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Afternoon on the Lake in Zug, Switzerland
Afternoon on the Lake in Zug, Switzerland
Afternoon on the Lake in Zug, Switzerland

Living in Switzerland

By Betsy Burlingame

Last updated on Feb 10, 2022

Summary: Expats, digital nomads and retirees talk about what it is really like living in Switzerland. They offer advice about meeting people, cost of living, finding a home and more.

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What do I need to know about living in Switzerland?

Live in Switzerland? Answer this Question

When we asked people what advice they would give someone preparing to move to Switzerland, they said:

"You should have a particular reason for moving to Neuchatel, such as an interest in high-tech work, and not just chose it because of its lovely lake-side location, for example. It is a specialized place and you should be prepared for that before deciding upon Neuchatel as a place to live," remarked another expat who made the move to Neuchatel.

"Don't bother bringing anything unless you are totally convinced that you won't be able to get it in Geneva. If you can think of something that fits that catagory I would love to know what it was as I haven't found anything (a long while ago we couldn't find "crunchy" peanut butter but forget that problem, it's here) lacking here. Go to the library and check out a couple of books on Switzerland. The locals will be amazed when you are able to demonstrate any knowledge about history, especially theirs. North Americans have been judged, and rightfully so, deficient in an appreciation of history and the role it plays in Europe generally. You will have to read the books, by the way," explained one expat living in Geneva, Switzerland.

"Try to find someone to help you who is not part of the company. We got a recommenation for a relocation company from a friend (Le concierge) and they did everything for us when we couldn't be in Zug. House hunting was a nightmare (too many people, too few houses) and the agents went to look at them for us and sent pictures, maps, floorplans etc by mail. This was a fantastic help and they defintely got our profile right! We went to look at 3 places (with the whole family!!) and were very lucky we got one. I don't think we could have done this without help - and very fast action from the agents (Nikki and Renata). Also - go with an open mind! We read a few books before we went but found Siwss people much warmer and friendlier than the books suggested. We got some good tips from Renata (she's Swiss) about how to meet the neighbours etc and I tihnk this helped a lot. Try not to keep thinking how things are "back home" - it helped us more to focus on where you are now. We had Swedish TV via satellite which was good at the start for the children but we didn't need to brng so much Swedish food! Get out and about - we've seem more of Switz than some Swiss and it is a lovely place," said another expat in Switzerland.

"Watch out for the landlords. Protect yourself as the business people appear, but are not, honest. They have little ethics. The city is central to everything and getting around is easy. If you like culture, this city has a lot to offer. The food is terrible. It is very expensive to live there. There are no provisions for working women. Men are very chauvinistic. I made a number of friends and do like the Swiss, but watch out for the ethical guidelines as they are not like ours," added another expat who made the move to Basel.

"Life is very insular in Geneva, a social life does not immediately await you, you absolutely have to make the effort to join things to fit in and meet people as socialising with work colleagues is not overly common as in England," explained one expat living in Geneva, 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," mentioned another in Switzerland.

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How do I meet people in Switzerland?

Live in Switzerland? Answer this Question

When we asked people living in Switzerland about club and activities where newcomers can meet others, they responded:

"Neuchatel International Club, English Speaking Ladies Group, Chappel des Charmettes religious (Christian Protestant) & social activities," added another expat in Neuchatel.

"North Americans will particularly enjoy linking up with the local softball league. This a great time for the athlete and non-athlete to get out in the countryside and play. You will meet all sorts of nationalities as many unexpected fans of American baseball pop up from all over the world. Contact by email or, if you work in one of the Orgs, ask around about the league. There are many teams," remarked another expat who made the move to Geneva.

"There's an Internatioanl Women's club which is quite extensive. Some members are too high brow for us (lots of very wealthy wives!) but also lots of mums and kids activities. My neighbour goes to the business forum meetings from teh same club and finds them informative - but they are really aimed at working women not SAHMs. Our relocation company had a get-together just after we arrived for people new to the area and that was very helpful - nice to meet people in the same boat! They also found some families with similar family situation (we have a disabled child) for us and that has been very good. Language lessons are good - we got a list from the agent when we arrived with some tips about each school. We went for a big class - was good to meet people but was slow. Now we have a private teacher," explained one expat living in Switzerland.

"The best one by far is http://www.sindy.ch These guys are a huge Geneva network, mainly for expats but also for locals. Their mission in life is to 'make Geneva friendlier', and they - truly - changed my life in Geneva. They do various activities, from parties to adventure trips to chairy work - that draw many people who are into meeting others. Gives a v good and quick access to many leads," said another expat in Geneva.

"Take the "Living in Zurich" mini course offered in October (every Friday for 6 weeks) by the American Women's Club of Zurich," added another expat who made the move to Zurich.

"For younger people 25 plus... www.sindy.ch hold large parties and festivities or join the Geneva Amateur Operatic Society. Fun at Xmas with Panto and lots of friendly expats," explained one expat living in Geneva, Switzerland.

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Learn MoreGET A QUOTE

William Russell Health Insurance

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.

Learn MoreGET A QUOTE

What is life like in Switzerland?

Live in Switzerland? Answer this Question

When we asked people living in Switzerland what life is like and how people spend their time, they said:

"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," explained one expat living in Neuchatel, 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 other," said another expat in Geneva.

"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," added another expat who made the move to Switzerland.

"Work 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," explained one expat living in Geneva, Switzerland.

