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Doing Business in Switzerland

Its diverse population consists of French, Italian and German speakers, but there is some general advice that expats doing business in Switzerland should keep in mind.

The country is home to several internationally reputable companies and is the European headquarters for numerous others. Switzerland is a global finance capital with a competitive corporate atmosphere, but gaining the trust of detail-oriented associates is important for success in the Swiss business world.

The Swiss are patriotic and known for being quite insular – especially outside of Zurich and Geneva. ­Expats will need to be direct but restrained in their dealings, and navigate local hierarchies with patience.

Fast facts

Business hours

Monday to Fridays, 8am to 12pm and 2pm to 5pm.

Business language

English is widely spoken but local businesses use German, French or Italian. It is beneficial to speak the dominant language of the canton. 


Formal and conservative. Suits are the norm in professional environments. Wear simple jewellery and avoid bright colours. 


Rare in Swiss business culture, but flowers or chocolate will suffice if invited to a colleague's home.

Gender equality

Women are treated equally in the workplace and have opportunities for career progression, but generally, men still occupy most senior positions.


It's best to shake hands with associates while maintaining eye contact. One should address colleagues using their title and last name until instructed otherwise. 

Business culture in Switzerland

The business culture in Switzerland is broadly formal, but industries and businesses differ. Business practices may also vary slightly based on which canton an expat is based in.


Business is conducted formally in Switzerland. Interactions are characterised by directness and restraint, especially with the German-Swiss – so expats will have to stay focused and control their emotions. Avoid making too much small talk and asking personal questions in the business environment.


The Swiss are famous for their punctuality. Arriving late to a meeting or being unprepared will be seen as disrespectful and will be judged negatively.

It is always best to arrive early and confirm appointments ahead of time. Make sure all documents and presentation materials are in order as well and be fully prepared to answer any questions that Swiss business associates may have. 

Business structures

Hierarchy is important and people receive respect based on their rank, education and achievements. Even though executives make the decisions, they look for a broad consensus. Managers are expected to guide their teams, and cooperation is valued.


Business environments in Switzerland tend to be merit-based, but trust is still essential in negotiations. The Swiss like dealing with people they know, and often expect long-term commitments from their associates. Negotiations can be prolonged by the trust-building process and the Swiss eye for detail and respect for protocol.

Dos and don'ts of business in Switzerland

  • Do avoid being loud or overdramatic; the Swiss pride themselves on being reserved and unpretentious

  • Do come well prepared for meetings. Consider bringing supplementary materials for everyone.

  • Don't be late – the stereotype is that Switzerland is a country of clockmakers. Punctuality is paramount.

  • Don't integrate humour into the business environment. The line between personal and professional is strictly observed.

  • Do try to maintain good eye contact and professional posture

Diversity and inclusion in Switzerland

Accessibility in Switzerland

Switzerland is highly accessible to those living with disability or impairment. Almost three-quarters of the 1.8 million people registered disabled in the country are in employment, and their lifestyles and livelihoods are protected by law.

The Federal Bureau for the Equality of People with Disabilities has strong powers at government level, while organisations such as Inclusion Handicap and the member association Procap coordinate services in the community, from transport advice to talent sourcing.


Zurich, Geneva and Basel airports are modern and all designed with barrier-free travel in mind. Wheelchair users can be assisted from baggage reclaim through designated customs control and onward travel by train, bus or taxi. Disabled toilets use the Euro Key system.


Most taxis can accommodate a folding wheelchair in the boot, and specialist services have ramps or room for a fixed or powered mobility aid onboard. In Zurich, Behinderten Transport Zürich is a popular choice – while Procap has links to many reputable private hire services across the country. Fares are regulated and metered, and app-based services including Uber and Vertt are popular.


Most buses are low-floor models with easy access for wheelchair users. In smaller towns, some local PostBus services require the driver to install a ramp. Staff are well-trained and courteous.


Lausanne is the only city with a metro system, but Zurich, Geneva, Basel, Bern and Neuchâtel have highly efficient, clean and safe urban commuter and light rail networks. The popular commuter rail service is called S-Bahn providing regular, cost-effective cross-city travel.

Car hire

All major international car rental franchises operate in Switzerland. Europcar offers a modern fleet of VW Caddy Maxis which have been converted to meet the needs of disabled people and their companions. Those who wish to hire a car must be 20 years or older and have held a licence for more than 12 months.

LGBTQ+ in Switzerland

The Swiss Constitution guarantees equal treatment before the law, specifying ‘way of life’ as one of the many criteria protected against discrimination. Swiss law also has strong principles of freedom of association and, as such, has only limited provisions to outlaw discrimination in the private sector or between private individuals. Legislation providing for same-sex marriage and same-sex adoption came into force in 2022.

The largest local LGBTQ+ rights advocacy groups in Switzerland are Lesbenorganisation Schweiz for lesbian rights, Pink Cross for LGBT rights and Transgender Network Switzerland. Homophobic attitudes are rare, and the country is open, welcoming, and tolerant of all orientations.

Gender equality in Switzerland

Despite women only gaining the right to vote some 50 years ago, Switzerland enjoys exceptional levels of gender equality. A pay and opportunity gap exists but has been narrowing progressively, making the country the 10th best in the World Economic Forum’s global ranking.

Women in leadership in Switzerland

Women are politically empowered in Switzerland, holding over 40 percent of the seats in the country’s two houses of parliament. In 2019, the Swiss government approved a proposal calling for better representation of women at the top of large, publicly traded companies. Guidelines state at least 30 percent of positions on the boards of directors and 20 percent in executive boards over the next five and 10 years respectively should be held by women. In mid-level management, women and men are equally represented.

Mental health in Switzerland

Mental health support in Switzerland is accessible and affordable thanks to a comprehensive health care system. Universal health insurance is mandatory, even for foreign citizens living in the country. Patients are only liable for a 10 percent co-payment for outpatient services, up to a specified maximum amount per year. This includes services like psychotherapy, which requires a simple doctor referral.

