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Moving to Switzerland

A Comprehensive Guide on Relocating to Switzerland

Use this guide to understand the requirements for moving to Switzerland. We cover a broad range of such topics as how to find housing in a competitive market, why you need a university degree in order to obtain a work permit, and how to fill out the eye exam required for the Swiss driver’s license. Whether you are moving to the alpine country for work, family, or to immerse yourself in one of the country’s four official languages, we list all the steps you need to move to the land of Swiss chocolate, cheese, and watches.

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If you are wondering how to move to Switzerland, you are not alone. Nearly 2 million foreigners already make up Switzerland’s population of 7 million residents. Most of Switzerland’s senior level management positions are held by expats, and the country has experienced significant immigration since the 1980s.

While the benefits of moving to Switzerland are many—such as high salaries and an excellent education system—the requirements for how to move to can be hard. To begin with, to obtain a work visa you must have a university degree as well as several years of professional work experience. Most long-term visas also require a certain level of proficiency in German, French, or Italian (dependent on the region in Switzerland where you want to live), or that you be enrolled in a language course upon your arrival.

The things you need to know when moving to Switzerland also vary depending on the canton to which you move. Switzerland is made of 26 cantons, and much of the laws are governances at the cantonal level. This means that factors such as education, healthcare costs, and even cultural norms vary canton-by-canton.

relocating

Relocating

The process of moving to Switzerland is fairly simple and straightforward. The greatest hassle you will face is filling out all of the paperwork proving you are transferring your goods from one home to another. You must have owned everything for at least six months prior to your move, and you cannot bring excessive quantities of agricultural goods.

If you are moving your household goods to Switzerland, you may want to look into temporary storage. The competition for housing in Switzerland is tough and some cities have even reported a housing shortage. Because of this, expats moving to Switzerland may have no other choice than to stay in temporary lodging until they find a more permanent place. Finding this permanent place could take anywhere from one month to half a year, so find a storage unit would be wise.

Moving with your pets to Switzerland is also relatively worry-free. Just like with your household goods, you will need to provide a good amount of paperwork, including an import permit for cats and dogs. Rodents, rabbits, and most aquatic animals will only require a health certificate. If you own an animal deemed “exotic,” such as a turtle, you will need to verify that it is not protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

As long as you have the correct documentation, your pet will not need to be quarantined. Dogs and cats must be micro-chipped and have had a rabies vaccine. If you are from a country that the EU considers high-risk for rabies, then your pet will have to have been vaccinated at least 30 days before your arrival into Switzerland.

Vaccinations required for you and your family to move to Switzerland are standard. There is even a chance that you may already have many of the shots needed.

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visas-work-permits

Visas & Work Permits

Whether you are working or not, if you plan on being in Switzerland for longer than 90 days you will need to know how to get a Swiss visa and work permit. Swiss visa types vary on whether you are an EU/EFTA citizen or not, and, for some visa types, there may even be quotas in place for how many can be distributed every year. Unless you are applying for permanent residency, Swiss visa costs are relatively low.

The Swiss visa application process is simple, although the requirements for a Swiss work visa can seem stringent. For example, in order to qualify for a Swiss work permit, you not only need to have a university degree, you must also have several years of work experience. Applying for a self-employment visa is also tough as it requires not only approval at the federal level, but the cantonal level, too.

When applying for any Swiss visa, you may be asked to show proof of enrollment in one of three languages: French, German, or Italian. Be aware that when you renew your visa, you will need to prove knowledge and continual study of that language.

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housing

Housing

Finding accommodation in Switzerland may be one of the hardest tasks during an expat’s relocation process. The process of how to rent a house in Switzerland is standard and typically involves looking online yourself or hiring a real estate agent, but expats should take note that housing in Switzerland is scarce and competitive. 60% of the market is dominated by rentals, and some cities have even reported housing shortages in recent years.

Although average housing prices across the country are expensive, prices vary significantly from canton to canton. A one-bedroom home in Geneva, for example, will have an average monthly rent of 2,000 CHF (2,020 USD), while the same accommodation type will be 1,300 CHF (1,330 USD) in Glarus, Switzerland’s cheapest canton. The cost of utilities in Switzerland can also vary by canton, and the most surprising expense expats will face is having to pay a licensing fee in order to stream TV shows or listen to a car radio.

Although you do not have to be a permanent resident to buy a house in Switzerland, as a foreigner you at least need a residency permit in order to open your options. Without a permit, you will only be able to buy a property strictly for residential purposes, and you will be limited to how large the property can be.

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healthcare

Healthcare

Switzerland’s healthcare system and health insurance are continually ranked as some of the best in the world. This is because Switzerland’s healthcare system is supported by private health insurance, which every Swiss resident is legally required to buy into. Even newborn babies must have their own health insurance plan before they turn three months old. Because of this, healthcare in Switzerland is expensive, but of extremely high quality. It is easy to learn how to find a doctor and safe to give birth because the standard of care is so high.

Because healthcare coverage through a private insurance provider is mandatory, the terms and conditions for basic healthcare is identical no matter which company you choose. Insurance companies are also not allowed to deny anyone due to pre-existing conditions.

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banks-taxes

Banks & Taxes

With a reputation for foreign bank account holders, it should come as no surprise that opening a bank account in Switzerland is easy. Some of the best banks in Switzerland are also the top banks in the world. Non-residents who need to open a bank account should look into starting the process before their arrival in Switzerland. If you do not, you may find yourself in the frustrating situation of needing a permanent address in order to open a Swiss bank account and needing a Swiss bank account in order to sign a permanent lease.

New residents will likewise be happy to learn that the tax in Switzerland is fairly low, especially when compared to neighboring European countries. However, rates vary depending on where you live in Switzerland.

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education

Education

On the whole, Switzerland’s education system is of extremely high caliber. This is attributed to the fact that each canton has control over its own school system in Switzerland, and therefore can shape its expectations and curriculum based on the needs of its particular set of students.

Education standards are so high that some of the best schools are public schools, and well over half of the Swiss population sends their students to state institutions. Children only attend private or international schools if they wish to receive a particular type of education. Although they can be pricey, some of the world’s top international schools are in Switzerland.

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working

Working

Many expats want to work in Switzerland, but they should be aware that requirements are high. You will be required to not only have a higher education diploma, but several years of work experience as well. This is why most management positions in Switzerland are held by foreigners.

If you want to know how to get a job, you will need to apply in whatever language the job vacancy was posted. Self-employment in Switzerland is possible, but you will need special permission from the cantonal authorities. The average Swiss salary is high and the business culture is formal. Expats and locals alike are able to benefit from Switzerland’s social security scheme.

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country-facts

Country Facts

Like many popular expat destinations, the cost of living in Switzerland is high. Part of the reason it is so expensive to live in the Swiss country is that housing is limited, and therefore prices are steep. This level of expense extends to both the major Swiss cities and the surrounding countryside areas.

In comparison, driving in Switzerland, is less stress-inducing. As long as an expat already has one year of driving experience, they may drive in Switzerland on a foreign license for up to a year. US and Canadian citizens, however, may need an official document stating when their license was issued. If driving is not for you, rest assured that public transportation is both expansive and extremely effective.

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Updated on: September 20, 2019
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