Moving to Switzerland | pros, cons, experiences
Switzerland, officially the Swiss Confederation, is situated right between West, central and south Europe. It borders Germany to the North, Liechtenstein and Austria to the East, Italy to the South and France to the West. Switzerland also has a German and a Italian enclave, called Büsingen am Hochrhein and Campione d'Italia. With an area of just over 41’000 square kilometers, Switzerland is a very small country. In fact it is the world’s 132nd largest country - but in spite of its very small size, Switzerland is surprisingly diverse in culture and nature. Switzerland is my home country so that’s why I really have a lot to share with you today.
Since there are so many facts that make Switzerland unique not only among European countries but also among all countries worldwide, this video might get a bit longer than usual. Switzerland is famous for its cheese, chocolate, watches, banking industry, the alps, for its political neutrality, strong economy, high degree of globalization and for the fact that it has four official languages despite being just about half the size of Bavaria or about a tenth the size of California. But as we will find out soon, Switzerland has much more than that to offer. Switzerland is a federation of 26 cantons.
There even is a Swiss term “Kantönligeist”, which stands for the canton’s spirit. In my opinion, it is great that Switzerland has so many cantons, since each canton enjoys a certain degree of autonomy and also the cantons compete with each other which makes Switzerland as a whole a more competitive country. But there are also some downsides to having so many cantons, as we will discuss that later.
Switzerland’s official languages are German, French, Italian and Romansh. Romansh is spoken by about 60’000 people mostly in the alpine regions of Switzerland. The largest canton by area is the canton of Graubünden, whereas the largest canton by population is the canton of Zurich.
Switzerland’s largest cities are Zurich, with a total population of 420’000 people in its city district and about 1.3 million people including its metropolitan area. Next comes Geneva with a bit over 200’000 inhabitants, followed by Basel with about 180’000 inhabitants, Lausanne, Bern and Winterthur. In total, Switzerland is home to about 8.5 million people. Officially, Switzerland doesn’t have a capital city in order to not favor any canton. However, the de facto capital of Switzerland is Bern, where one can find the Federal Palace of Switzerland.
Switzerland’s top-level domain is “.ch” which stands for Confoederatio Helvetica and is the Latin term for Switzerland. One can find the CH abbreviation in some other context as well, and one reason behind using the Latin term for Switzerland is the fact that Latin is no official language of Switzerland.
Because using one of Switzerland’s four official languages would be unfair to the remaining three languages. So you see that Switzerland puts a lot of effort into making sure to treat all four cultural regions of Switzerland equally. Switzerland is not part of NATO nor the European Union.
The Swiss have consistently rejected membership to the European Union since the early 1990s. However, Switzerland is a member of the Schengen Area. Switzerland’s flag shows a white cross on a red squared background. As of the Swiss Federal Council in 1889, the cross is a symbol of Christianity and was the field sign of the Old Confederacy.
It is not known what the red color stands for, some historians think the color comes from the Blood of Jesus while others think it comes from the flag of Bern that always had some red parts. A unique feature of the Swiss flag is its square shape. Switzerland and the Vatican are the only two countries that have square flags. So technically, this flag here is wrong as it is not a square. Here you can see the flags of all 26 cantons and I also would like to quickly mention the historic military flag of the former republic of Berne, and also the very distinct flag of the Swiss Guards in France in the 17th and 18th centuries.
You might also have heard of the Swiss Guards in the Vatican. They act as the armed forces of the Vatican which kind of sounds ridiculous but is true. The Swiss Guard is among the oldest military units in continuous operation, established in 1506. Switzerland's national flower is the Edelweiss, its national dish is fondue and Switzerland also has a national instrument which is the Alphorn.
However, Switzerland doesn’t have a national animal. In Switzerland, people pay with the Swiss Franc. One Euro is equivalent to 1.11 Swiss Francs and one US dollar to .94 Swiss Francs. Switzerland has one of the world’s most diverse and developed economies. Just in Zurich and its metropolitan area, there are 150’000 companies registered and with banks like UBS and Credit Suisse, Zurich is one of the most important economic centers in the world.
Furthermore, the city of Geneva hosts - together with New York City - the most international Organizations worldwide. Some examples are the United Nations Organization, the World Health, Trade, Intellectual Property and Migration Organization. In Basel, Roche and Novartis are headquartered, two of the world’s largest pharma companies. Basel is the Swiss capital of the pharmaceutical industry, which by the way accounts for 38% of all Swiss exports worldwide.