Unconscious bias in Switzerland

Unconscious bias refers to the prejudices a person absorbs when living in an unequal society. Preconceptions around gender, age and ethnicity inhibit effective hiring, limit development and lowers staff morale. Some international organisations use training to promote a greater understanding of different national customs, identities and ways of working. This can sometimes be at odds with Swiss values such as punctuality, frugality, responsibility and tolerance.

Diversification of the workforce in Switzerland

Although the modern state of Switzerland originated in 1848, it is not a nation-state, and the Swiss are not a single ethnic group, but rather are a confederacy or ‘nation of will’. It’s divided into four major linguistic groups: German, French, Italian, and Romansh and is a religiously diverse place. Over 2 million foreign nationals also live in Switzerland, almost a quarter of the permanent population – making it the world’s 3rd most popular place for expats, after Dubai and Singapore.

Safety in Switzerland

Switzerland is one of the safest countries in the world to live and work in. It enjoys low rates of crime, particularly violent offences. The Swiss police are visible and efficient, and penalties – from traffic violations to drug use – can be substantial compared to many neighbouring countries.

Women’s safety in Switzerland

Overall, Switzerland is a very safe place for solo female travellers and expat workers. Harassment and sexual violence are low and uncommon. As is the case worldwide, it pays to use common sense when out in city centres late at night and to be mindful of pickpockets or petty criminals near tourist sites.

Calendar initiatives in Switzerland

4th February – World Cancer Day
8th March – International Women’s Day
7th April – World Health Day
Third Thursday of May – Global Accessibility Awareness Day
June – Pink Ribbon Walk, Zurich
10th September – World Suicide Prevention Day
10th October –World Mental Health Day
25th November – International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women
1st December – World AIDS Day

Accommodation in Switzerland

Although accommodation in Switzerland is in line with the country’s reputation for being highly developed, housing is pricey and competition is stiff, even by European standards.

Most people, including locals, rent their homes, which limits the number of available properties. This drives housing prices up, but also leads to apartment hunters spending money on hotels and hostels.

If they can, expats should try to negotiate a housing provision into their employment contract. Some employers even assist their expat employees in securing suitable apartments.

Types of accommodation in Switzerland

Apartments are the most common type of accommodation in Switzerland in large cities such as Geneva or Zurich as well as in smaller towns. Freestanding houses are available but are usually expensive or outside urban areas.

Expats will find that property in Switzerland typically comes unfurnished. Unfurnished can often mean that the place is without light fittings, curtains or even a sink. Expats should budget for the necessary labour if required. In some cases, apartments are equipped with a stove and a refrigerator, and sometimes there is a joint washing machine for the whole apartment block in the cellar.

Expats should note that the inclusion of such amenities does tend to push the price of accommodation up. Additional costs also include rubbish disposal, street and house cleaning, water and heating. Most apartments in Switzerland are equipped with central heating.

Finding accommodation in Switzerland

For those without any support from an employer, resources such as online property portals, local newspapers and real estate agent brochures are good places to start looking for somewhere to rent. Budget-conscious expats may want to use the internet to look for house-sharing and subletting options.

If the internet route doesn't turn up any adequate results, the next option is to use an estate agent. These professionals have intimate knowledge of the property market and are best placed to find new arrivals a home that meets all of their requirements. They can also alert renters to properties that haven't yet been advertised publicly.

Whether expats find a new home directly through an agency or via an advert, they should find out about the rental conditions – there may be extra requirements, like needing a Swiss guarantor.

If the conditions are reasonable, expats can arrange to view the apartment and fill in an application form once they're there. Prospective tenants need to provide a lot of information including proof of employment, identification and finances. This can also include a certificate that proves the applicant isn’t facing legal proceedings for unpaid debts, which can be applied for at a local debt collection office.

Applicants usually hear back from the landlord or their agent within a month, and if they haven’t heard back, they can follow up before the lease starts. Unsuccessful applicants aren’t always contacted.

Renting accommodation in Switzerland

Expats need to act fast after they find a suitable property, as the rental market turnover is fairly high. Apartments in sought-after parts of Switzerland rarely stay on the market for more than a couple of weeks. 

Making an application

Prospective tenants usually need to provide proof of employment, ID and bank statements to secure a lease. In some cases, expats may also need a Swiss guarantor to act on their behalf – this will usually be the employer. 

Accommodation in Switzerland usually isn't secured on a first-come, first-served basis. Landlords and rental agencies carefully review applications before choosing a tenant they think is the best fit.

After the application is accepted, a handover day is arranged where the tenant usually signs a 12-month lease. This also gives them an opportunity to inspect the property and do an inventory. Rental contracts in Switzerland can begin on the 1st or 15th of a month.

Leases and deposits

Leases in Switzerland are usually for a minimum period of 12 months. Once a tenancy application is approved and signed by both parties, the next step is to carry out an inspection of the property and do an inventory.

Renters are generally required to put down a security deposit that is equivalent to three months' rent. The first month's rent is also required to be paid upfront.

Tenants are usually required to give at least one month's notice if they wish to terminate a lease early. 


Properties in Switzerland are usually unfurnished, and the rental price can include extra service charges such as rubbish disposal. Electricity and water bills may or may not be included in the rent price; expats should be sure to enquire which utilities are for an expat's own account when searching for a place to rent.

Education and Schools in Switzerland

A lot of emphasis is placed on education in Switzerland. Swiss public schools have a good reputation, and the country's private boarding and international schools are exceptional. But while expat children will undoubtedly receive an excellent education, schooling, just like most things in the country, can be eye-wateringly expensive.

Public schools in Switzerland

Most residents, including foreigners, attend public schools in Switzerland. They’re funded by taxes and attendance is free, but they’re managed at the level of cantons (states) – so there are regional differences.

Children can be taught in French, German, Italian or Romansch depending on where they live, and will usually have classes in a second official language and English.

There are four stages of schooling – kindergarten, primary, secondary (split into two phases), and tertiary education.

Most children start their two years of kindergarten at age four, even if they don't legally have to. Primary school usually lasts for six years, with lower secondary school generally lasting three. Primary school and Secondary I are compulsory everywhere, but the mandatory starting age and how long each stage takes differs in each canton.

