First things first...
Are you allowed to live and work in Switzerland?
To work in Switzerland, all non-Swiss require some form of immigration authorization - usually a work permit, or a combined work and residence permit. Before you take actual steps to move to Switzerland, make sure you are allowed to live and work in Switzerland.
Visiting Switzerland as a tourist is authorized for up to 90 days without registration. It is forbidden to work during this period. Working in Switzerland for more than 8 calendar days per year requires a work permit.
Non-EU/EFTA citizens who require a single-entry work/residence visa will need to officially enter Switzerland before expiration of their visa. Non-EU/EFTA citizens will have to apply for a re-entry visa, should they need to travel internationally before the final permit card is issued.
Not sure if you're allowed to live and work in Switzerland? Do you have questions relating to immigration to Switzerland, for yourself, for a family member or a loved one?Tell me more about immigration to Switzerland
Once you've made sure you are allowed to live and work in Switzerland, make some coffee and find a comfy chair, this might take a while. But by the time you finish reading these tips, you'll be a planning mastermind.
Welcome to Switzerland (and a new level of form filling)
When I was at school my favourite teacher told me, ‘Once you leave here, it’s all form filling!’
Since that time, forms have increased in length and now require information that make me think, ‘Not only was Mr Jenkins right about a lifetime spent filling out forms, but why on earth do they need to know that?” I was once asked for my dog’s full name and date of birth! ‘D.O.B.? I have no idea, let’s ask the dog!’ He didn’t know either.
You may need a refill for your pen and a good friend to call. Even better, if you have a German-speaking or French-speaking friend, buy them a bottle of Château Pavie, tell them how much you love them and write them a blank cheque for their help. It will be worth it in the end, because Switzerland is a wonderful country and if your dog doesn’t have a middle name because the dog’s birth certificate in the UK forgot to leave a space for such vital information and you now need one for a Swiss dog licence…, you will survive.
We've put together a list of the most essential things that need to be done sooner rather than later. Here they are:
1. Choose the right moving company
Selecting a moving provider is quite straightforward and simple, but here are some tips to help you decide.
Ask for at least 3 moving quotes and carefully analyze them. Negotiate! See if any of them has the option of placing some items in storage and at what cost.
To identify quality international movers, make sure they are a member of the International Movers Association FIDI, which provides the only worldwide recognized quality standard in the industry. All FIDI moving companies are independently audited by Ernst & Young.
If you have the budget, go for full-service moves, where you don't lift a finger and the packers pack up everything for you.Get a full service move quote
2. Is it difficult to find a home to rent in Switzerland? More than you know.
Start your search early, at least 6 months before you move, use all resources available (real-estate websites, Facebook groups, your network, etc.) and be quick about it. You will have to visit the houses in person and apply in the local Swiss language of the canton.
Think about getting temporary accommodation if you can't find a home before you arrive. Hire a home-finding consultant to find you a home if you cannot visit the properties in person or do not know the local language.House-hunting in Switzerland
3. Register at the local commune/ Gemeinde
First, the rules
All newcomers working or residing in Switzerland for more than 90 days will have to register themselves to the local commune/ Gemeinde within 14 days after arrival. When you change your address or leave Switzerland, you'll also have to de-register in person from your local commune/ Gemeinde.
And some real-life wisdom
Your local Gemeinde are wonderful people. They can perform miracles, wave magic wands and make your life perfect. They can give you advice on anything and everything. When I arrived in Bern they gave me a free travel pass and explained to me the meaning of Gebühren-Kehrichtsäcke (we’ll get to that later). They also handed me a prescription for a packet of Kaliumiodid tablets, just in case there was a radioactive leak somewhere.
If you can get one contact person at your local commune to look after you, your first few months in Switzerland will be so much easier. If they like you, doors will open, your dog won’t need a middle name and you might even be granted an extension on a deadline for a document that never existed. You don’t have to take flowers or chocolates but, do tell them that their English is fantastic. Don’t ask for their first name! They will remain Frau or Herr and so will you. Remaining polite and formal is an absolute. Thank them profusely at every opportunity.
And now for the Kehrichtsäcke ...
