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How to start your new life in Switzerland
By Amy Sky, January 2020.
Many Americans move to Switzerland for the "high quality" of life, the Swiss outdoor lifestyle and reasonable wages and jobs, despite the infamous high cost of living in Switzerland.
Preparing to move to Switzerland requires a long checklist for immigration, residency, education, childcare, insurance, and utilities. Other factors must be arranged soon after moving to Switzerland, including mandatory registration with local authorities, social security and tax numbers, Swiss compulsory health insurance, and a television license.
In this guide, you will find the most relevant information when moving to Switzerland from the USA.
Moving Your Belongings to Switzerland
You can bring tax-free household items, personal belongings, pets, or a car into Switzerland if you can prove that it will be your new home (students are exempt from residence tax). Strict health and transport regulations apply when importing animals into Switzerland.
Immigration and Registration upon Arrival
U.S. citizens need a visa to enter Switzerland for an extended period (more than three months), which is usually applied for from abroad. A permit is required on several levels (federal and cantonal), and a long-term visa will allow you to obtain a residence permit in Switzerland. It is essential to plan for sufficient processing time, which can take from three to six months, depending on the embassy and your situation.
Upon arrival in Switzerland, you have 14 days to register with the Office for Foreigners to obtain a residence or work permit from the cantonal immigration authorities.
Health Insurance and Social Security Benefits
All foreigners residing or working in Switzerland must take out Swiss health insurance if they are official residents. However, there are a few exceptions. To do so – register with the health insurance system and pay contributions to the Swiss social security system.
Depending on the canton you are moving to, exemptions may be regulated differently – start the process well in advance, as you will have to prove that either your insurance meets the requirements or that you have met the conditions for an exemption.
In both cases, you have up to three months to deal with the matter. After which the authorities may force you to take out insurance. Note that you must have insurance from the very beginning of your stay, even if you have a three-month grace period.
You can open a Swiss bank account before you come to Switzerland. However, you will need to provide extensive documents. Although Internet banking may offer many options, it is usually easier to go to a Swiss bank upon arrival and open an account in person. In large cities, banks typically have English speaking employees.
After moving to Switzerland, you will be considered as a tax resident of Switzerland:
- From the date of your registration with the cantonal immigration office (see above);
- Upon arrival in Switzerland if you stay "permanently"; or
- from the moment you obtain your residence permit.
Finding a Job
The exceptional quality of life, high Swiss wages, excellent working conditions, and low unemployment make Switzerland a great place to work.
Although competition might be fierce and there are quotas for people coming from outside the EU/EFTA, there are jobs in Switzerland, especially for qualified specialists in engineering and technology, pharmaceuticals, consulting, banking, insurance, and I.T.
Where to live and find accommodation
There is a high quality of life in Zurich, multicultural Geneva, or the historic capital of Bern. Each city has its character and appeal. However, which one is best for you? Here are some of the best cities to live in Switzerland.
Each of the 26 cantons determines education law on its own, e.g., the age at which children start school, curriculum, and timetable - varies depending on where you live.
Generally, compulsory education in Switzerland lasts about nine years, which includes primary (from six or seven years) and lower secondary (up to 15 years) education.
Children must attend school in their place of residence (if it is open to the public), which may affect where you decide to move to Switzerland. Therefore, if you move to another area, you will have to change schools.
At the age of 16, students can move to Maturitätsschulen to study at a university or vocational school (Berufsfachschulen). In addition to their school education, they must find work as a student in a company. To enroll your kids in a public school – contact the education authorities in your canton.
To enter most of the Swiss universities, students must have a matura or maturita (Swiss university entrance certificate) or an equivalent foreign school-leaving certificate to enter a university.
It is possible to use your foreign driving license for the first year in Switzerland. An international driving license can also be used, if it is not issued in languages like German, French, Italian, or English.
You must obtain your Swiss driving license before the 12 months have expired. Citizens of EU/EEA countries can exchange their national driving license for a Swiss one. That applies to anyone who wishes to take a driving test within three months, possibly a theoretical test and a first aid course, for which there is a fee. However, if you are coming from the USA, this is not the case.
Finding Swiss Childcare
Childcare in Switzerland may not be as accessible as it used to be, so start looking as early as possible after moving to Switzerland.
In some cantons, kindergarten or nursery school is compulsory and free from about four years of age – submit a written application to the daycare center in your place of residence.
In Switzerland, there are approximately 2,000 daycare centers (nursery/kindergarten, Kita, or Kindergartenstätte), which are mainly privately run and subsidized by the cantons.
The prices depend on your income, and the opening hours of the daycare center depend on the canton. Some workplaces have kindergartens that can also accommodate children whose parents work for the company.
For children of primary school age, you might need to provide childcare when the school closes for a two-hour lunch break. Although some schools do provide lunch and childcare, many do not. Contact your local school administration or social services to find out about their individual services.
A property (if you own one) requires building insurance that includes fire insurance. If you are a tenant, home insurance is not mandatory but is sometimes a requirement from the landlord.
Consider getting personal liability insurance, in the case that you cause damage to another person or their property, and need to pay for it. Vehicle insurance is mandatory.
There are four national languages in Switzerland and based on 2015 indicators, their popularity figures stood at:
German (63%), French (22.7%), Italian (8.4%), and Romansh (0.6%).
Being able to speak one of the official languages in Switzerland will go a long way in helping you integrate better into society. Some education authorities offer intensive language courses for children at a Swiss school.
Some cantons offer free language lessons for newcomers to Switzerland. You can contact your local municipal office for more information.
Retirement and Swiss pensions
Switzerland always comes out top of the list of the Natixis Global Retirement Index (GRI). That is where you see the best countries in the world in terms of retired people numbers.
So many people are retiring to Switzerland that the Swiss government has introduced a Swiss residency program for pensioners. The policy for pensioners is relatively open, but you must meet specific criteria, depending on your nationality and the canton in which you want to live.
If you have worked in Switzerland for at least one full year and have contributed to the Swiss pension system (AHV), you are entitled to a Swiss government pension.
Swiss culture and social life
The Swiss are strongly integrated, it is a small country with four national languages, and about 25% of the population are foreigners. Many cantons have integration offices that provide practical advice for everyday life, leisure activities, free or low-cost language courses, as well as organizing welcome events and public meetings.
Understanding the differences between U.S. and Swiss residents will also help you to settle in Switzerland, as well as getting to know the best places and taste the best Swiss cuisine influenced by the French, Germans, and Italians.
Going for a drink after work is not common. Therefore, it is essential to make an effort to meet people in clubs and social groups, former members' clubs and networks, or to join (or form your own) a group to find like-minded people.
To Sum Up
If you live in the United States and want to live your Swiss dream. Consider all the requirements wisely and choose the best shippers to help you get things done.
There are quite a few aspects to consider, however, making the right decisions and seeking the right advice can make the move that much easier.
Amy Sky (nom de plume) is a vivid traveller and permanently curious human being. She helps to share stories @ aesop.today – brand journalism agency and part of the GRIN tech full service agency. aesop.today is just one out of 30 front-line agencies built on top of GRIN launcher outreach platform. In 2020 the agency will scale its content pipeline (to 2000 articles published monthly) it'll expand to affiliate marketing, b2b lead generation and research.