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LIVING IN SWITZERLAND

16 ways to make your life in Switzerland easier without really trying

Too expensive, too unfriendly, too many languages: foreigners often face challenges when moving to and living in Switzerland. Here are some tips on how to make your life here simpler, with little effort involved.

The simple life can be found in Switzerland’s abundant nature. Photo by Christian Burri on Unsplash
The simple life can be found in Switzerland’s abundant nature. Photo by Christian Burri on Unsplash

Don’t get us wrong: despite some growing pains experienced by foreign nationals in the early (and sometimes even later) stages of the settling-in process, life in Switzerland is not exactly a heavy burden.

There are undeniably many positive things here, including (but not limited to) a high standard of living, good social structure, security, as well as benefits in terms of health, quality of life, and finances in retirement.

But if you find your daily life is lacking that little extra “something” or feel it could be improved, these simple and relatively easy steps can make a world of difference.

READ MORE: Why have Swiss cities become ‘more liveable’ during the pandemic?

1. Get a Swiss army knife

Why? Because these handy little tools are useful for a multitude of purposes: you can use them to open bottles and cans, cut small objects, repair various things, carve wood, and even clean your fingernails, tweeze your eyebrows and hoof a horse.


You can do practically everything with this little gadget. Photo by Patrick on Unsplash

2. Carry a water bottle

Swiss villages, towns and cities have fountains flowing with cool, crisp, Alp water everywhere, so simply carry a trusty vessel and fill up wherever you go. 

3. Take a train (or a bus)

One of the perks of living in Switzerland is that public transportation will take you almost everywhere — from the most remote village to practically the top of a mountain.

EXPLAINED: How to find cheap train tickets in Switzerland

If you buy a day pass at your commune or at the railway station — sometimes for as little as 30 francs — you can travel by train, bus and even a boat all over Switzerland for 12 hours, enjoying breathtaking views along the way. 

4. Enjoy nature (it’s free)

The advantage of Switzerland’s size and density means that even if you live in a city, countryside is almost at your doorstep.

Take advantage of this proximity to nature to clear your thoughts, breathe fresh air, and enjoy the beautiful scenery — after all, you’d have to search far and wide to find a place in Switzerland that is not picturesque.

READ MORE: These are the friendliest – and least friendly – cantons in Switzerland

5. Treat yourself to coffee and croissants

There are many cozy, independently owned coffee shops and tea rooms in Switzerland, perfect places to relax and have a morning cup of coffee with a croissant (or gipfeli if you live in the German-speaking part).


The simple  pleasure of afresh croissant and steaming cup of coffee. Photo by Markus Clemens on Unsplash 

6. Stay on top of the Swiss news (ideally, with The Local)

Being au courant with what is happening in Switzerland and keeping up with the latest events and developments will make you feel less of an outsider.

Plus, it will give you a better grasp of how the Swiss tick — the kind of knowledge that will never be wasted if you live in Switzerland.

READ MORE: Eight unwritten rules that explain how Switzerland works

7. Buy different-colour baskets to use as recycling bins

Recycling is a big deal in Switzerland and you will simplify this task enormously if you have a colour coded system: say, blue for paper and cardboard, green for glass, white for cans and aluminium, red for PET bottles, yellow for batteries — you get the idea.

Disposing of your trash into communal receptacles will then be much easier and quicker.

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

8. Find out what online services your canton or community offers and take advantage of them

If standing in long queues gives you a headache, simplify your life by doing certain things online without leaving the comfort of your home.

What you can and can’t do depends on where you live, but most cantons allow you to file your taxes, submit civil status documentation, apply for health insurance subsidies, and perform other administrative tasks on the internet.

READ MORE: Swiss bureaucracy: Ten tasks you can do online in Vaud

9. Lose your hangups about eating in supermarket restaurants

Whether it’s a work lunch or a quick bite, Switzerland’s supermarket restaurants are cheap, clean and offer good quality cuisine. 

It might not be the most romantic first date spot, but for a good, hot meal, there’s few better value places than the Coop or Migros restaurants. 

10. Don’t call, text

If someone gives your their number (in non-professional contexts), don’t call them but text instead.

Perhaps this is a universal Millennial thing, but it’s certainly true in Switzerland, where people are generally reserved and like advance warning about social interaction.