"Families are a huge priority here, it can be difficult if you are not yet at that stage in life," mentioned another in Geneva.

"Zug has very low personal and corporate taxation and most people are just here because of tehir jobs (expats that is). However, standard of living is good - lots of international restaurants, good train connections to other cities and areas, very nice local people once they get used to you - and we found that it really helped to learn a bit of German - the locals are REALLY keen to practice their English but we found a few stumbling words in German always broke the ice. Seem very sporty as well - lots of cyclists and in-line skaters out on the streets and MANY people swim in the lakes regulary. Walking is of course a big thing - who couldn't get hooked with the gorgeous mountains right on the doorstep!!," explained one expat who made the move to Switzerland.

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Is there a lot of diversity? Are people in Switzerland accepting of differences?

Live in Switzerland? Answer this Question

"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," explained one expat living in Lugano, 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," said another expat in Neuchatel.

"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," added another expat who made the move to Geneva.

"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," explained one expat living in Switzerland.

"Yes, there are a number of Turks. Discrimination is great. I found my landlord, who owns Muki Shoes, dishonest as he refused to return my rent money which was erroneously deposited in his account by my bank through direct rental payment. I think the Swiss businesses take advantage of Americans. They are envious of us, but hate us as well," mentioned another in Basel.

"The city of Zurich is multicultural and tolerant but many of the Swiss are not; there are many, many rules (like no gardening on Sundays)that can frustrate; a recent poll showed the Swiss have the highest negative opinion of America; anti-Semitism is high and the Albanians are the latest to be despised; sexism, especially in the business world, is much higher than in America," explained one expat who made the move to Zurich.

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.

What are the schools in Switzerland like?

Live in Switzerland? Answer this Question

"ISBerne is a school with vibrant community and excellent education standards. I would advise to pay the school visit prior to enrolment, have a school tour and organise the trial school day for your child," added another expat with kids at International School Of Bern in Bern - Gumligen.

"We are very happy here and are having a great experience living in Switzerland as a result. The teacher-student ratio is low so we feel the kids get a lot of attention from their teacher," commented one expat when asked about International School of Berne in Gümligen.

"Elementary school has improved a lot in the last few years as it's been open just since 2005. High school is more established. Enrolling is becoming more competitive as the school is in great demand, so better apply early enough. Children have lots of homework to do and are continuously challenged by moving them from one grade to a higher one, once they improve, so get ready to a lot of parent support at home," remarked another expat living in Lugano with children attending Tasis The American School in Switzerland.

"Dont worry if your kids speak no English, this will not be a problem. From grade 3 onwards they do get homework that you may need to help with, and count on setting time aside for. The school uses an age based concept for distributing kids in the classes - I would recommend sticking to this, even if it means your child will skip a grade. We did not, so had to move our daughter one grade to give her sufficient challenge and classmates her age. Had I known how quickly her English became good I would not have worried," said another expat in Aesch with children at International School Basel.

"Obviously visit the campus with your child. BFA is quite willing to allow prospective students a day on campus being hosted by another student in the same grade. This is an excellent opportunity for your child to get to know the other students and some teachers. The student body and teachers in the BFA community are kind and caring," remarked another parent with kids at Black Forest Academy in Kandern.

"My advice would be to come for a visit in an early stage. The school is very welcoming to interested parents. You must feel the atmosphere, meet the staff and see the student's work to really appreciate the school and the town of Schaffhausen. For families this is a perfect place to live," explained one expat living in Schaffhausen, Switzerland.

About the Author

Betsy Burlingame 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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Get a quote for international health insurance from our partner, William Russell.
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Afternoon on the Lake in Zug, Switzerland

William Russell Health InsuranceExpat Health Insurance

Get a quote for international health insurance from our partner, William Russell.
GET A QUOTE

William Russell Health InsuranceExpat Health Insurance

Get a quote for international health insurance from our partner, William Russell.
GET A QUOTE

Switzerland GuideSwitzerland Guide
Learn what members have to say about living in Switzerland.

Switzerland Forum Switzerland Forum
Talk with other digital nomads and expats in Switzerland on our Switzerland forum - meet people, get advice and help others.

Switzerland Index Switzerland Index
An index of all of our site's Switzerland information.

Contribute to Switzerland Network Contribute
Help others in Switzerland by answering questions about the challenges and adventures of living in Switzerland.

Expat Healthcare Advice in SwitzerlandHealthcare & Health Insurance in Switzerland

Expats in Switzerland offer advice about healthcare, hospital visits, emergency rooms visits, finding a doctor and buying health insurance in Switzerland.

Real Estate in SwitzerlandReal Estate in Switzerland

Real estate listings in popular cities and towns in Switzerland.

Guide to Real Estate in SwitzerlandGuide to Real Estate in Switzerland

Advice for people renting and buying real estate in Switzerland.

Cost of Living in SwitzerlandCost of Living in Switzerland

Digital Nomads & Expats offer insight into the cost of living in Switzerland.

14-Expats-Talk-about-What-Its-Like-Living-in-Switzerland14 Expats Talk about What It's Like Living in Switzerland

Expats in Switzerland advise newcomers to join a few expat clubs, learn German (or French / Italian), enjoy the outdoors and travel Europe.

10-Tips-for-Living-in-Switzerland10 Tips for Living in Switzerland

Advice from expats in Switzerland on housing search, finding a job in Switzerland, international schools, expat clubs and organizations, learning the language and cost of living. A must read for newcomers and anyone moving to Switzerland.

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