The geographic position of Switzerland is one of many factors, why Switzerland has become one of the world's most developed countries. It benefits from the fact that it borders economically strong countries like Germany, France, Italy and Austria. Switzerland is ranked as the wealthiest country in the world per capita in multiple rankings and apparently is ranked as one of the least corrupt countries. However its banking sector has been rated as “one of the most corrupt in the world”. In spite of its small size, Switzerland has the 20th largest economy worldwide and is the 17th largest exporter of goods. Switzerland ranks first among all European countries in the Index of economic freedom, and as of The World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report, Switzerland's economy is the most competitive worldwide, while Switzerland is ranked by the European Union as Europe's most innovative country.
Switzerland's largest industries are machinery, chemicals and watches which are also Switzerland's main export goods. The tourism, banking and insurance industry are other industries of significant size. Switzerland's main export partners are Germany, the USA and China, whereas its main import partners are Germany, the USA and Italy. Why does Switzerland have such a strong economy? For sure there are many reasons, but I think that the five most significant ingredients of Switzerland’s recipe of success are its political stability, political neutrality, high degree of globalization, low taxes and a good education system. Political stability is guaranteed by distributing political power. Switzerland doesn’t have a president but instead a federal council with seven members each representing one of Switzerland’s seven departments: The Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, of Home Affairs, of Justice and Police, of Defence, Civil Protection and Sport, of Finance, of Economic Affairs and of Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications.
But political power is also distributed between the Federation, the cantons and the municipalities. Finally, direct democracy gives the will of the people a high priority, which makes Switzerland kind of a Bottom-Up-Country, and not a Top-Down one, which comes with some up and downsides. Since Switzerland is not part of the European Union, it must make sure to build up relations with other countries on its own.
This is why Switzerland is among the countries with the strongest network of embassies and consulates, especially compared to its small size and small population. Political neutrality allows Switzerland to act as a negotiator between countries that do not have diplomatic relations or have very different political views. Switzerland acted or still acts as a negotiator between the US and Iran, Armenia and Turkey or Russia and Georgia.
Switzerland and Sweden also play an important role as negotiators between North and South Korea. Furthermore, economic and trade barriers between Switzerland and other countries are minimal, apart from the agricultural industry, and Switzerland has free trade agreements with many countries worldwide. We’ll talk soon about the low taxes and education system.
Later in this video there will be an interview with Erika and Mike from the YouTube channel “Our Swiss Adventure”. Erika originally is from Latvia, but has lived in the UK for some time and moved to the French speaking part of Switzerland in January 2020. They will talk about their journey as well as provide useful tips to people who may consider moving to Switzerland.
If you have an idea which country I should cover next, please let me know down in the comments. This video is part of a video series that covers informative facts and the migration procedure of many countries worldwide. I’ve created a video for many countries around the globe - you can find the playlist linked in the video description down below. But let’s return to Switzerland. What are the main upsides of moving to Switzerland? And what needs to be considered? As of the 2019 UN report, Switzerland ranks 26th among the countries with the largest foreign-born population. About 2.4 million people living in Switzerland were not born there, but moved to this country
during their lifetime. The biggest foreign populations are the Italians with 317’000 residents, the Germans with 304’000, the Portuguese with 266’000 and the French with 313’000 inhabitants. But what are the advantages of moving to Switzerland? As mentioned before, Switzerland is at the cutting edge when it comes to quality of life.
People value low criminality rates and the fact that every European country is within close travel distance. Therefore, one can schedule spontaneous holiday trips in order to explore different European cultures, without having to travel thousands of kilometers. Another big upside is Switzerland’s direct democracy. Unlike in other democracies, every Swiss citizen has the ability to start a so-called people’s referendum. If 100’000 signatures can be collected within 18 months, all Swiss citizens will be able to vote for that initiative and - if accepted - a new law gets implemented.
For instance, in the year of 2001, an initiative was launched asking the Swiss if they want to join the European Union. The clear majority voted against this initiative. The Swiss could also vote on whether they should buy new fighter jets, however sometimes, some ridiculous initiatives appear, for instance whether farmers who don’t cut off the horns of their cows should be financially supported by the state.
Moreover, Swiss citizens have the ability to vote on initiatives from the canton or even from the municipality. As mentioned previously, Switzerland is politically neutral. In fact, it was the 190th country worldwide to join the UN - one of the last countries to do so.
In 2002, 54.6% of the Swiss voted in favor of entering the UN. Because of its neutrality, and because of the fact that Europe kind of is a messy place when it comes to wars and conflicts, it is not surprising that Switzerland needs a military to remain as sovereign as possible in case of war. In the past, Switzerland's neighboring countries have fought in dramatic wars, which is why throughout its history, Switzerland has invested billions of Swiss Francs in building cutting-edge bunkers. All bunkers combined easily have enough capacity not only for all Swiss citizens, but for all people living in Switzerland.
