Print
  • Hold down Ctrl key and select the sections you want to print. If using a Mac, hold down the Cmd key.
  • Use Ctrl + A or on Mac, Cmd + A to select all sections (if you are using the Chrome browser).
  • Click "Apply" and the site will customise your print guide in the preview below.
  • Click the "Print" button and a print pop up should appear to print to your printer of choice.

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 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 of the country.

Unemployment has stayed down and the economy has continued to grow. It’s home to internationally renowned banks and businesses, and several of its industries attract highly skilled expats. However, immigration quotas are getting stricter and locals are known for being quite insular. The cost of living is also among the highest in the world.

That said, most expats are drawn in by the quality of life in Switzerland. Its public transport system is punctual and comprehensive. Public and private hospitals offer high standards of healthcare, and all residents have access to good, free public schools and excellent private education.

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


Fast facts 

Population: Approximately 8.5 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 either 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.  

Weather in Switzerland

While many may assert that the country is nearly synonymous with snow, expats should keep in mind that, overall, the weather in Switzerland is actually relatively 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, from June to September, are warm 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, like 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, with the exception of 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 area.

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 31 352 1442

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

Public Holidays in Switzerland

 

2020

2021

New Year's Day

1-2 January

1-2 January

Ascension Day

21 May

13 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.

Pros and Cons of Moving to Switzerland

Switzerland is famous for its snow-capped mountains, clear lakes, punctual trains – and legendary chocolate. It lures expats with exciting employment packages and a high standard of living. But there are pros and cons to expat life in Switzerland. 


Accommodation in Switzerland

While the general standard of housing in Switzerland is good, finding a home can be a challenging process.

+ PRO: High housing standards

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

- CON: Lack of availability and strict housing rules

The Swiss housing market can be competitive and expensive. Finding accommodation 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

The expat lifestyle in Switzerland is great for families, but it may be a little quiet for single expats without kids.

+ 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, with the exception of gas stations and small stores at train stations.


Education in Switzerland

Expats have numerous options when it comes to schools in Switzerland. Public, private and international schools normally have good standards, and most expats find somewhere that meets their children's needs and falls within their budget.

+ PRO: Lots of excellent schooling options

Public schools in Switzerland is excellent and expats with younger children should consider sending them to one. Expats tend to send older children to one of its many international 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 go 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

Employers in Switzerland encourage their staff to be productive by discouraging overtime and encouraging employees to use their vacation time.

+ 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

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.

+ PRO: English is widely spoken

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

Safety in Switzerland

There are very few major issues around 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. Often accidents are made worse by poor preparation. Never venture out on an adventure in the mountains alone. Instead, opt to travel in groups. Be sure to have the right equipment and inform others about 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

Working in Switzerland

High living standards and salaries often come with working in Switzerland. That said, expats will first have to land a job and wade through the residence permit process.

The Swiss economy continues to grow and unemployment has stayed down in the face of the ongoing Eurozone crisis, largely thanks to foreign investment.


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 it has to be proven that a local can't fill the job a foreigner applies for – so expats allowed to work in Switzerland are generally highly skilled and educated.

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 initial 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 CV 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.

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.

Switzerland ranked 38th out of 190 countries in the World Bank’s 2019 Ease of Doing Business Survey. As demonstrated in its rankings in the survey, the country's tax system is easy to navigate (20th), electricity is easy to set up (11th) and the process of registering property is fairly straightforward (16th). However, provisions for protecting minority investors are not extensive (110th) and starting a business can be difficult (77th).

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.

Swiss people are patriotic and known for being quite insular – especially outside of Zurich and Geneva. This might apply to foreigners as well as local people from different language groups. ­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. 

Dress

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

Gifts

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.

Greetings

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.

Communication

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.

Punctuality

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.

Networking

Business environments in Switzerland tend to be merit-based, but trust is still important to 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.


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

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 USA, 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 foreign mission 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 further limit the number of foreign workers in Switzerland, which could even affect EU/EFTA citizens in future, so expats 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, thanks to strict employment quotas. In practice, permits are mostly granted to wealthy and highly skilled expats with the right qualifications. Once a canton’s quota has been met for any given year, even the most qualified expats could only get a permit the following year.

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.

Cost of Living in Switzerland

Switzerland is almost as famous for its high cost of living as it is for its ski slopes. Three Swiss cities featured in the 2019 Mercer Cost of Living Survey's top 15 – Zurich, Bern and Geneva – and rural areas aren't necessarily that much cheaper.

On the other hand, Swiss salaries and living standards are also among the highest in the world. 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-rocketing 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 garbage bags that are priced according to their size are required for trash collection, so households that produce more 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 system of public transport can, unfortunately, be expensive to use. 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 thanks 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, highway sticker and petrol.


Cost of education in Switzerland

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

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 home language. Prices increase as students get older.


Cost of health insurance in Switzerland

Swiss health insurance is also likely to take up much of an expat's bank balance. 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 in Zurich for February 2020.

