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Why is Switzerland rated poorly by its international residents?

While Switzerland might be proudly neutral, it strives to be anything but middle of the road. So why did a country that loves to top almost every list imaginable do so badly in the eyes of international residents?

Why is Switzerland rated poorly by its international residents?
A Swiss flag balloon sits on snow. Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Switzerland was ranked in 30th place overall out of 59 nations studied in the Expat Insider 2021 survey.

The survey was published on Tuesday by InterNations, a group of around four million expatriates around the world.

While Switzerland might be proudly neutral, it strives to be anything but middle of the road. So why did a country that loves to top almost every list imaginable do so poorly in the eyes of foreigners?

Here’s what you need to know. 

Not everything was rated poorly

The respondents rated Switzerland highly in several areas. 

Switzerland scored high in terms of travel and transportation (2nd place), quality of the environment (4th), safety and security (6th), economy and employment (8th), and overall quality of life (9th).

For instance, nearly all international residents in Switzerland (99 percent) are happy with the natural environment (versus 84 percent globally), 95 percent are satisfied with water and sanitation system (versus 77 percent globally), 89 percent appreciate the air quality (66 percent globally), 95 percent like the country’s peacefulness (80 percent globally) and its political stability (91 percent versus 64 percent globally).

Another 94 percent are happy with their travel opportunities (84 percent globally), and 96 percent rate the transportation infrastructure positively (76 percent globally).

“Switzerland also performs well in the Working Abroad Index, with an especially high share of expats (85 percent) rating the state of the local economy positively (vs. 62 percent globally)”, the survey’s authors say.

READ MORE: Why Switzerland continues to attract foreign companies despite the coronavirus pandemic

 “I like the security, the beautiful environment, the freedom, and the work opportunities in Switzerland”, a Brazilian national said.

 And a Spanish respondent mentioned that she likes the “high level of economic development”.

This is in line with previous international studies which have repeatedly ranked Switzerland as one of the best countries to live in with regard to work and economic opportunities.

But what got poor marks?

However, when it comes to categories such as affordability and ease of settling in, Switzerland’s ranking falls drastically.

It was the second worst destination worldwide for the cost of living (58th), the survey found. Only Hong Kong performs worse. 

In fact, 65 percent of respondents said they are dissatisfied with the prices in Switzerland (34 percent globally).

In terms of ease of settling in, the country is nearly at the bottom, in the 52nd place.

Further findings in this category show that 28 percent of respondents don’t feel at home in the local culture (20 percent globally), and another 28 percent find it difficult to get used to (18 percent globally).

Moreover, for 61 percent it is difficult to make local friends (36 percent globally), and 32 percent are dissatisfied with the general (un)friendliness towards foreign residents (versus 18 percent globally).

Interestingly, though not surprisingly, more than half of the respondents in Switzerland — 52 percent — are mostly friends with other internationals, an extremely high share compared to the global average of 32 percent, as well as the neighbouring German-speaking countries Austria (44 percent) and Germany (38 percent).

READ MORE: Eight ways to make sure you get along with your Swiss neighbours

What about the impact of Covid-19?

The study also looked at the consequences of the Covid-19 crisis on the foreign community.

It found that the pandemic has upset the relocation plans of 37 percent of survey participants around the world, but only 20 percent of those living in Switzerland. Respondents rarely mentioned any consequences for their health (2 percent) or their finances (4 percent).

This InterNations graphic shows how respondents rated Switzerland.

Image courtesy InterNations.

What about the rest of the study? 

According to the survey results, the top ten destinations for expats are Taiwan (1st), followed by Mexico, Costa Rica, Malaysia, Portugal, New Zealand, Australia, Ecuador, Canada, and Vietnam (10th).

The worst countries for expats are Kuwait (59th from 59 countries), followed by Italy, South Africa, Russia, Egypt, Japan, Cyprus, Turkey, India, and Malta (50th).

More information about the survey can be found here.

Member comments

  1. This can be a difficult country to get to know people, but there are plenty of Facebook groups, like Zurich Together, Worldwide People in Zurich, and Outdoors in Switzerland, where you can meet other people (including Swissies !), discover new hikes, and attend events, usually for free. Get involved !

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OFFBEAT

Is Switzerland’s male-only mandatory military service ‘discriminatory’?

Under Swiss law, all men must serve at least one year in compulsory national service. But is this discriminatory?

