Moving to Switzerland: The insider’s guide – Part Three
Part 3: The nice-to-knows
Once you’ve finally got a grasp on the administrative side of things, things will very likely be smooth sailing from there on out! By and large, life in Switzerland tends to be convenient and stable, with the country possessing some of the best quality of life and standard of living rankings in the world.
However, for those looking to integrate better into the cultural fold, to get the most out of their Swiss experience, or simply to make savvy decisions with their spending; there are a whole host of nice-to-know tips for life in Switzerland.
Cost of living
As a fresh arrival in Switzerland, one of the first things you’ll very likely notice is the country’s cost of living. Switzerland is an expensive country — and there are no two ways about it! And while Swiss wages do indeed match the country’s sky-high living costs, life remains a pricey ordeal, even for many locals.
According to Numbeo, six of the world’s seven most expensive cities in 2020 are located in Switzerland. In order, these cities are Zürich, Basel, Lugano, Geneva, Lausanne, and Bern.
Take a look at how prices in Switzerland’s (and the world’s) most expensive city, Zürich, stack up against prices in other major world cities (as of 20/08/2020 according to Numbeo):
|Three course meal for two (mid-range restaurant)
|Monthly rent (studio apartment)
|Monthly expenses per person (without rent)
While there’s no way to escape the high price tags in Switzerland, if you happen to be earning wages in the country, you will almost certainly be able to make ends meet, at the very least. What’s more, for those concerned with cutting down on unnecessary expenses, there are lots of tricks you can keep up your sleeve.
Despite the popular image of Switzerland as a money-grubbing tax haven, having to pay a slice of your paycheck every month to the government is, in fact, an unavoidable reality of life in Switzerland.
While they vary from canton to canton, tax rates in Switzerland are relatively low by European standards, with residents being expected to pay an income tax to all three levels of government and a value-added tax (VAT) on the products they purchase.
As a foreigner in Switzerland, you will be taxed at the source of your income, meaning the municipality and canton in which you earn your money will be the same municipality and canton that levies taxes from your paycheck. Fortunately, you’ll not have to bother very much with the actual process of filing your tax returns, as foreign residents have their taxes deducted automatically from their earnings at the end of every month.
Take a look at ETH Zürich’s net salary calculator to get a better picture of how much you can reasonably expect to walk home with every month after taxes.
Housing and accommodation
Finding an apartment or house to rent or buy in Switzerland can be a tricky process indeed — especially in the big cities. Many Swiss people are all too familiar, for example, with having to partake in group viewings when a new apartment comes up for rent in places such as Zürich and Geneva, competing with sometimes dozens of others to have their files picked by the rental agent for the contract.
While it tends to become easier to find a place to stay the further away from city centres you search, you should still expect to budget at least one month toward finding a place in Switzerland.
Learn your PLZ/NPA, and get used to how the system works! A PLZ (German) or NPA (French) a four-digit Swiss postal code. These little numbers are exceedingly useful to memorize, as you’ll need to provide yours without fail on countless occasions while living in Switzerland.
This brings us to the first notable point about housing in Switzerland: a considerable majority of the places listed on the market are managed by real estate agencies. This can be both a pro and a con; a pro in that you’ll likely not fall victim to any rentals scams, and a con in that you’ll be relying on a middleman in an often bureaucratic process.
If going through rental agents is not your cup of tea, you could opt to skip the process entirely by searching for accommodation using other methods, for example using Facebook. This is often the best route if you’re not looking to rent a full apartment, but rather looking to rent a room or some form of temporary accommodation. (However, one can still find full-blown rentals being advertised on Facebook groups too).
Take account of the extra expenses you’ll face when renting a new place in Switzerland. Apartments tend to come unfinished, meaning you’ll likely need to spend a considerable amount of money making your new place feel like home. In addition, deposit amounts are infamously exorbitant in Switzerland — you’ll often be asked to pay three months’ worth of rent upfront! For this, we recommend exploring rental guarantee companies such as SwissCaution and FirstCaution to help settle the deposit amount.
Life in Switzerland: The oddities
When coming from abroad, it’s well worth noting that many of the things you’d become used to in your home country will likely be a bit different in Switzerland.
For instance, some of the world’s most well-known online stores either do not operate in Switzerland, or face some restrictions on their business. Instead, Swiss online shoppers make use of their own bevy of stores:
For buying and selling second-hand goods, for example, Ricardo (unavailable in English) features as the Swiss version of eBay (which is available in Switzerland — only it’s less popular than Ricardo). Online giant Amazon, which isn’t available in Switzerland, has had its would-be market snapped up by Microspot (unavailable in English) and Galaxus, Switzerland’s two online retails heavyweights. Similarly, if you’re looking for classified ads, many Swiss like to use anibis.ch (unavailable in English) instead of Craigslist, whose service is limited in the country.
Be aware of the fact that, on Sundays, life in Switzerland pretty much grinds to a halt! The streets tend to become considerably quieter, and only a very few stores and services remain open in and around the train stations.
The above trend is no different when it comes to online grocery shopping. Instead of Amazon Fresh, the two popular alternatives for Swiss people are LeShop.ch and Coop (also a major brick-and-mortar retailer in the country).