Accommodation (monthly rent)

Three-bedroom apartment in the city centre

CHF 3,000 - 4,000

Three-bedroom apartment outside of the city centre

CHF 2,000 - 3,000

One-bedroom apartment in the city centre

CHF 1,500 - 2,000

One-bedroom apartment outside the city centre

CHF 1,000 - 2,000

Shopping  

Eggs (dozen)

CHF 6

Milk (1 litre)

CHF 1.80

Rice (1kg)

CHF 2.80

Loaf of white bread

CHF 3.20

Chicken breasts (1kg)

CHF 27

Pack of cigarettes

CHF 8

Eating out

Big Mac Meal

 CHF 14

Coca-Cola (330ml)

 CHF 4.20

Cappuccino 

 CHF 5

Bottle of local beer

 CHF 7

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

 CHF 100

Household

Mobile-to-mobile call rate (per minute)

 CHF 0.30

Internet (uncapped ADSL or cable – average per month)

 CHF 60

Basic utilities (per month for small apartment)

 CHF 180

Transportation

Taxi rate (per kilometre)

 CHF 4.30

Bus/train fare in the city centre

 CHF 4.50

Petrol/gasoline (per litre)

 CHF 1.70

Culture Shock in Switzerland

With four official languages and a multicultural population, having a well-informed, open-minded approach is the best way to combat culture shock in Switzerland. Making local friends can be difficult. While they're hardly ever hostile, the Swiss have a reputation for being conservative and reserved.

Adjusting to the laws that govern everyday life can be tricky. However, with the country's emphasis on conformity, most expats adapt to life in Switzerland easily.


Language barrier in Switzerland

Despite 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 orderly, 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 nonexistent.

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 orderly 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 an orderliness 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 and hence, there can be apprehension towards foreigners. This can be overcome by a willingness to integrate by speaking the local language and playing by the rules.

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 up housing prices, 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 a suitable apartment.


Types of accommodation in Switzerland

Apartments are the most common type of accommodation in Switzerland in large cities like 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 usually is 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 garbage disposal, street and house cleaning, water and heating. Most apartments in Switzerland are equipped with central heating.


Finding a property 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 sub-letting options.

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

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 a property in Switzerland

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. 

Tenants usually pay the first month’s rent upfront and up to three months’ rent as a security deposit and are responsible for their own utilities. In some cantons, it is mandatory for tenants to purchase third-party liability insurance. 

Before moving in, expats should inspect all elements of the apartment with the landlord. Any defects or damages should be written down (and photographed if necessary), and signed by the landlord. This list must be kept by the tenant. This same process will occur when moving out, therefore it is recommended that expats be vigilant about it in order to avoid paying any unnecessary defect costs.

In most cases, tenants have to give at least a month’s notice if they want to terminate the lease early. It is worth reading the fine print of a lease agreement carefully because in some instances tenants terminating the lease early will be required to find a replacement to fulfil the remainder of their contract. In some parts of the country, a tenancy can only start and end on certain days. 

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. But 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 like 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.


Medicines and pharmacies 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. 

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 can be very expensive.


Public schools in Switzerland

Most residents attend public schools in Switzerland, including foreigners. 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 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 by canton.

The language gap means that public schools are best suited to expats looking to move 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 daycare.


Private schools in Switzerland

Private schools in Switzerland usually come attached with high 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.

Swiss private schools offer the Swiss curriculum.


Bilingual schools in Switzerland

Bilingual schools in Switzerland teach the Swiss curriculum, but lessons are presented in an equal amount of 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.

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 high 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 and negotiate an education allowance into their employment contract.

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 great discounts are on offer because costs are generally high. The SSB Mobile app available for Android and iOS greatly simplifies buying tickets and researching timetables.

Travellers can buy a Swiss Half Fare card, which gives 50 percent discount off most trains and buses. Expat families can also take advantage of the Swiss Family Card and Junior Travelcard. Nowadays, the Swiss Pass integrates the 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.

Trains

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 Swiss Federal Railway (SBB) website or at the station. 

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

Buses

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 if 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 incur 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 driver's 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.

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 – but 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 the internet, mobile, fixed-line telephone, and digital television. Some of the best-known internet service providers in Switzerland include Swisscom, 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 one.

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.

International mobile calls are the most expensive. Expats who live close to the border, in cities like Geneva and Basel, have been known to receive data roaming messages, followed by a shock when they’re charged for international calls.


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 generally 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 like account payments, bank accounts, and mail forwarding or retaining.

Post offices have similar hours to 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.

Numerous online networking sites and forums allow new arrivals to meet fellow expats, ask questions and take part in activities, such as Glocals and The English Forum. 

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 license fees. Costs are calculated by household and apply to television, radio sets and any devices with internet reception.

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.

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 one 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 tourist 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 learn their home country's curriculum 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.

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 but straight forward, albeit slightly more expensive 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 or 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 good 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 have their own requirements which can include 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, 7 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 in the country or works for more than 30 days has to pay tax. But thanks to Double Taxation Avoidance Agreements with a number of countries, most expats don’t need to pay tax in Switzerland and back home.

Expat Experiences in Switzerland

When considering a move to a new city, there is nothing more useful than hearing real life stories and experiences from other expats who have lived there. We'd love to hear about your expat experiences. Please contact us if you live or have lived in Switzerland and would like to share your story.


Melissa Pollick is an American expat who moved to Geneva from Michigan to be with her Swiss boyfriend in 2011. Melissa has used her experience as a trailing spouse to set up a counselling practice for people dealing with stresses associated with expat life. Learn more about Melissa's experiences in Geneva by reading her interview with Expat Arrivals.

Jennifer Weaver is an American expat who moved to Zug, Switzerland in 2012 with her family. In her interview with Expat Arrivals, she tells us about her expat experience of moving to Switzerland with three young children. 

Tanya Deans may have abandoned the sunny shores of California for the colder climate found in Switzerland, but she's certainly not feeling grey about her move. After six years overseas, she's conquered 50 mountains and has made somewhat of a hobby out of sharing her insight about the ins and outs of living in Zurich.

Tracey Keenan moved from England to Switzerland ten years ago when her banker husband was relocated for work. She now provides a service to other expats who are about to relocate to Switzerland or have recently moved there. Her aim is to arm recent expats with all the critical information and essential tips needed to help them settle into Switzerland as quickly as possible. Read about her expat experience in Switzerland.