Electronic signature law and its legality in Switzerland

Electronic signatures were legalized in Switzerland on December 19, 2003, when the Federal Law on Electronic Signatures (further referred to as ZertES) came into effect.

It’s worth noting that there is no requirement to sign contracts to verify them — a contract becomes effective when two legally registered companies reach an agreement (in written, verbal or electronic form).

Further reading

Electronic signature laws in Switzerland hold eSignatures to the same standards as hand-written signatures.

Here are the answers to frequently asked questions surrounding the laws:

  • Can I use eSignatures for business in Switzerland? Yes, you can use eSignatures to verify the majority of business documents.*
  • Are eSignatures court-admissible in Switzerland?Yes, you can provide an eSignature as proof of a contract agreement in court.
  • What is the legal model of an eSignature in Switzerland? The tiered model means that the Qualified Electronic Signature is fully court-admissible, while the other eSignatures require more evidence to be validated.

* The list of exceptions will be provided in the next paragraphs.

The types of electronic signatures in Switzerland and their requirements

ZertES plays exactly the same role as eIDAS (a similar electronic signature law applicable in the European Union.

These two eSignature laws regulate the activities of services for electronic certification and establish the requirements for each type of electronic signature.

Standard Electronic Signatures

According to ZertES, a standard electronic signature (SES) is data in an electronic form that is used for further authentication of other data in electronic form.

There are no specific requirements for this type, but the Swiss eSignatures law accepts them if the signatures comply with XAdES, PAdES, and CAdES standards.

This decision was made due to the corresponding international agreements.

SES is widely used for:

  • HR documents (regular employment contracts, privacy notices, non-disclosure agreements, etc.)
  • Consumer agreements (sales terms, service terms, purchase offers, invoices, order confirmations, etc.)
  • Commercial agreements between corporate entities (purchase offers, sales & distribution agreements, invoices, etc.) – EXCEPT loan agreements
  • Software license agreements
  • Intellectual property licenses (patent, copyright, trademark)

Advanced Electronic Signatures

An advanced electronic signature (AES) is intended to minimize the risks related to Standard Electronic Signatures.

To be valid, the signature should meet the specific requirements and:

  • Have a unique link to its signatory
  • Be able to identify a signatory
  • Contain only data which is under the sole control of the signatory
  • Be protected in such a way that it’s possible to track down any changes in the data

How do I satisfy these requirements?

One of the best ways is to use a digital signature based on PKI. Those signatures are tied to a Digital Certificate which can be received only after verification by the Certificate Authority.

To get this certificate, you need to provide all the necessary documents which can confirm your identity.

Using such kind of identity confirmation, you become the only holder of the private key which is applied when you sign any document with this certificate.

Also, the system automatically checks whether anybody made changes to the document after and each time the document is signed.

Qualified Electronic Signatures

Swiss electronic signatures law allows you to go beyond advanced electronic signatures and use qualified electronic signatures (QES).

This type should be linked not only to the Digital Certificate but also produced with a secure signature creation device.

Even though ZertES establish more strict requirements for QES, they can be provided as full-fledged evidence in court. QES should have:

  • A serial number of a qualified Digital Certificate
  • Signatory’s full name or pseudonym
  • Length of the validity period
  • The scope of the certificate
  • Signature verification
  • Detailed information about the issuer (name, state, and QES) and the name of the national or foreign accreditation body that accredited the issuer
  • Proof of recognition by certification services
  • Unique signature key
  • Value of transactions

To enhance your AES and turn it into QES you need to reach to a qualified and trusted service provider which can issue qualified certificates according to ZertES specifications.

The list of documents that should be signed by hand:

  • Real property transfer contracts and deeds
  • Inheritance contracts
  • Contracts of surety if conducted with a natural person
  • Articles of incorporation of stock companies and limited liability companies
  • Last Will

All those documents except the last will should undergo a formal notary process to be valid, therefore it is best to not use eSignatures on these types of documents.

How can I use PandaDoc eSignatures in Switzerland?

PandaDoc eSignatures comply with the eSignature laws of 42 countries including Switzerland.

PandaDoc was designed to make paperwork less time-consuming and more efficient. You will automate your signing process and have the ability to track the status of your proposals, quotes, and contracts thus helping you to close deals faster.