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Living in Switzerland: What You Need to Know

Switzerland is made up of twenty-six cantons, which can be defined as subdivisions for administrative purposes. It borders Italy, France, Germany, Austria and Liechtenstein. The country has one of the largest foreign populations in the world, which makes up over twenty percent of the population. However, immigration remains a sensitive issue in Switzerland and as so you have to get your facts right before you start your process of seeking legal permission to move. For example, in February 2014, the nation voted to adopt new rules on immigration that allows the government to set annual immigration quotas or limits. Taking the time to understand the consequences of the law can help make an informed decision about migrating to Switzerland.

See Also: How to Immigrate to Switzerland

1. Visa Requirements

Depending on your country of origin, you may or may not require a visa to enter Switzerland. In some cases, you may also need an invitation letter before you can apply for a visa. There are different types of visas, which the government accords depending on your needs. Visa application C, for example, allows you to visit the entire Schengen Area – currently twenty-six nations have signed the Schengen Agreement which means that people are free to move between these twenty-six countries, unfortunately you can use this type of visa for only ninety days. Application D is for people whose stay is longer than three months. You can get visa applications forms from your nearest Swiss consular or diplomatic mission. Among the things you will require include valid identification documents and proof of ability to sustain yourself financially for the duration of your visit. Once you make an application, a decision is taken within fifteen days, but this does not include the processing period. It is advisable to make an application at least eight weeks before your scheduled travel date. A visa application will cost you sixty Euros, if you are rejected you can reapply for the same amount. The cost does not include processing fees. Visit the State Secretariat for Migration website for answers to frequently asked questions.

2. Permits

You require a residence and work permit to live and work in Switzerland. Be sure to check out the types of permits to know which one suits your needs. To get a work permit, different conditions apply for European Free Trade Association (EFTA), European Union (EU), and other countries’ citizens. EFTA and EU citizens can move into the country freely and only need to apply for work authorization. If you are from other countries, you will require a special residence permit whether your employer is a Swizz or foreigner and whether your job is paid or unpaid. The Swizz government will only authorize you to work in the country if they have not exceeded the quotas, your education and experience matches the position, and when no EFTA or EU candidate is available or qualified for the post. You can only apply for a work permit before entering the country. If you are already in the country, you have to leave Switzerland first. Applications requirements and forms vary from one canton to another, but, in general, you will need a valid passport, your CV, and copies of job advertisements. You will also need to submit copies of academic papers, which should be in German, Italian, French or English. If necessary, you can hire an official translator to translate your documents. Contact the Canton or Communal administration you are moving to for accurate information.

3. Finding Work

Salaries and quality of life in Switzerland are very high making it an appealing destination to work. The economy is also stable, and the country enjoys one of the lowest unemployment rates in the world. However, competition for good positions is fierce, and opportunities are limited for foreigners, especially those from non-EU or EFTA regions. International employers in the country include the United Nations, International Red Cross, and the World Trade Organization. Check the Geneva International site for more non-government organizations located in Switzerland. The process of finding a job is no different from other countries. Check major print newspapers such as Berner Zeitnung and Basler Zeitung, and online newspapers, most which publish jobs a day per week. Visit online sites such as Expatica jobs for an updated list of available jobs in all the industries in the country. If you are from EFTA or the UE, you can find jobs through the European Job Mobility Portal, also known as EURES. You can also employ the services of one the many licensed recruitment agencies in the country to make your work easier. Just like in many countries, networking remains one of the best ways to find a job. Join professional networking organizations such as American International Club of Geneva and Career Women’s Forum, among others, to meet people in your area of profession.

4. Where to Live

Renting is the best way to start life in a new country. Furthermore, buying a house in Switzerland as a foreigner can be complicated, and it is restricted to people from some countries. Rental rates are higher in the main cities such as Geneva and Zurich, and much lower in rural areas. The best way to find a house in Switzerland is to use a real estate agency, most of which are small shops tucked on side streets. Check the Swiss Real Estate Association or their member directory for leads on certified agents. The average home size is ninety-nine square meters and the average cost of renting per month is EUR 1,000. To make a Swiss rental application, you will need to provide comprehensive information about yourself such as age, marital status, profession, salary and number of pets. You will also need to prove residency status, give planned time of stay, and have a letter of reference from your employer.

5. Cost of Living

The cost of living in Switzerland is relatively high compared to other developed nations. For example, consumer goods and food in restaurants cost twenty and twenty-five percent higher than in New York, respectively. Utility bills, which include electricity, water, and garbage, will cost you between 110- 275 Euros in an 85m apartment. Check online resources such as the numbeo site for estimated costs of food, leisure, clothing, transportation and other everyday needs.

6. Transportation

Switzerland boasts of one of the finest public transport systems in the world. Conventional means of transportation include buses, trains, boats, and taxis. All local city transport systems are linked, which allows you to use the same ticketing system. Tickets are sold from dispensers – you can only use coins – on board or at stops. Fares are relatively expensive averaging between 34 to 36 Euros per 100 kilometers. If you choose to drive, the Swiss Automobile Club is an excellent guide for driving rules in the country.

7. Health

The Swizz healthcare system combines public and private services to create an outstanding network of highly qualified medical professionals. The system is universal and is not tax based, meaning individuals pay for it through contributions to various insurance schemes. Everyone living in the country must have a basic and accident insurance cover. Every family member is covered individually, but they don’t need to be covered by the same company. The law exempts you from this rule if you are from an EU nation and are in the country for less than three months. By the end of 2014, adults paid an average of 366 Euros per annum in premiums. There are available online calculators where you compare premiums according to models and insurer.

8. Language and Culture

Switzerland has four national languages: German, Italian, French and Romansh. About six percent of the population speaks German, or, more accurately, Swiss-German. A majority of the population speaks at least two languages, and multilingual abilities are paramount for socializing and survival in the country. While the Swiss are mainly modern and urban, culture and lifestyle vary widely depending on your Canton. Foods are based on the traditional types of cooking, characterized by high levels of fat and calories. Dairy products and pork are an essential part of Swiss diets. The Swiss are generally reserved and conservative, and most people prefer to mind their own business. Some of the “strange” Swiss rules include restrictions on when you can use your washing machine if you live in an apartment, and not being able to wash your car or mow your lawn on Sundays to minimize noise.

See Also: Top 10 Employers in Switzerland

A survey by Expat Explorer in 2014 rated Switzerland on top position as an all-rounded destination. The survey considered the quality of life, economics, education standards and experience by expats. As you make your move, you can be confident that you are headed to a nation that will offer you a high quality of life and excellent opportunities.

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