides assistance and help to NGOs wishing to establish themselves in Geneva.
  • The CAGI can provide for free a large variety of conference rooms, video conference equipment and other facilities.
  • With over 170'000 delegates and 3'000 chiefs of state, prime ministers and ministers visiting Geneva every year for meetings and conferences, the city is a hub for international networking.
  • The city of Geneva offers financial support and tax exemption to NGOs, under certain conditions. Funding is also available for international projects.

Business environment[edit]

Geneva’s economy is extraordinarily diverse and this diversity facilitates the creation of networks across many different domains. This synergy makes Geneva as the ideal place for transnational affairs. For this reason, the World economic Forum is based in Geneva, and is the perfect place for networking and lobbying.

Definition of non-governmental organization[edit]

There is no internationally recognized definition of an non-governmental organization (NGO).

Swiss laws define an NGO as an independent institution created under national private law. It is non-profit and pursues goals of international public utility, in two countries at least.

It is worth noting that

  • The association is a moral person in law, and has its own legal personality enjoying all civic rights.
  • Non-profit does not mean the association cannot make a profit, only that any profits must be re-invested in the work of the association in order to fulfill the defined purposes.

Panoramic view from the United Nations building

Geneva NGOs[edit]

Geneva international organisations sector seen from across the lake

"International Geneva" is the home of many different types of organizations which are active in fields as varied as humanitarian aid, trade, human rights, the environment and sustainable development, training and education, peace-keeping and security, meteorology, intellectual property, nuclear research, health, telecommunications and labor. The international community of Geneva, in the broadest sense, is made up of international organizations (governmental and non-governmental), foreign missions to the organizations and the staff who work for all these bodies.

There are 40,000 employees of the international organizations, not including some 2,400 employees of non-governmental organizations (NGOs). With 2700 lectures and meetings, and 173’000 delegates in 2011, Geneva is the second most important focal point of international co-operation in the world after New York, seat of the United Nations Organization (UNO).

Switzerland is host to 36 organizations which have signed headquarters agreement, fiscal agreements or agreements on privileges and immunities with the Swiss Federal Council. In short, this means that international high officials enjoy a diplomatic status These agreements are available for national representations or NGO depending on international organizations as UNO, ILO or WTO, but will not cover Wikimedia Chapter’s Association.

About 250 non-governmental organizations have their seat in Geneva.

168 foreign States (169 including Switzerland) are represented in Geneva by a permanent mission or representation (to the United Nations Office at Geneva and to other international organizations, to the World Trade Organization-WTO - and/or the Conference on Disarmament -CD).

The Geneva welcome Center was founded in 1996 in order to provide assistance to NGOs established in Geneva. The center works closely with the local and government, and facilitates contacts with the Swiss federal authorities.


Start-up expenses
  • An association (or an NGO) can be set up with no fees at all.
  • The Canton of Geneva subsidies new NGOs up to 40'000 francs per year for the first two years (excluding utilities).
  • The CAGI does a lot of the preliminary searching for free (office space and personnel).
Regular expenses
  • NGOs have access to a number of buildings located a few hundred meters from the international organizations for subsidized office space and free meeting space. Office space would cost between 270 CHF and 300 CHF per m 2 per year
  • Non-profit organizations have, in principle, a general tax exemption.
  • Labor costs: Salaries might appear high across Switzerland, but they are competitive when taking into account the longer working hours and low absentee rate, not to mention the low social security costs. A standard industrial working hour costs employers €34.78 in Switzerland compared to €35.22 in western Germany and €33.23 in France.
  • Donations to certain NGOs can be tax deductible. Wikimedia CH already has this status, and the Wikimedia Chapter's Association would qualify as well. The process of recognition for tax exemption of donation is easy and doesn't take long time.

Administrative requirements[edit]

Creating an association[edit]

A minimum of three people are required to create an association. The creation of an association is free of charge, and the members can be physical or moral persons. The statutes must be in writing and adopted by a constitutive General Assembly. The statutes do not need to be authenticated before a notary. The association does not require ministerial visa or prefectoral approval if it is in conformity with the law. No registration is required under Swiss law.

Statutes can be very concise, and details not formally related to the statutes may be set out in rules of procedure or other ad hoc documents. Only the General Assembly has the authority to amend the statutes. Rules of procedure may be amended by an elected committee.

