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Interview with Helen - A British expat living in Zurich

Updated 9 Sep 2011

Helen King, a British expat living in Zurich, is “proud and humbled” to be a foreign resident in this Alpine nation. Admittedly, it’s been tough settling in, but she’s not the type to let some struggles with learning German or a high cost of living get her down. Find out what she has to say about life in Zurich.

Her blog, Grelen in Zurich, chronicles the experience of two underprepared, overeager newlyweds getting adjusted.

For more information read the Expat Arrivals Switzerland country guide or read about more expat experiences in Switzerland.

About Helen

Q: Where are you originally from?

A: London

Q: Where are you living now

A:  Zürich, District 8006 (Kreis 6)

Q: How long you have you lived here?

A: We moved to Zürich in January 2011

Q: Did you move with a spouse/children?

A:  Yes, with my husband

Q: Why did you move; what do you do?

A:  My husband was offered a job in Zürich, and it was his turn to relocate us for work!

About Zurich, Switzerland

Q: What do you enjoy most about your host city, how’s the quality of life in Zurich?

A:  The quality of life in Zurich is much higher here than in London. There are lots of great things about Zürich, probably my favourites are swimming in the lake, the fantastic public transport and the beautiful scenery.

Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?

A:  The things I miss most are my friends and family. Aside from that, I miss living in a country where I speak the language fluently. My German is improving steadily, but when we first arrived I didn’t even know how to order a coffee.

Q: Is Zurich safe?

A:  Very.

About living in Zurich

Q: Which are the best places/suburbs to live in Zurich as an expat?

A:  The two areas we considered most were Kreis 5, the old industrial quarter in the city centre, which is vibrant and full of interesting shops, bars and restaurants, and Kreis 6, where we have settled. Kreis 6 is the district of ETH (the science and technology university) and the university hospital, and it’s got an academic studenty vibe. It’s also very leafy and quiet on the hill above the Hautbahnhof, which lends the area a deceptive suburban feel, as in actuality, we are only 15-minutes walk from Bahnhofstrasse.

Q: How do you rate the standard of accommodation in Zurich?

A:  Much more highly than that of London. We are renting here, as we did in London, and the standard of finish, size and layout of apartments that we’ve viewed are better than at the comparable price point in West London.

Q: What’s the cost of living in Zurich compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?

A:  Well yes, everything is expensive in Switzerland! It’s easier once you are earning Francs, and the best piece of advice we were given is to stop converting the Francs back into pounds in your head as quickly as you possibly can. Luxury goods, electronics, clothes, household cleaning and laundry products, and toiletries seem especially overpriced compared to what we can pick up in the UK.

Q: What are the locals like; do you mix mainly with other expats?

A:  The Swiss are friendly, courteous, helpful and a bit reserved. Making an effort to speak a bit of basic German goes a long way. Most of my friends are fellow expats met at German class or through my husband’s work. It’s generally said that it takes a long time to get to know a Swiss person, and I think that’s true, but I wouldn’t say that they are any more standoffish than the average Londoner.

Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends?

A:  No, not really. Moving somewhere new always takes time to settle in. And not speaking German or having a job when I first arrived made that more challenging.

About working in Zurich

Q: Did you have a problem getting a work visa/permit?

A:  I was granted a B permit immediately, from my husband’s job. My job hunt took 7 months, which is longer than I would have expected it to take in London.

Q: What’s the economic climate like in the city, is there plenty of work?

A: The economy is strong and there is plenty of work in finance, banking and IT, although probably less so in other fields.

Family and children

Q: Did your spouse or partner have problems adjusting to their new home?

A:  We don’t have any children. My husband took to Switzerland a little more easily than I did.

Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Zurich?

A: Excellent. And expensive!

And finally…

Q: Is there any other advice you like to offer new expat arrivals?

A: Learn German! Preferably before you come out here, or as soon as you can once you arrive.

~ interviewed August 2011

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