No friends and sky-high costs: The downsides of Switzerland for expats

Switzerland has long been seen as a haven of political neutrality and a country of extraordinary natural beauty. But, according to a recent global survey for those looking to move over, barriers still exist when it comes to cost and making local friends.

No friends and sky-high costs: The downsides of Switzerland for expats
Photo: Deposit photos

Switzerland is not the best country for expats, or immigrants to live in but it's far from the worst.

At least that's the basic conclusion you could draw from the latest global Expat Insider survey by Internations.

Switzerland was ranked 38th out of 64 in a survey that drew on the responses of over 20,000 foreign citizens.

So what explains the mid-table score? First the downsides.

High prices 

The high cost of living in Switzerland will not come as a shock to many.

Its financial centre Zürich is one of the most expensive cities in the world with Geneva coming not far behind.

Although on the plus side according to the survey, the majority of ex-pats (68%) have a salary above 75,000 USD putting them into the top bracket of even Swiss earners.

But the high cost of living seems to outweigh the benefits.

Those moving from a country like the UK might be shocked at Switzerland’s expensive healthcare with the country ranked three places from the bottom.

However, this may not be quite such a surprise for expats from the United States. 

Double the number of expats questioned were unhappy about the high cost of living in Switzerland, 64% compared to 34% globally. It’s a country that has the most expensive Big Macs in the world and for some, it just takes the biscuit. 


Difficult to make friends

Switzerland, like its neighbour France, is not known for giving a warm welcome to foreigners especially to those who don’t speak the language (s).

The added problem is that there are four (three and a bit) languages to learn and one of them (Schweizerdeutsch) is regarded as a strong and complicated dialect even by native German speakers.

In the language department, Switzerland was ranked 45 out of 64 and a very low 61 when it comes to making friends with the locals. 

This mix of a lack of a shared language alongside perceived unfriendliness towards new arrivals (only one in ten respondents said the Swiss were ‘very friendly’) is what has led to more than half of ex-pats making friends with…well, each other. Some 51% say their friends are mainly ‘other expats’ compared to 34% on a global scale. 

For families, the country was distinctly average. Switzerland currently lags behind the rest of Europe when it comes to paternity leave with a measly two weeks available for men although some politicians in the upcoming elections are looking to double this availability to a month.

Another issue was the availability of childcare with the country coming in close to the bottom at 26 out of 36 on the family life index. Cost of childcare is another issue with 69% saying they’re unhappy with the high costs of childcare.

On the other hand the country ranked highly in terms of its education sector coming in 6th for quality of education.

And the positives 

Political stability 

Now that you’re scared off by potential unfriendliness and the high price of milk there were areas where Switzerland came across from a slightly more positive angle.

In terms of political stability, Switzerland ranked highly and this reflected well with those living there.

Some 73% of people described Switzerland’s political stability as ‘very good’ in comparison with 30% globally.

In 2019 the backdrop of populism across Europe, the Gilet Jaunes protests in France, Brexit and Donald Trump makes Switzerland’s stability seem very cosy indeed. 



The great outdoors   

Switzerland is also very well-placed in terms of the rest of Europe. It has a strong rail network which connects the country well internally and to its neighbours, a fact reflected in it’s being 4th overall in this category.

Respondents were pleased with the country’s natural beauty, with one Swiss resident from Spain saying that “it is just amazing to have those beautiful natural locations so close to city life”.

And truly Switzerland is a country of stunning natural beauty. Also, a reminder that the mountains are free.

The country was ranked 2nd overall in terms of the environment and 36th in terms of Leisure Options. One can but assume that this is based on the ease of being able to strap on a backpack and be in the peaks within a few hours. 




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How to talk email, websites, social media and phone numbers in Swiss French

It's a very common experience to have to give out your phone number or email address in Switzerland, or take down the address of a website, so here's how to do this if you're in the French-speaking part of the country.

How to talk email, websites, social media and phone numbers in Swiss French

The correct names for punctuation marks used to be fairly low down on any French-learner’s list, but these days they are vital whenever you need to explain an email address, website or social media account.

Likewise if you want to talk about websites, or social media posts, there are some things that you need to know. 


Obviously punctuation points have their own names, and making sure you get the periods, dashes and underscores correct is vital to giving out account details. 

Full stop/period . point. Pronounced pwan, this is most commonly heard for Swiss websites or email addresses which end in. ch (pronounced pwan ce ash).

If you have a site that ends in .com you say ‘com’ as a word just as you would in English – pwan com.

At symbol @ Arobase – so for example the email address [email protected] would be jean pwan dupont arobas bluewin pwan ce ash.

Ampersand/and symbol & esperluette

Dash – tiret

Underscore _ tiret bas 

Forward slash / barre oblique

Upper case/capital lettersMajuscule (or lettre majuscule)

Lower caseminiscule

The following punctuation points are less common in email or web addresses, but worth knowing anyway:

Comma , virgule. In French a decimal point is indicated with a comma so two and a half would be 2,5 (deux virgule cinq)

Exclamation mark ! point d’exclamation – when you are writing in French you always leave a space between the final letter of the word and the exclamation mark – comme ça !

Question mark ? point d’interrogation – likewise, leave a space between the final character and a question mark 

Brackets/parentheses ( ) parenthèse

Quotation marks « » guillemets 


If you need to give your phone number out, the key thing to know is that Swiss-French people pair the numbers in a phone number when speaking.

So say your number is 079 345 6780, in French you would say zero septante-neuf, trois-cents quarante-cinq, soixante-sept, huitante (zero seventy-nine, three hundred forty-five, sixty-seven, eighty ).

Mobile numbers in Switzerland  begin with 079 or 078 (zero septante-neuf or zero septante-huit).

Social media

If you want to give out your Twitter or Instagram handle, the chances are you might need to know some punctuation terms as described above.

Otherwise the good news is that a lot of English-language social media terms are used in Switzerland too.

Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have the same names in Switzerland and have entered the language in other ways too, for example you might describe your dinner as très instagrammable – ie it’s photogenic and would look good on Instagram.

On Twitter you can suivre (follow), aimer (like) or retweet (take a wild guess). You’ll often hear the English words for these terms too, though pronounced with a French accent.

There is a French translation for hashtag – it’s dièse mot, but in reality hashtag is also very widely used.

Tech is one of those areas where new concepts come along so quickly that the English terms often get embedded into everyday use before the French-speakers can think up an alternative.

READ MORE: French-speaking Switzerland: Seven life hacks that will make you feel like a local