So it's true to say that the Swiss alps are as riddled with holes as Swiss cheese. As you can see here, I am wearing an official military pullover today, as I also joined the Swiss armed forces for about ten months. By law, every Swiss male must serve the military, but luckily there are tons of different functions out there, from driving tanks to cyber security or from parachute soldier to paramedic.
There also is a possibility to join the Swiss civilian service or the Swiss civil defense service. Because of mandatory military service, Switzerland is one of the countries with the most weapons per person. There are anywhere from 31 up to 61 weapons per 100 inhabitants. Another upside of moving to Switzerland is its strong economy and high wages. All kinds of services are by far more expensive than in neighboring countries, but in relation to how much people earn, it still financially makes sense to live and work in Switzerland.
Here’s an example: In Switzerland, Big Macs are the most expensive among all countries worldwide. One would need to pay about 6.54 US dollars for a Big Mac, but an average person working in Zurich would just need to work for about 15 minutes to afford one, whereas the world average is at 37 minutes. The education system is another upside of Switzerland. Perhaps you've heard of ETH Zurich, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. In 2020, ETH was ranked sixth worldwide among all universities, which makes it the best university in continental Europe.
In engineering and technology, ETH is ranked even better, at fourth place worldwide. Even Albert Einstein studied at this university. So it is not surprising that hundreds of international students come to Switzerland just because of the great education system. The EPFL in Lausanne is also a well-known university.
In the international PISA education index of 2015, Switzerland ranks 15th worldwide, which to me seems improvable giving Switzerland financial resources. Public transportation in Switzerland is yet another upside. Basically it's not necessary to own a car in Switzerland because you’ll get a public transport connection to every tiny village. In terms of punctuality, Switzerland can almost compete with Japan. As the Alps separate the country, building public transportation lines to Switzerland's south has always been a challenge. That is why the Gotthard railway tunnel was built in 1882, which was undoubtedly one of the largest human infrastructure projects of that time.
In 2016 - after 17 years of construction - the Gotthard Base Tunnel was opened. It has a length of 57 kilometers and is the longest railway tunnel worldwide. At its deepest point, the tunnel is 2450 meters below the earth's surface, which is simply mind-blowing.
These projects clearly show that public transportation has always been a priority of Switzerland. Another impressive infrastructure project is the Mauvoisin Dam. Switzerland has the tallest dams in Europe mostly located in the Alps, which results in the fact that hydroelectricity is the most important domestic source of energy in the country. Although the amount of taxes a resident of Switzerland has to pay varies greatly from canton to canton and municipality to municipality, the taxes - on average - are significantly lower than in neighboring countries.
In 2017, childless single people in Switzerland had to pay an average of just under 17% of their gross wages to the state for taxes and social security contributions. Compared to the average tax of all OECD countries which is at a whopping 25.5%, 17% seems to be quite low. Employees in Belgium and Germany for instance need to pay 40% of their gross wages to the state. Generally speaking, In the canton of Zug the taxes are the lowest, while in the French-speaking part of Switzerland taxes are higher.
In the municipality of Baar in the canton of Zug, a married person with 2 children and an annual income of 100,000 Swiss francs has to pay taxes of just 1.66%. Furthermore, there are some cantons where one is taxed on a flat rate basis. You see, here the competition of the 26 cantons comes into play again. Cantons with low tax rates attract people from cantons with higher tax rates which means that these cantons would need to offer some other benefits if they don’t want their population to move away. In the description you’ll find a link to an interactive tax calculator where you’ll be able to see which canton is the cheapest for you. Despite its small area, Switzerland has a great variety of flora and fauna.
Switzerland can be geographically divided into three parts: Jura, the Central Plateau and the Alps, which all three regions having their own uniquenesses in nature. The Alpine region is truly impressive and definitely worth a visit. The mountains located there are not only among the largest in Europe but also just look terrific.
There are 48 mountains in Switzerland with a height of more than 4000 meters above sea level, the most famous one probably is the Matterhorn. The canton of Ticino, offers a warm Italian climate and a more relaxed Italian lifestyle. Throughout Switzerland there are idyllic lakes, mostly hilly landscapes and a lot of rivers. Although Switzerland does not even occupy half a percent of the total European area, around 5% of the freshwater reserves on the European continent are located in this country. By the way: water quality is very good, and thanks to the high density of public drinking fountains, you'll never be thirsty again on a hot summer day. Let us talk a bit about Switzerland’s culture.
Three of Europe's major languages enjoy official status in Switzerland - German, French and Italian. This also means that Switzerland up to a certain degree is influenced by German, French and Italian culture. Therefore, Swiss culture is characterized by diversity, which is reflected in a wide range of local traditions. Switzerland is home to many notable contributors to literature, art, architecture, music and sciences.
