- an expatriate for professional reasons
- an expatriate for family reasons
- a student expatriate
You will find in this article practical advice to settle successfully.
Whatever your situation, Switzerland offers you opportunities at every age
Expat with experience
For expatriates with solid experience, a position in Switzerland is often a professional achievement. If you have already traveled the world with international jobs, Switzerland may seem to me to be just another destination but it is not; Switzerland is a country apart. Living in Switzerland is a unique experience.
Many expatriates try to stay in Switzerland permanently at the end of their contract; they often have children who are already teenagers and enjoy the standard of living, the education, the safety.
The Swiss's economic dynamism opens up opportunities for young graduates, doctoral students, in the private sector or within international organizations.
A first professional experience in a job market full of opportunities is a good choice even if it is not to stay long in Switzerland.
The student expat
Switzerland welcomes students from all over the world in high school boarding schools. This is the tradition of Alpine Colleges located in ski resorts or near lakes. More recently, there is also a large number of student expatriates joining the well-known universities in Switzerland such as EPFZ, EPFL, MBA, ST Gallen or other universities (well positioned in the Shanghai world ranking) ; admission criterias are strict and tuition fees remain competitive in comparison with universities in other countries such as the USA.
As the European Community has excluded Switzerland from the Erasmus exchange program, SEMP (Swiss European Mobility Program) has been set up.
Swiss establishments can be more multicultural than Anglo-Saxon ones (lessons are taught in English and a Swiss national language (French or German) is added). University studies in Switzerland can be the starting point of an expatriate career with a succession of international positions.
The competition is tough
For professionals, being appointed to Switzerland, a country regularly ranked among the most pleasant to live in, with very high salaries, has advantages… and disadvantages. The competition is tough and employers cannot help but compare the costs of a local activity and of an “offshore” option. You will be expected to produce quality and results quickly .
For student expatriates, the competition is fierce . The studies are of a high standard resulting from increasing international faculty recruitment and early selection of students. It is also expected to speak a second language in addition to English.
In Switzerland, the expatriate's environment is pleasant, it is nevertheless competitive.
Pleasant ... often a bit alone
Being an expatriate in Switzerland as a professional often means not having much contact with Swiss citizens whereas when you are a student, the contacts are easy.
The community of expatriates, in the same city, the same company, the same children's school can help … The Canton of Zug and its large concentration of companies in the “Commodities” sector (commodity trading) concentrates dynamic expatriate communities. Lausanne and its startups from the EPFL incubator or the multinational companies from Zurich facilitate the creation of links between expatriates. In this area, Geneva is struggling ; even if the “International Geneva” is suffering from the reduction in UN budgets, the number of expatriates remains large enough for their communities to be lively.
In smaller cities, expatriate communities are not so dynamic.
Expat community or integration into Switzerland
For expatriates who are not students, joining a dynamic expatriate community can replace the contact with the Swiss citizen. Beyond a certain age, apart from attending school events for young children, you will seldom have the opportunity to bond with natives. The starting point for any local integration is the knowledge of the language of the canton .
In a number of countries, English is largely sufficient to integrate. This is not the case in Switzerland ; at least one of 4 official Swiss languages (German, French, Italian, Romansh), there is at least one that must be mastered: German, French, Italian. Without mastering one must be spoken...
If you wish to integrate yourself, you have to make an effort to understand Switzerland, to know the events, the opportunities to socialize and ... to speak the language.
Reduced expat “package”
Expats arriving for professional reasons have a “financial package” which has been greatly reduced over the past decade. At the time, it included the allowances for housing, car, private school, health insurance ... Nowadays, housing is no longer fully covered and the private school, the services of a relocation agency either. The United Nations agencies also have seen their budgets been drastically reduced. NGOs see their operating costs scrutinized by donors.
The expartiate’s “Package” being reduced, the expatriate now may pay attention to his / her budget.
Where to settle in Switzerland?
In a country with rents as expensive as in Switzerland, not benefiting from an employer's allowance can make finding accommodation particularly difficult. The tenant who leaves his / her house before the end of the lease must find a replacement (i.e. sub-lets). Be careful not to commit to too expensive accommodation costs or it may be difficult to sub-let your accommodation at the same price as you rent it, in case you are leaving Switzerland before the end of the lease.
The Covid crisis has created constraints on travel and border crossings, enabled remote working and therefore reduced the demand for border housing for cross-border commuters / workers (aka “frontaliers”).
