How to move to



Find A Job

Switzerland is a popular place for expats to find work, particularly those who are highly skilled; almost 50% of all executive jobs in the country are filled by foreigners. The country’s appeal is largely due to high salaries and a generally high standard of living. Consequently, competition for jobs is fierce, and opportunities are even more limited for those coming from outside the European Union (EU) or European Free Trade Association (EFTA).

However, finding a job in Switzerland is possible, especially if you can fill a skills shortage or speak one of the country’s three national languages.

Despite its small size, Switzerland is host to a predominantly highly-skilled workforce, specialising particularly in the engineering and technology sectors. Additionally, the country is one of the world’s biggest centres of finance. So, for skilled workers, there are regularly jobs available in:

• Engineering
• Technology
• Pharmaceuticals
• Consulting
• Banking
• Insurance
• I.T.
• Finance

Multi-national companies provide many jobs to English-speakers, which can be a positive for expats from the UK. Switzerland is home to some huge multi-nationals, including:

• Nestle
• Zurich Insurance
• Roche
• Adecco
• Credit Suisse

Other large organisations also based in Switzerland include the United Nations, the World Trade Organisation, and the International Red Cross, all of whom hire expats with various language skills.

Job Vacancies

You can search for jobs in Switzerland via the standard methods – online, in newspapers, by networking, and by sending speculative applications. For most of these, you will need to send a CV and cover letter as part of your application.

Where possible, write your CV and cover letter in the language of the advert or that of the company you are applying to. If you are writing in an unfamiliar foreign language, ask a native to read your application before sending it, to check for grammatical errors.

Your CV may be as long as three sides of A4 but will ideally be limited to two sides. Keep your work history and experience relevant to the position you are applying for. Ensure your spelling and grammar is of a high standard as Swiss employers look dimly upon poorly written applications. It is not unusual to be asked to include a photo with an application.

If your application requires a cover letter, it should be written in a formal style and kept brief. Include your name and address at the top, followed by the details of the company you are applying to. Next, in bold, should be the position you are applying for. The rest of the missive should aim to convince the recipient that you are the ideal candidate for the job, though you should resist bragging and always be truthful.

Applying For A Job

Once you make it to interview stage, you should prepare by researching the company. Your prospective boss will usually be at the interview and may ask many of the questions. Dress formally to make the best first impression, be punctual and greet your interviewer(s) with a firm handshake; additionally, maintain good eye contact. Only sit when invited to do so and address your interviewers formally, using last names.

The Swiss are a conservative nation, and this is reflected in their business culture. They tend to appreciate punctuality and a sense of responsibility, among other attributes. Due to the layout of the country, some companies are based in German regions of Switzerland, whilst others are in Italian or French regions, and this can have an impact upon how they are run. Typically, companies in the Italian and French areas tend to be governed in a more laid-back style than those in the German regions.

Switzerland is not part of the EU but individuals from countries which are part of the EU may move to Switzerland without a visa and work without a permit. If you’re planning a long-term stay (more than three months), you will, however, need to register for a residence permit.

For citizens of countries outside the EU, relocating to the country is altogether more difficult as there are strict quotas on expat jobs in Switzerland. Employers are required to prove that the vacancy cannot be filled by a local and work permits are generally limited to managers, specialists and other highly-skilled workers.

Due to the nature of securing jobs in Switzerland as a non-EU citizen (the employer must apply to the relevant authorities and contact the Swiss embassy for approval before a job offer can be made) and the timeframe involved, most roles are filled by EU citizens where possible.

Switzerland has three national languages: German-Swiss, French, and Italian. German-Swiss is the most widely-spoken of the three, particularly in the central and eastern areas of the country. French is spoken mostly in the west, and Italian in the south. English is often spoken in the workplace, and most natives will be able to at least converse in the language, but it would give jobseekers an advantage to also know at least one of the national languages prior to applying for jobs.

If you are looking to move to Switzerland to work in a profession such as teaching, medicine, technology, law or social work, you will need to have your qualifications officially recognised before you can apply for jobs, even if you are an EU or EEA citizen. To do this, you will need to contact the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI).

Apply For A Visa/Permit

Switzerland, with its famous chocolate and beautiful scenery, is a popular destination among tourists and expats alike. Depending on your nationality, you may need a visa to travel there. This article will walk you through what types of visa are available, based on why you are visiting and how long you intend to stay. It will also describe how to apply for a work permit and residency.


Switzerland isn’t a member of the European Union (EU), but it is a member of the European Free Trade Agreement (EFTA) and the Schengen Zone.

Therefore, if you have a Schengen visa, you do not need a separate visa to enter Switzerland, so long as your stay is less than 90 days and doesn’t include work.

