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SWISS CITIZENSHIP

‘A feeling of belonging’: What it’s like to become Swiss

More than two-thirds of Local readers described their experience of getting Swiss citizenship as positive. Just as many would recommend naturalisation to other foreigners.

'A feeling of belonging': What it's like to become Swiss
Good experiences trump bad ones in our reader's poll. Photo by Fabrice Coffrini / AFP

The process of applying for citizenship in Switzerland can sometimes be long and frustrating in Switzerland. Unlike in other countries, the decisions here are made from bottom up — first, communal officials must approve the application, then cantonal ones, and federal at the end.

On May 7th, The Local asked its readers to share their own naturalisation  stories— shockingly onerous or surprisingly easy.

Participants in the survey

Of those who participated in our poll, more than half — 53.8 percent — got their Swiss passports one to three years ago; 38.5 percent have been naturalised for more than 11 years, and 7.7 percent up to a decade.

The verdict: most responses were positive

An overwhelming majority — 69.2 percent — rated their experience as positive and said they would recommend the naturalisation process to other foreigners.

READ MORE: Naturalisation through marriage: How your partner can obtain Swiss citizenship

What was the most positive part of the process, other than the citizenship itself?

For Michael Savage from the United States it was “the feeling of belonging”, while David Forster from the UK said he valued the “community spirit” in his village.

Michael from Finland enjoyed “completing the local integration class and learning about my community and canton”.

What was most surprising about the process of becoming a Swiss citizen?

The reasons cited included both positive and negative impressions.

How to apply for Swiss citizenship: An essential guide

While for some respondents the process was “traumatising” and “incompetent”,  others had a more positive assessment.

“The test was very straightforward and nothing more than a friendly chat with the mayor of the village”, explained  Zoran Lalvani from the UK.

For John Smith, also from the UK, “friendliness of the staff” made the experience more pleasant.

Michael Savage was pleasantly surprised that there was “no history/culture test in Geneva for facilitated naturalisation – it was very easy”.

Trevor Kilbey from the UK was surprised that “I did not have to speak Swiss German”.

And Lisa Crump from the United States was surprised to be asked for a “current” birth certificate.

“Strange, you are only born once and that does not change”, she said.

Dr. Robert Schinagl from the USA, however, had the ultimate surprise: “The military has been attempting to recruit me for national service”.

But some respondents were frazzled by the amount of paperwork needed for the naturalisation process and the length of time it takes.

“Months and months go by with nothing seeming to be happening”, said Michael from Finland.

Has getting the citizenship made you feel more Swiss?

Most respondents said ‘yes’, citing reasons ranging from practical to emotional.

“Of course. Now we can vote”, said Lisa Crump.

For Dr. Robert Schinagl, getting a Swiss passport “allows me greater global mobility”, while Jerry Cappellania from Italy said being Swiss “made me feel more part of a community”.

Sometimes, it is a matter of not having to answer too many troublesome questions.

“My parents are Turkish/Indian, and I was born and raised in the U.K. So when I don’t want to explain my life story, it’s an easy answer to give”, Zoran Lalvani said.

And since becoming a Swiss citizen, “I now love fondue”, said Chris from Canada.

Since getting his citizenship, Michael from Finland has a new perspective of naturalisation.

“I am less tolerant of immigrants who spend decades here and don’t make any effort to integrate, learn their local language etc.”, he said.

“For someone who has spent years of effort integrating, it’s irritating. This is why the citizenship process is special to me. It’s difficult for a reason and this is how it should remain”.

COMPARE: Which European countries have the toughest rules for gaining citizenship?

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For members

HEALTH INSURANCE

How to save money by changing your Swiss health policy

Switzerland’s compulsory health insurance is notoriously expensive, but you can lower the cost of premiums substantially by changing your company or coverage.

How to save money by changing your Swiss health policy

The cost of health insurance premiums usually represents at least 7 percent of a typical household budget.

An adult spends nearly 4,600 francs a year on average on the mandatory basic coverage (KVG / LaMal) alone – covering only medical care, not dental. If any extra policies are taken out, the cost is even higher.

Not only that, but premiums have been rising practically each year, and look set to go up again in 2023, possibly by as much as 10 percent — the sharpest hike in 20 years.

READ MORE: Why Swiss health premiums are set to rise — and what you can do about it

Even though these costs are high and climbing, many people keep the same health insurance for years.

However, significant savings — to the tune of thousands of francs a year — could be made simply by switching carriers or plans, from the more expensive to the cheapest ones, according to a new study by the cost comparison site Comparis.

How much and where

The amount of the savings varies depending on policyholder’s place of residence, because rates are determined by cantons.

However, Comparis calculated that over a 10-year period, people living in Zurich could have saved 33,396 francs in premium costs and for those living in Bern this amount is 30,064.

Lausanne residents could cut their costs by 36,494 francs over 10 years, 31, 032 in Geneva, and 33,490 in Basel-City.

“With the strong premium increases expected this fall, the savings potential is even greater,” said Felix Schneuwly, health insurance expert at Comparis.

So how can you save money? Here are some of the ways:

Increase your deductible

In Switzerland, the deductible (franchise) ranges from 300 to 2,500 francs – this represents the medical costs that you have to pay out of your own pocket before your health insurance kicks in.

As with most types of insurance, the lower your deductible, the higher your premiums, and vice-versa.

If you are young, healthy, and are not on any long-term medication then you can save substantially with the highest franchise.

Keep in mind, however, that if you choose the highest deductible and end up having an accident or falling sick and needing medical care, you will have to pay a greater proportion of the costs.

Switch to a less expensive plan.

The standard model for healthcare in Switzerland is that you can consult any medic that you want, and you do not need a referral to see a specialist.

However, there are some types of health insurance plans that have cheaper premiums, but impose certain limits on your access to non-emergency medical care.

For instance:

Health maintenance organisation (HMO)

Under this model, policyholders are required to consult a particular HMO practice. Two disadvantages of this alternative is a limited choice of doctors and you also need a referral to see a specialist.

However, the benefit is a premium reduction of up to 25 percent compared to the conventional insurance.

Family doctor model

Your family doctor, a general practitioner, will be designated by your insurance company and will be in charge of all your non-emergency medical treatment.

He or she will refer you to a specialist if necessary. 

If you opt for this option, you could save 20 percent on your insurance.

READ MORE: Five tips for getting cheaper health insurance in Switzerland

The Telmed alternative

If you choose this option, you have to call a telephone service and get a referral to a doctor or hospital.

This does not apply to medical emergencies and there are other exceptions, such as eye exams and annual gynaecological check-ups.

Total savings could range between 15 and 20 percent. 

Cancelling or changing your policy

If you want to cancel your current insurance policy and take up a cheaper one , you have to do so by registered letter before November 30th.

By then, you will know what your premiums will be in 2023 because your carrier must notify you of the new rates by October 31st.

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