The biggest challenges of moving to Switzerland

18th October 2018

Switzerland is one of the best expat destinations in the world. In the HSBC Expat Explorer Survey 2017, it came in at a respectable 11th place. Ranking highly in Economics, particularly wage growth, and overall quality of life. There is still a demand for work, which offers up many expat opportunities.
Moving to Switzerland is not without its challenges; we explore them in more detail in this article.

The property market

Finding somewhere to live should be top of your to-do list when it comes to relocating to any country. Many expatriates prefer to rent when moving to Switzerland, at least at first. However, given renting is such a popular option in the country, it really is a landlord’s market.
The main cities, such as Geneva or Zurich, are popular for expat communities and job opportunities. Here, the demand for rental properties far outstrips supply. Not only does this push prices skywards, it also means landlords can be choosy about who they wish to rent to. This often necessitates going through an application process and stiff competition with other potential tenants to secure a lease.
You may be looking to purchase rather than rent in Switzerland as an expat. Owning property isn’t the norm, with most local residents opting to rent rather than buy. Property for sale in the city is quite limited, but if you are happy to live more rurally, you’ll get more choice. You also need to meet the strict Swiss criteria for buying a home as an expat.
Whether you choose to rent or buy, be prepared to take time to find the right property. When you do find somewhere suitable, you’ll need to act fast.

Decentralised country

Switzerland is quite unlike many other countries. It is a Confederation of 26 cantons, each of which has a degree of autonomy. Rules and laws may vary from canton to canton. Not only that, there are also four official languages across the country.
This means your experience as an expatriate in Switzerland will vary depending on where you relocate to. Most expatriates moving to the country for work will find themselves in Zürich (German), Geneva (French) or Basel (German, mainly).
When considering a move to Switzerland, it is worth doing some research into cantonal law for your region. It also helps if you have language skills in at least one of the main spoken languages, French or German. However, even practised linguists may struggle at first to get used to the regional versions. Swiss German can be very different to German.

Visas and permits

Even for an EU citizen, getting a permit to work and live in Switzerland is not guaranteed. In order to stay in the country and work for more than three months, you will need a residence permit. This includes the right to work. Most British expatriates will be moving to the country with a job offer in place, which means you can apply for a Permit B. This is for those with a contract for longer than 12 months or with proof of financial independence, and is valid for five years. Permits are issued in the cantonal immigration offices and there is a certain amount of red tape to get through. You can also only live in the canton that issues your permit.
After five years of continuous living in the country, you can apply for a Permit C, which offers more freedom and permanent residence. It doesn’t expire and is transferable between cantons.
If you’re moving to Switzerland, find out how our international removals team can help to arrange packing, storage and transportation on your behalf.

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