The language barrier means that public schools are best suited to expats moving to Switzerland for the long term and who want to fully integrate into Swiss culture and society. Speaking an official language is an advantage, and younger children often adapt the fastest. Schools make some provisions for foreign language speakers, but this can entail intensive language classes, and in some cases, repeating a year.

Working parents with younger children will likely find Swiss public school hours inconvenient. The day typically ends before 4pm, and students go home for lunch at some schools. Others charge for supervised lunch hours and after-hours day care.

Private schools in Switzerland

Private schools in Switzerland usually come attached with exorbitant fees, but they're also highly regarded. Exclusive Swiss boarding schools, in particular, have prestigious international reputations. These institutions generally offer a stimulating, personalised environment with smaller class sizes and state-of-the-art facilities.

These private schools typically offer the Swiss curriculum.

Bilingual schools in Switzerland

Bilingual schools in Switzerland teach the Swiss curriculum, but lessons are presented evenly in two languages, such as German/English, French/English or German/French. The language combination will depend on the school’s location and is likely to include the language dominant in that particular region.

Parents should research carefully before making a choice – some schools have mostly local students and others cater to a more international student body. Schools with more international students tend to have high turnover rates.

International schools in Switzerland

Some expats prefer sending their children to international schools in Switzerland, despite the high quality of its public and private schools. In these schools, students only staying in the country for the short term get to continue their home country’s language and curriculum.

Most large cities have day schools or boarding schools, but options in rural areas may be limited. Competition for places is fierce, and the most prestigious schools have long waiting lists. Expats should apply early and consider alternatives.

International schools often charge hefty fees, so expats may want to try to negotiate an education allowance into their employment contract.

Special-needs education in Switzerland

Pupils with special educational needs will, as well as possible within the regular classroom, have their needs met in Switzerland. Mainstream schools in Switzerland recognise that all children are different, be it because of their abilities, learning style, rate of development, their preferences or beliefs. Swiss schools aim to support those children with special educational needs so that all children are able to integrate into and participate in society.

Special-needs education, which is set down in law, applies to affected children from birth to their 20th birthday. It gives them the right to special schooling and support from specialists. Children with disabilities often attend regular schools in Switzerland, on a full-time or part-time basis.

Tutoring in Switzerland

Tutoring is a valuable tool to assist students in their education, particularly expat children adapting to a new environment, language and curriculum. Even for children in international schools, tutoring is useful for gaining confidence, or for assistance in particular subjects such as maths, science or French. Good companies in Switzerland include Tutorsplus and Tutor24.

Visas for Switzerland

All foreigners will need the appropriate visa for Switzerland, whether they want to carve their way down its Alpine slopes on holiday or settle more permanently.

Expats should keep in mind that different rules apply to European Union (EU) and European Free Trade Association (EFTA) citizens compared to those from elsewhere.

Visit visas for Switzerland

Citizens from the EU, the EFTA, and countries on the Swiss government’s designated list are afforded visa-free entry and can stay for 90 days, as long as their passport is valid for at least six months.

Countries on the list include the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland, but citizens of countries like India and South Africa will need to apply for a Schengen visa. Expats who need a Schengen visit visa for Switzerland will need to apply at the designated Swiss embassy in their home country.

Applicants need to provide paperwork including their passport, a completed application form and proof of income. In some situations, they may need documents explaining their reasons for travelling and a letter from a Swiss sponsor.

Processing times vary, but it's best for expats to apply as soon as they’ve confirmed their travel plans. Schengen visas give holders entrance to all Schengen states for 90 days within a six-month period from the appointed date of entry.

Residence permits for Switzerland

Expats who want to work or live in the country for longer than three months need to apply for a Swiss residence permit. This applies to all foreign nationals, but it’s easier for EU/EFTA citizens to be granted one.

Permits are issued by cantonal immigration offices, so expats should contact the office where they hope to be based – each canton has different quotas for non-European workers.

There have been moves to simplify the process of employing foreign workers, so expats looking to work in Switzerland should keep up to date with developments.

Residence permits for EU/EFTA nationals

EU/EFTA nationals shouldn’t struggle to get a residence permit for Switzerland. They’d need to find out about the various permit categories, choose the one that suits their situation, and apply accordingly.

There is no escaping the red tape that comes with the application process, but it’s more straightforward than for applicants from elsewhere. 

Residence permits for non-EU/EFTA nationals

It’s difficult for expats from elsewhere to get a residence permit for Switzerland due to strict employment quotas in certain industries. In practice, permits are mostly granted to wealthy and highly skilled expats with the right qualifications. The country has recently relaxed its rules on quotas for sectors that can prove that recruiting workers is challenging, making it easier for non-EU/EFTA to secure B and L work permits.

Most residence permits are linked to an employment contract, while most jobs require a residence permit. There is no easy way to sidestep this dilemma, but finding a firm willing to act as a sponsor isn’t impossible. Still, companies have to prove that the job couldn’t be filled by a Swiss, EU or EFTA citizen if they want to employ someone from elsewhere.

Non-EU/EFTA expats have access to many of the same permit categories as EU and EFTA expats, but are often subject to different conditions. Most of the time, an expat's employer can advise which permit is most appropriate.

After an expat secures a job, their employer applies for a Residence Permit Assurance (Zusicherung der Aufenthaltsbewilligung/Assurance d'Autorisation de Séjour) with the local authorities. They should advise of any paperwork needed from the expat. Once granted, the document is sent to the applicant, and should be presented with their passport upon entry.

After arriving, expats should apply for their residence permit at their local migration office. The process differs between cantons, so they should check the requirements beforehand.

*Visa regulations are subject to change at short notice and expats should contact their respective embassy or consulate for the latest details.

Safety in Switzerland

There are few issues regarding safety in Switzerland. The chances are that many expats will be safer here than they were back in their home country. In fact, the historically neutral country is known for its low crime rates and cleanliness.

Crime in Switzerland

Switzerland has less violent and non-violent crime than most other countries, and there's never been a major incident of terrorism within its borders.

Locals might feel safe enough to send their children to the corner shop unattended, but petty crime does occur. Expats should still take basic precautions such as locking their doors and windows when going out and keeping valuables out of sight in public places – especially at bus and train stations, tourist centres and airports.