To determine whether you need a visa to travel to Switzerland, you can enter your country of residency into their online visa system.

There are several non-Schengen visas available.

Airport transit visa

This visa allows you to travel to Switzerland for the purpose of air travel. To apply, you should fill out the appropriate form, and then take the following documents with you to your local consulate.

• Two recent passport photos
• Your passport, which should have at least two blank visa pages
• A copy of your flight registration

The application fee is $88 for adults (12+ years of age), $44 for children (six to 11 years of age), and free for children under six.

Schengen visa for business purposes

If your trip to Switzerland is for business, you’ll need a Schengen visa, along with an invitation letter from the Swiss company you’ll be visiting, a certificate from your employer approving your business travel, and business bank statements for six months. Either the Swiss company or your employer must clarify that they are paying your expenses during your stay in the Schengen Zone.

Schengen visa for medical purposes

For this visa, you’ll need a local medical report and medical attestation from your Swiss doctor, confirming the date of your medical appointment, as well as an overview of your case.

National visa for a stay of more than 90 days

If you wish to apply for a long-term visa, which can be used for purposes such as study or family reunification, you will need to fill out the appropriate. You will also need four recent passport photos and two copies of your passport.

If you are a student, you will also need:

• Two copies of proof of registration at the school or university in Switzerland – this should specify what language your course will be in
• Two copies of confirmation of paid student fees
• Two copies of your financial income and assets, as well as bank statements
• Two copies of previous diplomas
• Two copies of your resume
• Two copies of a brief essay on your future plans.

If you are applying in order to study in Switzerland, the application is free of charge.

After your application has been authorised, you will need to go to the consulate with your passport, where they will process your visa.

For family reunion visas, including for foreign spouses and children of Swiss or EU/EFTA nationals, additional requirements include:

• Two copies of your spouse or parent’s passport
• Two notarised copies of a marriage certificate or birth certificate
• Proof of language competency (A1) in the language spoken at your future place of residence, or confirmation of enrollment in a language course

There is also a fee of $88 for adults and $44 for children of non-Swiss or EU/EFTA nationals.

After the canton of your planned residency reviews and authorises your visa, which can take eight to 10 weeks, you will need to submit your passport and your approval to your consulate.

Work visa

Work visas for Switzerland are granted only after you’ve been granted a work permit through your employer and the specific cantonal authorities. Once you have that authorisation, you’ll need your passport and a copy of it, a recent photograph, and the $88 visa fee, to apply for your entry work visa.

Work Permits

EU or EFTA citizens should have a fairly easy time being approved for a Swiss work permit. If you are a citizen from another country, you must prove that you are a skilled and qualified worker, with a university degree and specific expertise, and that there is a job waiting for you that no EU or EFTA citizen could do.

Once you have that job, your employer will apply for your work and residency permit at the local cantonal office in Switzerland. There is only one type of permit in Switzerland, a residency permit that allows you to work. With your permit and your work entry visa, you can then enter Switzerland, where you have 14 days to register at the Residents’ Registry Office.


Work and residency permits are one and the same in Switzerland. The different options include:

Permit L: This short-term residence permit allows for a stay of up to one year in Switzerland, tied to an employment contract. In exceptional cases, it can be extended for a further year, but no more.

Permit B: This permit is valid for one year initially, but can be extended annually, so long as you remain living in the same canton.

Permit C: This settlement permit is for those who have been living for 10 continuous years in Switzerland and want to apply for permanent residence. If you are from the US or Canada, you only need to have been living there for five years.

Get Health Insurance

Many expats take out private medical insurance, even if this is not a requirement of residence, because healthcare is expensive in their destination country or because certain treatments and procedures are not available.

When taking out health insurance, be sure to check factors such as the annual and lifetime policy limits, whether there are any exclusions which are likely to affect you, whether you are limited to treatment from specific types of healthcare providers, and whether the policy covers emergency evacuation for medical treatment.

Too frequently, potential buyers of health insurance look only for the lowest cost of premiums before really considering the specific benefits and areas of cover they may actually need. Some plans are cheaper for a reason. Often they include large voluntary deductibles on any claim you might make in the future and may severely cap the benefits received under the plan. Clients should define their needs first, establish the particular area of cover they need, then determine their annual healthcare insurance budget. Only then should they look to premium comparisons, last of all.

Do not buy a plan without studying the policy wording carefully. If in doubt, ask, and only when completely satisfied complete all application forms fully, to the best of your ability.

Important questions to ask the insurance provider:

1. Does the plan allow for cooling off periods, cancellation and then repayment of premium in full?

2. Does the plan offer "Moratorium" or is it "Full underwriting" and do you need to have a medical examination before joining?

