Switzerland: Introduction & Key Facts
The other chapters of our expat guide to Switzerland give in-depth introductions to various topics such as visas and permits, taxes and social security, housing, public transportation, work and doing business. Start your expat journey with a bit of background information, and discover the many facets of Switzerland.
Small in Size, Big in Diversity
Although the Swiss Alps are both the country’s largest region and its most distinctive landmark, Switzerland is much more than just mountain meadows, skiing resorts, and the Matterhorn. Though it is among the smaller European countries with regard to surface area, it takes great pride in its regional, political, and linguistic diversity. Historically speaking, Switzerland — the Swiss Confederation — has always been more of an association of territories rather than a centralized state. Today, its 26 cantons have a huge impact on politics and are responsible for issues such as welfare or education. As an expat, you will often need to call on cantonal authorities instead of the federal government for administrative matters. In such situations, it might be helpful to speak the respective canton’s official language. The linguistic border between the German-speaking and the Francophone part runs right through western Switzerland, and in some regions south of the Alps, especially in Ticino, Italian is the lingua franca. Romansh is probably the one official language you don’t have to worry about: it’s only spoken by 1% of the population, mostly in the canton of Grisons
Urban and International
Apart from its multilingualism and cantonal patriotism, Switzerland has become a diverse country in another respect as well. Today, nearly one in four residents is a foreign national. Over 80% come from other European countries, especially neighboring France, Germany, and Italy, as well as Portugal, Spain, and several Southeastern European states. Switzerland’s political stability and flourishing economy make it an attractive expat destination. New residents mainly tend to settle in major cities like Basel, Berne, Geneva, Lausanne, or Zurich: clichés of Heidi-style alpine idylls aside, Switzerland is a heavily urbanized country. Its metropolises regularly rank among the cities with the best quality of living worldwide. In the annual Mercer Quality of Living study, Zurich and Geneva usually feature in the global top ten.