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Expat Exchange - Moving to Switzerland
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Afternoon on the Lake in Zug, Switzerland


Moving to Switzerland

By Joshua Wood, LPC

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William Russell

Summary: Switzerland is a country rich with tradition, natural beauty and one of the most stable economies in the world. It is, however, also extremely expensive and expats often report difficult settling into the culture.

General Information About Switzerland for Expats

Switzerland is a landlocked country in Europe. It is bordered by Italy to the south, France to the west, Germany to the north, and Austria and Liechtenstein to the east. Technically, there is no capital of Switzerland, though the federal government is based in Basel.

Switzerland is renowned for its policy of armed neutrality, which means it will not take sides in any war, but maintains a strong military to deter any hostile nation or other group.

Here is the breakdown of the four official languages of Switzerland: More than half of the Swiss speak German (63%), a little less than a quarter speak French (23%), Italian speakers comprise (9%) of the population, and Romansch is less than 1%.

While Switzerland is part of the United Nations as of 2002, it is NOT a member of the European Union.

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Cost of Living in Switzerland

Gear up, because the cost of living in Switzerland is among the highest in the world, particularly in Zurich and Geneva. Expats complain about the high cost of living there constantly.

One way to help mitigate the cost of living in Switzerland is to reside outside the major cities. The public transportation is excellent if you'll need to commute into the city, and the savings can be quite substantial.

One expat wrote that, "It is SO EXPENSIVE to do anything. Quite simply on the whole I only walk in the country side ( when the weather is good enough) and use the trains, unless you are on a huge expat package then you will feel really poor here."

Another expat in Olten advised others that, "Switzerland is expensive. In particular, medicines, health care and body care products are very expensive. Many Swiss buy them abroad (in Germany) whenever possible."

Cost of Living Comparison: London vs. Zurich || New York vs. Zurich

Healthcare in Switzerland

Healthcare in Switzerland is Universal and having insurance is mandatory for everyone living in Switzerland.

An expat in Geneva wrote that "You have to by law have medical insurance and they trace you and demand it - I delayed and had a threatening letter about a fine- they trace you as you have to register with "population controle cantonal" - and maybe you will also have to show this to rent a flat! I did for my last one. This is Expensive even for the most basic ( you will still have to pay costs on top if you visit a doctor. An EU medical card is not valid if you work here. 500CHF a month for basic. (Another dint in what looked like a great salary.)"

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William RussellWilliam Russell

William Russell's private medical insurance will cover you and your family wherever you may be. Whether you need primary care or complex surgery, you'll have access to the best hospitals & doctors available. Unlike some insurers, we also include medical evacuation and mental health cover in our plans (except SilverLite). Get a quote from our partner, William Russell.
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Visas for Switzerland

Expats will need a specific Swiss visa for any stays longer than 90 days.

Swiss Embassy in the USA (Washington, D.C.)
Swiss Embassy in the U.K. (London)

Schools for Expats in Switzerland

An expat in Zurich wrote that "Aside from trying to adjust to a Continental move, the public school system gave me the most grief. I would suggest a person read up on how it works in Switzerland before deciding to put your children into their system. If you don't like it, or it's not a good fit for your child or children, it's almost impossible to move them to the private school system even with the money for tuition."

Housing in Switzerland

An expat in Basel advised others to "make sure you visit the apartment first and bring your U.S. furniture with you and as much U.S. things as possible to save yourself money. Be careful about furniture fitting up stairways. Be careful about silly rules...no flushing of toilets or taking showers during certain hours, etc."

She shared that she lived in "A multi-level city apartment in the center of town," and that it was not a typical situation for expats. She added that "it is hard to find an apartment like this. They are highly desirable and usually are taken by Swiss citizens." Lastly, she wrote that she had "used a relocation agent who showed me multiple neighborhoods and described pros/cons and I then asked colleagues what they thought and went for their recommendations."

expat who moved just outside of Zurich wrote that he lives in a Share farm house. And no, I don't think this is normal, but it suited me very well. I think most expats would prefer the city. It was a share farm house with 2 blokes. However, take on board that public transport is very reliable and comfortable in Switzerland. Much better than my own country.

Where to Live

An expat who moved just outside of Zurich shared:

"Moving to this area offers a great lifestyle plus easy access to city (Zurich). This is a small, peaceful village - with a lake. Has basic ammenities eg. post office, Migros, Newsagent, Fab Doctors, Clinic, kindergarten, school. Nearest major shopping centre is Volketsville or Uster. (10-15 mins either side of G/see). Accommodation is limited and best to try early in year and mid year as these are the main times for change of leasing."

Public Transportation

An expat in Oltenwrote that "Switzerland has the best public transport system of Europe, and one of the best of the world. Living without car may be very well possible for you in Switzerland - consider this when you plan to import a car."

Another expat agreed, saying that "public transport excellent."

Culture Shock

An experienced expat in Zurich had trouble adjusting to the realities of life there.

He wrote that: "This has been my unhappiest posting and the most difficult to culturally adapt to. I have worked in many countries including some of the most restrictive in the Middle East as well as other European countries, but this has been by far the most difficult."

About the Author

Joshua Wood Joshua Wood, LPC joined Expat Exchange in 2000 and serves as one of its Co-Presidents. He is also one of the Founders of Digital Nomad Exchange. Prior to Expat Exchange, Joshua worked for NBC Cable (MSNBC and CNBC Primetime). Joshua has a BA from Syracuse and a Master's in Clinical and Counseling Psychology from Fairleigh Dickinson University. Mr. Wood is also a licensed counselor and psychotherapist.

Some of Joshua's articles include Pros and Cons of Living in Portugal, 10 Best Places to Live in Ireland and Pros and Cons of Living in Uruguay. Connect with Joshua on LinkedIn.


William Russell
William Russell

William Russell
William Russell

Afternoon on the Lake in Zug, Switzerland

William Russell
William Russell

Get a quote for international health insurance from our partner, William Russell.
Get Quote

William RussellWilliam Russell

Get a quote for international health insurance from our partner, William Russell.
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Help others in Switzerland by answering questions about the challenges and adventures of living in Switzerland.

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