To give you a small impression of what to expect when living in Switzerland, we have put together some topics for you to make your new start in Switzerland as pleasant as possible.
4 official languages
Unlike many other countries in Europe, where there is usually only one official national language, Switzerland has four of them: German, French, Italian and Romansh.
The most widespread language is German, which is spoken mainly in central Switzerland and the cantons bordering Germany. French dominates in the western part of Switzerland, and Italian in the southeastern part. Rhaeto-Romanic is spoken by only a very small part of the total population in eastern Switzerland. In each region, there are also different dialects in the various languages. Official documents are generally issued in German, French and Italian.
Currency and banking
The national currency in Switzerland is the Swiss franc (CHF). 1 Swiss franc (Franken) is equal to 100 centimes (Rappen). The banknotes are available in the following amounts: 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 1000. For coins, there are the following denominations: 1, 2, 5 francs and 5, 10, 20, 50 centimes
Current accounts can be opened at any major bank, Swiss Postbank, cantonal or private banks. The largest banks in Switzerland are: Credit Suisse, UBS and PostFinance.
Public holidays apply throughout Switzerland. In addition, there are cantonal holidays, which may vary from canton to canton.
The federal public holidays are:
- January 1: New Year’s Day
- Good Friday (variable date)
- Easter Monday (variable date)
- Ascension Day (variable date, 38 days after Easter Monday)
- August 1: Swiss National Day
- December 25: Christmas Day
- December 26: Boxing Day
If a public holiday falls on a weekend day, the following Monday is not a day off.
Usual business and store opening hours
Government offices and banks are typically open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays (Monday through Friday), although there may be differences depending on the office. Stores are usually open from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on weekdays, and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays. In cities, stores are often open even later, until 9 pm. Stores, banks and government offices are generally closed on Sundays. Exceptions are stores in train stations, airports or tourist places. Post office opening hours vary greatly by location.
Electricity and water
The provision and maintenance of the public electricity and water network is the responsibility of the cantons. As a rule, anyone moving into a house or apartment must register their electricity connection with a supplier of their choice. The monthly, quarterly or semi-annual contributions are then paid by means of a progress bill. The energy supplier, as well as the water company, usually prepare a statement at the end of the year, and refund overpaid contributions, or demand an additional payment in case of additional consumption.
Telephone and television
The Swiss telephone network is operated by Swisscom. Anyone who wants to have a telephone or Internet connection must contact Swisscom so that it provides a connection (if not already available). Any service can then be selected as the Internet provider.
Every household must pay a broadcasting fee – even if there is no TV or radio. The fees are collected by the SERAFE company.
A wide range of channels can be received via satellite or cable connection. Those who want to receive special channels that are not broadcast as standard in Switzerland usually have to pay an additional fee for this service.
Living in Switzerland
The Swiss housing and real estate market varies greatly from region to region in terms of purchase and rental prices. In highly sought-after areas or larger cities, prices are relatively high, while living in rural areas is less expensive.
Vacancies are the exception rather than the rule in highly sought-after regions. Often, rental properties are not even published on the Internet, so it is more difficult to find a suitable apartment without a real estate agent. A real estate agent has access to properties before they are published by advertisement. This increases the chances of finding a property for rent.
However, the landlord always has the final say. The landlord is not obliged to accept the first applicant.
Under certain conditions, it is also possible for non-Swiss nationals to purchase residential property in Switzerland. A down payment of 20% of the purchase price must be made from equity, as a maximum mortgage of 80% of the purchase price can be taken out.
The purchase of a property changes the tax situation of the buyer, as the residential property is henceforth included in the assets and is therefore subject to wealth tax (which varies from canton to canton). It is advisable to consult with a tax expert before purchasing a property.
The education system in Switzerland
In Switzerland, there are both public and private schools. The public schools are financed by the cantons and attendance at such a school is free of charge. Compulsory kindergarten or schooling begins at the age of 4. A minimum of 11 years of schooling is compulsory.
Public educational institutions are classified as follows:
- Kindergarten: age 4-6 years; compulsory in most cantons
- Elementary school: ages 6-12, grades 1-6, mandatory.
- secondary school: age 12-15, compulsory, leads to completion of compulsory education plan
- after secondary school: special schools for preparation for higher education (e.g. university), or training centers for trainees
Anyone wishing to enroll their child in the Swiss public school system must contact the cantonal education authority and provide the following proof:
- Work/residence permit for Switzerland
- Health and accident insurance for the child
If a foreign child is between the ages of 12 and 15, he or she must pass an entrance exam before enrolling in a public school, which tests, among other things, sufficient proficiency in the language of instruction.
Enrolling the child in a private school is also possible. However, depending on the school, waiting times for a free place can be several years.
The healthcare system in Switzerland
The healthcare system in Switzerland is one of the best in the world. Even in less densely populated regions, the density of hospitals and doctors’ offices is high, so that medical care is always timely manner.
