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Expat Insider - The World Through Expat Eyes

Switzerland: Trading a High Quality of Life for an Unsatisfying Social Life

The country offers expats a high standard of living, but expats need to brace themselves for a hard time settling in.

Expats rate Switzerland best in the Quality of Life Index (6th). It does even better in two subcategories, placing second for both Environment & Climate and Safety & Security. “Switzerland offers a high standard of living. It is very safe and orderly,” a Brazilian expat comments. The respondents regard it as the world’s politically most stable destination: 93% rate this factor positively (vs. 64% globally) and another 94% are satisfied with their personal safety (vs. 81% globally).

Moreover, 98% are happy with the natural environment (vs. 83% globally), ranking the country first worldwide. It also makes it into the top  10 for similar factors, such as air quality (4th) and the availability of green goods and services (4th). Close to nine in ten expats (86%) rate the urban environment positively (vs. 67% globally), and 83% agree that the government supports policies to protect the environment (vs. 61% globally).

High Standards Meet High Costs

Switzerland also receives great results in the Travel & Transit Subcategory (6th). It gets another first place for the travel opportunities (95% happy vs. 82% globally). Expats both love the infrastructure for cars (93% happy vs. 75% globally) and find it easy and safe to get around on foot or by bicycle (94% happy vs. 77% globally). The only downside is the affordability of public transportation (38th). While 92% rate its availability positively (vs. 73% globally), 20% also find it unaffordable (vs. 15% globally).

Affordability is an issue with regard to healthcare, too. Expats consider its quality very good (86% happy vs. 72% globally), and 79% have access to all the healthcare services they need (vs. 67% globally). However, 41% consider them unaffordable, compared to 21% globally.

Lastly, Switzerland places 41st in the Leisure Options Subcategory: 88% appreciate the opportunities for recreational sports (vs. 75% globally). “Anyone interested in outdoor activities has endless opportunities here,” says a German expat. But 26% are unhappy with the culture and nightlife (vs. 16% worldwide), and 21% miss culinary variety and dining options (vs. 12% globally).

Great Economy & Good Career Prospects

Switzerland places 16th in the Working Abroad Index — even first in the Salary & Job Security Subcategory. This is mostly due to the state of the economy: 94% are happy with it (vs. 64% globally). Moreover, 70% feel paid fairly for their job (vs. 62% globally), and another 65% agree that moving to Switzerland has improved their career prospects (vs. 60% globally).

However, Switzerland does not do that well in the Work & Leisure Subcategory (39th). More than one in five (21%) are dissatisfied with their working hours (vs. 17% globally). On the somewhat brighter side, according to 66% of expats, the local business culture supports policies such as remote work and flexible working hours (vs. 60% globally). And the overall job satisfaction is fairly high (71% happy vs. 64% globally).

A Comfortable Life on Generous Salaries

Expats not only feel paid fairly, 69% are also satisfied with their financial situation in general (vs. 60% globally). Another 80% describe their household income as enough or more than enough for a comfortable life (vs. 72% globally). And indeed, a high 56% do have an annual gross income of at least 100,000 USD (vs. 21% globally). Despite that, Switzerland places slightly below average in the Personal Finance Index (31st), which is mostly due to the living expenses. Over three in five (62%) describe them as too high (vs. 35% globally).

Easy Bureaucracy, Tough Housing Market

In the Expat Essentials Index (20th), Switzerland lands in an above-average position. On the one hand, it performs very well for Digital Life and Admin Topics (7th for both). Expats are happy with the unrestricted access to online services (92% vs. 82% globally) and high-speed internet at home (89% vs. 79% globally). Three in five (60%) also consider it easy to deal with the local authorities (vs. 40% globally). Among those who needed a visa to relocate, 62% describe getting it as easy, too (vs. 56% globally).

However, the Housing Subcategory (44th) impacts the index ranking: 42% say that housing is hard to find for expats (vs. 27% globally). Another 58% consider it hard to afford (vs. 43% globally). “Buying a flat is almost impossible, and renting is very expensive, a French expat reports.

Among the Toughest Destinations for Settling In

In the Ease of Settling In Index (43rd), Switzerland features among the bottom 10. Expats rate the country particularly poorly in the Finding Friends (43rd) and Local Friendliness (44th) Subcategories. One in four (25%) describes the local population as unfriendly (vs. 17% globally), and 52% have difficulties in making local friends (vs. 37% globally).

Unsurprisingly, 32% are not happy with their social life (vs. 26% globally), and 45% are mainly friends with other expats (vs. 33% globally). Just 7% are mainly friends with local residents (vs. 17% globally). “It can take years to get into Swiss social life. Most of my contacts were with other expats at first,” another French respondent explains.

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