Despite tight restrictions on foreigners moving to Switzerland, especially from non-EU countries, the country has a fairly high non-Swiss population. Switzerland attracts refugees from poor countries and migrants from wealthy nations alike. The latter often move to Switzerland due to low taxes and a high standard of living.
Owing to Swiss neutrality, which has remained unchallenged since 1815, countless European intellectuals and artists chose exile in Switzerland during the political turbulences of the early 20th century. Did you know that one Vladimir Illyich Ulyanov, a.k.a. Lenin, was among them? These days, it is the country’s economic power and affluence that tempt various “exiles by choice” to move there.
Most foreigners have a very clear concept of what to expect when moving to Switzerland. However, despite its small area (41,285 km²) and low population figures (8,121,830), it is a diverse country both in terms of its geography and people. Thus your experience will depend very much on where you’ll end up in Switzerland. The country is right in the center of Europe, sharing borders with Germany, France, Italy, Austria, and Liechtenstein.
Foreigners moving to Switzerland will discover that all neighboring countries have had a major influence on Swiss culture. French, German, and Italian traditions still live on in the respective parts of the country. This pluralism has also influenced Switzerland’s politics and style of government. Many people who move to Switzerland from countries with a more centralized administration are surprised at the high degree of autonomy granted to each of the 26 cantons.
Most foreigners are, however, aware of the country’s no less than three official languages, German, French, and Italian. Some expats might nevertheless be surprised to find out that there’s a fourth, semi-official, language: Romansh, a group of old Rhaeto-Romance dialects spoken by less than 1% of the population in the upper valleys of the Rhine and Inn.
You can find out more about the local languages and their cultural significances in our in-depth article on Switzerland's Language Diversity.
Geographically, Switzerland can be divided into three areas: the Alps, the Central Plateau (the “middle land”), and the Jura. If you plan on moving to Switzerland, you should be aware that different regions may be subject to different weather conditions.
While Switzerland has a moderate continental climate, those moving to Switzerland’s southern parts feel the Mediterranean influence when it comes to temperatures. But they will also experience more precipitation than the rest of the country. The latter is due to the mountains, which block the way of rain clouds to Switzerland’s north. While snow and frost are common everywhere in winter, expats moving to Switzerland’s higher Alpine regions should be prepared for much lower temperatures.
For more information on Swiss geography, its political history, and the autonomy of the cantons, make sure to also read our article Switzerland: Small but Diverse.
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