In addition the country attracted a number of smart and creative brains during times of unrest and war in Europe. Some 1000 museums are distributed throughout the country; the number has more than tripled since 1950. Alpine symbolism has played an essential role in shaping the history of the country and the Swiss national identity. Many alpine areas and ski resorts offer winter sports during the colder months as well as hiking or Mountain biking in summer.
While some dishes such as fondue, raclette or rösti are omnipresent throughout the whole country, each region developed its own local specialties according to the differences of climate and languages. In traditional Swiss cuisine, Potatoes, Meat, milk products but also fruits and vegetables play an important role. Some other traditional dishes are Älplermaccheroni, Bierchermüesli or the delicious mouthwatering Nutcake from the canton of Graubünden.
There are many world famous Swiss brands that you might even have heard of. Some examples are Kägifred, Rivella, Aromat, Ricola, Lindt, Ovomaltine and Toblerone. Wine is the most popular alcoholic beverage in Switzerland, and sadly there are too many people drinking too much of it. All these upsides contribute to the fact that Swiss cities rank among the cities with the highest quality of life. Depending on which index you consider, Zurich ranks either first or second worldwide, and as of the Mercer quality of life index, Geneva ranks 9th worldwide, Basel 10th and Bern 14th.
What is the cost of living in Zurich? According to Numbeo, if you live off 3000 Euros a month in Berlin, you’ll need about 5640 Euros for the same quality of life in Zurich. And if you need 3000 us dollars a month in Denver colorado, you’ll need about 4770 US dollars a month in Zurich, which means that the cost of living is about 60% higher. Apparently, Zurich even is about 2% more expensive than New York City. In spite of all these upsides, there are also some drawbacks when it comes to moving to Switzerland. I have even uploaded a whole separate video about the 9 biggest downsides of living in Switzerland, but let me quickly summarize.
The climate of Switzerland is a bit of a drawback in my opinion. Even though summers are very nice and there is a lot to do, winters are long, cold and gray. In winter, it feels like the city of Zurich is constantly covered by fog which kind of is depressing. As mentioned before, cantons play an important role in Switzerland. Although I think that having cantons is a big strength of Switzerland, it also comes with some downsides.
The school system for instance is not standardized which means that in every canton the number of school years and the paths a student can go are a bit different. If you have friends living in other cantons than you, it might even be that you don’t share the same holidays. Switzerland also is home to many speed cameras.
I assume that in no other country, these cameras are so cleverly hidden as in Switzerland. You really get the impression that the police not only has a lot of fun setting up the radars, but you also feel like their main intention is to maximize profits. Switzerland is a very densely populated country. Even though Switzerland has an incredible variety of nature - especially considering its small size - you will find a small village every few kilometers.
Sadly, one will not really find huge areas of untouched nature in Switzerland, like this is the case in Russia, Canada or the US. Furthermore, Switzerland is one of 44 landlocked countries worldwide. This certainly is a downside, because not only are the Swiss denied activities that are related to the sea, but there is also a disadvantage in terms of international trade and the economy.
Let’s continue with interviewing Erika and Mike. Erika and Mike, when did you move to Switzerland and which city did you move to? What do you enjoy most about your life in Switzerland? What do you miss most about the UK? What are the Swiss like? Was it challenging for you to learn French? What advice would you give people who are interested in moving to Switzerland? Thank you both for taking time to join this interview! Please make sure to check out their channel linked in the description below for more informative videos about their life in Switzerland. What needs to be done in order to move to Switzerland? For residents of a county that is part of the European Union or for residents of Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein, Canada and the USA there is no visa required to visit Switzerland for a maximum time of 3 months. During these three months, you are not permitted to work. Residents of other countries need to apply for a visa in order to visit Switzerland. The first time you apply for a residence permit in Switzerland, you will receive either a Permit B or Permit L. They are both issued for one year initially, but Permit B can be
renewed annually whereas Permit L can only be renewed once. Citizens from the European Union and countries mentioned previously can get a Swiss permanent residence permit after living in Switzerland for five continuous years with the B-Permit. Citizens from the remaining countries must have been living in Switzerland with a Permit B for 10 continuous years before they can apply for a Swiss Permit C. As a general rule, in order to be eligible for the Swiss Permit C, you will have to prove that you are sufficiently integrated in Switzerland and that you can speak the official language of the canton in which you live in. You need to demonstrate level A2 in oral language skills and A1 in written language skills.
Other requirements include proof of a clean criminal record from the Swiss police; proof you have no debt at any place you have lived in while in Switzerland; a record of employment and proof you have not received any social benefits. Foreigners with no direct blood ties to Switzerland through either birth or marriage must live in the country for at least 10 years before they can apply for Swiss citizenship. Years spent in the country between the age of eight and 18 count double. Also, being fluent in one of Switzerland's national languages as well as passing an exam that tests knowledge of Swiss history, traditions and political structure are requirements.