Weather in Switzerland

It may seem strange, but the weather in Switzerland does pose certain safety issues for the population. The weather is constantly changing and this is something that those planning on doing outdoor activities should keep an eye on. Flooding, landslides and avalanches can occur in parts of the country.

Expats venturing to remote locations should be sure to take adequate safety precautions. Accidents are often made worse by poor preparation. Adventurers should never venture out into the mountains alone. Instead, they should opt to travel in groups, have the right equipment and inform others about their travel plans.

Emergency numbers in Switzerland

There are several emergency numbers in Switzerland:

  • General emergencies – 112 (European line)

  • Police – 117

  • Fire service – 118

  • Ambulance – 144

Transport and Driving in Switzerland

Expats will have access to some of the world’s best public transport in Switzerland. Trains run like clockwork and its scenic driving routes are generally well maintained, so new arrivals should have little trouble getting around.

Public transport in Switzerland

Public transport in Switzerland consists of buses and trains. The system is modern, comprehensive, integrated and punctual.


The ticketing system can seem complex, but numerous discounts are on offer because costs are generally high. The Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) mobile app available for Android and iOS greatly simplifies buying tickets and researching timetables.

Travellers can buy a Swiss Half Fare card, which gives a 50 percent discount on most trains, boats, trams and buses. Expat families can also take advantage of the Swiss Family Card and Junior Travelcard. Nowadays, the Swiss Pass integrates various services through a single chipped card that can be loaded with different passes.

Tickets can be bought online or at station ticket offices and automated machines.


The Swiss railway network is extensive and consists of several kinds of trains, so it can seem daunting at first.

Making reservations on InterCity trains usually isn’t necessary, except for popular routes like the Bernina Express between Chur and Tirano, or the Glacier Express from St Moritz to Zermatt. Expats can buy tickets online on the SBB website or at the station. 

Morning and evening rush hour trains between major cities like ZurichGeneva and Basel also get crowded.


Trains are widespread and faster than buses in Switzerland, so the bus network plays a smaller role in the country's public transport infrastructure.

Intercity bus services connect cities, but the number of buses on each route varies and services might not be regular, so it's best to consult timetables.

Tickets can be purchased online or at major stations, and Half Fare Cards are usually valid on long distance buses.

Driving in Switzerland

Driving in Switzerland can be a scenic pleasure, as long as drivers stick to the speed limit. The authorities are strict when it comes to upholding road rules, and drivers who are caught speeding face hefty fines and possibly jail time.

The Swiss road network is well maintained and signage is clear, but parking can be expensive and scarce in busy city centres.

Cars drive on the right, but expats will need a Swiss Motorway Sticker to use the major Autoroutes or motorways. These vignette stickers are valid for a year and driving a car without one will result in a fine.

Winter driving will be a new experience for many expats. Cars in Switzerland are often equipped with snow tyres, but in areas with heavy snow, drivers may have to chain their tyres. Signs warn drivers in advance when this is the case. The authorities may also close some roads during heavy snowfalls, especially mountain passes.

Expats will need to get a Swiss driving licence after 12 months of living in the country, and depending on the country they're from, may have to take a local driving test.

Air travel in Switzerland

Domestic flights in Switzerland connect its largest cities, but travelling by train can be more cost effective and faster. The main Swiss airports are Geneva International Airport (Genève Aéroport), Zurich Kloten Airport, Bern Airport and Lugano Airport.

Pros and Cons of Moving to Switzerland

Switzerland is famous for its snow-capped mountains, clear lakes, legendary chocolate and punctual trains. It lures expats with exciting employment packages and a high standard of living. But, as with every destination, there are ups and downs that come with expat life in Switzerland.

Below are some pros and cons of living in Switzerland.

Accommodation in Switzerland

+ PRO: High housing standards

Swiss housing construction is usually excellent. Kitchens and bathrooms are generally modern. Apartments often have a parking space and most housing is close to public transport.

- CON: Lack of availability, strict housing rules

The Swiss housing market can be competitive and expensive. Finding accommodation in Switzerland depends on various factors, and takes a significant amount of time. Finding pet-friendly housing and houses with private gardens can be extra challenging.

Apartment complexes sometimes have shared laundry facilities, and residents may be assigned specific times when they can use them. There are usually strict noise curfews too.

Lifestyle in Switzerland

+ PRO: Active outdoors culture

Family-friendly places in Switzerland abound. An active outdoor culture is accompanied by beautiful lakes, biking trails and hiking routes in the mountains. In winter, expats can take to the slopes and ski.

- CON: Making friends with locals can be difficult

Integrating into the local community can be difficult. Clubs and activities are usually offered in the local language, so it's easiest for younger children to adapt.

- CON: The country closes down on Sundays

Switzerland pretty much closes up on Sundays, except for gas stations and small stores at train stations.

Education in Switzerland

+ PRO: Lots of excellent schooling options

Public schools in Switzerland are excellent, and expats with younger children should consider sending them to one. Expats tend to send older children to one of the country's many international schools. The country also offers private and bilingual schools.

- CON: Adjusting to a new education system can be difficult

Older children who don't speak the relevant local language might struggle in Swiss public schools. Expat parents should note that schools often have an extended lunch break and may not have a cafeteria. Most kids go home for lunch and then back to school. Private schools are expensive and space may be limited.

+ PRO: Children can be independent

Children can be independent and are often seen walking alone, riding bikes or taking the bus with friends. There are few major safety issues in Switzerland, and most places are safe even at night.

Working in Switzerland

+ PRO: Unemployment is low

Most expats come here to work, so they don’t need to worry about finding a job after they arrive. But unemployment in Switzerland is low, so trailing spouses have opportunities in cottage industries or doing volunteer work if they can't find anything else.

- CON: Jobs for expats are limited

Opportunities are limited for expats who don’t speak German or French, and Swiss employers don't always recognise foreign degrees.

Culture shock in Switzerland

+ PRO: English is widely spoken

English is taught in Swiss schools and most locals speak it quite well, which makes activities such as shopping easier, but some expats find that it makes it more difficult to practise local languages.