Fewer “commuters” (who live in one city and work in another), fewer cross-border commuters, more inhabitants in small towns : expatriates are also modifying their choice of residence in Switzerland.
Declarations of arrival in Switzerland
The expatriate who arrives in Switzerland has a series of administrative procedures to do.
Whereas some of you will be supported in your administrative tasks by your employer or by your “Alpine College”, the university student will be on his own with the administrative tasks.
Nevertheless, everyone must have a minimum of knowledge of the administrative procedures to live in Switzerland. In the end, in Switzerland, individual liability often takes precedence over collective cover. This requires familiarizing yourself with the obligations of a residence.
As soon as you arrive as an expatriate, I have to familiarize yourself with your obligations. In some cantons, failing to comply with them in time means running the risk of having their residence permit terminated.
Mandatory insurances in Switzerland
Individual responsibility is a pillar of Swiss values. It applies to the obligations to insure. For most insurances, there is no difference in obligation between the expatriate who has just arrived and the Swiss.
Home insurance (household insurance), motor vehicle insurance, CASCO insurance are all types of insurance that apply equally to all residents in Switzerland.
Finally, the insurance obligations are different per cantons. Sometimes the home fire insurance is separate, sometimes it is included in the household insurance.
Interest in legal protection insurance depends on individual appreciation and familiarity with Swiss remedies and obligations. It should be noted that more than 60% of residents in Switzerland consider it necessary to cover themselves with legal protection.
Expats arriving in Switzerland need an overview of their insurance needs. It is essential when arriving in Switzerland.
Health insurance is specific
For health insurance and accident insurance, each case is specific.
There are some exceptions to the obligation to take out compulsory health insurance in Switzerland. Expatriates from certain international organizations benefit from access to specific insurance policies. Some multinational companies cover their staff who travel with insurance that can replace the Swiss compulsory insurance. Other companies expect their employees to take individual responsibility for choices. They are limited to one participation.
Finally, the majority of companies do not intervene in any way in the choice of health insurance for their employees who must be covered by the compulsory health insurance in Switzerland .
The students and high school pupils of “Alpin College” often travel abroad for example to go back home for holidays. For them, the recommendation to get international insurance which covers them in Switzerland and abroad.
In a country where medical care is expensive and of good quality, it is better to have a clear idea about your health insurance and its cost.
The field of taxation on income presents great differences depending on whether one is a diplomat, an international UN civil servant, an Non Governmental Organisation (NGO) employee, a multinational employee, a student with a part-time job lasting a few hours, etc.
In some cases, there is no income tax whereas in other cases, the income tax is paid directly by the employer or there is a deduction at source by the employer with the possibility of adjustments a posteriori.
Opportunities of tax and pension optimizations must be done before the end of the first calendar year of residence in Switzerland.
School in Switzerland
At the time when expatriate packages were big, enrolling children in private schools seemed obvious but with the reduction in employer allowances, this is less the case.
You should know that in young classes, the educational level in Switzerland is less recognized. This assessment is reversed in the Orientation Cycle (11 to 14 years old). and becomes really excellent at the Public College also called Gymnasium (from 15 years old). An orientation and selection process helps maintain a standard of excellence in College / Gymnasium.
The private school can therefore be justified for small classes and the Orientation Cycle while paying high school fees for college is less justified. The college - public gymnasium is a reference and students in public college are well prepared to enter higher education after graduation.
Choosing the Swiss public school for college and gymnasium is an option to consider when your child is comfortable in the language of your canton of residence . Otherwise, think of a bilingual class or a private school that offers international diplomas (International Baccalaureate (IB) or French baccalaureate).
The “Alpin Colleges”, year-round boarding schools mainly located in ski resorts in the Alps, have another vocation. They take in children of parents who live outside Switzerland. They combine academic studies, practice of sport and learning new languages.
Enrolling in public school is a first step towards integration in Switzerland. If you plan to live in Switzerland for a long time and if your children are considering higher education in Switzerland, this will facilitate your integration.
Settling permanently in Switzerland, who has not thought about it?
After a few years in Switzerland, before leaving for a new assignment, maybe the family will surely ask whether it is possible to stay in Switzerland.
To prepare for this eventuality, you must first master the language of your canton of residence. You must also create a network in Switzerland to identify local professional opportunities.
You need to prepare well before the end of your current assignment if you want to settle permanently in Switzerland. Successfully settling in Switzerland, this is worth the effort!