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MOVING TO SWITZERLAND

Five pitfalls you need to avoid when you move to Switzerland

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.

A meadow in the beautiful Swiss countryside
Idyllic Switzerland, but there are pitfalls too. Photo by Sven Fischer on Unsplash

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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LIVING IN SWITZERLAND

How to dispose of unwanted furniture or whitegoods in Zurich legally

Got an unwanted mattress, fridge or sofa? Here’s how you can legally get it off your hands in Zurich.

How to dispose of unwanted furniture or whitegoods in Zurich legally

If you’ve bought a new piece of furniture in Zurich or a mattress, you may be faced with the problem of what to do with the old one. 

This is particularly the case in cities like Zurich, where space is at a premium and you may not be able to kit out your spare room with the old furniture. 

While there are waste disposal centres, even getting there without a car can be a problem. 

One man’s trash…

First things first, think about whether you really need to get rid of the thing in question. 

While you may not want it, there may be someone out there willing to take it off your hands – particularly if you aren’t going to charge them. 

The first point of call is to ask your friends and colleagues if they’re interested, with social media the perfect place to ask around. 

If you live in an apartment complex, you might try placing the item in a common area with a note saying “zu verschenken” (to give away) or ‘gratis’ (free). 

After that, there are several online options like eBay, Facebook Marketplace, Free Your Stuff Zurich, Ricardo, Anibis, Craig’s List and Tutti. 

Some of these sites will charge a fee – even if you’re giving something away – so be sure to read the fine print first. 

Another option is to donate the goods to a charity organisation. They will usually charge you money to pick it up and prices can vary dramatically. 

Caritas charge CHF35 per 100kg plus transport costs, while Sozialwerk Pfarrer Sieber will pick up small items of furniture for a flat fee, although you’ll need to send them pictures first before they give you a quote. 

Can I put old furniture on the street in Zurich? 

Although less common than many other European cities, occasionally you will see furniture out on the street in front of homes and apartment blocks in Zurich. 

While it might clutter up the sidewalk, it is technically not illegal – provided you only do so for a maximum of 24 hours. 

You also need to make sure it doesn’t block cars, bikes or pedestrians. If it does – or if you leave it out for longer – you risk a fine.

Entsorgungstram: Zurich’s recycling and waste disposal tram

One option is the Entsorgungstram, a mobile recycling centre on rails for all Zurich residents. 

This tram weaves its way through several parts of Zurich, picking up old bulky waste including electrical devices and furniture. 

If you are lucky to live near an Entsorgungstram line, just check the timetable and bring your waste items along to meet the tram. 

There are some rules, as laid out by the Zurich council. 

“The delivered items must not be longer than 2.5 meters (exception: sofa/upholstered furniture can be no longer than 2 meters) and no heavier than 40 kilograms per item. Separate the material beforehand according to its composition: flammable, large metal and landfill”. 

Unfortunately, only pedestrians and cyclists can use this service, i.e. you cannot drive from elsewhere and deposit the stuff. 

More information including route details can be found at the following link. 

Regular waste disposal

Your next option is to see whether you can get rid of it in your usual waste disposal. 

This being Switzerland, there are a lot of rules about what the waste management company will take and will not. 

If you’re throwing away a mirror, for instance, you cannot put that with your other glass waste and will need to dispose of it elsewhere. 

On the other hand, they may take things like carpets and mattresses – although you’ll need to pay a bit extra. 

The exact rules will depend on your municipality, but generally speaking you will need to buy additional waste stickers – which cost money. 

In Zurich itself, every household receives four coupons for disposal of waste (up to 100kg) each. 

When you run out of coupons, you’ll need to pay by the kilo. 

You’ll still need to bring it to the waste disposal facility, or pay a pick up fee of around CHF80. 

This may sound steep, but they do come to your home and pick it up – which will likely be cheaper than a rental car or van. 

In Winterthur, you will need to buy stickers for CHF1.80 from the council, with each sticker letting you dispose of 10kg of waste. 

Check with the retailer where you bought the new item

One option offered by furniture sellers is to buy your old furniture or whitegoods or accept them as a trade in. 

While this is likely to be more common with second hand retailers who might see potential in your unwanted item, it is also a service offered by retailers who only sell new goods. 

One example is Ikea, who will take your old mattress, furniture or electronic device and recycle it. 

This service is available at Ikea outlets for a cost of CHF10 each. 

It is also available when you get something new delivered, although you must pre-book so the driver can be sure to set aside enough space. 

This will cost you CHF80 for furniture, or CHF50 for electronic devices and mattresses. Keep in mind that (at least with Ikea) this service is only available when you buy something new. 

Several other furniture companies offer a similar service, including Schubiger Möbel, Möbel Pfister and Conforama.  

Electrical item retails will often take your old electrical goods for recycling, whether these are small like iPhones or large like fridges and washing machines. 

More information about which goods can be recycled and how in Switzerland is available at the following link. 

Moving companies

Removalist companies are another option – whether you are moving house or not. 

If you are moving house then a disposal service may be included in the overall fees. 

If not, you can still contact the company and get the item taken off your hands. 

While different companies will charge different amounts, you’ll usually pay per 100kg rather than per item, which can be a better (or worse) option than contacting the local council. 

Swiss comparison site Comparis has detailed info about how to find a moving company here

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