For jobseekers, while Swiss employers do indeed make use of popular listing platforms such as LinkedIn and Indeed, many positions tend to also to be listed on neuvoo, jobs.ch, and jobup.ch, with global platforms such as ZipRecruiter not operating in Switzerland. For roles in startups, a popular job board in Switzerland is Investiere, and for English-language jobs, many expats find interesting positions listed on The Local Jobs.
Be aware that there’s a good chance you’ll need to buy a special type of garbage bag to throw away your waste. In three-quarters of all Swiss cantons, regional recycling schemes mean that garbage bags are taxed with pay-per-bag fees, making them more expensive. You could also face fines if you’re found to be throwing your garbage away in any bag other than the taxed version.
When it comes to Swiss public transport, there are certainly a few things to be mindful about. Switzerland’s national train company, known as SBB/CFF/FFS in the country’s three major languages, runs routes all across the country and works with smaller regional public transport providers to form your go-to resource for all things public transport related in Switzerland.
Buying train tickets at market price can be a pricey ordeal. A return ticket between Zürich and Bern (a one-hour journey each way) will cost you around CHF 50 in second class, with a return ticket from Zürich to Geneva being as high as CHF 90 in second class. If you’re taking the train a lot, these prices can stack up very quickly indeed!
For this reason, if you plan to make at least several trips in public transport each year, it would be a smart idea to buy yourself a Half Fare Travelcard. These usually cost around CHF 200, and they give you a 50% discount on every purchase of a public transport ticket for a vast majority of routes across the country. Half Fare Travelcards are very popular among locals in Switzerland, and it’s common knowledge that you’ll probably make your money back very quickly!
Use the Easyride feature on the SBB’s mobile app, or simply the mobile app FairTiq, to calculate the most economic ticket that you’d need to buy on your regular routes. These apps measure when you hop in and out of public transport, allowing you to more easily make use of the lowest-cost faires on the routes you travel.
If you plan to commute to work on a daily basis using public transport, or otherwise use the transport system very regularly, another option could be to buy a GA Travelcard. This will cost you around CHF 3860 per year for adults in second class, with discounted rates for children, people under the age of 25, disabled people, and senior citizens. GA Travelcards can also be paid for on a monthly basis, although you will save more than CHF 200 per year as an adult if you pay the annual amount upfront.
Switzerland: A multilingual land
The official languages of Switzerland are German, French, Italian and Romansch. The former three languages you’ll find yourself encountering in no short supply while living in the country, from the local retailers to the authorities alike.
Romansch, on the other hand, while an official language on paper, is only spoken by some 44 thousand speakers in the country’s easternmost canton, Graubünden, and it’ll probably be unusual for you to encounter in your day-to-day.
Interestingly, despite being an official language, German is hardly spoken in Switzerland. Instead, some 60% of the population speak Swiss German (Schwiizertüütsch) — a term used to define the many Germanic dialects that are spoken in Switzerland and which form a language distinctly different from the German spoken in Germany (known as High German or Hochdeutsch).
In the case of French, the version that’s spoken in Switzerland — which is dominant in the Western part of the country in a region known as Romandy — remains very similar to the French spoken in France. There are, however, some minor differences in the local lingo and in the rate of speech.
In addition to the national languages, English is widely spoken in Switzerland as a second, third, or even fourth language by many locals across the country. In this way, having a solid grasp of the language would be very useful to get by if you don’t happen to speak German, French, or Italian. While many services still remain unavailable in English, the language has become increasingly widely adopted in Switzerland in recent years, and English websites such as English Forum Switzerland provide insights to the country’s English-speaking community.
However, especially if you’re planning to live for a long period of time in Switzerland, learning one of the local languages can be very useful for general communication and for becoming integrated into the country.
Moving to Switzerland can prove a challenging undertaking for many reasons. If you’re not from the EU/EFTA, for example, not only will you face many administrative hurdles in getting into the country, but it’s possible that you will have many cultural hurdles to overcome too.
However, regardless of where you comes from, living and working in Switzerland provides many opportunities. High wages, good public systems, tasty cuisine, and unique natural beauty are just some of the many things that lie in wait to make your Swiss experience all the more memorable.
You may still be wondering…
• What language should I learn when moving to Switzerland?
It depends on which part of Switzerland you’ll be living and working. If Zürich, Bern, or Basel are your destinations, for instance, you’ll probably find German to be the most useful language to learn. On the other hand, if you’ll be settling in Geneva or Lausanne, French would come in handier.
• How long does it take to relocate to Switzerland?
The time it takes to go from your home country to having your Swiss residence permit can vary dramatically. For EU/EFTA nationals, the process can take anywhere between three weeks and three months at the extremes. For non-EU/EFTA nationals, the process can take considerably longer still.
• How does Brexit affect moving to Switzerland?
Up until 31 December 2020, British citizens will enjoy the same freedom of movement as regular EU/EFTA citizens, meaning that they will still face little restriction when moving to Switzerland. However, from 2021, new laws will likely come into place which could make the process more difficult for British citizens.