3. Does the insurer offer a 24 hour help line, 7 days a week, available from anywhere in the world (freephone)? Most insurers now offer this facility.

4. Are pre-existing conditions excluded when joining and if so, for how long are such conditions excluded?

5. Are all and any nationalities accepted or are there restrictions which apply to local nationals? Some insurers will only take expatriates abroad and not local nationals into an overseas plan.

6. Does the plan allow you to continue cover unbroken through your lifetime? In most cases insurers will continue to offer existing clients cover year on year, irrespective of age or claims history, although premium rates charged can increase dramatically with age.

7. Does the insurer allow for any doctor or consultant or hospital within the plan? Are there any restrictions in this respect? Most international plans do not place restrictions on either hospitals or doctors, but almost all demand that their help lines are called first, prior to approval of any inpatient care.

8. Does the insurer provide for the direct settlement of bills presented by hospitals worldwide, regardless of location (or do you have to pay first)?

9. What are the insurers procedures for outpatient claims? Do these require any pre-authorization or if stated in the plan can you just pay and claim? How long before you get money back from the insurer? 14 days? 28 days?.

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Rent Or Buy Property

Renting Property

The process of renting a flat or a house in Switzerland may vary depending on your destination. The most popular locations in the country are Zurich, Geneva and Basel, where the number of flat seekers surpasses the number of available spaces to rent and so the prices are higher. In general, the amount of offers and possibilities can be intimidating. The number of apartments being sold and rented at the same time is very high. Before you begin your quest of searching for the perfect place, think about the time you are willing to stay for, the location, and preferably do a little research about the areas you like. No matter how much luck you have during the search, be patient and don’t settle for just anything, especially if you are looking for a comfortable yet not too expensive place of your own for a long period of time.

The typical lease term is twelve months. Unless it is noted in the contract, it cannot be terminated by the tenant. If the contract doesn’t state the period of time, it is assumed to be for an unlimited period. In order to terminate such a contract, notice needs to be presented. Traditionally, tenancies could only start or end on a quarter day which is around 25th of March, June, September and December. This tradition is still continued in several areas of the country, so be sure to check before you make any plans. It is also not acceptable in some places to start or finish the tenancy on a quarter day in December, because of Christmas.

Depending on where you plan to live, the prices for one room in a flat or a house will range between 1000 - 1300 CHF per month, over 1500 CHF for two rooms and over 2200 CHF for three rooms. Note that the number of rooms does not include the kitchen or bathroom, but does include the living room. Long-term rentals are usually for unfurnished apartments, which sometimes can be misunderstood by expats at first glance. Swiss unfurnished flats come without furniture and often they require light fittings to be installed together with the stove/oven, a dishwasher and a washing machine. In most cases they will also come without any decorations or curtains. Although it is possible to find apartments with the above features, you should always look for those details in the offer and later in the reading of the contract. A deposit is usually required and it can be equivalent to up to three months’ rent. The deposit is meant to be returned after the contract ends, however if the apartment needs any repair work, cleaning or redecorating, part or the total amount from the deposit might not be returned. It is worth noting that common practice, which can also be a requirement listed in the contract, is to clean the flat (often with the help of professional cleaning services), fix small holes or scratches and repaint the walls when the contract is ending.

When it comes to the actual contract, possibly the most important thing that you should keep track of is the cost of the rent and all the additional payments. Things like garbage disposal, cleaning or renovating the building, heating and water consumption will be counted as additional payments. The second most important thing is the length of your contract and the amount of notice which needs to be given. This can be between three to six months. Also important are the value of the deposit and when it must be paid, conditions of possible rent increases and rules of redecorating after the previous tenant or for the future one after you leave. Pay attention to the protocol and inventory of all the things that are included inside the apartment when the contract is signed.

If you don’t plan to stay long enough to consider a long-term lease, try looking for temporary housing or a sublet, which is legal and common in Switzerland. Although it is always possible to skip renting and arrange to stay at a hotel instead, it is very pricey. Booking a flat or a house for a short time also has some benefits, such as renting a fully furnished and equipped place without any additional payments like trash disposal, cleaning the building area, arranging the internet connection, redecorating or fixing the utilities. There are a few websites that offer rental of fully furnished flats and houses for up to a whole month, such as or Websites like and might also be helpful when you’re looking for subletting and budget friendly options. Availability of a place like this for a longer period of time can however be an issue. Try to reserve the place for at least a few weeks before your arrival.

The general advice for renting a flat is to be fast, organized and prepared. Start looking as soon as you can, preferably even before you cross the border. If possible, schedule visits before you move over, and come to see the apartments in person. Be optimistic but don’t rush into things.

