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OPINION: The benefits of raising children in Switzerland

It's easy to complain about the long cold winters and the language barrier - but for many foreign parents raising children in Switzerland, the benefits far outweigh the negatives.

Children in gumboots line up next to each other on a muddy track
There are many benefits to raising kids in Switzerland, but also several challenges. Photo by Ben Wicks on Unsplash

Global surveys ranking the ‘best places to raise children’ often place Switzerland in the top ten, and a recent U.S. News & World Report annual survey placed Switzerland in seventh place globally for raising children in 2018. 

After moving to Switzerland from Australia a year ago, I vividly remember calming my then six-year-old daughter and four-year-old son down on their first day of school. I felt like a spokesperson from Swiss Tourism as I overcame every one of their objections with a smile and an interesting new fact about their new school and new home. But what my children didn’t know is that although I was keeping my cool on the exterior, I too was nervous, unsure and afraid.

However, after about a month of living in Switzerland, I soon realized my children were thriving and my personal objections to raising children here became the very reason I wanted to stay. Together, we have embraced learning German and are enjoying a healthier and more active lifestyle.

In fact, the more parents I spoke to, the more I heard the same sentiment: “Switzerland is a great place to raise children: that’s one of the main reasons we stay.” It seemed that although parents missed home, they could not deny the advantages and opportunities that come with raising children here. 

Four mothers from different places of origin gave me their view on the main benefits of raising a child in Switzerland. Here is what they said.

1. Child safety and autonomy

For mum-of-three Claudia Hug, the main benefit of raising children in Switzerland is the freedom her children enjoy. Originally from São Paulo, Brazil, the working mother can already see the benefits of raising her children in Zurich.

“Here you don’t need all the security apparatuses and measurements I needed in São Paulo. My daughter was 16 when we arrived and my son was nine, and so quickly they became much more independent and freer,” she says. 

“My daughter could go to parties without depending on me to drive her. My son has the freedom of inviting friends over and visiting them as well, without me having to drive around. That is a major step up in quality of life. I think the whole school Swiss system is not perfect, of course, but it gives to the child a much more inclusive and fair view of life.”

2. Children explore nature and the outdoors

Pragati Siddhanti, originally from India, is a working mother living in Basel. For Siddhanti, the major benefit of living in Basel is first and foremost the safety she feels for her eight-year-old daughter, but she is also delighted about how outdoor play is encouraged.  

“Children have the freedom to walk alone, and a lot of other things. They are not constantly in an overly protective environment which makes them quite confident and independent from an early age. 

“Also, the importance of being outdoors and playing sports – with so many parks, facilities, and great sports camps/classes is great. I love the culture where kids spend a lot of time outdoors, go for forest walks, swim and ski at an early age – all important life skills to have,” she says.

A child sits with a piece of bread and a can of soup

A child sits with a piece of bread and a can of soup. Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

3.    A world-class education

Single mother, Riham Youssef moved from New York to Geneva and also rates child safety and outdoor play highly in Switzerland, but she praises the Swiss schooling system as the top benefit of childhood here. The mother of twin four-year-olds is amazed by the quality of education her children are receiving in their new home. 

“My twins were born in Manhattan, a city I absolutely love. Yet I left it when they were one-year-olds for the sole reason of raising my children here, in a healthy and safe environment, with so many green spaces and fun outdoor activities for the little ones,” says Youssef.

“The education system is also exceptional. My children started school in September, and in just a few months they have truly blossomed. Educators give outstanding individual attention to each child and help them reach the maximum of their potential.”

4.    Children can come home for lunch

Tala Daniela von Däniken, originally from England, has lived in Switzerland for 18 years and is the mother of two girls – a ten-month-old baby and an eight-year-old girl. The Zurich-based mum also loves the independence that children have from such an early age.

At the same time, she really appreciates the quality time she has with her daughter when she comes home for lunch. 

“I don’t think there is anywhere else in the world where four-year-olds walk to kindergarten alone…and as much as I often find it inconvenient that children come home for lunch, as I have to rush so much with my baby to be home and have lunch on the table – another mother pointed out to me that it’s nice to have time with your child at lunchtime, as dinner time is too rushed and leads to bedtime, so you don’t have the same quality time in the evenings,” she says.

What do you think are the main benefits of raising children in Switzerland? Let us know here.

Member comments

  1. I love CH. great place.I agree with first 3 points in this article, but since when kids come home for lunch is a good thing? Swiss school system is nightmare for working parents.

