The challenges faced by expats vary depending on where in Switzerland they live.
“Switzerland is very decentralized with four official languages. It’s also not part of the EU, so the rules and traditions are a bit different. And the individual cantons are quite autonomous, so each one does things in its own way,” says expat Stefanie Fritze, Chief Marketing Officer at homegate.ch, Switzerland's leading digital real estate marketplace who moved to Switzerland from Germany a decade ago.
But there are some issues common to most people moving to Switzerland. Here are four things everyone planning a move to Switzerland should think about:
Finding somewhere to live
Switzerland is a landlord’s market. In the main cities, demand outstrips supply many times over. “There can be more than 60 applications per flat,” says Fritze.
One of the easiest ways to find a suitable property is through an online real estate listing service. That allows you to view listings in the city or neighbourhood of your choosing — even before you’ve made your move. With homegate.ch, you can also easily make direct contact with local estate agents and landlords and even file your application online.
“We have relationships with legal experts, estate agents, insurance providers, as well as mortgage advisors so you can get all the help you need all in one place,” says Fritze.
“We also provide a comprehensive guide to Swiss tenancy laws,” she adds. “For instance, if you want to move out of an apartment in Switzerland, standard Swiss leases stipulate you need to give three months notice from the date of you signed the lease.”
Visas and work permits
If you’re a citizen of an EU country, moving to Switzerland isn’t like moving within the union. To complicate matters further, a referendum in 2014 backed putting further curbs on migration from the EU. These restrictions have yet to be implemented, they could well present further difficulties to expats from the EU in the future.
Things are even tougher for people from outside the EU. Even those with a job and a rental contract have to grapple with quotas. This necessitates prior planning – and knowing what you’re doing.
“It’s important to start the process months in advance since it can take quite a while for your application to be approved by the Ministry of Labour,” says Fritze.
Getting advice before you start the process will save you a lot of stress further down the line.
Making your partner happy
Gone are the days when a ‘trailing spouse’ would play second fiddle when following her husband (and it usually was a case of wives following husbands) on a posting abroad.
“With so many dual-career couples, a relocation abroad can often fail if the partner is not happy,” says Fritze.
Thus many relocation firms focus on helping accompanying partners find work or some other activity like further studies.
If you’re moving to Switzerland from Europe or North America, say, you might not expect culture shock to be a problem in Switzerland. But sometimes the fact that expats in Switzerland expect there not to be differences means they are all the more shocked when issues arise.
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“If you’re French, for example, it’s important to understand that even if the language is the same, the culture is different. The Swiss go to work early, and head home early. And, unlike in France, punctuality is key. Shops are also closed on Sundays – something people here voted for in a referendum.”
The extent to which you are affected by culture shock depends a bit on how much you choose to stay in the expat bubble.
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“You can still live somewhat ‘offshore’ if you choose an international community and work environment. But if you want to experience the ‘real Switzerland’ you’ll discover it is different. Still, Switzerland is welcoming to the foreigners and people here are used to expats, so it won’t be hard to feel like people can relate to you and your experience,” says Fritze.