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Switzerland - Expats

A large percentage of Switzerland's population consists of foreign nationals (in 2011, this was 22%, with 1,714,004 inhabitants of the total population of 7,785,806 identified as non-Swiss). These figures reflect the fact that for many it is not easy to acquire Swiss citizenship, and that nationals from member nations of the EU often choose to retain their EU passport. The neighbouring countries of Italy and Germany account respectively for 17% and 14.7% of the foreign nationals. France contributes a further 5.4%. A significant proportion of the foreign workforce originates from Portugal (12%) and Serbia (10.6%). There are smaller communities of Spanish and Turkish expats, and Switzerland also attracts immigrants and temporary workers from nearby Austria and Eastern Europe. The percentage of British nationals in Switzerland in 2011 was 2.1%. 13.6% of foreign nationals came from outside of Europe.

With expats in Switzerland generally making the move for employment reasons, the location of expat communities is frequently determined by employment sector. Those working in financial services or for other large multi-nationals will generally be employed in Zurich. IT workers and those with technical skills may find work in any of the major Swiss cities, and occasionally in a smaller town. Tourism workers are as a rule based in the scenic areas of Switzerland, living and working in alpine resorts. As Switzerland is a compact country with good transport connections, expats who move to smaller towns usually find themselves only a short journey away from others and meeting up does not present great difficulties.

The high standard of living is one of the chief reasons for moving to Switzerland. Although the cost of living is also high, this is matched by high salaries for skilled positions in the cities. Then there are the Alps, where some of the world's loveliest scenery can be found, and outdoor sports and leisure pursuits are available year-round. Young adults frequently come to Switzerland to work in the tourist industry, enjoying a season or two on the slopes. For couples and families, the draw of the mountains, which are within reach even for city dwellers, is matched by the attraction of a safer, cleaner environment and efficient services.

The Swiss are on the whole polite and helpful to expats, just as they are to one another. As a country with four official languages and bordered on all sides by other nations, the people of Switzerland have a long standing acceptance of foreign workers, residents and visitors. Behaviour can be more abrupt in the cities while it is more considerate and friendly in rural areas, in common with many other nations. Notions of courtesy do differ from one country to another and although many expats find Switzerland a more polite society, some find certain behaviours odd or lacking in manners compared to their home country.

How welcoming the Swiss are to expats depends on a number of factors and it can be difficult to break through the polite veneer and make friends. Some find having school-age children or a dog has helped them to connect with other parents or fellow dog owners. Getting involved in sports or local activities is another way to gradually gain acceptance with Swiss people who share similar interests. A willingness to fit in and integrate with Swiss culture also helps, while blatantly flouting social norms won't win friends among the Swiss. These norms can include gender roles, on which rural Switzerland especially has a more traditional stance than many other European and North American countries. Social life for the Swiss is often centred around the family, with friendships formed at a young age and maintained through adulthood, which can present a challenge to adult expats hoping to form new friendships. A lack of fluency in the predominant regional language or an inability to converse in the local dialect can also place barriers between an expat and local people. Although the Swiss sense of humour can be blunt it is for the most part good-natured.

Statistics show that crimes are more likely to be committed, proportionally, by non-residents and by foreign residents. Such facts sadly encourage a mistrust of 'the foreigner', whether visiting or resident. Certain political campaigns play on this mistrust and tar all foreign residents with the same brush. The onus remains on the expat to demonstrate that he or she is a courteous and trustworthy resident of the country in which Swiss citizens take great pride.

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