For more detailed information, visit

Buying Property

On finding a house that you would like to buy in Switzerland, your next step will be to check that you will be able to obtain a mortgage that, when combined with your savings, will be sufficient to cover the purchase price of the house. (You can ask the mortgage provider to value more than one property for you if you are still deciding between properties.) Be sure to factor in any necessary renovation costs and the co-ownership charge, if a shared building.

If you are satisfied that the property is affordable, you will need to put in an offer. If you are using an estate agent, they will handle this part of the process. If a private sale, you can contact the owner directly by phone or, if they require an offer in writing, by email. If your offer is accepted you may be asked to make a deposit to the seller via the notary, which will then be deducted from the purchase price. Ensure you have an agreement in writing that specifies that this will be fully refunded should the seller subsequently decide not to sell to you.

If buying off-plan, the process is similar except that the purchase price will be fixed and you will need to put down a deposit to secure your reservation and to sign a preliminary contract. There is likely to be an arrangement to pay this deposit and the remainder of the purchase price in stages, corresponding to the stages of completion of the property. Some new-build properties will involve annual payment of interest on the land (Baurechtzins), which is similar to buying a property leasehold rather than freehold. To remove this obligation you would need to buy out the lease but legal advice will need to be sought. Buyers are therefore advised to fully inform themselves of the consequences of purchasing a property that involves this arrangement. On completion of the purchase of a new-build you will receive a home warranty giving your protection against construction flaws for the next 5 years, extended to 10 for hidden defects.

You will now need to negotiate a date for moving. In Switzerland it is more common than in some other countries to have a period in which you own two properties, i.e. your new home and the former home you are selling. If you wish to avoid this, you will need to discuss with the seller whether they are willing to delay their own move. At this point you will also need to consider whether you would like to buy any fixtures, should the seller be willing to part with these on moving out. If there is any necessary work to be done as a condition of sale, and the seller has agreed to these conditions, you should also ensure that this is specified in writing.

Both your interests and those of the seller will be represented by a public notary. Once the mortgage formalities have been completed with your mortgage provider and you are issued with proof that you have the funds to buy the property, you will visit the notary’s office (Notariatsamt) with the seller to agree on the contracts. If all is satisfactory to both parties and the notary has no concerns, contacts can be signed. The notary will charge up to 5% of the purchase price, depending on the canton. Even where lower, the notary cost is unlikely to be less than 4.5%, however in some cantons it is normal for the notary costs to be split equally between the buyer and seller. Note that you can appoint the notary yourself and are not obliged to accept the notary recommended to you. If you so wish, you can additionally appoint your own legal advisor.

Your notary will take care of the property transfer tax and paperwork. The tax rate will vary (and is not applicable in the cantons of Zurich and Schwyz) but will be covered by the notary fee. The notary also ensures the Land Registry deeds are changed, at which point you become the new legal owner of the property.

Buyers need to bear in mind that estate agents and sellers do not have a legal obligation in Switzerland to alert you to problems with a property or location, and are likely to gloss over these. You will therefore need to be alert to potential issues before purchasing a property. You will receive a copy of the architect’s valuation which will give you some detail. Structural surveys are uncommon in Switzerland but you are within your rights to have one carried out if you have any concerns.

Useful Resources
Directory of notaries covering 14 cantons of Switzerland (including Zurich, Geneva and Basel Stadt)

Les notaires romands
Directory of notaries in French-speaking Switzerland

Move Your Belongings

Consider if you want (or are able) to transport your belongings yourself or whether you will need the services of a removals company that deals with international moves. Unless you are travelling very light, or making a fairly short move by road, you will probably need professional help to ship your possessions. Ask for quotes from several companies first, ensuring that they visit your home to carry out a survey of your requirements. It may be worth paying extra for the removals firm to pack your possessions for you, particularly if they are going to be transported to a distant country and need special protection for the long journey. Make sure you bring to their attention anything fragile or precious that needs particularly careful wrapping and packing.

Before agreeing to a quotation, ensure that you are fully aware of exactly what is covered in the price, and that the service to be provided meets all of your requirements. For example, does the service include both packing and unpacking of your household effects? What about disassembling and reassembling of furniture? If you are planning to put anything into storage in your destination country while you find accommodation, does the price include final delivery and unpacking at your home, or will you need to arrange collection of the items? Obtain a firm estimate of the likely arrival date of your items and obtain contact details for any agents that will be dealing with the removal in your destination country. Ensure that the removals company is aware in advance of any practical considerations such as the lack of an elevator to your apartment, or likely parking problems.

If using a removals company, you may be required to take out their insurance cover for your possessions. Whether or not this is the case, ensure that you have adequate insurance for anything of actual or sentimental value that could get lost or damaged during the move. Take the time to accurately complete or check an inventory of your possessions to be moved, as this will form the basis for any insurance claim for losses or damages. Find out if insurance is included in the price quoted by the removals company, or whether you are required to pay extra for this.

