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 attracts a skilled workforce and is a particularly popular destination for professionals working in the financial services industry. Although money isn't everything, it certainly helps, and expats in Switzerland earn impressive salaries that are well above the global average. With a healthy work-life balance, expats have more time to enjoy the high quality of life in the safety and security of Switzerland.
Living in Switzerland as an expat
The country 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 the country.
Unemployment has stayed down in Switzerland, the economy has continued to grow, and it is home to several internationally renowned banks and businesses. That said, most expats are drawn in by the quality of life in Switzerland. Its public transport system is punctual and comprehensive.
Integrating into the local culture can be a pleasurable experience, thanks to its collection of museums, art galleries and restaurants. Plus, there are few better backdrops than the crystal waters of Lake Geneva and the towering slopes of the Swiss Alps.
Cost of living in Switzerland
The cost of living in Switzerland is also among the highest in the world, with four of the top five most expensive cities for expats located in the country. Everything from accommodation to transport and health insurance is eye-wateringly expensive. Expats who choose to own a car in Switzerland will also have to budget for canton tax, a highway sticker, petrol and monthly insurance.
Expat families and children in Switzerland
Expats will find Switzerland an amazing place to raise a family. The country boasts an abundance of green spaces, outdoor recreational activities and an emphasis on work-life balance, so expat parents can enjoy life in the family-friendly country. Public and private hospitals offer high standards of healthcare, and all residents have access to good, free public schools and excellent private education.
There are also international schools for expat children who are only in the country on a short assignment. Parents will also be delighted to know that Switzerland offers private and bilingual schools, which offer the Swiss curriculum evenly presented in two languages.
Climate in Switzerland
The climate in Switzerland is fairly continental, with warm summers and cold and foggy winters in the Swiss lowlands. Snowfall generally occurs in the mountainous regions, while rainfall is usually for the summer months. Contrary to popular belief, expats will need to pack both their jackets and swimsuits when moving to Switzerland.
Owing to the undeniably high quality of life in Switzerland, efficient systems and picturesque natural scenery, expats are often lured to stay long term despite the exorbitant cost of living and initial culture shock.
Population: Approximately 8.8 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 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.
►See Pros and Cons of Moving to Switzerland to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of life in the country
"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.
"I love living in Zug. It is so family-friendly. I love the fact that my kids at 8, 11, and 13 can confidently and safely use public transportation and that so many shopping and recreational possibilities are literally on our doorstep." Read about family life in Switzerland in American expat Jennifer'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.
Expat Health Insurance
For anyone starting a new life abroad, ensuring access to good quality healthcare is essential. Cigna Global are specialists in providing international health plans for expats, ensuring you have access to quality care and support whenever you need it. Cigna’s health plans can be tailored exactly to meet the individual needs of you and your family.
Sirelo has a network of more than 500 international removal companies that can move your furniture and possessions to your new home. By filling in a form, you’ll get up to 5 quotes from recommended movers. This service is free of charge and will help you select an international moving company that suits your needs and budget.