Housing to admin: How easy is it to get started in Switzerland as a foreigner?

Sandra Sparrowhawk
Sandra Sparrowhawk - [email protected] • 25 Mar, 2023 Updated Sat 25 Mar 2023 09:05 CEST
Housing to admin: How easy is it to get started in Switzerland as a foreigner?
Just how easy is it to get started in Switzerland? Photo by PhotoHound on Unsplash

A new international ranking has seen Switzerland ranked above its German-speaking neighbours Austria and Germany when it comes to how easy it is for foreign residents to get started in the country.


A new ranking by the largest global expat network InterNations, which looked at the best and worst places for getting started abroad as a foreign resident, revealed that finding your feet in Switzerland is far easier than in neighbours Germany and Austria.

Covering housing, language, digital life, and administration topics, the "Expat Essentials Index" looked on some of the most important elements of getting life started abroad. 

Overall Switzerland was ranked in 20th place out of 52 countries and particularly stood out for its exceptional administration (7th) and digital infrastructure (7th) where it ranked in the top 10 worldwide.

When it came to digital life countries were ranked on aspects such as the accessibility of high-speed internet, the ease of paying without cash and being able to do admin tasks online. And when it came to bureaucracy countries were judged on criteria such as the ease of getting a visa and opening a bank account.

Image: Internations

Switzerland outperforms neighbouring DACH neighbours

When it comes to their digital life in Switzerland, 89 percent of foreigners said they were especially satisfied with the quick internet connection they have at home - compared to only 79 percent worldwide – while 94 percent (84 percent worldwide) are pleased with the cashless payment options available in the country.


Foreigners are also happy with the Swiss authorities with 75 percent reporting that sorting out their administrative needs online is easy (61 percent worldwide). More broadly, three out of five foreigners in Switzerland find dealing with the authorities easy (40 percent worldwide) and 62 percent found they could organise their visa hassle-free (56 percent worldwide).

"I love the uncomplicated bureaucracy here," said a survey participant who is originally from Italy.

Switzerland was ranked well above its German-speaking neighbours with Germany ranked last overall and Austria placed 32nd.

Both scored well below Switzerland for digital infrastructure and administration.

Languages prove a struggle

Interestingly, when it came to languages, Switzerland outperformed both Germany and Austria. With four official languages - German, French, Italian and Romansh – it might surprise some that the country was ranked 30th - well above its neighbours.

The Swiss are taught in the official language of their canton, with a second and third language introduced in elementary or secondary school.  This means the Swiss are not only well-versed in languages, but usually very accommodating to foreigners who may struggle with communication in their early days.

Yet, language barriers persist, particularly in the German-speaking part of the country and for good reason. In the Deutschschweiz, Swiss German, rather than standard German, is spoken by its residents, much to the frustration of foreigners.

Learning Swiss German, whose dialects vary from canton to canton (and sometimes town), is an arduous task, made worse by the fact that it is spoken everywhere but at school and work – where foreigners usually get their head start.

"It is pretty hard to learn the language. You have to take courses in High German, but you don't hear that on the street. And the Germans don't necessarily understand Swiss German," said a Swiss-based foreign resident originally from the USA.


Yet, speaking a local language is very important. When it comes to settling in without mastering one of its official languages, Switzerland ranks only 29th. It is a known fact that the Swiss regard their languages – and their dialects – as part of their identity.

Still, only 54 percent of foreigners said they speak their chosen region’s official language rather or very well, coming in close with the global average at 53 percent.

Housing shortage reflected in ranking

Within the subcategory housing, Switzerland found itself among the worst-scoring nations – and with little surprise. In comparison with Germany (47th) and Austria (25th), Switzerland ranked 44th.

Switzerland has been experiencing a crisis in its housing market for some time now: with fewer affordable homes available and rents are continuing to soar. This means that foreigners newly arriving in the country are met with limited choice and often forced to move out of large cities and consider Switzerland’s urban centres instead.

The survey found that 42 percent believe that it is difficult for foreigners to find an apartment in Switzerland (27 percent worldwide), while another 58 percent found that living space in the country is simply not affordable (43 percent worldwide).

"It is almost impossible to buy an apartment and rents are very high," a French study participant complained.


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