The removals company should arrange any customs and importation documents on your behalf, but if you are arranging the move independently you will need to find out what documents are required and what import duties and taxes are payable (and whether you are eligible for exemption from these).

Make sure that you set aside the important documents you will need for the journey, such as passports and air tickets, and keep these easily accessible in your hand luggage.

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Register For Healthcare

QUICK LINK: Switzerland health insurance

State health insurance in Switzerland is funded according to cantons, rather than by national social insurance contributions. As an expat, you will need to register with the system within three months of arriving in the country. Unless you are exempt (if you are a student, for example, or a cross-border worker) you will be automatically signed up to a provider, possibly at a higher premium, if you do not register yourself.

Since health insurance varies from canton to canton, there is no centralised system in operation. In some regions your insurance company will pay your healthcare provider and send you a bill for 10% of the cost. In others, you will need to pay out of pocket and claim 90% of the cost back from your insurance company.

You are responsible for registering with the Swiss health insurance system. You will need to register for a Swiss residence permit first, or sign up with your local commune.

You can then choose which local health insurer you would like to register with, and ask for a registration form. You will need to send them your visa or residence permit; your passport; and proof of your address along with the form.

Once you are registered, deductions will be taken directly out of your salary.

Insurers are not allowed to turn any applicant down.

Open A Bank Account

Switzerland is known for its banks, just as much as for its cheeses and chocolate. Not only are there hundreds to choose from, but they are known as the safest in the world. The buildings are usually large and modern and the customer services can be easily found in English.

The main local banks are UBS, Crédit Suisse, Raiffeisen Bank, PostFinance and cantonal banks (Kantonalbanks) – banks specific to each canton and available only for residents of that canton.

UBS and Crédit Suisse are the biggest in the country, however are chosen less often by expats, due to high service fees. PostFinance is the banking service provided by Swiss Post. It is considered very expat-friendly as the fees are quite low, usage of ATMs is free of charge and any post office works as a branch. You can also find international banks in Switzerland, many from the US – like Citibank, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase or State Street Corporation and the UK – such as Barclays, IG Bank, HSBC or Lloyds Bank. These banks offer international accounts which can be opened in different currencies and might be a good solution if you need a bank account prior to moving.

The accounts available in the aforementioned banks are usually personal current accounts for managing payments and finances, regular savings accounts and special savings accounts for young people and for retirement purposes, time deposits and investment funds. Current accounts are available in several different currencies, usually in Swiss francs, US dollars, British pounds or euros. Personal accounts are provided in Swiss francs, however there is an option of opening an additional account in euros. PostFinance bank allows the opening of private accounts in other foreign currencies and special accounts for children and their guardians. Special options for students can be free of any fees. All mentioned accounts have internet banking services available.

To open an account, you will need to prove your identity with a passport, present your visa or residence permit and a recent bill. You will also need a residential address; if you don’t have one you might be asked to deposit a sum of money or a reference letter to prove your accountability. If you’re not a resident yet, you might find it harder to open an account. It is possible though in the biggest banks like UBS or Crédit Suisse that you will need to deposit a certain sum of money - usually over 50 000 Swiss francs to open an account. Almost all of the banks have the possibility of creating an account online. After you register, the bank sends you your documents and you just need to go to the bank to verify all the necessary things mentioned above.

Banks are usually open from Monday to Friday, from 08:00 to 16:30. Some banks are open even later and during the weekend. Smaller banks might close during the lunch break. In big cities you might be able to find 24 hour service centres where you can exchange currencies, withdraw money, buy travellers’ cheques and make money transfers.

Debit and credit cards like Visa and MasterCard are accepted almost everywhere. You can pay with them in shops and restaurants. It is rare that somewhere doesn’t accept payments by card, but there are numerous ATMs everywhere so you won’t have to worry about withdrawing cash. It is worth noting that some merchants will charge you additional fees for using credit cards, while debit cards won’t be charged at all. To make sure you don’t need to pay additional fees, ask the merchant about it before paying. When it comes to applying for a card, many accounts will have the option of a free debit or credit card, while others will require a small fee or regular payments into the account. To obtain a credit card, a security deposit is needed of approximately one to two times the monthly credit limit; the amount depends on the bank. This deposit is returned once the customer has discontinued the credit card and paid all the outstanding bills. Be careful when paying abroad with your Swiss credit card as it will be charged with additional fees and exchange rates will be unfavourable. In these situations it is always safer to withdraw cash from an ATM.

