Living in Switzerland For Members

Five ways to help you integrate in Switzerland

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
Five ways to help you integrate in Switzerland
Congratulations, you are integrated now. Photo by VALERIANO DI DOMENICO / AFP

If you plan on staying in Switzerland for a while, and maybe even applying for citizenship eventually, you have to assimilate to the local way of life, argues Helena Bachmann. Here's how to get that integration going.


Depending on where you come from, Swiss culture and mentality could be difficult for you to decipher, and many of the local rules and regulations may seem crazy.

You may even have said, ‘I will never, ever get used to that!’, but if you are here for the long haul, adjust you must.

Making the effort to fit in will pay off — not in money, but in making your life in your Swiss community easier and more pleasant.

What exactly is Switzerland’s definition of successful integration?

According to the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM), it means that foreign residents “should participate in the economic, social and cultural life of society.”

This requires not only fluency in the national language of a particular region, but also familiarity with the Swiss way of life and local customs.

Further, Switzerland expects resident foreigners to be gainfully employed and self-sufficient financially, thus ruling out the possibility that they will resort to social aid or accumulate debt.

Why is it important for a foreigner to integrate?

Maybe you think that Swiss ways are just too different from yours and take you out of your comfort zone.

That may be true, but integration doesn’t mean abandoning your own identity. Rather, it means remaining who you are (and thus contributing to  Switzerland’s diversity), while also embracing new habits.

This will serve you well not only in purely practical terms (like easier access to Swiss citizenship), but also boost your chances of actually making some friends.

The Expat Insider survey, released on July 11th, shows that while many international residents in Switzerland enjoy a high quality of life, many also report difficulties in settling in and, even more so, in making friends.

READ ALSO: How foreign residents rate life in Switzerland 

It is a well known fact that making friends in Switzerland is a challenge for many foreigners — at least partially because the Swiss appear to be aloof toward people they haven’t known since birth.

However, what hasn’t been mentioned in the survey but what anecdotal evidence indicates, is that the less effort you make toward integration, the less likely it is that the Swiss will want to befriend you — and vice versa. 


Now that you know why integration is so important to being accepted in Switzerland, how do you go about  it?

These are some of the ways that are worth a try.

Learn the language

This should be self-understood, but some people just refuse to make this effort and insist on speaking…English instead.
This is perhaps a specificity of English speakers; you don’t see many (probably any) foreigners who automatically assume the Swiss will speak to them in Greek, or Polish, or any other non-national language.

Aside from showing your unwillingness to integrate — which is understandably seen as a huge faux pas in Switzerland — it is also considered disrespectful to come to a foreign country and expect people to speak a language that is not theirs just to make it easier and more comfortable for you.

READ ALSO : Why you shouldn't expect the Swiss to speak English to you 

Therefore, it is absolutely essential that you master a level of German, French or Italian (depending on where you live) sufficient enough to be able to communicate with the local population in their language.


Become part of your community

One of the best ways to show your willingness to integrate is participating in the life of your town or village.

For instance, being a member of a local choir or volunteer fire brigade (both of which abound in Switzerland) is particularly valued, as it demonstrates the readiness to be part of, and contribute to, your local community.

If you are tone deaf or don’t like to be around fires, you can still be active by volunteering, whether at the local school, church, or anywhere where help is needed.

Those are not only the best ways to integrate, but also to meet people and — who knows — maybe even make a friend or two.

This is one way towards integration. Photo by Matt C on Unsplash

(Positive) attitude is everything

If you are still mentally stuck in your home country and everything in Switzerland seems lacking, then this attitude will be a major hurdle to your integration.

Missing your family, friends, and whatever else you left behind is one thing (and totally understandable), but don’t get into the habit of seeing your country with rose-tinted glasses and looking at Switzerland in a bad light.

If this is what you are doing — as many other foreigners have too — you are self-sabotaging your integration process.

This calls for a major overhaul of your mindset, and your attitude as well.

Focus on what you like about living in Switzerland, and put the things you don’t like into perspective.


Act like a Swiss

You can do so by adopting some of the habits practiced by people in Switzerland.

For instance, you can start recycling and segregating your trash, make Sunday your day of rest, or maybe even learn to play jass.

This may sound crazy, but it will make you feel more ‘in touch’ with, and part of, Swiss society.

Be curious

Switzerland will be ‘less foreign’ to you if you try to learn about how the country works — politically, economically, and socially.

READ ALSO: A foreigner's guide to understanding Swiss politics in five minutes

This familiarity with the inner workings of Switzerland will help you feel more at home — and hopefully make you appreciate some of the country’s typically ‘Swiss’ or unique features, such as neutrality and direct democracy.


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].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

See Also