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The biggest challenges of moving to Switzerland

Switzerland is one of the world’s best expat countries, with some of the highest living standards and a sophisticated, multilingual population. Yet moving to Switzerland can still be stressful and difficult if you don't do it right.

The biggest challenges of moving to Switzerland
Photo: Patrick Nouhailler

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.

See: 14 mistakes foreigners make on moving to Switzerland

Whether you want to rent or buyhomegate.ch also has lots of other tips and useful information to guide you through the process and help you secure the home that you want.

“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.

Learn more: Applying to rent an apartment – 10 tips to success

“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.

See: Migration services: 'I build bridges for expats'

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.

See also: Buying property in Switzerland: save wisely and realize your dreams

Thus many relocation firms focus on helping accompanying partners find work or some other activity like further studies.

Culture shock

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.

Learn more: Cut your tax bill: don’t forget deductions

“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.

Read more: Ten tips for Swiss business etiquette

“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.

This article was produced by The Local Client Studio and sponsored by homegate.ch

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LIVING IN SWITZERLAND

How to dispose of unwanted furniture or whitegoods in Zurich legally

Got an unwanted mattress, fridge or sofa? Here’s how you can legally get it off your hands in Zurich.

How to dispose of unwanted furniture or whitegoods in Zurich legally

If you’ve bought a new piece of furniture in Zurich or a mattress, you may be faced with the problem of what to do with the old one. 

This is particularly the case in cities like Zurich, where space is at a premium and you may not be able to kit out your spare room with the old furniture. 

While there are waste disposal centres, even getting there without a car can be a problem. 

One man’s trash…

First things first, think about whether you really need to get rid of the thing in question. 

While you may not want it, there may be someone out there willing to take it off your hands – particularly if you aren’t going to charge them. 

The first point of call is to ask your friends and colleagues if they’re interested, with social media the perfect place to ask around. 

If you live in an apartment complex, you might try placing the item in a common area with a note saying “zu verschenken” (to give away) or ‘gratis’ (free). 

After that, there are several online options like eBay, Facebook Marketplace, Free Your Stuff Zurich, Ricardo, Anibis, Craig’s List and Tutti. 

Some of these sites will charge a fee – even if you’re giving something away – so be sure to read the fine print first. 

Another option is to donate the goods to a charity organisation. They will usually charge you money to pick it up and prices can vary dramatically. 

Caritas charge CHF35 per 100kg plus transport costs, while Sozialwerk Pfarrer Sieber will pick up small items of furniture for a flat fee, although you’ll need to send them pictures first before they give you a quote. 

Can I put old furniture on the street in Zurich? 

Although less common than many other European cities, occasionally you will see furniture out on the street in front of homes and apartment blocks in Zurich. 

While it might clutter up the sidewalk, it is technically not illegal – provided you only do so for a maximum of 24 hours. 

You also need to make sure it doesn’t block cars, bikes or pedestrians. If it does – or if you leave it out for longer – you risk a fine.

Entsorgungstram: Zurich’s recycling and waste disposal tram

One option is the Entsorgungstram, a mobile recycling centre on rails for all Zurich residents. 

This tram weaves its way through several parts of Zurich, picking up old bulky waste including electrical devices and furniture. 

If you are lucky to live near an Entsorgungstram line, just check the timetable and bring your waste items along to meet the tram. 

There are some rules, as laid out by the Zurich council. 

“The delivered items must not be longer than 2.5 meters (exception: sofa/upholstered furniture can be no longer than 2 meters) and no heavier than 40 kilograms per item. Separate the material beforehand according to its composition: flammable, large metal and landfill”. 

Unfortunately, only pedestrians and cyclists can use this service, i.e. you cannot drive from elsewhere and deposit the stuff. 

More information including route details can be found at the following link. 

Regular waste disposal

Your next option is to see whether you can get rid of it in your usual waste disposal. 

This being Switzerland, there are a lot of rules about what the waste management company will take and will not. 

If you’re throwing away a mirror, for instance, you cannot put that with your other glass waste and will need to dispose of it elsewhere. 

On the other hand, they may take things like carpets and mattresses – although you’ll need to pay a bit extra. 

The exact rules will depend on your municipality, but generally speaking you will need to buy additional waste stickers – which cost money. 

In Zurich itself, every household receives four coupons for disposal of waste (up to 100kg) each. 

When you run out of coupons, you’ll need to pay by the kilo. 

You’ll still need to bring it to the waste disposal facility, or pay a pick up fee of around CHF80. 

This may sound steep, but they do come to your home and pick it up – which will likely be cheaper than a rental car or van. 

In Winterthur, you will need to buy stickers for CHF1.80 from the council, with each sticker letting you dispose of 10kg of waste. 

Check with the retailer where you bought the new item

One option offered by furniture sellers is to buy your old furniture or whitegoods or accept them as a trade in. 

While this is likely to be more common with second hand retailers who might see potential in your unwanted item, it is also a service offered by retailers who only sell new goods. 

One example is Ikea, who will take your old mattress, furniture or electronic device and recycle it. 

This service is available at Ikea outlets for a cost of CHF10 each. 

It is also available when you get something new delivered, although you must pre-book so the driver can be sure to set aside enough space. 

This will cost you CHF80 for furniture, or CHF50 for electronic devices and mattresses. Keep in mind that (at least with Ikea) this service is only available when you buy something new. 

Several other furniture companies offer a similar service, including Schubiger Möbel, Möbel Pfister and Conforama.  

Electrical item retails will often take your old electrical goods for recycling, whether these are small like iPhones or large like fridges and washing machines. 

More information about which goods can be recycled and how in Switzerland is available at the following link. 

Moving companies

Removalist companies are another option – whether you are moving house or not. 

If you are moving house then a disposal service may be included in the overall fees. 

If not, you can still contact the company and get the item taken off your hands. 

While different companies will charge different amounts, you’ll usually pay per 100kg rather than per item, which can be a better (or worse) option than contacting the local council. 

Swiss comparison site Comparis has detailed info about how to find a moving company here

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