To get a loan in Switzerland you have to meet many criteria set by lenders. This usually includes a specific age; you have to be over 18 years old. Sometimes there is also a maximum age. Loans are available for expats for the benefit of buying a property. There will have to be some part paid as a deposit though, usually about 20% of the payment, and the mortgage agent will make a valuation of the property, so only this amount will be given to you. The most affordable loans are the low cost ones. The rule is, the shorter the terms of payment and the lower the loan, the more affordable it is. The interest rates will vary between 4.5% and 10% per annum. An overdraft is common with credit cards and can be assigned from the very beginning with a limit of up to a few thousand Swiss francs. Don’t be surprised if you get an overdraft even if you didn’t apply in the first place.

Transfer Money

There are many ways of sending money from one country to another. As always, expats can save themselves a lot of trouble and expense if they do a little research and shop around for the best deal.

International Bank Transfers

For most expats, currency transfer involves transferring small to medium sized amounts regularly from an existing bank account back home into a new overseas bank account in the local currency. These may be pension payments, benefits, or any other form of income.

Your home bank will usually be glad to oblige. You can set up facilities with them "on demand" whereby you fax or call them on the phone, provide a secret code or two, tell them the amount in question, and they will transfer it to your new bank, automatically converting it into the relevant local currency. Some banks also allow you to make international payments online. Whatever method you choose, transfers normally take between 3-7 days although 1-2 day transfers are often available but be prepared to pay more for these.

You can also set up regular transactions that are processed automatically on a fixed day of each month. Many state pensions and benefits can be paid directly into your new bank abroad without going through your home bank at all. Some private pension organisations may also offer the same facility.

When you first set up a transfer of funds abroad, the sending bank or institution will ask you for various codes that identify the destination bank. Often they will ask for IBAN (International Bank Account Number), BIC (Bank Identifier Code) or SWIFT codes but don?t panic - your new bank will give these to you and they may even already be listed in your new chequebook or bank statements.

As far as charges are concerned, you will probably be required to pay a flat fee per transaction. Additionally a percentage fee is often charged for the currency conversion itself. You may also find that your receiving bank charges you for receiving the transfer. Charges vary by bank but can quickly add up - ask your bank(s) for an indication of the fees involved.

As a general rule, transferring larger sums less frequently usually works out cheaper than transferring smaller amounts more often. However, if you need to transfer regular amounts of at least a few hundred pounds/dollars or need to make a larger one-off payment (e.g. for a house purchase) you should consider the services of a currency broker.

Cash Machine/ATM Withdrawals

Thanks to modern technology, most people abroad can go to a cash machine/ATM and withdraw local currency funds directly from their home bank account. This is a useful option to have for expats but exercise caution - many banks make hefty charges for using this type of facility. You may also find that withdrawal limits are in place (as a security measure) even if you significant funds in your account back home.

You can also use VISA or Mastercard credit cards to obtain cash in this fashion and if you pay the amount off quickly and avoid interest charges then fine - but once again credit card charges for cash withdrawals can be high. Check the rates carefully.

Currency Brokers

Currency brokers (also called foreign exchange brokers) offer significant advantages over traditional banks. Firstly, brokers will often be able to offer you a better rate than your bank. Secondly, the entire process is more transparent - many banks require you to accept the exchange rate available on the day they process your transaction, whatever and whenever that may be, but a specialist broker will offer greater flexibility, even allowing you to specify the rate you want in advance.

Currency brokers are smaller companies than major banks so always check their background carefully. Ask existing expats for their own experiences and recommendations before choosing a firm to handle your own foreign exchange requirements.

A good broker will discuss all the options with you and enable you to make the best decision for your circumstances. Using a broker will typically off the following advantages:

1) Currency brokers generally provide superior exchange rates to the high street banks. The currency brokers have access to the interbank rate and do not have the high costs that the banks have. This means that they can usually offer better exchange rates.

2) Use of a free Market Watch/Order Service: This allows you to tell your currency broker your target or budget exchange rate and they will ring you if that exchange rate level is reached. As the rate moves every few seconds, currency brokers can act as your eyes and ears on the market.

3) Ability to fix the exchange rate in advance using a Forward Contract. If you know you need to convert/move funds in the future but don?t yet have the money you can reserve a rate in advance using a Forward Contract. During this period, you are exposed to exchange rate movements and therefore, a forward contract is ideal if, for example, you have agreed to buy a house and want to fix the rate now but will not be making payment for a couple of months.

Savings from currency brokers can vary from between 1 and 4 per cent on the exchange rate alone, and specialists do not typically charge any fees for transmitting the funds abroad, unlike banks which often levy expensive fees or charges. If you are emigrating and transferring a large sum of money - such as the proceeds of a property - a foreign exchange company could potentially save you thousands.

