14 Expats Talk about What It's Like Living in Switzerland
Summary: Expats in Switzerland advise newcomers to join a few expat clubs, learn German (or French / Italian), enjoy the outdoors and travel Europe.
Meeting People in Switzerland
Expat Life in Switzerland
What is it like living in Switzerland? Here is what people had to say:
"Work is a big priority. Many people here are professionals highly specialised in their field, they were brought here to work, and they focus on it. Banks and the UN and P&G are the biggest employers," said one expat living in Geneva, Switzerland.
"There is a lot of socializing and traveling in small groups or as individuals. Most of the people you will meet who are expats are well educated and excited to be at the heart of Europe with what are pretty reasonable salaries and a lot of free time to enjoy the perks. Skiing, climbing, bicycle touring, etc. etc. on the physical side are just a few of the attractions. GAOS, the amateur theatrical group is far more interesting than their title would indicate and many folks get immersed in their activities. Of course, everything you do in Geneva will eventually lead you to a banquet to celebrate something or other which will lead you to yet another," commented one expat who made the move to Switzerland.
"Lots of outdoor activiites - cycling and roller blading are big things. You can go right round the lake - 41km! Healthly living in general. Zug is a bit materialistic with quite a transient expat population. Mixing with Swiss people is not easy - but worth the effort! Lot of people speak English," mentioned another expat in Zug, Switzerland.
"Neuchatel is famous for watchmaking and high-tech industries and is home to a number of English-speaking companies such as Philip Morris, Baxter, Auto-Desk etc. In areas of the canton outside of the town of Neuchatel area there are other companies such as Johnson & Johnson, so there are more English-speaking ex-pats than one would imagine for a town as small as Neuchatel. The Neuchatelois also have a football team (Neuchatel Xamax) that is EU class, again something most towns its size do not have," remarked another expat living in Neuchatel, Switzerland.
Advice for Newcomers to Switzerland
"LEARN GERMAN,and make sure that you can get a tax specialist who speaks your langauge if you mother tongue is not German, French or Italian," mentioned one expat in Switzerland.
"Learn the language of the place you live in. Do not try to recreate America here, but be sensitive and adapt to the local culture. Have fun with it. Switzerland has a lot to offer," commented one expat who made the move to Switzerland.
"Pack your bags and get on over here!!! Seriously - make sure you get a good agent to help you before you start - the help we got before we came was invaluable and she is still helping us on and off now when we have questions (Nicky at Le Concierge); talk to your kids a lot in advance so they are in on the adventure from the start and try to get them to understand that things will be different and their favorite peanut butter may not be available (tip: Gourmet Garage in Zürich can be a lifesaver!); be prepared to spend a lot of energy at the beginning making new friends and getting involved - after a while you'll find one or two good friends and the effort will be worth it; above all keep an open mind, be patient with yourselves and the experience and don't worry if you have homesick days," remarked another expat living in Zug, Switzerland.
What Expats Appreciate about Their New Culture
We asked expats in Switzerland what they appreciated about their new culture. Here's what they had to say:
"The air is clean, we can ski on weekends in winter. You see the mountains. But that's about it. I personally appreciate Asia much more," said one expat living in Zurich, Switzerland.
"We love the public transportation and my teens love their independence as a result. We also love our proximity to great travel destinations. On our calendar is a concert in Paris and a spring break trip to Italy," mentioned another expat in Switzerland.
The Most Challenging Aspects of Living in Switzerland
Then, we asked expats in Switzerland what was most challenging about their new culture. They replied:
"The lack of local language skills is at the top of the list. It isolates you and forms a barrier in what in your own country would be friendly, every day, people to people contact situations: such as pleasantries exchanged with a check out clerk or a neighbor while walking the dog. I also feel out of it with regards to the news: what is going on in the arts, politics. I used to be well informed, now I am not at all. I have been too busy getting my kids settled, hooking up utilities, figuring out our mail forwarding, our taxes, etc," said one expat living in Geneva, Switzerland.
Diversity in Switzerland
We asked expats about diversity in Switzerland and whether locals are accepting of differences. They said:
"Very diverse - think there are about 21% foreigners here. Racism? We haven't felt any but believe it exisits. Religion is Catholic - but there are also non-Catholic churches. Seems more choice in Zurich (only 20 minutes from where we live). We feel safe here and our children go to school alone," said one expat living in Zug, Switzerland.
"With the International Organizations in town there is an incredible amount of diversity. As noted by others here, it is difficult to meet the locals but I found them warm and hospitable on a one to one basis. They enjoy including their 'exotics' (us) in their activities and we have been invited to family dinners, weddings and birthday partys over the years. If you are a francophobe though, you may have trouble. Learn a bit of French and you will have a totally different experience," mentioned another expat in Switzerland.
"Neuchatel is traditionally Protestant but there are many Catholics in the canton. In Switzerland, as a whole one in seven people is not Swiss and this holds true in Neuchatel. The Neuchatelois are very tolerant but are made uncomfortable by highly visible symbols such as burkas," commented one expat who made the move to Switzerland.
"Lugano is in Italian Switzerland in the cantone of Ticino, and it is located on Lake Lugano. The local language is Italian, but most people also speak German/Swiss German and French, although very few speak English. There are many Catholic churches, a mosque and a Christian church, but the people aren't heavily religious. The people are generally very nice as long as you don't act like a loud-mouth American who is surprised that they don't speak English. Just say 'I'm sorry, I don't speak Italian. Do you speak English?' (translation: Mi dispiace ma non parlo italiano bene. Pali inglese?) Then, they will most likely do their best to help you," remarked another expat living in Lugano, Switzerland.
About the Author
Betsy Burlingame is the Founder and President of Expat Exchange and is one of the Founders of Digital Nomad Exchange. She launched Expat Exchange in 1997 as her Master's thesis project at NYU. Prior to Expat Exchange, Betsy worked at AT&T in International and Mass Market Marketing. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a BA in International Business and German.
Some of Betsy's articles include 12 Best Places to Live in Portugal, 7 Best Places to Live in Panama and 12 Things to Know Before Moving to the Dominican Republic. Betsy loves to travel and spend time with her family. Connect with Betsy on LinkedIn.
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