The following organs must be provided for in the statutes:

  • A General Assembly (comprising all members of the association)
  • A Committee (comprising at least a president, a secretary, and a treasurer)
  • An auditor

As soon as the statutes have been adopted by the General Assembly, the association has legal personality and may exercise its legal rights. It can begin its activities. Basically the WCA is already an international organization for the Swiss law.


The Geneva Welcome Centre (CAGI) ( was founded in 1996 by the Swiss Confederation and the Canton of Geneva, with the support of national and local entities, both public and private. Its objective is to facilitate the installation and integration in the Geneva region of international civil servants, members of permanent missions, consulates and NGOs as well as their families. It also organizes and supports cultural and social events which promote exchanges between the Internationals and the local community.

The mission of the Geneva Welcome Centre is threefold:

  • To offer practical assistance to newcomers - particularly with housing, schooling, and other issues - and answer questions Internationals may have throughout their stay in the region.
  • To examine the requests of international NGOs wishing to establish themselves in the Geneva area, in collaboration with the appropriate Cantonal and Federal authorities.
  • To launch or support projects aimed at promoting cultural and social exchanges between International Geneva and the local community.
Services offered by the Geneva Welcome Centre

The Housing and information service informs and assists the Internationals in their search for housing and offices. It also provides advice relating to administrative questions.

  • The NGO service facilitates the establishment of new NGOs in the Geneva region.
  • The Events service organizes or supports social and cultural activities, in order to promote the integration of Internationals in Geneva.

These services are provided free of charge to NGOs, and the Geneva Welcome Centre.

Additional resources[edit]

Questions & answers[edit]

a) how much money can be saved having an office in Switzerland (for instance the taxation of salary if 50% in Belgium, in Switzerland is 20-30%)

The following link connects you to a summary of labor costs in Switzerland (approx. 15%):

b) is there a possibility to save money in another way (basically arranging the current budget)?

  • The salaries and social costs can be reduced.
  • The canton of Geneva runs a free service for locating employees in the Geneva area. This would be people who are looking for a job for no more than 6 months.
  • The salary of 10’000 euros for a SG appears to be high by local standards.
  • There is a free online service for calculating salaries in the Geneva area:
  • The CAGI will also help NGOs recruit their personnel:
  • You can also ask for a subsidy for the first two years of rent, the CAGI will help with this request.

Office space is provided to NGOs by a public foundation at a cost far below the current rate. The rent would be 270CHF/m²-an, and office space is available immediately at the villa Grand-Montfleury, in Versoix:

  • This large mansion is set aside for NGO office space and conference room, and houses, among others, Schwartzenegger’s R20 organization:
  • The CAGI can also help you find office space if you wish to rent elsewhere. This service is also free so you would not have to pay a finders fee of 2’200 euros.
  • The expense set aside for RC (600 euros) seems a bit high. There is no "liability insurance" for employees in Switzerland.

c) how difficult is to receive visas (for instance what you says may be really important)

When organizing international conferences, conventions, meetings or seminars, it may be difficult for certain participants to obtain Schengen visas. CAGI will provide support and expertise to the NGOs, and will guide them through the procedures. More information about this may be found here:

d) may we receive some statements of NGO associations declaring their feeling to have their seat in Geneva?

We unfortunately do not have any statements we can distribute. However, the two following articles may be interesting:


e) question of taxation

Persons working for NGOs do not have any special tax privileges. However, moral persons working towards general interest goals may be exonerated from:

  • Federal taxes (only the profits are tax exempt)
  • Cantonal and city taxes

On of the main advatages of this tax exempt status is that donations to the NGO may be deducted from the donors taxes, for either physical or moral persons. All the advantages are decribed on the CAGI website:

The FAQ on the CAGI website has answers and links to other resources concerning taxation:

f) In addition we must work on the main obstacle: the dossier of the committee states that in the board of WCA must be present a Swiss citizen if the seat is Switzerland, it's incorrect because must be an EU citizen domiciled in Switzerland.

In order to obtain a tax-exempt status, one member of the board must reside in Switzerland (the nationality is not important). The swiss chapter, Wikimedia CH, could be that member.