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Learn The Language

According to expats living in Switzerland, there is no need to worry about your language skills before arrival. Most people in the big cities speak excellent English and survival without knowing any of the local languages is possible. It will be totally up to you to decide if you want to give learning a new language a chance. There are many benefits to learning a new language, though, so you might want to give it a try.

Depending on the region, Switzerland has four official languages: German, French, Italian and Romansh (also known as Rumantsch, Romansch Rhaeto-Romanic or Romance). The division is quite natural and is based on geographical influences. German is spoken in eastern and central areas, French in the west, Italian in the south-east and Romansh only in the canton of Grisons, which lies in the south-east of the country. The majority of Swiss people (63.5% of the population in 2013) are officially German speakers, followed by French (22.5%), Italian (8.1%) and Romansh (0.5%).

What is worth noting is that the official and written language in the majority of Switzerland is the same German language as the one taught in Germany (Hochdeutsch, also known as High German). However the language used unofficially and verbally is Swiss German, called Schwyzerdütsch and depending on the canton (Swiss division unit with the similar power as a state in America) where it is being used, may sound totally different due to local dialects. While in the French-speaking parts, the dialect differences are slowly disappearing, the differences between Swiss German dialects are very noticeable and may cause misunderstandings even to a native.

English is slowly becoming the unofficial fifth language of Switzerland, mainly due to the influence of technology, international television and advertising. It is possible to communicate in English, mostly with the younger generations. Communicating with older people and in official situations such as a doctor’s office or the post office may require the knowledge of at least a little German or French. In the workplace, even though English is becoming more and more popular and is used as the primary language by many international companies, there is a high chance that your employer will require the knowledge of at least German or French as a base. There are of course exceptions; a person can be hired without knowledge of any other language simply because of exceptional skills or in environments like IT, where most of the technical terminology would be covered in English anyway.

While it is possible to get through everyday life and necessities only in English, especially in the bigger cities, it is highly recommended to get the knowledge of the language of your region of choice. For an expat, learning the language of the natives is not only life improving but also opens up a lot of wonderful opportunities. It will be easier to meet people, make friends, read the local magazines, listen to the radio, catch the latest news or watch movies on TV and in the cinema. In the German-speaking parts of Switzerland most of the foreign movies and programs, in both television and cinema, are dubbed. The exception might be cable TV if the channel has the option of switching the audio and subtitles. In the rest of the country there is usually a choice between French dubbing or subtitles in German and French. To make sure you find a movie with audio in English, you can search for special theatres or screenings for English speakers.

The most common languages to speak at home and at unofficial events are Swiss German, French, Standard German, Italian and English. Due to an increasing number of immigrants from many parts of the world, a number of other languages are also commonly used, including Portuguese, Albanian, Serbian and Croatian, Spanish, and Turkish. Speaking more than two or three languages is not rare in Switzerland, however it is not accurate to assume that all people are fluent in all four official languages. Children are taught at school in the language of the canton they live in, while the teaching at universities is covered in German or French (and Italian in the Ticino canton).

Knowing the local language can also prove useful when shopping, using public transport or when away in rural areas. If you choose to study the local language, depending on the region where you live, you can attend the free language classes covered by each canton separately.

The most affordable private schools come under the umbrella of the supermarket chain Migros, called Migros Klubschule (; you can find classes in German, French and Italian and the quality of teaching is very good. Another option is Volkshochschule which is usually meant for teaching the natives the other official language. Classes are offered in German, French, Italian and Romansh (,, On the more pricey side there is Berlitz, where you will find an excellent quality of teaching. Some of the other schools worth checking out are Inlingua and Alemania, however the reviews vary depending on the location. Other than that there are plenty of language schools offering more intensive courses as well as individual tutors offering their services through newspapers and the internet. One of the most interesting options when you’re on a budget but also want to interact with another person is Tandem, a free language exchange program where you are matched up with another person and meet to study together.

If you wish to become a paid tutor yourself, you can try searching for students on your own, through advertisements in the newspaper or internet, or join a language school. Note that you might be required to present a CELTA certification to do so. You will be able to take CELTA or DELTA (more advanced) certifications through a six month standard course, or a faster, more intense one. If you have a relevant degree (MA) in English, you might not need to present this certificate.

Choose A School

Swiss education is ranked very highly in the worldwide rankings and has one of the highest scores of university attendance. Public schools are free and available to anybody. Even the most prestigious universities are not expensive compared to universities in the US, where people have to save money for years to pay off the tuition fees. Public kindergartens, primary and secondary schools are completely free of charge. Private schools can be expensive, especially boarding schools, like Le Rosey boarding school that attracts candidates from all over the world and offers luxurious accommodation and attractions, such as a winter ski camp. Schools are managed separately by individual cantons, so you can find many differences in education between regions.

