Moving to Switzerland

Home to the delectable Lindt chocolate, shimmering lakes, and the beautiful Swiss Alps, Switzerland has long been known as one of the most desirable countries for expats to move to. So what makes everyone move to Switzerland, is it simply the best?

It is perfectly picturesque, boasts a low crime rate, and it is exceptionally clean. Add to this that the chances are you will live a lot longer here, life expectancy is far higher than in other countries. It is no wonder that many a celebrity has moved here over the years, with the likes of Phil Collins, Shania Twain, and Tina Turner all now happily residing in the country.

The standard of living in Switzerland is extremely high and its economy stable, plus unemployment is low. Therefore, it is ideal for expats who want to relocate and take up a new position. Salaries in Switzerland are amongst the highest in the world and working conditions good. However, the cost of living tends to be expensive so it does offset this somewhat. For expats, regardless of this fact, it still ranks as one of the most desirable locations in the world.

River and old Town architecture of Lucerne, Switzerland. A bight blue sky reflects from the river's surface, as do the yellow, white, terracotta, and cream colours of the traditional buildings.

Areas in Switzerland are referred to as cantons. Bern is the capital of Switzerland, and Zurich the largest city; both are set in the German speaking northern region. The western part of Switzerland is French speaking; here you will find the multicultural Geneva and scenic Lausanne. To the south, you will find Lugano, where Italian is spoken. Although it is not a prerequisite to speak the dialect, taking lessons can help you to integrate more easily with the locals when you move.

The weather fluctuates, summers in Switzerland tend to be warm and humid, whereas in the winter temperatures can drop to below freezing. The heavy snowfalls on the mountains, however, make it ideal to take to the slopes and practice your skiing.

Visas and becoming a citizen

Although not in the EU, Switzerland has adopted some of its policies. Therefore, EU citizens can live and work in Switzerland, as long as they have a residence permit.

If you have not already acquired a work contract prior to moving, then you are allowed to look for work for a period of three months. This can be extended to six months. Citizens from outside the EU must have a guaranteed work contract, prior to moving, as well as a work permit. Further information in regards to visas can be found on the government website.

To become a citizen of Switzerland, you need to have resided in the country for at least twelve years. From 2017, this will change to ten years. More information in regards to citizenship can be found here.

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Healthcare in Switzerland is superb, although it is not free. Its structure is a combination of public, subsidised private, and fully private systems. All individuals are required to take out a health and accident insurance policy.

This is compulsory and a policy must be taken out within three months of arriving to live or work in Switzerland. This applies to all members of the family, even babies.

Job market

The unemployment rate in Switzerland is one of the lowest in the world and the requirement for skilled workers is high. Banking, chemical, pharmaceuticals and construction tend to be among the major industries. Alongside this, the headquarters of many of the world’s biggest multinational companies are situated in Switzerland including Nestle, Zurich Insurance, Roche and Adecco. It is also home to the United Nations and the International Red Cross.

To increase your chances of successfully gaining employment, then learning to speak the language of the canton you intend to reside and work in, is distinctly advantageous. However, as many of the multinational companies seek English speaking employees, it is not crucial.

Salaries in Switzerland are extremely high. However, it is worth taking into account when considering jobs that the cost of living is high, too.

Transferring money to Switzerland

If you’re thinking of moving to Switzerland, you’ll probably need to convert some of your British pounds into Swiss francs.

That’s why we’ve teamed up with Wise, an easy-to-use online international money transfer service which uses the real exchange rate, and charges low fees.

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Essential info for Switzerland

Official languages:Swiss German, French, Italian, and Romansch
Capital city:Bern
Currency:Swiss Franc (CHF)
International dialling code:+41
Emergency numbers:(police) 117 (ambulance) 144 (fire) 118 (general emergency) 112
Drives on the:right
Tipping:Not obligatory as there is a service charge of 10-15% added to restaurant bills, as well as at other establishments. However, if you feel the service you have received is exemplary, then it is purely a matter of personal choice whether you leave a tip or not.
Unusual fact:In Switzerland everything is closed on a Sunday.

Property information

There has never been a better time to purchase property in Switzerland, with low mortgage interest rates. Having said this, getting on the property ladder in Switzerland can be expensive.

Houses and apartments do not come cheap and you may find that the prices simply have too many noughts on the end! Property owners in Switzerland do tend to be in the minority, with two-thirds of the population living in rented accommodation.

Buying property in Switzerland

As you would expect, to buy property in the major towns and cities is far more expensive than in less populated districts. Depending on the region, prices vary greatly. In more remote, lesser known areas you can pay less than 3,000 CHF per m² to prices well over 12,000 CHF per m² in the more desirable areas. In Zurich, you can expect to pay on average around 11,500 CHF per square metre and in Geneva 11,000 CHF.

