Expat financier cooks up vegan recipe book

After spending a decade working in the finance industry in London, Spanish-born Ana Ortega, 32, was transferred to Switzerland. She tells The Local how her newfound passion for vegan food led her to write a cookbook on the side.

Expat financier cooks up vegan recipe book
Photos: Ana Ortega

How did you end up in Switzerland?

Well, it didn’t happen all of a sudden. I’m originally from Malaga in southern Spain, where I completed my studies in mass media and journalism while working in Business Development. I then moved to London to explore new career opportunities and became a freelance writer. There I completed a master’s degree in International Finance and was introduced to the world of collective investment, which fascinated me.

Last spring, the company I was working for transferred me to Switzerland. I loved the country already and I’m the kind of person who needs and welcomes challenges, so I was happy to come here.

Now I live in Zumikon, just outside Zurich, and work as a Funds Specialist in the finance industry. In April I published my first book – a vegan cookbook called ‘Vegan Recipes for Newbies’.

What made you go from finance to food-writing?

In all honesty, it was an idea born under the shower.

For me a work-life balance is fundamental. These days everyone is expected to do so much more in the workplace that we end up neglecting ourselves.

Last October, I became vegan for health reasons and began researching veganism. I was overwhelmed by the variety of food available, and found that eating vegan made me feel much more active and energetic. So I decided to put together a simple cookbook for anyone looking to embrace a healthy lifestyle with or without cooking skills.

What’s the response been like to the cookbook?

The response has been simply amazing! It’s been a very rewarding experience and encourages me to continue writing.

In Switzerland, It’s particularly popular among Swiss women and expats – perhaps because summer is approaching and they want to stay in shape.

‘Vegan Recipes for Newbies’ has also opened the door to many other opportunities. For instance, I’m now organizing a vegan cookery course – taught in English – in Zurich, which is designed for business professionals and students with limited cooking skills and/or time. My aim is to show them how to have fun with cooking and to produce healthy food that doesn’t require much preparation time.

I’m actually about to publish my second book, 'Taxi, Life stories', a novel about a young entrepreneur in her 30s who collects anecdotes and life experiences through a unique social group: European taxi drivers.

How are vegans perceived in Switzerland?

It’s easy to be a vegan in Switzerland because of the healthy and nutritional lifestyle here. As long as you avoid the Swiss cheese and the chocolate, you’ll find there are plenty of vegan options in restaurants.

I’m also very fortunate to be surrounded by nature, farms, and a wealth of organic products. Most people associate veganism with limitation when in fact it’s the opposite.

Was it difficult to integrate as an expat here?

Not at all. It was a very smooth transition. People think that Swiss people are very introverted – and perhaps they can be, but personally I’ve had the reverse experience and have made some great friends.

Do you notice any differences between the working cultures you’ve experienced?

In Switzerland, preparation is key, particularly when you’re in an office environment or meeting with clients. So it’s particularly important to do your research first.

Business in Switzerland often has a social element, so it’s important to get to know your clients well and at least learn the basics of Swiss German such as “hello” and “how are you?”

Also, unlike in London, where I noticed a lot of business was conducted over the phone, the Swiss prefer to do business face-to-face.

Do you have any advice for expats looking for a job in Switzerland?

Expats moving to Switzerland from big cities like London can appear quite cold and unapproachable to the Swiss. That’s something expats should be wary of.

And even if you have a high-powered job that takes up most of your time, it’s also important to be true to your creative self. Believe me; it will boost your productivity to a completely new level! I like the popular saying: ‘Do what you love and love what you do’. 

Ana Ortega is the author of 'Vegan Recipes for Newbies' which can be purchased here.

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Reader question: Can I put my Swiss health insurance on hold if I’m abroad?

Given how expensive health insurance premiums are in Switzerland, you may be tempted to suspend your policy while you are abroad. Is this possible?

Reader question: Can I put my Swiss health insurance on hold if I'm abroad?

Unlike the obligatory car insurance, which you can suspend temporarily by depositing your registration plates at the local motor vehicles office, rules pertaining to health insurance are much stricter.

As the Federal Office of Public Health explains it, “If you leave the country for a certain period to travel or study but do not take up residence abroad, you are still required to have [health] insurance in Switzerland”.

In other words, as long as you are a registered resident of Switzerland, regardless of your nationality or passport, you must keep your compulsory Swiss health insurance and pay your premiums. While you do this, you also remain covered against most medical emergencies while you travel.

However, rules are less stringent for supplemental health plans which can, in some cases, be put on hold, depending on the insurance provider, according to Switzerland’s Moneyland consumer website.

The only exception allowed for suspending the health insurance coverage is during a military or civil protection service which lasts more than 60 consecutive days.

“During these periods, the risks of illness and accident are covered by military insurance. Your health insurance provider will refund your premiums”, according to FOPH.

Under what circumstances can you cancel your Swiss health insurance?

Swiss law says you can cancel your insurance if you are moving abroad, either permanently for for a period exceeding three months.

If you do so, only claims for treatments given while you still lived in Switzerland will be paid by your insurance; any medical bills for treatment incurred after you officially leave will be denied.

These are the procedures for cancelling your compulsory health insurance if you leave the country under conditions mentioned above

To announce your departure abroad, you must send your insurance carrier a letter including your name, customer number or AVS/AHV number.

You must also include a certificate from your place of residence in Switzerland confirming that you have de-registered from your current address, as well as the date of your departure.

Note, however, that if your new destination is another Swiss community / canton, rather than a foreign country, your insurance can only be cancelled from the following calendar year and only if you present proof of having taken up a new policy with another company.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How to register your address in Switzerland

You can find out more information about this process here

If you suspend your health insurance for less than six years, you can reactivate it at a later date with the same company when you return to Switzerland.

READ MORE : What you should know about your Swiss health insurance before you go abroad