Compulsory education starts between the age of four, in some areas, and seven in others. The difference is caused by the implementation of the compulsory kindergarten policy two years before the start of formal school education. Basically, every registered child between the age of six and fifteen needs to be enrolled in elementary school. Almost all of the country has the compulsory kindergarten rule. Elementary school, called Volksschule, usually lasts nine to eleven years. Sometimes there is a possibility of taking an additional year after completing elementary school, to help figure out future possibilities and which school to choose. After elementary school, you have the choice of a Gymnasium for general education, or vocational education and training (VET), or apprenticeships. Vocational trainings are internships with the addition of attending a vocational school for one or two days a week. At the end of this level of education, students will present a thesis and will have to pass a series of examinations. The result will be a diploma called matura or baccalaureate, which is necessary for further education at university or Federal Institutes of Technology.

Schools are divided into local, private and international (public or private). Most Swiss children (80%) go to local schools which are free and have a great reputation outside of the country. Local schools teach in the language of their cantons, so a foreign child might expect some language tests at the very beginning. This is why international schools are popular in Switzerland as they take away the stress of learning a new language and interacting with other children in their mother tongue. This has a big impact on a child’s education. You can find French, English, German, Spanish, Italian, Dutch and Swedish schools in most of the big cities in the country. In private schools, you can expect extended hours, smaller classrooms, more freedom and more extracurricular activities than in the local schools, however, they can be quite expensive. It is also worth noting that you cannot actually choose your local school before enrolment. It will be assigned according to available space and location.

For enrolment in a local primary school, you will need: a birth certificate, health and accident insurance, residence permit and sometimes proof of accommodation (a lease contract can be used). You will also need to follow the dates and requirements specific to a particular school and canton, as they may vary. Usually the enrolment process will close with the beginning of the term, so if you’re planning a relocation, check the necessary information with the school first. Be aware that the process of enrolment can be significantly different in private and international schools.

School hours always include a lunch break. That means, after a few hours of morning classes, usually two hours between 08:00 and 12:00, kids are free until lunch time and are able to go home to eat it. Most of the schools and kindergartens are closed during this time. After the two hours of lunch time, children go back for another two hours of classes. In older classes children might have additional lessons before 08:00 and after 15:00. The school year starts between mid-August and mid-September, has two terms or semesters and around 12 weeks’ holiday a year, including the summer holidays which last for 10 weeks. The exact dates differ depending on the canton the school is located in.

Extracurricular activities are mostly focused on sports. Skiing during the winter season and swimming all year round are the most popular, followed by tennis and gymnastics. Apart from that, each school will have their own options in the program, like music lessons, dancing classes or cooking and knitting. Although extracurricular activities are usually not covered by public schools, you may still find companies and clubs that can provide them for you.

English only speakers will be forced to look for a private school, which is not hard to find, however they might be expensive. While public schools’ tuition is around 500CHF per semester, tuition in a private school would be a few thousand francs.

Compared to the UK or US education systems, Swiss compulsory schooling takes longer. Children go to school one year later than in England and ‘graduate’ from higher-secondary education two years later. Also, things like reading, writing and maths are taught much faster in the UK, so comparing the first years of elementary school, English children learn those things earlier. In the next few years the rate of progress equals out. The real differences, however, are seen in middle and high school. Swiss children receive the full spectrum of education that is supposed to prepare them properly in every subject, which is later tested in the final exam – matura. In England, children are given the choice of what they want to focus on, so they can also develop their artistic side and soft skills. When it comes to personal development, there are some differences too, such as: eating lunch together in the UK compared with eating at home in the middle of the day in Switzerland. Also, switching between class groups depending on the subject compared to one class throughout the whole school day. In both systems you can finds pros and cons and it is really up to personal choice to decide which one is better.

In order to study for a degree in Switzerland, you need to be fluent in the language of your university of choice. The German speaking universities are Universität Basel (BS), Universität Bern (BE), Universität Fribourg (FR), Universität St. Gallen (SG), Universität Zürich (ZH). The French speaking universities are Université de Genève (GE), Université de Lausanne (VD), Université de Neuchâtel (NE). There is also one Italian speaking university: L’Università della Svizzera italiana in Ticino (TI). This doesn’t mean that all classes are non-English, but you will need to be able to speak the main language of instruction. You might also be required to take a language test before you enrol, even if the course is in English.

Useful Resources

Swiss Federation of Private Schools (SFPS)
Hotelgasse 1, Postfach, CH 3000, Bern 7
Tel: +41 (0)31 328 40 50

Swiss Group of International Schools (SGIS)

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