Swiss military members walk across a road carrying guns
A new lawsuit seeks to challenge Switzerland's male-only military service requirement. Is this discriminatory? FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

All men aged between the ages of 18 and 30 are required to complete compulsory military service in Switzerland. 

A lawsuit which worked its way through the Swiss courts has now ended up in the European Court of Human Rights, where the judges will decide if Switzerland’s male-only conscription requirement violates anti-discrimination rules. 

Switzerland’s NZZ newspaper wrote on Monday the case has “explosive potential” and has “what it takes to cause a tremor” to a policy which was first laid out in Switzerland’s 1848 and 1874 Federal Constitutions. 

What is Switzerland’s compulsory military service? 

Article 59 of the Federal Constitution of Switzerland says “Every man with Swiss citizenship is liable for military service. Alternative civilian service shall be provided for by law.”

Recruits must generally do 18 weeks of boot camp (longer in some cases). 

They are then required to spend several weeks in the army every year until they have completed a minimum 245 days of service.

Military service is compulsory for Swiss men aged 18 and over. Women can chose to do military service but this is rare.

What about national rather than military service? 

Introduced in 1996, this is an alternative to the army, originally intended for those who objected to military service on moral grounds. 

READ MORE: The Swiss army’s growing problem with civilian service

Service is longer there than in the army, from the age of 20 to 40. 

This must be for 340 days in total, longer than the military service requirement. 

What about foreigners and dual nationals? 

Once you become a Swiss citizen and are between the ages of 18 and 30, you can expect to be conscripted. 

READ MORE: Do naturalised Swiss citizens have to do military service?

In general, having another citizenship in addition to the Swiss one is not going to exempt you from military service in Switzerland.

However, there is one exception: the obligation to serve will be waved, provided you can show that you have fulfilled your military duties in your other home country.

If you are a Swiss (naturalised or not) who lives abroad, you are not required to serve in the military in Switzerland, though you can voluntarily enlist. 

How do Swiss people feel about military and national service? 

Generally, the obligation is viewed relatively positively, both by the general public and by those who take part in compulsory service. 

While several other European countries have gotten rid of mandatory service, a 2013 referendum which attempted to abolish conscription was rejected by 73 percent of Swiss voters. 

What is the court case and what does it say? 

Martin D. Küng, the lawyer from the Swiss canton of Bern who has driven the case through the courts, has a personal interest in its success. 

He was found unfit for service but is still required to pay an annual bill to the Swiss government, which was 1662CHF for the last year he was required to pay it. 

While the 36-year-old no longer has to pay the amount – the obligation only lasts between the ages of 18 and 30 – Küng is bring the case on principle. 

So far, Küng has had little success in the Swiss courts, with his appeal rejected by the cantonal administrative court and later by the Swiss Federal Supreme Court. 

Previous Supreme Court cases, when hearing objections to men-only military service, said that women are less suitable for conscription due to “physiological and biological differences”.

In Küng’s case, the judges avoided this justification, saying instead that the matter was a constitutional issue. 

‘No objective reason why only men have to do military service’

He has now appealed the decision to the European level. 

While men have previously tried and failed when taking their case to the Supreme Court, no Swiss man has ever brought the matter to the European Court of Human Rights. 

Küng told the NZZ that he considered the rule to be unjust and said the Supreme Court’s decision is based on political considerations. 

“I would have expected the Federal Supreme Court to have the courage to clearly state the obvious in my case and not to decide on political grounds,” Küng said. 

“There is no objective reason why only men have to do military service or pay replacement taxes. On average, women may not be as physically productive as men, but that is not a criterion for excluding them from compulsory military service. 

There are quite a few men who cannot keep up with women in terms of stamina. Gender is simply the wrong demarcation criterion for deciding on compulsory service. If so, then one would have to focus on physical performance.”

Is it likely to pass? 

Küng is optimistic that the Strasbourg court will find in his favour, pointing to a successful appeal by a German man who complained about a fire brigade tax, which was only imposed on men. 

“This question has not yet been conclusively answered by the court” Küng said. 

The impact of a decision in his favour could be considerable, with European law technically taking precedence over Swiss law.

It would set Switzerland on a collision course with the bloc, particularly given the popularity of the conscription provision. 

Küng clarified that political outcomes and repercussions don’t concern him. 

“My only concern is for a court to determine that the current regulation is legally wrong.”

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