Quality of life For Members

7 common complaints that foreigners have about Switzerland

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
7 common complaints that foreigners have about Switzerland
Flag and alphorns: who said Switzerland is boring? Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Switzerland has been ranked "the best country in the world" again - and many foreign residents would agree. But there are also quite a few things about life here that rub foreign nationals the wrong way. Do you agree with these?


When you first set your foot in Switzerland, what were your initial impressions?

You probably noticed pretty scenery, cleanliness, as well as quaint towns and villages — so picturesque they fit the image you had of Switzerland perfectly.

All that is true, of course.

But it is also very likely that as time went by and you got your bearings, you started to notice things that irritated you. That is totally normal — no country is perfect, and Switzerland is no different.

For instance:

First and foremost, the cost of living

There is nary a foreigner who is not taken aback by Swiss prices — that’s a culture shock number one, or a better term may be ‘sticker-price’ shock.

With time, you probably got used to the high cost of living, though it sometimes still hits you like a ton of bricks: you look at a price of an item in disbelief and say, ‘this costs how much?’

Even if you earn enough money to cover all the basics, and then some, it hurts to realise that you could live much more cheaply in another country — even though your wages would be lower there as well.

READ ALSO: Is Switzerland expensive for the Swiss - or just for tourists? 


Sunday closures

Sunday is a traditional day of rest in Switzerland and much of the country pretty much shuts down.

Except for a limited number of small shops at motorway stops, as well as in train and petrol stations, you will have a hard time finding a retailer that’s open.

That will come as a rude awakening to anyone who is accustomed to 24/7 shopping.

But there is a reason for this: it is a result of trade unions’ campaigns against Sunday shop openings on the grounds that they prevent retail personnel from enjoying a day of rest spent with their families.

According to Switzerland’s largest labour group, the Swiss Federation of Trade Unions (UNIA): "It is not acceptable to subject humans to the pursuit of profit by forcing them to work 7 days a week in sectors where it is not essential."

The work-life balance for retail workers has had a strong support of most Swiss consumers as well. Time and again the issue of Sunday shop openings is brought to the ballot box in various cantons and municipalities, and rejected by voters.

Swiss Sundays: everything is closed.Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Not only can’t you shop on Sunday, but you can’t make noise either

If you work during the week, you may be looking forward to getting your chores done on Sunday.

Not in Switzerland though: your neighbour’s peace and quiet should not be disrupted by a sound of a lawn mower, hedge cutter, or nail being hammered into a wall.

No wonder that ‘no-noise Sundays' is one of the main peeves of many foreign residents.

In case you are not sure what you can and can’t do on a Sunday, it’s probably better just to sit quietly and not do anything at all.

This article may help:

READ ALSO: Six things you shouldn't do on a Sunday in Switzerland


The price of trash bags — and the whole disposal / recycling system

If you come from a country where stuffing your trash in any plastic bag and throwing it out anytime you want is the norm, then Switzerland’s system is sure to annoy you to no end.

Firstly, not only does each canton have its own trash bags (that vary from other cantons’) but they are also taxed.

The reason for the extra cost is to encourage people to stuff the bags to the max, rather than throw away partially empty ones, and thus make waste management more efficient (and the Swiss like efficiency — even if it comes at a cost).

Additionally, trash must be segregated and placed in a designated collection point on assigned days.

Failing to do so can result in heavy fines, the amount of which is determined by each individual commune.

Municipal workers have the right to go through trash bags to identify garbage offenders — and they do.

READ ALSO: Why the Swiss government rummages through your garbage

Recycling bins in Geneva. Photo by Thomas COEX / AFP

Rules and bureaucracy

This is especially difficult for people who come from less organised and micromanaged nations — which means, basically, every other country.

That’s because the Swiss have laws and regulations for so many things, it’s often hard to remember them all.

There are the aforementioned rules about trash disposal and quiet Sundays, but also ones regulating how and when to register (and re-register) in your commune of residence, how to park (or not) your car, and many others.

These two articles will give you a glimpse into some of these rules:


It's hard to make friends

As many other foreign nationals, you too may have experienced the notorious Swiss ‘cold shoulder.’

While it would not be fair, or accurate, to say that all Swiss are aloof, many are.

Whether it’s because they are actually neutral, or just respectful of other people’s privacy is hard to say. But you may find it challenging to socialise with the Swiss outside of work hours.

This probably has nothing to do with you personally — the Swiss, especially the older ones, don’t readily socialise after work; they prefer to go home and sleep.


.And that brings us to the next peeve:

Switzerland is 'boring'

We are not saying that, but a lot of foreign nationals who come to Switzerland do have this thought. 

As one famous quote has it, “Switzerland is a fine place to be born and die in, but what is there to do in between?” (The author of this quotation is unknown, but it is very likely that he, too, was a foreigner).

If you really look around, you will find many festivals, cultural events, and other things to do in almost all regions of Switzerland.

But it is no wonder that some people believe this country is dull.

For one, as mentioned above, everything is closed on Sundays. Not only that, but  especially in small towns, nothing much happens after dark.

Swiss businesses — including shops — can open from Monday to Friday only between 6am and 9pm. However, even within these parameters, it is rare to find anything open until 9pm.

Do you have a comment or anything to add to this list? Let us know by leaving a comment below or emailing [email protected]


Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
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Ather 2023/09/07 14:17
As a foreigner who has been living in Switzerland for over 8 years, I have no issues with shops being closed on Sundays! Lets keep it that way.
Meredith Buser-Kennedy 2023/09/06 18:35
Great to recycle things but there seems to be NO plastic recycling or bins to put it in. What are we supposed to do with plastic????? Meredith Buser

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