Switzerland has a very high percentage of expats for its excellent salaries, outdoor life
style, safe and high life quality. But based on my experience, it is not the easiest country to immerse for expats. So here are some useful tips for you to settle into this beautiful country in the middle of Europe.
GET YOUR RESIDENCE SORTED
Once you arrive to Switzerland you have 14 days to register with the Residents Registration Office and get your residence/work permit at the cantonal migration offices.
HEALTH INSURANCE IS COMPULSORY
Upon declaring your arrival to Switzerland, you have 3 months to get a basic health insurance. The price tag varies depending on the insurance company, your deductibles ( between 300 to 2,500 CHF) and your canton but it is surprising expensive. You may be insured against accidents by your employer, in which case you can cancel your accident coverage from your conclusory basic insurance. And then, there is supplementary insurance which has two parts: 1- non hospital related matters such as osteology, acupuncture, nutritionist and alternative medicines; 2 - hospital insurance for private rooms - your right to choose the hospital/clinic that you'd like to go to, instead of going to the university hospital. The price of supplementary insurance is determined by risk assessment according to your age/gender. If you're female (in the age of potentially becoming a mother), and decide to get a supplementary insurance, with a low deductible basic insurance, your insurance is astonishing pricey but it could be worth it depending on how much you think you'd use. I for example use my supplementary insurance a lot and it makes me feel secure knowing that those activities are 90% covered by insurance.
OPEN YOUR BANK ACCOUNT
In Switzlernad there are two types of banks - cantonal banks and national institutions. The issue with cantonal ones is that if you move from one canton to another, you may need to re-open a new bank account in your new canton. Despite this quirk, many of the cantonal banks are well-respected, offer good rates and some of them are considered among the largest banks in Switzerland, such as the cantonal banks in Zurich, Vaud, Basel, Lucerne, St Gallen, and Bern. The national ones such as UBS and Credit Suisse operate throughout Switzerland and even internationally so it probably is more fitting for those who are thinking of moving in few years. To open an account, you will need to; prove your identity (passport); prove your address (attestation from your commune); provide details about your personal and employment history (probably need authentication). Please visit your preferred bank and ask theme exactly what you will need.
MOBILE PHONE AND INTERNET
There are 3 main mobile phone providers - Swisscom, Salt and Sunrise. Historically, Swisscom had the best network throughout Switzerland but perhaps now the other two are catching up. The plan that works for you will depends on the usage so visit all the shops and see what works best. I personally have a Swisscom account with TV and internet as well - with that package, you get a discount on your mobile numbers so that worked well for me. Switzerland was one of the last countries to include FREE ROAMING - Thankfully this option is available now and I'd highly recommend it as you'll soon realise that you will be going to the neighbouring countries a lot when you live in Switzerland.
SHOPPING IS EXPENSIVE
Coop and Migros are the main supermarkets throughout Switzerland. Manor and Globus are high-end department stores with supermarket usually in their basement floor. There are few other chains that are slightly cheaper such as Denner. While the supermarkets have a vast variety of selection (including a decent gluten-free and lactose-free selections), it comes with a big price tag. So, many Swiss residents, who live close to borders with neighbouring countries (France, Germany, Austria, and Italy) often cross the border for their elementary shopping. Since I live in Geneva, I often do my shopping in France and I save 20 to 30% just by doing that. Aside from food, I also buy cosmetics, medicines, magazines and books (the price difference for books are HUGE) in France. I rarely do my clothing shopping in Switzerland also, mainly because there is a lack of choice, but also because its cheaper in EU countries. But don't go elsewhere for ALL your shopping! Electronic goods are usually cheaper in Switzlerand and so is petrol! Strange I know, but it is just the way it is! Be mindful also that Switzerland's VAT is maximum 8% which is much lower than its neighbouring countries (22% in Italy, 20% in France & Austria, and 19% in Germany), although this VAT advance is rarely seen by consumers! However, shopping in France for example, and getting a VAT refund makes a lot of sense. be careful though, because you are subject to Swiss tax (above 300 CHF) when you bring the purchased items into Switzerland! For more information on importation from abroad - check here.
TAX FOR PARCELS
All imported goods and services must be cleared with the Swiss Customs Administration. Swiss Post and other companies such as DHL and Fedex act on behalf of the SCA. Customs duties are charged on all goods being imported into Switzerland and generally levied on the basis of weight. The tax is exempt if the amount due does not exceed CHF 5, or if the value of the consignment is below CHF 65 including shipping costs, customs clearance, insurance, customs duties, etc. (at a VAT rate of 7,7 %) or below CHF 200 (at a VAT rate of 2.5%). Also, gifts are customs duty-free under CHF 100, but tobacco products and alcoholic beverages are excluded. I know all this is very confusing but what you need to understand from this is that, it may seem cheaper to shop on online shops from abroad but depending on the value and the weight, you might be heavily taxed when the parcel reaches to your home. One thing that will help reduce this tax is to ask the sender to clearly state what the product is and how much it is. If the parcel is a gift, make sure to state it clearly visible on the outside. And if not, the sender must provide sufficient details on the contents of the parcel (what it is and the price) otherwise you'd be subject to a CHF13 fee for opening the parcel, and may be subject to storage fee if the parcel is kept due to insufficient information, on top of other duties and taxes.
PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION IS GREAT
Switzlerand has an excellent train, bus, tram network within cities but also beyond, linking all towns around the countries even those that are secluded. It is safe, reliable (I come from Japan, and its probably the only country where the public transportation is more reliable than here), but expensive. To get around this, you must get a half-fare pass - CHF 185 a year, which allows you to travel half the price on public transportation. Cities in Switzerland are evolving now and it is becoming more cycle friendly as many cantons are pushing for environmental friendly way of moving so my recommendation is to use the public transportation and bicycles within cities, and use the car to go to the mountains. Taxis are very expensive and Uber is always the economical choice but if you are in a hurry, taxi may be your fastest bet as taxis can go on bus lanes which allow you to avoid most of the heavy traffic.
DRIVING IN SWITZERLAND
It goes without saying that you must register your car, get the car insurance and have a valid driving license (foreign license is valid for a year, but after that, you must convert your license to a Swiss one). Once all this is done, first thing you need to get is the highway sticker which can be purchased at gas stations and post offices (CHF 40). This sticker allow you to use the highway anywhere in Switzerland for a year. Green signs indicates highways and blue signs are main road (non highway). Be warned that the speed limit is very strict, and there are cameras everywhere in cities and on highways. The fines are dependent on your income so it could be very high and your license can even be revoked if you are way over the limit. Also, public transportation have priority in cities, which means there are reduced lanes for private cars and therefore higher traffic. If you ever come across a tram or a bus, know that they have the right of the way, always. At a crossroad, car on the right has the right of the way, and if on slope, the ascending vehicle has the priority. You have to let pedestrians cross if they are waiting at the zebra crossing or already crossing the road. Blue parking on the street are free for an hour as long as you indicate your arrival time on your parking disk (which you can buy at most gas stations). The yellow zones are reserved for taxis and deliveries. The paid parking on the street are also available which you need to pay via parking machine nearby. Most of these machines accept credit card but not all. Of course there are parking garages available too and they are indicated by blue signs with a capital P. My personal impression, especially in cities is that because of the heavy traffic, Swiss drivers are quite aggressive and does not let you switch lanes easily! So drive slow in the beginning.