- CON: Jobs for expats are limited

Expats shouldn't underestimate the potential for culture shock in Switzerland. It is a beautiful, modern European country, but there is a language barrier to overcome, and the Swiss have their own dialects of French and German. Finding a support circle of other expats and helping newcomers are good ways to deal with this.

Keeping in Touch in Switzerland

With some of the fastest internet in the world, a broad range of telecommunications packages and excellent access to international media, keeping in touch in Switzerland is easy. That said, expats should take some time to choose options that best suit their needs.

Internet in Switzerland

There is virtually no internet censorship in Switzerland, so expats will have no trouble accessing the sites they are accustomed to at home.

Larger telecommunications providers offer packages that combine internet, mobile, fixed-line telephone and digital television. Some best-known internet service providers in Switzerland include Swisscom, Salt, Sunrise and UPC.

Mobile phones in Switzerland

Expats can apply for mobile phone contracts if they have a valid work permit for Switzerland and are registered at their local municipality. The necessary documents include proof of identification, banking details and proof of address.

Contracts that include a phone usually run between 12 and 24 months, while some operators offer shorter contracts without a phone.

Prepaid mobile cards are a good option in terms of flexibility, but their call rates are generally higher than contract rates. SIM cards can be bought at supermarkets, kiosks and newsagents.

Fixed-line telephones in Switzerland

Frequent international callers should investigate packages with a flat monthly rate for calls to international lines, and whether the countries they call are included.

Installing a landline requires similar documents to a mobile contract, and depending on whether a line had previously been installed on the property, the process can take a few weeks.

Postal services in Switzerland

Swiss Post is the national postal service in Switzerland, and it’s largely efficient and reliable. Deliveries can be tracked effectively, and same-day delivery is possible with A Mail, while letters sent through B Mail arrive in three to four days. It offers various additional services such as account payments, bank accounts, and mail forwarding or retaining.

Post offices have hours similar to those of local shops; most except the main offices in cities are closed on Sundays and over lunch.

English-language media in Switzerland

English-language publications are widely available both online and offline, and international newspapers may be available the day after publication in some places.

English-language television and radio in Switzerland

Cable TV is a standard installation in most apartments and provides around 30 channels, including Swiss, French, German and Italian national channels. Digital TV provides hundreds of international channels, including popular British channels. 

BBC Radio and many other English language radio stations are available via online streaming. World Radio Switzerland is an English radio station that broadcasts from Geneva.

Expats planning to stay in Switzerland for longer than three months will have to register with Billag, the fees collection company, to pay radio and television licence fees. Costs are calculated by household and apply to television, radio sets and any devices with internet reception.

Moving to Switzerland

Expats moving to Switzerland quickly find that clichés about clocks and cleanliness don’t do it justice. Pastoral scenes and mountain vistas transition into bustling cities with seamless beauty in a country that’s a crossroads of European culture.

Switzerland attracts a skilled workforce and is a particularly popular destination for professionals working in the financial services industry. Although money isn't everything, it certainly helps, and expats in Switzerland earn impressive salaries that are well above the global average. With a healthy work-life balance, expats have more time to enjoy the high quality of life in the safety and security of Switzerland.

Living in Switzerland as an expat

The country has four official languages – French, German, Italian and Romansch – and is divided into 26 states called cantons. Each canton has its own laws and public institutions, so expats will need to research the region they’re moving to.

In addition to the diversity of the local population, Switzerland welcomes the outside world with open arms. Its stable economy and banking laws have attracted international investment for decades, and close to a quarter of its population was born outside the country.

Unemployment has stayed down in Switzerland, the economy has continued to grow, and it is home to several internationally renowned banks and businesses. That said, most expats are drawn in by the quality of life in Switzerland. Its public transport system is punctual and comprehensive.

Integrating into the local culture can be a pleasurable experience, thanks to its collection of museums, art galleries and restaurants. Plus, there are few better backdrops than the crystal waters of Lake Geneva and the towering slopes of the Swiss Alps.

Cost of living in Switzerland

The cost of living in Switzerland is also among the highest in the world, with four of the top five most expensive cities for expats located in the country. Everything from accommodation to transport and health insurance is eye-wateringly expensive. Expats who choose to own a car in Switzerland will also have to budget for canton tax, a highway sticker, petrol and monthly insurance.

Expat families and children in Switzerland

Expats will find Switzerland an amazing place to raise a family. The country boasts an abundance of green spaces, outdoor recreational activities and an emphasis on work-life balance, so expat parents can enjoy life in the family-friendly country. Public and private hospitals offer high standards of healthcare, and all residents have access to good, free public schools and excellent private education.

There are also international schools for expat children who are only in the country on a short assignment. Parents will also be delighted to know that Switzerland offers private and bilingual schools, which offer the Swiss curriculum evenly presented in two languages.

Climate in Switzerland

The climate in Switzerland is fairly continental, with warm summers and cold and foggy winters in the Swiss lowlands. Snowfall generally occurs in the mountainous regions, while rainfall is usually for the summer months. Contrary to popular belief, expats will need to pack both their jackets and swimsuits when moving to Switzerland.

Owing to the undeniably high quality of life in Switzerland, efficient systems and picturesque natural scenery, expats are often lured to stay long term despite the exorbitant cost of living and initial culture shock.

Fast facts 

Population: Approximately 8.8 million

Capital city: Bern

Neighbouring countries: Switzerland is a landlocked country in Western Central Europe. It shares borders with Italy to the south, France to the west, Germany to the north and Austria and Liechtenstein to the east.

Geography: Switzerland is a mountainous country and is famous for the Alps in the south and southeast of the country. The Swiss Plateau runs along the east-west axis of the country. The smaller Jura Mountains are located on the north-west side of this plateau. Much of the northern border with Germany follows the Rhine River. The eastern border with Germany and some of Austria is connected to Switzerland through Lake Constance, and Lake Geneva is located on the southwest border with France.

Political system: Switzerland is a federal semi-direct democracy under multi-party parliamentary directorial republic.

