21 Things to Know Before Moving to Switzerland
Ah Switzerland, one of Europe’s most geographically stunning countries – and with a standard of living to make the whole world envious. To put it simply, if you’re planning on moving to Switzerland, it’s almost a guarantee that your quality of life will improve. Home to nearly 2.1 million expats, it’s clear Switzerland has plenty to offer those looking to make the move.
Even so, moving to any country can still be a daunting experience. That’s why we’ve put together this helpful guide featuring 21 things you need to know before moving to Switzerland.
Switzerland's natural beauty is breathtaking
1. Four, yes FOUR official languages are spoken
Travel across the country and you’ll find your head spinning at all the Italian, French, German, and Romansh being spoken. And it gets more confusing, because Swiss German is not identical to the version spoken in Germany, so having an understanding of regular German might not be quite the advantage you expect. You’ll even find yourself hearing the occasional spot of Neo-Latin (albeit rarely), prompting the age-old question – did the Roman Empire really fall?
Just to be clear though, while the four official languages are the default, English is also spoken by many Swiss people – so you’ll be able to get by, especially in the larger cities. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to pick up a few words in any of those four languages, though!
2. Finding a home can be challenging
It’s no secret that property in Switzerland’s major cities is scarce, caused in part by huge demand from expats looking for their own slice of Swiss life. And what property is available, is usually rather pricey if you’re looking to purchase outright. You’ll have an easier time finding a place to rent, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that even this can be tricky.
Our advice is to consider looking in districts outside of the central areas of cities. Switzerland’s transportation system is very efficient (after all, does any nation dominate watchmaking quite like Switzerland?), so the chances of finding yourself stuck are low
3. Medicine is expensive
It shouldn’t come as a great surprise that Switzerland is an expensive country to live in. Even so, many expats moving to Switzerland quickly realize that over-the-counter medication is pricey. So pricey in fact, that the majority of expats moving to Switzerland choose to get health insurance to cover the costs.
To help you find private medical insurance in Switzerland, we’ve partnered with Cigna Global. Its four levels of annual cover all come with extra modules for added flexibility, meaning Cigna can give you a plan that covers anything you might need. Start building a customized plan with a free quote today to give you and your family peace of mind.
We’ve also written a comprehensive guide on healthcare in Switzerland if you’d like to take a more in-depth look at the country's healthcare system.
4. Cosmetics can break the bank, too
It isn’t just medicine that comes at eye-watering costs; makeup and other cosmetic items also leave expats reaching deep into their pockets. Take a bottle of hydrogen peroxide, for example: you’ll find yourself shelling out CHf 10 ($10) for a paltry 50ml bottle – that’s hardly enough for a cheeky highlight! For extra context, a 500ml bottle of hydrogen peroxide in America will cost most people around $1.50 (or thereabouts). Maybe it’s time to embrace the au naturale approach before your move?
5. In fact, Switzerland is just plain pricey
There’s no point hiding it – the cost of living in Switzerland is high across the board. On average, Swiss citizens spend around a third of their monthly income on rent and a further 5% on insurance. Your general expenses will also be high, with the average monthly spend coming out to about CHf 1,500 (roughly $1,615).
The counter to this is that Switzerland offers some of Europe’s highest salaries. At around CHf 6,500/month (just under $7,000), you’ll be putting a decent amount away if you can budget accordingly. Just try to avoid too many fondues…
6. Sunday is really a day of rest
As the modern world has evolved, Sundays in many countries have started to blend in with the rest of the week in terms of keeping things open for business. Not so in Switzerland – here, Sundays really do mean everything is shut down. And we mean everything; you’ll be hard pressed to find a single shop open.
This might sound unappealing to some, but the reality is that Sundays in Switzerland are great opportunities for families to truly unwind after a busy week. Many take to the various parks in the cities, or go walking in the spectacular countryside. And of course, Sundays for many Swiss people still mean attending church.
Zurich's architecture still has an old-world charm
7. Exchanging money takes some thought
If you’re moving to Switzerland, you’re obviously going to need to convert some of your money into Swiss francs. What you don’t want to do though, is exchange your cash via a main street bank, as the conversion rates are often astronomical. After all, in a country with prices like Switzerland, you’re going to want to keep every cent you can!
What we recommend is using a trusted money transfer service and thankfully, we’ve already done the research to help you choose the right one. Check out our expert ratings and find the best money transfer provider today.
8. Landing a job takes time
Because of Switzerland’s high salaries and standard of living, jobs are always competitive. Even if you can speak the language(s), expect to spend around six months looking for work, especially in big cities like Geneva or Zürich. Lengthy recruitment processes don’t help either; the Swiss might be master timekeepers, but they sure know how to take their sweet time in this case! With that in mind, our advice is to search for and secure a job well in advance of your move to Switzerland.
9. Cars are taxed heavily
This will sound quite unusual for US expats, but owning a car in Switzerland really is something of a luxury! Not only are they taxed to the high hills and back, but maintenance costs and insurance are expensive too. If you’re moving to one of Switzerland’s cities, it’s generally better to get used to public transportation.
