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Living in Switzerland

Your guide to expat life in Switzerland

Want to live in Switzerland?

The most appealing part of living in Switzerland is its exceptional lifestyle. The country’s infrastructure is excellent too. It has an extensive, modern transport system, first-class healthcare and arguably the best chocolate money can buy. Perhaps the only drawback is the price tag – rental costs and living expenses are among the highest in Europe.

Accommodation in Switzerland

Housing in Switzerland is comfortable and modern, but space is limited, so you may have to come to terms with living in a compact apartment rather than a sprawling family home.

Thanks to steadily rising property prices, the Swiss have become a nation of renters and competition for accommodation is stiff. If your employer doesn’t provide housing, it’s best to start your search online before you leave home. Swiss newspapers and property brochures are good sources of information. And estate agents are a great help once you’re in the country.

Due to a severe shortage of rental properties, especially in Zurich and Geneva where costs are inflated, don’t waste time applying for a lease once you’ve found somewhere suitable. To secure a property, you’ll need to put down a deposit of up to three months’ rent and provide documents such as bank statements and personal references.

Local culture in Switzerland

It’s no secret that Switzerland is run strictly and efficiently. A good example of this is some of its seemingly arbitrary laws, such as restrictions on when you can wash your car and mow your lawn. Keeping an open mind is key as you adjust to some of Switzerland’s social customs and legal nuances.

Swiss people are very patriotic, and you can’t miss the national flag displayed outside many homes. The country has four official languages: Swiss German, French, Italian and Romansh. Locals are less receptive towards people who can’t speak one of these languages and you’ll struggle to get by if you don’t master at least some basic phrases. Signage in smaller towns is often only in German, French or Italian.

The Swiss are private people, and their communication style is formal and reserved, which might come across as standoffish at times.

Education in Switzerland

If you’re moving to Switzerland with children, there’s a range of good education options. The school year runs from September to June, with exact dates set by each canton. It’s compulsory for children aged between 5 and 15 to attend school.

Public schools

Switzerland’s state-funded schools are good, and tuition is free. Public education is shaped by the local authority of each canton and classes are taught in the main language of the region. Sending your children to one of these schools is a good option if you plan to settle in Switzerland for the long term or if they’re young enough to assimilate and pick up the local language quickly.

Private schools

Swiss private schools are excellent – some boast international reputations with high fees to match. They tend to have exceptional extracurricular facilities and will give your children a more personalised learning experience.

International schools

Cities with large expat populations such as Geneva and Zurich have a good selection of international schools. These are great if you only plan to be in the country for a short time and want your children to continue studying the national curriculum of your home country. Competition for places is stiff, fees are very high and waiting lists can be long.

Keeping in touch in Switzerland

Broadband, cable and WiFi are widely available in Switzerland. Service providers vary from region to region – the biggest companies are Swisscom, Sunrise, UPC and Salt.

Switzerland also has several fast and reliable mobile networks. If you have a valid work permit, you can choose from various competitive contract packages or you can get a pay-as-you-go deal. In cities such as Basel and Geneva, which border other countries, you may be charged international rates if you forget to turn off your phone’s roaming function.

Expats looking for English media will discover several Swiss publications that cater exclusively for English speakers. These include newspapers such as The Local and websites like Le News, as well as magazines such as Swiss News and Inside Switzerland. There are also some radio stations, including World Radio Switzerland that broadcast mainly in English.

Healthcare in Switzerland

Switzerland has public and private medical facilities, but differences between the two are small and you’ll receive a high standard of care at both. Switzerland’s public hospitals are clean and modern, waiting times are almost non-existent and most medical staff speak English. Many treatments are covered by even the most basic government insurance policies, but you’ll have to pay extra for specialist procedures.

At private hospitals waiting times are even shorter, but treatments cost a lot more and are only covered by comprehensive medical insurance policies. There are also a number of private clinics that offer specialist services such as geriatric rehabilitation.

Medical insurance is compulsory for all residents, and you have to make sure you’re covered within three months of arriving in the country. Basic government medical insurance differs from canton to canton, and contributions are deducted from your salary. For dentistry and optional extras such as private rooms, you’ll need private insurance. Premiums are high, but there are plenty of options to choose from.

Pharmacies (apotheke) are found across the country, with some open 24/7. Medicines that aren’t immediately available can be ordered.

Emergency medical services are covered by a separate compulsory Accident Insurance Scheme (UVG) that’s also deducted from your salary. Ambulances are well equipped, and staff are highly trained.

Getting around in Switzerland

Switzerland has one of the world’s best transport systems. Although domestic flights connect big cities such as Geneva, Zurich and Bern, it’s often quicker and more cost effective to travel by train. An extensive and efficient rail network runs local and regional services. You can travel by rail to almost anywhere in Switzerland, as well as to neighbouring France, Germany and Italy. There’s at least one train every hour on all routes and you must have a ticket before you board – these are sold at station kiosks and online.

Thanks to the comprehensive rail network, buses aren’t used much in Switzerland. Intercity buses connect places such as Geneva, Zurich and Bern. You can buy tickets online, using a smartphone app or at bus stations.

Those who wish to drive will discover that road conditions are outstanding and speed limits are strictly enforced. To use the motorways (autoroutes), you have to display a vignette sticker, which you can buy online. Driving on icy roads in winter is challenging, and most local cars are sold with snow tyres.

Cost of living in Switzerland

Daily expenses in Switzerland are very high. Geneva, Zurich and Bern are among the most expensive destinations in the world. But most expats are paid well, making the high prices easier to swallow. And thanks to efficient public services and well-maintained infrastructure, many expats feel the costs are worth it.

You should try to anticipate what your living expenses will be and negotiate your contract accordingly. Bear in mind that taxes vary depending on the canton or city you live in.

Top tips for Switzerland

See what people responding to our Expat Explorer Survey think about living in Switzerland.

Come with an open mind and wallet, spare time to learn Swiss German, and maintain a desire to see some beautiful Alpine vistas.

All Expat Explorer survey data and all tips (in quotation marks) are provided by HSBC.

All other content is provided by, Globe Media Ltd and was last updated in September 2021. HSBC accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of this information.

This information is purely for orientation and to inspire further research, it does not constitute advice and no liability is accepted to recipients acting independently on its contents. The views expressed are subject to change.

Always remember to ensure you're aware of and comply with any laws in your host country or country of origin that apply to gift giving and bribery.

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