1. The three Swiss regions are very different
The three parts of Switzerland are not at all alike – The French part of Switzerland (Suisse Romande) is nothing like the German part of Switzerland, while Ticino is also quite apart. If you’re moving to Suisse Romande, don’t ask someone living in the German part of Switzerland for advice, they will have a completely different picture. From the way the cities are organized, to people’s mentality, you will find numerous differences.
Just to give you an idea, in Suisse Romande it is acceptable to be 15 minutes late for a meeting, while in the German part of Switzerland, it is usually customary to arrive 5 minutes earlier.
2. Learning the local language is a must
You can use English in the bigger, more international cities like Zurich or Geneva, but don’t assume everyone speaks English or is willing to speak it throughout Switzerland.
If you think you can get by in the German part of Switzerland because you know German, guess again. Swiss German is like nothing you’ve heard before and, especially if don’t speak German, you will need some time to get used to the typical Swiss phrases like ‘Gruezi’, ‘isch guet gsi’ or inserting an ä or ö in virtually every other word.
In the German part of Switzerland, German is known as High German (Hoch Deutch), while the Swiss German dialect is often referred to as ‘mundart’.
Old Grey Tiger– my grandfather came over from Switzerland, his Swiss German wasn’t understood by Germans he met in NYC
Pro tip: If you plan to stay in Switzerland for more than one year, take a quick class in ‘mundart’. At least you will know how to say hello to your neighbors and impress your Swiss acquaintances.
3. Finding a home to rent in Switzerland will be difficult. And that’s an understatement.
Especially in the bigger cities, vacancy rates are extremely low, so make sure you set the right expectations for yourself and your family: decide on the deal breakers and the things you can do without.
Pro tip: If you are a new-comer to Switzerland, you might want to look for apartments in urban areas that are well connected by public transport. Living in the countryside may be idyllic and it is definitely easier to find available properties outside the large cities, but if you don’t speak the local language, it may end up feeling lonely. What are your deal breakers? What can you do without?
4. Finding a job in Switzerland might be daunting
There are certain ‘in demand’ professional sectors like medicine or IT, but if you do not know the local language and do not have enough experience, it may be very difficult and very time-consuming to find a job in Switzerland.
Pro tip: Don’t give up, constantly ask for feedback, adjust your CV and your skills based on it. This might be a good opportunity to start getting that certification you’ve been eyeing for a long time or even set up your own business.
5. Switzerland is not as expensive as you might think
You’ve probably heard Switzerland is expensive, but make sure you compare costs with Swiss salaries, not with costs in other countries. Swiss salaries are quite high and when it comes to the high costs, you generally get what you pay for.
The cost of transportation is high in Switzerland, but the infrastructure is generally impeccable, with minimal delays and good connections.
Just to give you an example, the cost of a single trip on any Swiss city public transport network is around 5 CHF. However, for residents, there are discounts available (the half fare card) or you can buy a cheaper ticket for shorter distances.
The level of taxes you pay also highly depends on where you live. Some cantons have higher taxes (like Geneva, Zurich, Bern ) while cantons like Zug, Uri, Nidwalden, Appenzeller Innerhoden, have lower taxes. Within the same canton, there will be differences between urban vs. rural dwellers.
6. Daily life and social life in Switzerland need some getting used to
Sunday is a day of rest. Just like in Germany, all shops close on Sundays in Switzerland. You’ll have to get used to doing all your shopping by Saturday, 17:00 (when the shops close) and take more time to enjoy other things in life.
There are numerous events, local and Swiss wide, that completely change the face of any Swiss town. For instance, carnivals in February, alpine descents in early autumn, music festivals in summer.
Learn the Swiss social etiquette: The Swiss are generally socially discreet, which may be perceived as rigidness or rejection. Planned social interactions are more common than spontaneous ones. It will not be a breeze to meet people and make friends, but that does mean you should not try your very best.
7. Rules and regulations
Some Swiss rules are silly, while some are simply meant to reinforce common sense. For instance, rules that may be included in your rental contract, like ‘no flushing and no shower after 22:00’ are there to enforce common sense and stress on the fact that you should not bother your neighbors. Rules enforcing Sunday rest (no laundry, no noise) are there for just about the same reason. You can obviously negotiate them with your neighbors, as long as you remain considerate. For instance, it is customary to inform your neighbors if you will host a party and even invite them to the party.
Law enforced rules like keeping certain animals in pairs, or recycling and parking rules have quite severe penalties if not observed.
8. Life with children in Switzerland
Switzerland is a heavenly place for kids. There are so many things to do outdoors, you never get bored. Kids in Switzerland go out rain or shine as the common perception around here is that ‘there is no bad weather, you just need to find the right clothes’.
Childcare is expensive, even prohibitively so and you might have to juggle between various options. Two working parents employed 100% is almost an impossible occurrence in Switzerland. More common scenarios are: both parents work less 100% or only one parent works 100%.
Kindergarten is mandatory and starts at 4 years old (if your child has turned 4 before last day of July).
9. Switzerland is an outdoorsy nation
Invest in good quality clothes (hiking gear, winter gear), as you’ll be spending a lot of time outdoors.
Summer is short and the Swiss want to take advantage of every single beautiful day. Don’t be surprised if your local river or lake is flooded with people and portable grills. There are grill places (and even firewood) almost everywhere in Switzerland. You can even find BBQs at most children’s playgrounds.
In winter, expect the same crowds on the ski and sledging pistes.
10. Owning pets in Switzerland
The Swiss could be seen as a nation of animal-lovers – but there are strict guidelines for owning a pet.
Cats are by far the most popular type of pet in Switzerland, almost three times as many as dogs. This is easily visible as soon as you walk past a Swiss block of flats – you will see numerous types of stairs enabling the furry creatures to get out and roam free.
Owning a dog is more costly, which probably explains the popularity of cats. In addition to the microchip, some breeds need compulsory training, insurance and also their own public transport ticket if case.
Pro Tip: Fall into this rabbit hole owning pets in Switzerland.