10. Electricity is done differently to the States
When moving to Switzerland, don’t forget that the electric current is AC 220 – 240 volts, with a frequency of 50 Hz. Put simply, what this means for US expats is that you’ll need to purchase a step-down transformer for your electrical appliances. You should be able to easily purchase one at most electrical stores, though. Also, note that electricity bills are paid directly to the electricity company in addition to any other utility bills you might have (unless stated otherwise in a rental agreement).
11. Education is excellent
Any parent looking to move to Switzerland will be relieved to hear that the country’s education system is among the very best around. In both international and public schools, Switzerland's standard of education is very high and well deserving of its stellar reputation.
12. Transportation is measured in milliseconds
Famous for their timekeeping, it was always going to be the case that the Swiss would boast a very efficient transportation system. Indeed, the idea of a delayed train is nothing short of blasphemous here, so rest assured that if you need to be somewhere for a certain time, Switzerland will have you covered.
Just a quick tip to remember: get a Swiss travel pass. With one, you’ll save a substantial amount on the country’s high transportation costs.
On time and with views like this? Yes please!
13. Switzerland is broken up into cantons
No, not a canteen, a canton. Cantons are a type of division used in multiple countries, but they’re most typically associated with Switzerland. What is interesting about the cantons in Switzerland is that each of the 26 are technically sovereign states! This doesn’t have much tangible impact on the day-to-day running of the country, but it’s an interesting conversation starter nonetheless.
Some of the more famous cantons include Graubünden, best known for its mountains, breathtaking lakes, and excellent skiing opportunities, and Zürich, which is recognised around the world for its namesake city and beautiful surroundings.
14. Festivals and public holidays differ depending on where you are
Switzerland is a country that loves a good public holiday, but be aware that the dates these fall on vary from canton to canton. This can make planning a trip to see a friend in another part of the country a little tricky! Of the few public holidays that occur on the same day (including the obvious ones like Christmas and New Year’s Eve), the Swiss national day (August 1st) is definitely one to look forward to.
15. Dining options are phenomenal
Famous of course for its chocolate and cheese, Switzerland’s dining scene is in fact about as diverse as it can get! Take Geneva for example, where the population of foreign-born residents stands at around 41%. This has had a colossal impact on the city’s culinary landscape, with tons of different dishes available from all four corners of the globe. And if you’re willing to splash the cash a little, Switzerland boasts a plethora of Michelin-starred restaurants offering some of the best cuisine money can buy.
16. The Swiss love sports
Compared to other countries around the world, Switzerland has some of the lowest rates of obesity. This is due in part to the people’s obsession with keeping fit and playing all manner of sports. The obvious one is skiing, and around 37% of all Swiss residents take to the slopes in the on-season (November to mid March).
Outside of the skiing season, you’ll find people swimming, hiking, and cycling around the country’s stunning natural lakes and landscapes.
17. Swiss rules and regulations can be… interesting
The Swiss love their rules, even if they can be baffling from the perspective of an expat. Take this doozy for example – flushing the toilet after 10pm is not allowed, and a man may not, ahem, relieve himself after 10pm either. Also, if you’re planning on bringing or buying what Swiss law calls a ‘social animal’ (a guinea pig, a mouse, etc.), you are legally required to provide your pet with a companion. Okay, so that one is actually pretty cute, but it’s still a great example of the sort of zany laws the Swiss are famous for.
Our favorite obscure law has got to be the total ban on reading poetry while skiing. It begs the question of how on earth such a rule came to be, but it’s certainly something to try to imagine!
18. The Swiss are fastidious recyclers
Few people on earth love recycling as much as the Swiss, though whether this stems from a desire to go green or the fact that they have to pay for household waste is anyone’s guess! For recycling though, basically every city, town, and village in the country has extensive facilities covering every type of recyclable material (you’ll just need to get into the habit of separating it all).
The Swiss keep their streets meticulously clean
19. Switzerland has some of the best views on the planet
It’s clear by how much we’ve already mentioned it, but Switzerland’s scenery is mindblowing. We recommend taking the famed Glacier Express train, which cuts through scenery lifted straight from fairytale books. Basically all of Switzerland is picturesque though, with even cities like Geneva and Zürich framed by sublime lakes and mountains.
20. Pets are treated like royalty
Okay, so maybe not quite on the same level as royalty, but it’s clear for all to see that the Swiss truly love their pets. Just walk past most apartment blocks in a city and you’ll see little stairs specifically designed to let cats come and go as they please!
Between dogs and cats though, there’s an uneven ratio, with the feline side of the equation seeing three times as much representation. Don’t forget that if you’re bringing a dog with you (or getting one after the move), you’ll have to pay tax on your canine companion – starting at around CHf 160 ($170) per year for smaller dogs.
21. Seasons differ quite a bit
While you won’t see seasonal variations in the extreme, it’s still important to prepare in advance. Winter in Switzerland can get pretty chilly, though this depends on exactly where you are in the country. More mountainous regions can drop to -10°C (14°F) in December, while areas closer to sea level see between -1 to -4°C (30-25°F). Swiss summers are pleasant, with averages of 18 to 28°C (65-82° F).
Once you’re ready to move to Switzerland, you can take the next step by completing this form to get free shipping quotes, all from trusted experts who can move everything you’ll need into your new home.