  2. I wrote the same to the local team… The coming home would probably work for us when my daughter is bigger, but since she’s not, how can mothers be expected to work? This seems more in tune with 1919 than in 2019… My wife is even considering than just to homeschool, but that’s nearly impossible then in Schaffhausen. Another topic for another thread at the local! 🙂

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COST OF LIVING

Switzerland: How to get money back when cross-border shopping in Germany

Crossing into Germany to go shopping is usually cheaper - and that’s before you add the tax savings. Here’s how you can claim back tax when shopping in Germany.

Switzerland: How to get money back when cross-border shopping in Germany

There are a range of reasons why most things are cheaper in Germany than in Switzerland. 

While there are some exceptions to this – the most notable one being petrol – generally speaking you pay a premium on goods purchased in Switzerland. 

EXPLAINED: Why is Switzerland so expensive?

If you shop in Germany, you can also save on VAT, which is generally 19 percent and added to most goods. 

Here’s what you need to know. 

What are the tax rules for shopping in Germany? 

Residents of Switzerland, as a non-EU country, do not need to pay VAT in Germany on purchases over 50 euros. 

Your country of residence rather than nationality is important here. 

Therefore, a German living in Switzerland and shopping in Germany does not need to pay the tax. 

A Swiss living in Germany however would need to pay the amount. 

Importantly, you need to physically be in Germany when you make the purchase. 

In order to qualify for the tax exemption, you must bring the goods back to Switzerland with you. 

The specific rules for this are laid out by German Customs here, but they need to be either in your carry on or checked baggage, or in a car that you are travelling in personally. 

These rules are to ensure people are buying the goods for themselves rather than intending to sell them on. 

What kind of goods? 

Goods bought in Germany and taken back to Switzerland are exempt from VAT. 

You will generally however be required to pay tax on services rendered or completed in Germany. 

For instance, bus or train tickets in Germany, restaurant bills, hotel stays, massages etc. 

There are also a range of rules which apply to vehicles. 

If you are getting your car repaired, filling up with petrol, affixing bumpers, mirrors or other additions or even getting a car wash, you will need to pay VAT. 

How do I get the money back? 

Unfortunately, you do not get a discount at the place of purchase.

Instead, you need to claim the money back after you have purchased the product on which you paid the tax. 

In most large stores or shopping centres, you will be able to do this on site. 

You need to have a copy of the receipt and fill in the VAT refund form (Ausfuhrschein) with your name, address and Swiss residency permit number. 

You can get one of these forms at larger stores or you can download it and print it here. 

You will need to do one for each invoice. 

Once you have done that, you can take the completed form to the German customs office (Zoll), which you can find at most border crossings and get the paper stamped. 

Then, you need to return the paper to the place of purchase, where they will issue with a refund of the VAT. 

Some stores require you to return after three months, some six and some 12, so be sure to check the store policy. 

Note that some online stores will automatically deduct the VAT if you have a Swiss delivery address. 

Cost of living in Switzerland: How to save money if you live in Zurich

One thing to keep in mind however is that Switzerland charges its own VAT, which is either 2.5 percent or 8 percent. More on that below. 

What’s with all this paper? 

For anyone who’s spent even a few hours in Germany, the country’s reluctance to embrace digital methods of payment and record keeping is clear. 

While cash remains king in many stores and restaurants, claiming back money from shopping in Germany is also a paper-heavy endeavour. 

Fortunately for people not so keen on paperwork, a change is afoot – although exactly when it will take place remains unclear. 

In February 2022, the German government announced it had kicked off a project to make a digital export certificate possible. 

In addition to saving time and paper, the government indicated it expected to save around 6.2 million euros in personnel expenses as around 100 customs officers are currently assigned to the Swiss border alone. 

No deadline has been given for when the change will come into effect. 

Cost of living: How to save on groceries in Switzerland

Swiss customs rules

When bringing goods into Switzerland, you will need to pay VAT if the amount exceeds 300 francs. 

While border patrols are rare, those who make a habit of exceeding this amount – even if it is for goods for personal use – run the risk of falling foul of the authorities. 

There are several different rules in place for bringing in different items, including meats, cheeses and alcohol. 

The limits for each of these items can be found here. 

Keep in mind that while the CHF300 applies now, Switzerland is set to reduce this to CHF50 in the future – although final approval of this has not yet been secured. 

Tax change: Switzerland to introduce 50 franc limit on cross-border shopping

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