There are many luxury properties available and apartments tend to be modern. They usually come with balconies, communal parking and playgrounds. Properties tend to be listed by the number of rooms, not including the bathroom or kitchen.

If you do decide to purchase a property, you will need to have a minimum deposit of 20% to qualify for a mortgage.

Cost of moving to Switzerland

As Switzerland is a landlocked country, it does not have a dedicated port to send your belongings to as more coastal countries do. However you can still ship your stuff to Switzerland by a combination of transportation methods.

Living costs

Salaries may be high, but the cost of living in Switzerland is too. In a survey Zurich, Geneva, and Bern presented in the top ten of the most expensive places to live, out of 207 cities worldwide.


A meal for two in a restaurant costs on average around 100 CHF. In Geneva and Zurich it could typically cost 120 CHF, whereas in Bern and Lausanne around 70 CHF.

Shopping for groceries can also vary between cantons, with a small shopping list of: milk, bread, eggs, potatoes, cheese and apples costing an average of 30 – 40 CHF. Again Zurich is at the higher end and Lausanne at the lower.


Property is usually rented out unfurnished and rents tend to be high, with a one bedroom city centre apartment costing 1,000 – 2,000 CHF per month. For a three bedroom apartment then you would be looking at 2,000 – 4,000 CHF per month.

Geneva and Zurich are again both at the more expensive end, and Basel and Bern the lower end of the scale. Lausanne comes midway, with rent averages on a three bedroom apartment working out at 3,000 CHF.


Travelling about in Switzerland, a journey of 3km in a taxi will cost around 18 CHF and a one-way trip on public transport costs 3 CHF. Petrol costs on average 1.40 CHF a litre.

Schools and education

Local state-funded schools in Switzerland are excellent and children can take advantage of the free language lessons for expat children. Youngsters tend to pick up languages quickly, so this is ideal for families relocating. There are variations in schools depending in the canton they are based in. Each canton decides the languages taught in the schools and the length of the school day.

Children start kindergarten usually at the age of four or five, unlike school though this is not compulsory. They then go on to elementary school and high school. Each canton in Switzerland has, at least, one secondary school and there are eleven universities throughout Switzerland.

Swiss private schools are exceptional and many are renowned worldwide. Some of these distinguished schools do tend to have long waiting lists, especially in the cities that have a high expat population.

Universities in Switzerland

Switzerland’s universities are outstanding, with two of them ranking in the world’s top 15, ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) and Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne. The universities are supported well by the government, so fees are low in the majority.

Students from the UK do not require a visa to study in Switzerland. They are also permitted to work up to 15 hours per week while at university, without requiring a work permit.

There are differences in school enrolment procedures depending on the canton, which should be investigated upon deciding on a place to move to in Switzerland.

Driving in Switzerland

You are allowed to drive in Switzerland for one year on a recognised foreign driving licence (English, French, German or Italian), after this, a Swiss driving licence will be required. All those from the EU, Iceland, Norway and Lichtenstein, can exchange their driver’s licence for a Swiss one without having to take a test.

This is on the condition that it is exchanged within 12 months of arriving to live in Switzerland. Each of the cantons has its own office where paperwork will need to be submitted.


A motorway vignette is required if you intend to drive on the motorways in Switzerland. It costs 40 CHF and can be purchased online or at the border crossings.

The sticker must be placed on the inside windshield of your car, not on the dashboard (if it is incorrectly placed, or taped on, then it will be deemed invalid).

The vignette is valid for fourteen months, i.e. if you purchase it on January 1st, it does not expire until February 31st of the following year.

Ranking against the world

For work and life balance, a naturally clean environment and general high quality of life Switzerland always tends to top the polls. In a recent Mercer quality of living survey of cities of the world, Zurich came out second next to Vienna.

Switzerland also came top in a survey of the happiest countries in the world and it has been nominated as the favourite destination for expats. Another plus is that Switzerland is neutral, so to many it also feels safe, a peaceful haven away from the hostilities of the rest of the world.

Although the cost of living in Switzerland is high, average personal monthly disposable incomes are far higher than that of the rest of the world. On the other side, despite the fact it is not cheap to live in Switzerland, this is far outweighed by the benefits of residing and working in this glorious country.

Switzerland also came 4th in a survey of the happiest countries in the world. Switzerland is neutral, so to many it also feels safe, a peaceful haven away from the hostilities of the rest of the world.

Want to read more about moving to Switzerland? Check out our list of the 21 things you need to know before moving to Switzerland.