The federal government sets the financial framework within which health insurers may offer their premiums. The federal government must also give its prior consent to premium increases and can also reject them.
The cantons and municipalities are responsible for regulating hospitals. This means that it is determined at the cantonal level which hospital provides which services and how high the wages of doctors and nursing staff are.
Compulsory health insurance applies in Switzerland. This means that everyone who lives here must have health insurance. The health insurance companies are private companies, but they are only allowed to operate within the legal framework set by the federal government.
The companies are obliged to include every citizen in the so-called basic insurance- without a prior health check
Insured persons can add additional services that go beyond basic medical care to their health insurance plan at an additional cost, if they wish.
Every citizen is free to choose an insurer. The amount of the insurance premiums that are paid monthly differ in part very much from insurer to insurer. Therefore, it is advisable to compare the benefits and premiums of the individual insurers beforehand.
Driving in Switzerland
General information about driving in Switzerland
Right-hand traffic applies in Switzerland. Driving a vehicle is permitted for persons 18 years of age and older; trucks and other large vehicles may only be driven from 21 years of age. Fun fact: A small motorcycle or a tractor can already be driven from 14 years upwards.
In order to be able to drive on freeways, a vignette must be purchased every year. This can be obtained at customs or at gas stations. The price is currently CHF 40.
On highways, the maximum speed is 120km/h, unless otherwise indicated by a sign. A maximum speed of 50km/h applies in built-up areas.
Exchange driver’s license
A valid driver’s license is required to drive a vehicle. Foreigners may drive in Switzerland for up to one year with a driver’s license from their home country or an international driver’s license. After that, a Swiss driver’s license must be applied for at the traffic licensing authority. Necessary for this are:
- Completing the application to exchange the foreign driver’s license for a Swiss driver’s license
- Enclose the previous driver’s license (will then be stamped as “invalid in Switzerland”)
- Proof of a vision test by an ophthalmologist confirming perfect eyesight
- Passport photo
- Foreigner’s identity card (B or C identity card) as confirmation of residence
Have vehicle safety checked
Vehicle safety is checked regularly and is mandatory for every vehicle. The inspection takes place at the motor vehicle inspection (MFK) and is carried out every two to five years, depending on how old the vehicle is. If a defect is found, it must be repaired as soon as possible. As long as the defect exists, the vehicle may not be moved (or only for driving to the workshop).
In Switzerland, you can only buy a vehicle if you have a residence permit there. The purchase is possible either from private persons or from a vehicle dealer. The latter usually also takes care of some formalities.
The buyer must also apply for a license plate and have the seller hand over the vehicle registration document. In addition, the vehicle must be insured with a Swiss motor vehicle insurance company.
If a vehicle is to be imported into Switzerland from abroad, the following documents or proofs are required:
- Insurance certificate of a Swiss motor vehicle insurance
- Foreign vehicle documents/registration certificate
- Audit report of the customs office
- Certificate of CO2 tax; obtained after the vehicle has been inspected by the Motor Vehicle Inspection (MFK).
The vehicle does not have to be cleared through customs, or it can be imported tax-free if it can be proven that the vehicle was already in the possession of the vehicle owner for at least six months before the move to Switzerland. The vehicle must also be held for at least 12 months after the move to Switzerland.
In all other cases, Swiss VAT of 7.7% is due upon importation, as well as vehicle tax of 4%. The current value of the vehicle serves as the basis for calculation. In addition, customs duties may also apply, depending on where the vehicle was manufactured (not purchased!) and how high its weight is.
In Switzerland, there are three insurances for a vehicle:
- Liability insurance
- Comprehensive insurance (optional)
- Accident insurance (optional)
Liability insurance is mandatory for every vehicle. It covers damage to third-party property and injuries to third parties. Comprehensive insurance covers damage to the vehicle and theft. Accident insurance covers damage to passengers.
Public transport in Switzerland
Bus and train
In urban regions in particular, people are increasingly using public transport instead of their cars. And there is a simple reason for this: Switzerland public transport network is very well developed compared to other countries. For example, Switzerland has the densest rail network in the world.
Places that are not located on a railroad line are generally served by a public bus, so that the way to the next train station is never very far. Places that cannot be reached by public transport are the absolute exception in Switzerland.
The Swiss railroad network and most of the railroad lines are operated by the state-owned company SBB (Schweizer Bundesbahn). In addition, there are also private railroad companies in which the federal government, cantons and municipalities have a stake.
Internationally, Switzerland is also very easy to reach from any corner of the world with three national airports. The three airports are located in Zurich, Geneva and Basel-Mulhouse (which is geographically located in France near the Swiss border).
From Zurich and Geneva, destinations within and outside Europe are served, and from Basel- Mulhouse, destinations within Europe.
In addition to these three major international hubs, there are also eleven regional airports from which various destinations in Europe are served.
Want to know more about living and working in Switzerland and its financial implications? Contact us with a non-binding request.