Major religions: Christianity is the main religion in Switzerland, but the country is quite tolerant of other faiths and all religions can be practised freely.

Main languages: Switzerland is home to four national languages. Depending on the area of the country, the predominant language spoken will be Swiss German, French, Italian or Romansch.

Money: Switzerland is not part of the EU and has retained its own currency, the Swiss Franc (CHF). The Swiss Franc is subdivided into 100 rappen (German) or 100 centimes (French). Credit cards are widely accepted and ATMs are readily available.

Tipping: While there is no obligation to tip in Switzerland, many people do, especially in Zurich, where a 10 to 20 percent tip is common. In other areas, it is acceptable to round up the bill to the nearest 5 or 10 CHF.

Time: GMT+1 (GMT+2 from the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October)

Electricity: 230 volts, 50Hz. Plugs have two or three round pins.

Internet domain: .ch

International dialling code: +41

Emergency numbers: There are three different emergency numbers in Switzerland: 117 (police), 144 (ambulance), 118 (fire). The general European emergency number (112) can also be used.

Transport and driving: The Swiss drive on the right-hand side of the road. Road conditions and signage are generally good. Expats from certain countries can drive in Switzerland for up to a year, but excellent public transport means that cars aren't necessary.

Cost of Living in Switzerland

Switzerland is almost as famous for its high cost of living as it is for its spectacular ski slopes. Three Swiss cities featured in the 2023 Mercer Cost of Living Survey's top five – Zurich, Geneva and Basel – and to top it off, the rural areas aren't necessarily that much cheaper either.

On the other hand, Swiss salaries and living standards are also among the highest in the world. And thanks to efficient public services and well-maintained infrastructure, most expats feel that the high costs are worth it.

Expats moving to Switzerland should still try to anticipate what their living expenses will be and negotiate their contracts accordingly.

Cost of accommodation in Switzerland

Most people in Switzerland rent property, and a shortage of available apartments has developed as a result. The situation in Zurich and Geneva is especially dire, and stiff competition has resulted in sky-high rental prices – expats should expect accommodation to take up at least 30 percent of their salary. In many cases, one will also need to pay a three-month deposit upfront.

In Switzerland, special rubbish bags that are priced according to their size are required for rubbish collection, so households that produce a lot of waste will pay more. Recycling is free, and even expats who aren't especially environmentally conscious can count on a greener life in Switzerland. Exact costs and conditions differ between municipalities.

Cost of transport in Switzerland

Switzerland's extensive and efficient public transport system is, unfortunately, rather expensive too. Expats who live in an urban centre and plan on commuting regularly should consider purchasing multi-ride passes.

Owning a car in Switzerland is more expensive owing to supplementary fees. Many who can go without a car do. In addition to the cost of importing, buying or leasing a vehicle, expats will need to pay for monthly insurance, canton tax, a parking permit, a highway sticker and petrol.

Cost of education in Switzerland

Swiss public schools have excellent standards and are free of charge, but the teaching language will be the respective canton's official language. Some bilingual schools exist, but tuition at these institutions can be costly.

It gets even pricier for expats who'd rather send their children to an international school that teaches their home country's curriculum in their native language. Prices also increase as students get older.

Cost of health insurance in Switzerland

Swiss health insurance will also likely take up much of an expat's payslip. Medical cover is compulsory and can be expensive, although the government does grant subsidies in certain situations. Premiums are based on geographic area rather than salary, so CEOs and regular workers can end up paying similar amounts depending on their package.

Cost of living in Switzerland chart

Prices may vary depending on product and service provider. The list below shows average prices for Zurich in January 2023.

Accommodation (monthly rent)

Three-bedroom apartment in the city centre

CHF 3,700

Three-bedroom apartment outside the city centre

CHF 2,700

One-bedroom apartment in the city centre

CHF 2,000

One-bedroom apartment outside the city centre

CHF 1,500


Eggs (dozen)

CHF 5.87

Milk (1 litre)

CHF 1.66

Rice (1kg)

CHF 3.26

Loaf of white bread

CHF 2.98

Chicken breasts (1kg)

CHF 26

Pack of cigarettes

CHF 8.95

Eating out

Big Mac Meal

 CHF 15

Coca-Cola (330ml)

 CHF 4.35


 CHF 5.26

Local beer (500ml)

 CHF 7

Three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant

 CHF 120


Mobile-to-mobile call rate (per minute)

 CHF 0.34

Internet (uncapped ADSL or cable – average per month)

 CHF 50

Basic utilities (per month for small apartment)

 CHF 250


Taxi rate (per kilometre)

 CHF 5

Bus/train fare in the city centre

 CHF 4.40

Petrol/gasoline (per litre)

 CHF 2.08

Culture Shock in Switzerland

With four official languages and a multicultural population, Switzerland is a diverse nation. Still, certain quirks of everyday life will take some time for expats to get used to. Having a well-informed, open-minded approach is generally the best way to combat culture shock in Switzerland. 

Making local friends can be difficult as the Swiss have a reputation for being conservative and reserved, and adjusting to the laws that govern everyday life can be tricky. Be that as it may, the country's love of uniformity means that everything runs like clockwork, and expats will soon learn to adapt to the pace of everyday life here.

Language barrier in Switzerland

Despite the country being somewhat dependent on tourism, the Swiss can be nonchalant towards people who don't speak a local language. Expats will likely need to learn the basics of their region's predominant language to settle in. 

Switzerland’s four language regions can offer starkly different cultural experiences. In the German-speaking part, one is very aware of the orderliness and quietness of the residents, while the southern, Italian-speaking canton of Ticino can give the experience of a mini, albeit more systematic, Italian town. The French- and the Romansh-speaking cantons fall somewhere in between. Throughout the country, one thing is for sure: the Swiss like their peace and quiet. 

Most locals speak English, but signs, restaurants and transport announcements are in the local language outside tourist areas. Between French, German, Italian and Romansch, English can seem non-existent.

Applying for immigration documents and visas in Switzerland can also be tricky for expats who don't speak German or French – so most expats hire an immigration consultant.

