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Five pitfalls you need to avoid when you move to Switzerland

A meadow in the beautiful Swiss countryside
Idyllic Switzerland, but there are pitfalls too. Photo by Sven Fischer on Unsplash
Viewed from afar, Switzerland looks like a pretty amazing place where people live a happy, carefree life. Moving here may shatter these illusions somewhat, so it’s better to get prepared and informed about what really lies ahead.

Switzerland is a great place to live and, depending on your circumstances and financial situation, you can be quite happy here.

The key is to be well prepared for whatever challenges may lie ahead, including the culture – and price – shock and the everyday problems that could creep up when you settle in a new country.

Here are five pitfalls to avoid.

Setting expectations that are too high

This applies to many areas of life, not just moving to Switzerland.

Don’t be swayed by stereotypes or picture-perfect images of the country — not everyone here lives in an Alpine chalet, yodels, and wears a Swiss watch (though many people do own Swiss army knives).

READ MORE: Eight unwritten rules that explain how Switzerland works

The reality is more likely to be plainer and more down-to-earth, and you will discover that the daily life in Switzerland is not much different from what you may have experienced in your home country.

So if you keep your expectations on the low side, you won’t be disappointed and could very well end up pleasantly surprised.

Believing you can live extravagantly on an average salary

If you come from a country where average wages are lower than in Switzerland (which is pretty much everywhere else in the world), you might think your Swiss salary will go a long way.

Cost of living: Which parts of Switzerland are actually cheap to live in?

However, the cost of living here is high, with major Swiss cities like Geneva, Zurich and Basel being ranked among the most expensive in the world.

This is to say that most things, including price of goods and services, housing, health insurance, and public transportation is likely to be higher here than in your own country.

The high quality of life that Switzerland is known for doesn’t come cheap: you’ll have to shell out a lot francs for meals out, leisure activities, and entertainment.

You need a lot of these to live in Switzerland. Photo: Claudio Schwartz on Unsplash

So don’t expect your Swiss income — unless it is much higher than the median one —  to allow you to live it up, no matter how many zeros your pay packet has on the end. 

Also, expecting to save a lot of money while living here is a bit unrealistic — we are not saying it is impossible, but it is difficult to put aside big sums of money every month, unless you are in the high-income category or live like a hermit.

READ MORE: Swiss salaries: How much do people earn in Switzerland?

Cheap insurance

Switzerland’s healthcare system is known the world over for its quality and its penchant for innovation, but it is complicated and it doesn’t come cheap. 

Health insurance is notoriously expensive here and it is compulsory, so you won’t be able to escape the financial burden of purchasing a policy for yourself and your family members.

The amount of monthly premiums you will have to pay will depend on what kind of deductible you choose — the higher the deductible, the lower the premium, and vice-versa.

READ MORE: Eight unwritten rules which explain how Switzerland works

Many foreigners opt for the highest deductible — 2,500 francs — rather than the lowest ones — 300 or 500 francs — in order to save money.

That is all good if you are healthy and hardly ever get ill, but if you need medical treatments with any regularity, you might be better off with a lower deductible, otherwise, you will have to shell out 2,500 before your insurance kicks in.

So don’t fall into the pitfall of cheaper insurance coverage — think it through carefully.

Paying for public transportation “as you go”

Like many other goods and services, trains, buses, and other public transport is more expensive in Switzerland than almost anywhere else in Europe.

Unless you use this service once in a blue moon, don’t pay for your ticket each time you travel, but buy a travel card; while it may seem to be expensive at the outset, it is actually cheaper than if you buy individual tickets and will save you money in the long run.

EXPLAINED: How to find cheap train tickets in Switzerland

The kind of travel card you buy will depend on your needs — that is, how frequently use public transportation.

However, using public transport will usually be much cheaper than driving. 

A travel card will save money in the long run.Photo: SBB

Believing you will adjust easily

This is another pitfall.

Even if you come from a neighbouring country where the way of life is seemingly similar to Switzerland’s, you will have to assimilate to living here nevertheless. And that might be a steep learning curve.

Everything from registering with your commune of residence, recycling your garbage, and being a good neighbour is likely to be a bit (or significantly) different from how things are done in your country of origin.

So thinking, “I will adjust quickly because I came from Austria”, is as flawed as saying that Mars and Jupiter are similar because they are both parts of the Solar system.

These links explain the different local culture and will hopefully help you avoid stumbling blocks on your road to adjustment.

EXPLAINED: How to register your address in Switzerland

Trash talk: What are the rules for garbage disposal in Switzerland?

7 things about life in Switzerland you’ll probably never get used to

Nine ways you might be annoying your neighbours (and not realising it) in Switzerland


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