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Expat Insider - The World Through Expat Eyes

A High Quality of Life Comes at an Even Higher Price in Switzerland

Expats in Switzerland remain satisfied with their excellent quality of life but continue to face challenges settling in and adjusting to the high cost of living in the country.
  • More than half find it hard to make local friends.
  • Expats continue to feel safe and secure.
  • Switzerland ranks second to last in the Cost of Living Index.
  • Childcare is hard to find, but the quality of education is excellent.
  • Respondents praise good transportation systems and digital services.

Ever More Dissatisfied

In comparison to 2017, Switzerland has fallen from 27th position (out of 65 countries) to 44th position out of 68 in the 2018 overall ranking. The drop comes as Switzerland falls across all the underlying indices.

It is very difficult to socialize. If you don't know people, you don't get anywhere.

Switzerland again performs particularly poorly in the Ease of Settling In Index, ranking in the bottom 5 for the third year in a row. In total, 37% of expats in Switzerland say they generally do not feel at home in the local culture, compared to a global average that is just under a quarter (24%). “It is very difficult to socialize,” according to an Italian respondent. “If you don't know people, you don't get anywhere.”

While 45% agree that the Swiss are generally friendly towards foreign residents, the worldwide average is significantly higher at 66%. In fact, 62% of respondents in Switzerland say they find it difficult to make local friends, compared to the worldwide average of just 36%. It is unsurprising then that over half of the respondents (53%) claim they are friends with mostly other expats.

The Good Life: Safe, Clean, Healthy

The one index in which Switzerland has consistently ranked in the top 10, scoring a 9th place in 2018, is the Quality of Life Index. The country ranks second in terms of safety and security, with almost all respondents (96%) rating the level of personal safety as generally good. This feeling of personal safety may be linked to the perceived level of political stability in the country: just under three-quarters (73%) give this factor the best possible rating. Equally, 95% consider Switzerland to be generally peaceful.

Other factors which contribute to Switzerland’s excellent position in the Quality of Life Index include the country’s general climate and environment. Not only are 97% of expats generally satisfied with the quality of the environment, such as air and water quality, 63% also consider the climate and weather to be favorable. Or as a British respondent sums it up: “I love being really close to nature. I like that the quality of life here is good for nearly everyone. Healthcare is expensive, but it is excellent.”

The quality of life here is good for nearly everyone. Healthcare is expensive, but it is excellent.

In terms of health and well-being, 78% rate the quality of medical care in the country as generally good, and over two in five (42%) go so far as to call it excellent, compared to 29% of expats worldwide. However, it seems that quality comes at a cost, with almost half (45%) believing healthcare in Switzerland to be unaffordable, in comparison to not quite a quarter of respondents (24%) globally.

Impressed with Travel and Technology

On the upside, it seems respondents benefit from both the transportation and digital infrastructure of Switzerland. The majority (91%) agrees that the country offers generally unrestricted access to online services.

With half the respondents living in Switzerland’s three largest cities, Zurich (21%), Geneva (17%), and Basel (12%), it is perhaps unsurprising that three-quarters consider the transportation infrastructure in the country very good in comparison to the worldwide figure of just over one-third (36%). Given Switzerland’s central geographical position in Europe, it is also easy to understand why 93% find the opportunity to travel good.

Benefits of a Strong Economy

Switzerland has one of the lowest unemployment rates in Europe and consistently ranks in the top 5 of the Index of Economic Freedom — it seems that the country does live up to its reputation as an economic powerhouse. Ranking 20th out of 68 in the Working Aboard Index, 93% believe the state of the Swiss economy to be generally good, with just over three-fifths of expats (61%) reporting they considered the economy and/or labor market a potential benefit before they moved to the country. The main fields of employment in Switzerland include IT (14%), finance (11%), and healthcare (10%), and 59% state they are generally happy with their work-life balance. Some 85% of working respondents are in full-time and 17% in managerial positions.

Life en Suisse Doesn’t Come Cheap

Failing to improve its performance, Switzerland ranks 67th out of 68 countries in the Cost of Living Index. This result is hardly surprising given that Swiss cities regularly feature among the most expensive worldwide. A majority of 65% consider the cost of living in Switzerland to be generally bad. However, this was hardly a surprise to respondents, with a total of three out of five saying they considered this a potential disadvantage even before moving to the country.

It is a good thing then that expats in Switzerland also benefit from an above average household income, with 60% reporting a gross yearly household income of 100,000 USD or more, in comparison to the survey average of just under a quarter (24%). In general, Switzerland ranks 32nd in the Personal Finance Index: 70% of expats said they are generally satisfied with their financial situation, with just over a fifth (21%) saying their disposable income is generally not enough to cover the costs of everyday life, a result that is close to the global average of 22%.

Expensive Childcare, Top Education

Switzerland ranks 34th out 50 countries in the Family Life Index. The results reflect expat parents’ views that especially childcare in the country is both generally hard to find (61%) as well as somewhat unaffordable (74%). Views on the availability (28% negative ratings) and affordability (30%) of education are not perfect either. However, 81% consider the quality of education to be generally good, and 43% even say it’s excellent. Over half of expat parents in Switzerland (56%) send their children to a local state school.

Further Reading