Attitude towards foreigners in Switzerland

For some time, foreigners have been flocking to Switzerland. This has made some Swiss people uneasy around expats, and some believe immigrants take away valuable jobs. The Swiss are patriotic and many proudly display the flag outside their homes.

Some expats find that they are only really accepted when they adopt the local language and customs.

Making friends in Switzerland

Expats living in Switzerland will find life in the Alpine country methodical and safe. But without an expat social network, new arrivals can find it harder to integrate. To make the most of their experience, expats should try to understand the locals, respect their rules and customs, and if possible, learn their region's local language. 

The Swiss can be extremely private people, so those who come from collectivistic cultures may find it lonely in Switzerland. Especially in the German-speaking parts, everything is scheduled – including a catch-up with friends. So, unless it is with a group of friends from one's own culture, it is best to stick to the schedule. 

Whatever the rules are, Switzerland offers organisation that cannot be so easily found in other countries. Public transport is extremely dependable. The Swiss are proud of their country and mostly satisfied with how it is run. Some fear that outsiders will spoil the status quo, so there can sometimes be apprehension towards foreigners. This can be overcome by a willingness to integrate by speaking the local language and playing by the rules.

Shipping and Removals in Switzerland

Swiss efficiency and a steady stream of new arrivals mean that shipping goods to Switzerland is fairly straightforward. Buying new items in the country can be expensive, and even used goods can cost a fair amount, so many expats bring household effects with them.

Shipping can be done by air or sea, and each method has its pros and cons. Shipping by air is faster but more expensive, while sea shipping is cheaper but takes longer.

Expats can import household goods to Switzerland duty-free if they've owned and used them for at least six months and they complete the relevant paperwork. This must be submitted to the removals company along with an itemised inventory, a copy of their passport, residence permit, and rental agreement.

Customs officials may require other documents like employment contracts, so it's best to supply as much information as possible. Expats should also keep copies of all the documents they submit, as they may be needed when exporting goods back home.

A good removals company can minimise delays and complications in getting expats' goods through customs.

Shipping pets to Switzerland

Expats can import numerous kinds of pets to Switzerland – even crayfish appear on the government-approved list. In most cases, expats can bring several pets with them to their new home. There are, however, special rules for importing certain species. For example, dogs have to be microchipped and taken to a vet to be registered with the Swiss Animal Identification Service (ANIS) within 10 days of arriving.

Healthcare in Switzerland

The standard of healthcare in Switzerland is excellent, and most residents are satisfied with the level of treatment and access. The Swiss system is universal but unique in its approach.

Health insurance in Switzerland is compulsory for all residents, but it isn’t government-funded like in the UK or employer-sponsored like in the US. As a result, private insurance providers in Switzerland aren’t allowed to refuse anyone coverage.

Waiting times are short, expats can choose where they'd like to be treated, and city doctors routinely speak English.

But even though expats can count on high-quality care, they can also count on monthly premiums, co-payments and deductibles.

Public hospitals in Switzerland

Public hospitals in Switzerland have high standards and modern facilities. Basic health insurance covers most treatment at public facilities, although patients may have to pay extra for some specialist treatments.

Private hospitals in Switzerland

There isn’t a huge difference between standards at public and private hospitals in Switzerland. The main advantage of private hospitals is that waiting times are shorter, and some hospitals specialise in particular treatments. That said, treatment costs at private hospitals are much higher and may only be covered by more comprehensive health insurance policies.

Health insurance in Switzerland

Expats will need to organise their own health insurance within three months of arriving – so research and preparation are important if they aren’t familiar with the process.

The government determines which treatments private providers should cover in their basic health insurance packages. This includes most medical treatment and hospitalisation costs, but dentistry and supplementary costs such as private rooms aren’t usually covered. Expats interested in these extras will need to look at more comprehensive packages.

Insurance premiums are based on where someone stays, rather than their individual income, so they vary immensely. Expats should also be aware that they will need to arrange health insurance for their family members separately.

Pharmacies and medication in Switzerland

Pharmacies in Switzerland are clearly marked with signs saying ‘Apotheke' or ‘Pharmacie’, depending on where they are. They’re usually open during normal working hours, but there are emergency pharmacies which are open 24/7.

Expats shouldn’t have trouble getting most medicines, and pharmacies can order in products they don’t have or suggest alternatives.

Emergency services in Switzerland 

In the event of a medical emergency, expats should dial 144 for an ambulance.

Embassy Contacts for Switzerland

Swiss embassies

  • Swiss Embassy, Washington, DC, United States: +1 202 745 7900

  • Swiss Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 20 7616 6000

  • Swiss Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 235 1837

  • Swiss Embassy, Canberra, Australia: +61 2 6162 8400

  • Swiss Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 12 452 0660

  • Swiss Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 1 218 6382

  • Swiss Embassy, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 4 472 1593

Foreign embassies in Switzerland

  • United States Embassy, Bern: +41 31 357 7011

  • British Embassy, Bern: +41 31 359 7700

  • Canadian Embassy, Bern: +41 31 357 3200

  • Australian Consulate-General, Geneva: +41 22 799 9100

  • South African Embassy, Bern: +41 31 350 1313

  • Irish Embassy, Bern: +41 31 350 03 80

  • New Zealand Consulate-General, Geneva: +41 22 929 0350

Working in Switzerland

High living standards and salaries are the main drawcards for those wanting to work in Switzerland. That said, expats looking to move here for work will first have to land a job and wade through the residence permit process.

Job market in Switzerland

Popular sources of employment for expats include financial services, IT and biotechnology. However, Switzerland's immigration policy is quota-based, and employers can only hire expats if they can prove that a local can't fill the job  – so expats allowed to work in Switzerland are generally highly skilled and educated.

The UN and its respective agencies and missions are prominent employers in the country. NGOs such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Transparency International also have a strong presence, as do media organisations like the Swiss Press Agency and CSR Newswire.

Emerging sectors such as mechanical and electrical engineering, pharmaceuticals and shipping and logistics are also major industries. Although the tourism industry in Switzerland contributes around 2.9 percent to the country's GDP, the service industry is another sector expats can look into as it employs approximately 4 percent of the population. 

Many multinational companies use English as their corporate language, but opportunities are limited for expats who don't speak German, French or Italian.

