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LIVING IN SWITZERLAND

A few of the benefits of growing old(er) in Switzerland

Despite its high cost of living, which makes it difficult  for some people to make their ends meet, Switzerland is a good place to spend the proverbial “golden years”. Here are some of the perks Swiss seniors can enjoy.

Pensioners have many benefits in Switzerland
Retired seniors can have a sweet life in Switzerland, especially looking at views like this one, above Zug in central Switzerland. Photo by Fabrice Coffrini / AFP

What exactly is considered “old” in Switzerland? Age is all in the mind and if you don’t mind it, it doesn’t matter.

But just as a point of reference, in the context of this article “old” means post-retirement age, though many people in this age bracket don’t feel, or think of themselves, as “old”.

Men in Switzerland retire at 65 and women at 64.

Even though the retirement age for women was raised to 65 in June 2021 — to start going into effect from 2023 — it still lower than in some other European countries, such as Italy, Iceland, Norway and Greece, where people stop working at 67.

This means people in Switzerland are still relatively young when they retire — after all, according to one piece of common wisdom, 60 is the new 40 — so  they can enjoy many perks in their later years.

And there are quite a few benefits for Swiss pensioners, as international studies show. For instance, in one survey which ranked 44 countries in terms of health, quality of life, and finances in retirement, Switzerland came in the second place.

These are some of the benefits for older people in Switzerland.

Longer, healthier lives

Switzerland regularly comes up on top (or close to it) in life expectancy studies, with women expected to live until 83.8 years of age and men until 81.9.

Although it ranked in the fourth place globally in one such study by World Population Review, it was first among European nations.

The main reasons for the the country’s high life expectancy, are “wealth, a sense of well-being, and healthy diet”, the study found.

However, In 2020, a year marked by Covid, life expectancy at birth fell to 81.0 for men and 85.1 for women  in Switzerland — a decline of 0.9 and 0.5 years, respectively.

READ MORE: Biggest fall since WWII: How Covid slashed life expectancy in Switzerland

Sense of well-being

According to Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Switzerland performs very well  — and better than many other countries — in many categories relating to well-being of its people, including pensioniers.

The country ranks above the average not only in income and wealth, but also inhealth status, social connections, environmental quality, housing and personal security.

Pension system    

The goal of Switzerland’s three-pillar pension is to allow retirees to retain their previous lifestyle in old age, or if they incur a disability. 

While individual pensions vary, the general rule is that those who worked full time for 44 years should receive enough income in social security and pension benefits each month to live comfortably for the rest of their lives.

READ MORE: How does the Swiss pension system work – and how much will I receive?

Health care

Switzerland has one of the best and most accessible health care systems in the world (even if it is among the most expensive too).

This means high-quality medical care is available to everyone, which becomes even more important as people grow older.

High standard of living

Switzerland and Swiss cities are regularly ranked among the best places to live in the world, scoring highly on criteria such as personal safety, cleanliness, and good infrastructure — all of which are important for seniors.

Social support network

Vast majority —  96 percent — of Swiss residents say they have at least one person they could rely on in a time of need.

This strong sense of community — which is higher in Switzerland than the OECD average — is important as people get older, as it prevents the sense of loneliness and isolation common in old age.

Public transportation

As people age, many don’t like to (or can’t) drive anymore, especially long distances.

Switzerland has an extensive and reliable public transportation system, which can take people practically everywhere from point A to point B.

Sports and fitness

Among the reasons seniors in Switzerland are healthy, live longer, and enjoy their lives is that they stay physically active well into their old age.

The country’s stunning landscape and nature make it easy to for people of all ages to maintain healthy habits.

Seniors on bikes, skis, and hiking trails are a common sight. In fact, they often seem to have more energy and stamina than their younger counterparts.

Leisure and culture

“Senior discount” is commonplace in Switzerland, allowing people to get cheaper movie tickets or pay less for entrance to museums, galleries, and other venues.

Many other places also offer reductions based purely on proof of age.

With all that, it’s easy to enjoy getting older in Switzerland.

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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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