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Expat Guide: tips for your move to Switzerland

Known for the beautiful mountains, famed ski-slopes and delicious chocolate. But there is so much more to Switzerland than meets the eye. The Swiss Confederation is one of Europe’s most popular expatriate countries. Thanks to a booming economy, an excellent job market, high wages and a world-renowned reputation for business, people move here from around the world.

It truly offers a little something for everyone. And the 4 official languages make it easier to move to for those who speak German, French, Italian or Romansh. Similarly to America, the country is made up of 26 independent federal cantons, each with a unique laws and distinct feel.

While most expats find themselves in either Geneva or Zurich, there is so much more to explore. However, both of the main cities are ranked amongst the highest in the world in terms of quality of living.

Sorting the paperwork

Before any international move, you need to apply for and obtain the required visas. For an expat moving to Switzerland, how difficult and timely the visa process depends completely on where you’re coming from. Most EU citizens and EFTA nationals can live and work in Switzerland without a visa. However, you will still need to apply for a residence permit.

For those coming to Switzerland from outside of the EU, you will need to apply for a work visa. There are a number of different visas available, but all require a university degree as well as some years of professional experience. And most also require a certain level of language skill in either German, French or Italian. Once you have your visa and have made the move, there are more permanent options available. Residents who’ve lived in the country for 12 years or more are eligible to apply for Swiss permanent residency.

Agree your salary package

For most expats, an impressive salary increase or a great promotion is the main driving factor in an international move. And this is especially true for those moving to Switzerland.

There’s no ignoring the fact that the cost of living here is high, so negotiating a good salary package is key to enjoying your new expat life. Make sure that you know the rough cost of your dream Swiss lifestyle, and that your salary will cover it.

Before you agree your move, negotiate a good salary package. While most expats will come to be in Switzerland as part of an intercompany move, there is also demand for highly skilled expat employees. Which way you come to find your new job will impact the salary and negotiation process. As will your language skills – the more fluency in any/all of the four official languages, the better.

Find your Swiss home

Finding a new home should be the first thing you start doing once you’ve got your visa and new job all sorted. For most expats, their new location will be dictated by the location of their new job. Although if this isn’t the case, let your interests and lifestyle choose for you. From being near the rolling fields or lakes, to being in close proximity to excellent ski slopes, you can literally pick a home that meets your interests!

Picking a new home in Switzerland is a really important step in an international move, but it can be a confusing process. Depending on the area you’re moving to, the language of your search could be different to the language you speak. It is also the cultural norm to rent here, both amongst the native and expat communities. We suggest engaging an expat real estate expert to navigate the language barriers and competitive market.

Housing here is generally of a very high standard at all price points. However, there are some truly exceptional high end and luxurious properties for those with generous budgets.

Choose a school for your children

On the whole, Switzerland’s education system is of an extremely high calibre. This is attributed to the fact that each canton has control over its own school system in Switzerland, and therefore can shape its expectations and curriculum based on the needs of its particular set of students.

Education standards are so high that some of the best schools are public schools, and well over half of the Swiss population send their students to state institutions. Children only attend private or international schools if they wish to receive a particular type of education. Although they can be pricey, some of the world’s top international schools are in Switzerland.

Important things to know

Switzerland has exceptional healthcare facilities – so good in fact, that it’s a medical tourism destination. Thanks to world class facilities and highly experienced and specialist practitioners, there is a universally short waiting time for any treatment. However, to access this, you must have health insurance.

New residents must take out health insurance within 90 days of moving. To do so, you will need to have your residence permit. There’s a real variety of policies available, but we would suggest that if your employer isn’t providing insurance, chose the most comprehensive private health cover you can afford. Although, the basic cover will provide you access to the public hospitals, which do provide excellent care.

There is a real passion for leading an environmentally friendly lifestyle, right down to how they treat refuse. If you don’t currently recycle at home, get ready to start. There’s a charge per bag for refuse collection unless your refuse is recycling. All recycling is collected for free.

And as it’s not part of the EU the country doesn’t use the Euro but Swiss Franc. When it comes to tax, the rates change from canton to canton. But regardless of where you live, you will pay federal and cantonal taxes on all income and wealth, as well as all goods and services.

What next?

If you’re moving to Switzerland, get help from an expert. Our team of dedicated international moving experts have everything needed to make your move easy. From language and cultural training, school search experts, and home finding teams, we’re here to make it simple.

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