Finding a job in Switzerland

The path to getting a job in Switzerland can be long and challenging, but the potential rewards are worth the effort.

Good ways to look for openings include online and newspaper job listings, company websites and networking with other expats. Once expats find something to apply for, they will need to bring their CVs in line with local standards and apply in the same language as the job advert. The Swiss are known for being detail oriented, and their CVs reflect this, so hiring a translator might be necessary.

Work culture in Switzerland

The country's work culture is mostly formal and task-focused. The Swiss are famously punctual, and arriving late to a meeting or being unprepared will be seen as disrespectful. It's always best to arrive early and confirm appointments ahead of time. 

Hierarchy is important and people receive respect based on their rank, education and achievements. Even though executives make the decisions, they look for a broad consensus. Managers are expected to guide their teams, and cooperation is valued.

Business environments in Switzerland tend to be merit-based, but trust is still important in negotiations. The Swiss like dealing with people they know, and often expect long-term commitments from their associates. Negotiations can be prolonged by the trust-building process and the Swiss eye for detail and respect for procedure.

Weather in Switzerland

While many may assert that the country's name is nearly synonymous with snow, expats should keep in mind that, overall, the weather in Switzerland is actually fairly moderate.

The Alps and the Jura Mountains create a number of cold microclimates, but most of Switzerland enjoys a typical Central European climate void of extremes. In that vein, expats should do some careful research on the regional weather patterns of the Swiss destination to which they are relocating. Naturally, temperatures become colder as altitude increases.

Keep in mind that the summer months, June to September, are warm with average highs of 69°F (21°C) and are the best time for outdoor activities. Winter is cold, but snow is still primarily relegated to the mountainous regions. The cities in the Swiss lowlands, such as Zurich, Basel and Geneva, experience more fog during this period than anything else. November is the best time for skiing, as it’s before peak tourist season, but at a point when the mountains are likely dusted with white powder.

Most of Switzerland’s rainfall and other means of precipitation arrive in summer, except for the Valais region, which remains comparatively dry.

Expats planning on living in Switzerland will certainly need their winter coats, woollen scarves and leather gloves, but swimsuits and shorts are just as appropriate for the packing list. The Southern Ticino region of Switzerland has weather reminiscent of the Mediterranean.


Banking, Money and Taxes in Switzerland

Banks in Switzerland have a reputation for being discreet, although they’re making concerted efforts to become more transparent – so it might not be the tax haven it once was. Even so, personal banking in Switzerland is sophisticated yet straightforward, albeit slightly pricier for non-residents.

Investment banking and private banking options are also available for expats planning to start a business or stay for the long term.

Money in Switzerland

Switzerland isn’t part of the European Union (EU) and retains its own monetary system. The official currency is the Swiss Franc (CHF), which is divided into 100 centimes (French).

  • Notes: 10 CHF, 20 CHF, 50 CHF, 100 CHF, 200 CHF and 1000 CHF 

  • Coins: 1 CHF, 2 CHF, 5 CHF  and 5 centimes, 10 centimes, 20 centimes and 50 centimes

Banking in Switzerland

Swiss banks have a reputation for good customer service and stability, and local bankers are known for prudent financial management and sound investments.

Other than possibly maintaining a larger minimum balance in their accounts, expats and locals go through a similar process to open a bank account in Switzerland.

There are numerous banks, but most expats investigate larger national banks or banks based in the canton they live in.

UBS and Credit Suisse have a sizeable local and international presence and offer most of the services expats would need. They’re fantastic options for English speakers, even if other local banks may be cheaper.

Expats who speak a local language may want to consider cantonal banks. Their services are well suited to individuals, and many clients prefer the personal touch that comes with smaller banks. 

Opening a bank account

Expats should first ask their employer if they have any special agreements with a specific bank, which can simplify the process.

Banks usually have their set requirements for opening a bank account, including hefty minimum deposits and personal interviews, so it’s important to find out about those. Some private banks prefer dealing with people who’ve been referred by existing customers.

Documents that are often requested include the applicant’s passport, proof of Swiss address, and financial documents like employment contracts. 

Credit cards are widely accepted, but there are extra charges for international cards. ATMs are everywhere, and are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Foreign currency can be exchanged at banks, bureaux de change and some hotels.

Taxes in Switzerland

Expats will need to pay both federal and cantonal tax in Switzerland, although the canton is responsible for collecting tax. Tax rates vary between cantons.

Anyone who legally lives or works in the country for more than 30 days has to pay tax. Although, thanks to Double Taxation Avoidance Agreements with several countries, most expats don’t need to pay tax in Switzerland and back home.

Public Holidays in Switzerland




New Year's Day

1 January

1 January

Ascension Day

18 May

9 May

Swiss National Day

1 August

1 August

Christmas Day

25 December

25 December

*These are Switzerland's national public holidays. The country's cantons each have various additional public holidays.

Frequently Asked Questions about Switzerland

Expats moving to Switzerland usually have many questions, often about the cost of living and where to live. Read on for answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about living in Switzerland.

Which are the most popular cities for expats?

Geneva, Basel and Zurich are the most densely populated cities and the most popular expat destinations in Switzerland.

Do I need a car in Switzerland?

Expats can commute easily without their own vehicle thanks to reliable public transport, but a private car can be handy for exploring the countryside on weekends.

What is Romansch?

Romansch is one of Switzerland's four official languages and is spoken in the south of the country by around 1 percent of the population.

What sorts of jobs are available in Switzerland?

Most expats move to Switzerland to take up high-paying jobs in finance or IT. It's also possible to get seasonal jobs within the tourism industry, and there's a demand for biotechnologists, lawyers and German teachers.

What is the standard of housing like in Switzerland?

Accommodation in Switzerland is of a comfortable standard, but there's a lot of competition for places and prices are high, even when compared to other European countries and North America.

What education options do expat children have?

Public and private schools both have good standards and facilities. Expats can also send their child to international schools in Switzerland, where they can study in their home country's curriculum and in their native language. School fees are likely to be a major expense for expats, so they should try to negotiate a subsidy for this in their employment package.