Texting is easier than person-to-person contact. Photo by Jonas Leupe on Unsplash

11. Buy (and eat) supermarket chocolate

Switzerland’s luxury chocolate brands are an experience in themselves, but the supermarket options are remarkably cheap and remarkably good. 

12. Do your laundry early in the morning (except on Sundays, where it can be banned)

In Swiss apartments, tenants are assigned a particular laundry day. Hauling basketfuls of dirty clothes up and down the whole day is a hassle.

But if you do all your washing, drying, and folding first thing in the morning, this will not only simplify your life, but will also give enough time to enjoy the previous eight points.

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

13. Make an effort to meet a Swiss

Live in Switzerland but don’t have any Swiss friends? Change that. It’ll change the way you see the country and the people. 

14. Make lunch the most important meal of the day

Want to try that restaurant but can’t fork out the cash? Lunch is your friend. 

Whether during the week or on weekends, lunch prices are often half dinner prices, with much the same on offer. 

15. Twint

Twint is a great tool when you want to transfer money from one person’s smartphone to another’s, to pay for a purchase in a shop, restaurant, or anywhere else.

Practically all retailers in Switzerland offer the option of a Twint payment, including some that are either cashless or that don’t accept credit cards. 

Cashless payments in Switzerland: What is Twint and how does it work?

16. Drink in public

Supermarket and kiosk wine and beer is much cheaper than that offered at bars and restaurants. 

Save yourself more than a few francs by finding a nice spot in a park or along a river and BYOB. 

While for people from English-speaking countries this may seem a little weird, drinking in public in Switzerland – like with much of continental Europe – does not have the same social stigma it does in other countries and will not be looked down upon in Switzerland.

Reader question: Can you drink in public in Switzerland?

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For members

HOUSING

Can a Swiss landlord charge a fee if you renounce to rent an apartment?

Say you signed a registration for a flat in Switzerland, but then changed your mind. What, if any, fees are you liable for if you decide to withdraw your application?

Can a Swiss landlord charge a fee if you renounce to rent an apartment?

In some areas of Switzerland, good and reasonably priced rental properties are difficult to come by, so once you find one, you hold on to it for dear life.

But it can also happen that you change your mind for whatever reason and no longer want to proceed with the rental.

What happens then?

Some rental agencies’ registration forms include a clause stating that if you cancel after a contract has been prepared, you have to pay between 150 and 200 to cover administration costs — even if the contract hasn’t yet been signed.

This is ostensibly for all the time and effort that went into preparing the lease.

If you are unfamiliar with Swiss laws, you may feel a duty to pay these fees, believing that if you don’t, Swiss rental police will knock on your door.

But you can relax: apart from the fact that there’s no such thing in Switzerland as “rental police”, you don’t owe the agency or landlord anything.

That is because registrations and applications of any kind —  including those for rental properties — are non-binding until both parties have signed them. Up to this point, an application can be withdrawn without incurring any costs, even if the agency / landlord have you believe otherwise.

READ MORE: REVEALED: The six major Swiss cities where rents are falling

Why are landlords / rental agencies engaging in this practice?

To be fair, not all of them will attempt to make you pay for failing to sign the lease. Those who do are hoping you don’t know your legal rights, especially if you are a foreigner who (they hope) is still green behind the ears when it comes to rental regulations in Switzerland.

However, according to the official site of canton of Geneva (but this rule applies nationally), some exceptions could be admissible.

If applicants are not acting in “good faith” — for instance, by belatedly expressing their refusal to sign the lease and delaying the rental process while other potential tenants are kept waiting —  the landlord could ask to be compensated.

This is not a clear black-and-white situation though, as “good faith” calls for subjective judgements, ones that the landlord or rental agency could not make unless they have proof that candidates’ actions were dishonest — which is also difficult to prove.

But even in this case, the landlord “could only invoice his actual costs: the costs of drafting the lease contract and sending it out, for example”, according to the Swiss Tenants Association (ASLOCA).

You should also inform yourself about what your landlord can and cannot demand of you.

“You have to remember that just because something is written in the lease doesn’t mean it’s true”, ASLOCA said.

“Lease law is protective of the tenant and takes into consideration that the latter does not necessarily have the possibility or the resources to read and carefully negotiate any clause of his lease”.

If uncertain of what your rights and obligations are, this official government site provides useful information and  resources, including who, in your canton of residence, can help in case of a dispute with your landlord.

READ MORE: Tenant in Switzerland? Here’s how to apply for a rent reduction

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