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VAUD

Switzerland: What you should know before moving to Vaud

French-speaking Vaud is one of the most popular Swiss cantons for foreigners to settle in. There are many reasons why this is so. Here's what you need to know if you're thinking about moving here.

Lavaux is one of Vaud's wine-growing areas.
Vaud’s Lavaux region is famous for its terraced vineyards overlooking Lake Geneva. Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Although Vaud may not be as well-known abroad as Zurich or Geneva, many foreign nationals find their way into this canton in the western part of Switzerland.

In fact, about 33 percent of the canton’s 800,000-plus residents come from other countries.

Only its neighbour, Geneva, as well as Basel-City, have a higher proportion of foreign residents — 40 and 36 percent, respectively.

High concentration of foreigners may be explained by the fact that Vaud is home to a number of multinational companies, including Nestlé, Phillip Morris, Medtronic, General Mills, as well as a major research and education hub, the Federal Polytechnic Institute (EPFL).

The canton’s proximity to Geneva also means it is a popular commuter destination. 

EPFL research institute and campus. Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

If you are moving to this area, or have already settled here and are  still feeling your way around, this practical information may help you find your bearings.

Here’s what you need to know about moving to Vaud. 

Vaud’s capital: Lausanne

The seat of the cantonal government and the fifth-largest city in Switzerland (after Zurich, Geneva, Basel, and Bern), Lausanne is a super interesting place, which hosts the International Olympic Committee and its sports museum.

It also boasts a very picturesque medieval Old Town, as well as some Roman ruins located alongside the shore of Lake Geneva (known here as Lac Léman).

The center tower of the Cathedral of Lausanne overlooks the Old Town. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Although very hilly, Lausanne has a well-developed public transportation network, consisting of trolleybuses and metro, making it easy to move around this town.

Register your arrival

Whether you live in Lausanne or in another part of Vaud — which is made up of 302 communes located in 10 districts — you must announce your arrival at your local place of residence. This is a requirement in other Swiss cantons as well.

You can visit your commune’s website to find out exactly what documents are needed for registration, as this may vary from one municipality to another, even within the same canton.

READ MORE: How to register your address in Switzerland

Taxes

Each Swiss canton imposes its own taxation regime, and figuring out how to fill out your tax declaration or how much tax you owe can be a headache — no matter where you live.

This official site will help you calculate your taxes, based on your commune of residence.

Alternatively, you can find this information here.

READ MORE: Switzerland’s strangest taxes – and what happens if you don’t pay them

Health insurance

Health insurance is compulsory not only in Vaud, but also elsewhere in Switzerland. You will have to purchase a policy within three months of your arrival in the canton.

You can find various insurance carriers in Vaud, along with their rates, in this link.

While health insurance premiums are notoriously high in Switzerland, and Vaud’s are among the highest in the country, you can be assured of top-quality medical care.

That’s because Vaud’s university hospital (CHUV) is highly ranked not only in Switzerland, but it was also selected by Newsweek as one of the 10 best hospitals in the world in 2021.

The University Hospital of Lausanne (CHUV) is highly rated worldwide. Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Commuter towns

While the majority of Vaud residents are employed in the canton, some people — especially those living in the southern part of the canton — commute to work in nearby Geneva.

Communities along Lake Geneva, such as Gland, Nyon, and Coppet, are among Vaud  towns that are connected to Geneva by the A1 motorway or rail.

MAPS: The best commuter towns when working in Geneva

Leisure and recreation

Vaud offers lots of opportunities for both leisure and recreation, including boating on Lake Geneva and skiing in resorts like Villars, Les Diablerets, and Leysin.

And Vaud is also a well-known (at least locally) wine growing region, with vineyards located mainly along the coast of Lake Geneva.

One, the Lavaux area, which stretches for about 30 km along the lake, is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Food

Vaud has some of its own culinary specialties that new residents should definitely try to get the taste — both literally and figuratively — of the region.

These are some typical dishes:

  • Sainte-Croix pea soup is often served at local fairs and village get-togethers
  • Ham on the bone and potato gratin are most commonly eaten at village events
  • Malakoffs  — cheese fritters coated with batter are quite caloric but delicious
  • Arctic char and perch fillets from Lake Geneva lightly fried and served with tartare sauce are a popular local specialty.

As they say in this part of Switzerland, bon appétit!

READ MORE: Six common myths about Swiss food you need to stop believing

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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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