Life in Switzerland: A guide for expats

Life in Switzerland: A guide for expats

by Anne-Lise Vassoille

Updated June 7, 2023

Switzerland is widely known for its great quality of life and regularly ranks as one of the happiest countries in the world, according to the World Happiness Report. So it’s hardly surprising that it’s a top destination for expats. About two million expats reside in Switzerland, representing over 25% of the country’s total population. 

Thinking of joining their ranks? Before you do, we recommend learning about all the practical details you’ll need to ease your way in. Daily life, work, health, school and (of course) languages — our guide covers the most important information you need to know.

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What is it like living in Switzerland as an expat?

If you’re an outdoorsy person, you’ll probably love the breathtaking mountains and lakes,as well as all the activities the Swiss landscape offers. If you’re not into (extreme) sports, worry not! Switzerland has something for you, too. You can take a peaceful stroll in a picturesque village or go on an all-day shopping spree in one of the top Swiss cities

Speaking of cities, how concerned should you be about walking alone at night? With low crime rates, Switzerland is very safe — even if you should still keep an eye on pickpocketing and bag snatching in busy areas. Finally, if you love organizing gateway weekends, Switzerland’s location in the center of Europe makes trip planning a breeze. The small country is surrounded by prime destinations, and you won’t have to travel far before reaching France, Italy, Germany or Austria.

That’s not to say that living in Switzerland is all a dream. The high quality of life comes at a price, and you may spend significantly more on housing, healthcare, education and daily necessities. Your status as an expat may also complicate matters. For instance, on top of the high property prices and the strict mortgage rules, expats must hold a B or C residence permit before they’re even allowed to buy their own home in Switzerland.

In terms of social life, expats may also find it hard to break the ice at first, as Swiss people have a reputation for being very reserved and traditional. You may just need to be aware of it and practice patience. Of course, the existing expat community may prove useful when you first relocate to the country. Not only will they provide you with a goldmine of useful information and advice, but they’ll also ease your way into the Swiss way of life and help you make new friends.

What about the working life in Switzerland?

If the cost of living is very high in Switzerland, so are the average salaries. This may be in part due to the country’s highly skilled workforce. Indeed, if you’re looking for a technical job in, for instance, engineering, IT or finance, you may find many attractive opportunities in Switzerland. However, with a low unemployment rate of about 4%, you may also face fierce competition.

Once you’ve landed your dream job, you may find the work culture more formal than what you’re used to. A relatively strict hierarchy and formal politeness are the norms here,  so don’t neglect to use surnames and titles when addressing colleagues. You may also observe that people are generally reserved and tend not to overly share personal information. With this “let’s get down to business” disposition, punctuality is expected — so don’t forget your Swiss watch!

This punctuality may also account for the healthy work-life balance Swiss workers enjoy. With a maximum of 45 hours per week, work is strictly done during office hours; evenings and weekends are for personal life only. Swiss workers are also entitled to at least four weeks of paid vacation, plus the national and local bank holidays.

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How does healthcare work in Switzerland?

Switzerland benefits from a very strong healthcare system, thanks in part to the generous budget that’s devoted to it. Close to 12% of the Swiss GDP is spent on medical care, but the necessary funds are not collected through federal taxes. Instead, Swiss healthcare is a decentralized system. In effect, each canton runs its own basic health insurance scheme through local taxes and social insurance contributions. These funds allow them to cover a wide range of benefits, such as emergency care, medicine prescriptions, vaccinations and outpatient treatments. Additionally, Swiss residents can subscribe to private health insurance that typically covers between 80% and 90% of medical costs.

Is Switzerland a good place to raise children?

As previously mentioned, Switzerland is a very safe place. From a young age, children in Switzerland are able to go around on their own or with their friends without any significant risk of danger. There are also plenty of outdoor activities and child-friendly facilities they may enjoy. 

Similarly, schools are of a very high standard, with a mix of private, public and international establishments. Children have to go to school at least until they’re 15. Once they reach that age, they may join an upper secondary or vocational school. Switzerland is also home to some of the best universities across the globe. 

Should I learn the local language before moving to Switzerland?

It’s a question you should ask yourself before relocating anywhere in the world. And with German, Italian, French and Romansch all being official languages, you’ll have your pick when choosing Switzerland as your new home. 

You may be better off learning at least the one language spoken in your canton of residence. Even if English is sufficient for work, being fluent in the local language will give you an advantage. It will also make it easier for you to navigate daily life and socialize.

Your guide to expat life in Switzerland

If you fancy a new start in greener lands, Switzerland may well be an ideal place to settle down. Of course, you may have to cope with the high cost of living and the reserved nature of Swiss people. But expats in Switzerland enjoy a great quality of life thanks to a healthy work-life balance, a great education and healthcare system, and a safe environment.

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Anne-Lise Vassoille

Anne-Lise is a translator and copywriter working for various industries… Settled down in London, she cannot get enough of the exceptional cultural life in the English capital city, starting with theater, be it to see a new West End show or to roll up her sleeves with her amateur drama group. She is also interested in photography, as her Instagram profile shows. She indulges her passion for languages in a translation blog she writes with other linguist friends. Go to her Linkedin page to know more about her background and her professional experience.

Anne-Lise Vassoille

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