Expats moving to Switzerland quickly find that clichés about clocks and cleanliness don’t do it justice. Pastoral scenes and mountain vistas transition into bustling cities with seamless beauty in a country that’s a crossroads of European culture.
Switzerland has four official languages – French, German, Italian and Romansch – and is divided into 26 states called cantons. Each canton has its own laws and public institutions, so expats will need to research the region they’re moving to.
In addition to the diversity of the local population, Switzerland welcomes the outside world with open arms. Its stable economy and banking laws have attracted international investment for decades, and close to a quarter of its population was born outside of the country.
Unemployment has stayed down and the economy has continued to grow. It’s home to internationally renowned banks and businesses, and several of its industries attract highly skilled expats. However, immigration quotas are getting stricter and locals are known for being quite insular. The cost of living is also among the highest in the world.
That said, most expats are drawn in by the quality of life in Switzerland. Its public transport system is punctual and comprehensive. Public and private hospitals offer high standards of healthcare, and all residents have access to good, free public schools and excellent private education.
Integrating into the local culture can be a pleasurable experience, thanks to its collection of museums, art galleries and restaurants. There are few better backdrops than the crystal waters of Lake Geneva and the towering slopes of the Swiss Alps.
Population: Approximately 8.5 million
Capital city: Bern
Neighbouring countries: Switzerland is a landlocked country in Western Central Europe. It shares borders with Italy to the south, France to the west, Germany to the north and Austria and Liechtenstein to the east.
Geography: Switzerland is a mountainous country and is famous for the Alps in the south and southeast of the country. The Swiss Plateau runs along the east-west axis of the country. The smaller Jura Mountains are located on the north-west side of this plateau. Much of the northern border with Germany follows the Rhine River. The eastern border with Germany and some of Austria is connected to Switzerland through Lake Constance, and Lake Geneva is located on the southwest border with France.
Political system: Switzerland is a federal semi-direct democracy under multi-party parliamentary directorial republic.
Major religions: Christianity is the main religion in Switzerland, but the country is quite tolerant of other faiths and all religions can be practised freely.
Main languages: Switzerland is home to four national languages. Depending on the area of the country, the predominant language spoken will be either Swiss German, French, Italian or Romansch.
Money: Switzerland is not part of the EU and has retained its own currency, the Swiss Franc (CHF). The Swiss Franc is subdivided into 100 rappen (German) or 100 centimes (French). Credit cards are widely accepted and ATMs are readily available.
Tipping: While there is no obligation to tip in Switzerland, many people do, especially in Zurich, where a 10 to 20 percent tip is common. In other areas, it is acceptable to round up the bill to the nearest 5 or 10 CHF.
Time: GMT+1 (GMT+2 from the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October)
Electricity: 230 volts, 50Hz. Plugs have two or three round pins.
Internet domain: .ch
International dialling code: +41
Emergency numbers: There are three different emergency numbers in Switzerland: 117 (police), 144 (ambulance), 118 (fire). The general European emergency number (112) can also be used.
Transport and driving: The Swiss drive on the right-hand side of the road. Road conditions and signage are generally good. Expats from certain countries can drive in Switzerland for up to a year, but excellent public transport means that cars aren't necessary.
"I enjoy living in Zurich because it has a lot of the benefits of a big city, without the big problems of one. I live in a quiet, leafy-green neighbourhood in Zurich city, but I can hop on a tram and be 'downtown' in five minutes for shopping or dining out." Learn more about expat life in Switzerland's financial capital in Tanya's interview.
Are you an expat living in Switzerland?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Switzerland. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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