These are the garbage bags, they cost about one CHF per bag and you must buy the correct type of bag for your district. So, now you’re thinking – Why? Well because your rubbish will not be taken away unless it is in one of these pre-paid ‘taxed’ bags. It’s a brilliant idea because it encourages recycling.
And now, you’re thinking that all you will need to do is go to aisle three of a supermarket and grab some special rubbish bags. No. Not that simple. Supermarket employees keep them hidden under the counter and you have to ask for them.More about registration
4. Phone, internet & TV
For telecoms set up (mobile phone, internet, TV) you will need to show proof of residence. Even for pre-paid mobile SIM cards, you will be asked to present your rental contract and prove you have a Swiss address.
There is a mandatory radio/ TV tax collected once a year by a company called Serafe. Serafe will automatically send every household an invoice CHF 365, using data from the cantonal and municipal registers of residents.
Everybody has to pay. No questions. No. Really, everybody.
Get a power adapter, as Swiss 3-pronged plugs are quite special. You can still use the standard European 2-pronged plug even without a power adapter, but not much else. More on this topic here.Set up telecoms
5. Will I need a car?
Prepare to be amazed! Public transport is impeccable and covers most of Switzerland, so you can easily move around exclusively in the clean and reliable public transport network. Also, the total costs of owning a car may equal that of a GA (General Abo). That being said, many places are difficult or time-consuming to reach by public transport. Locals tend to combine public transport with biking for instance, yet using a car is still quite popular in Switzerland.
Jump onto a Facebook group and ask some fellow expats about the public transport in a particular area. If you plan to live in a small village then a car is a great idea, but frankly you are about to discover one of the best equipped and run transport systems in the world. It’s like clockwork and it has never ceased to amaze me.
If you want a car...
Should you decide to import your car, you can save some serious money if you plan 6 months in advance or more. Be sure to weigh the costs of importation and potential necessary modifications to comply with Swiss specifications and pollution / CO2 requirements, plus repair costs.
Driving in Switzerland
In Switzerland, they drive on the right. We'd highly recommend you do likewise. The Swiss police tend to dislike it when you drive on the left.
Within 12 months of living in Switzerland you are required to get a Swiss driving license - and completely refrain from driving on the left! Don’t be surprised if you have to get an eye test. It’s standard. Do be a little bit surprised if you have to take an actual driving test. Yes – my South African friends, that’s you and several other countries.
This driving licence business can get complicated, so don’t leave it until the last minute and ‘Yes’ the Swiss authorities will probably keep your old driving license or whack a stamp on the back of it stating, ‘not valid in Switzerland’. But don’t worry about that because you will have a very nice, shiny new Swiss license.
Yes, that's you with your shiny new Swiss licence...
Pro tip if you're used to driving on the left
This tip was handed to me by a friend who constantly drove from England to France: slip your watch from your left wrist to the right. For some reason, that's how I remember to stay on the right. Try it – it might save your life.Your car in Switzerland
6. Open a Swiss bank account
I had visions of being just like Jason Bourne in the film the Bourne Identity and discovering I had a Swiss bank account or a secret safety deposit box, but alas, it isn’t quite like that.
You must be registered as a resident before being able to open an account. Swiss anti-money-laundering laws require verification of the source of income and confirmation of the identity of the applicant.
Applications with the name Jason Bourne are frowned upon. I thought I’d got away with it.How to open a Swiss bank account
7. How to go about moving your pets
Regulations and customs requirements for bringing pets into Switzerland are strict and change frequently, depending on the animal and country of origin. Quarantine may be required.
Note: Fluffy and Rover are not good middle names for your dog.
Find out more here about how to bring over the family dog or cat.
8. If you have kids, have a look at education options
Childcare is expensive, quite prohibitively so, which means two parents working 100% is a rare occurrence in Switzerland.
As for education options, these are numerous: public kindergarten and schools are of high quality and there are also numerous private schools available. Explore here more about education options.
9. Get mandatory insurance
When living in Switzerland, it is compulsory by law to be covered by a Swiss health insurance policy. A basic healthcare policy covers most basic medical costs resulting from an illness. Depending on your health situation or individual needs, additional options may be required.
Within 3 months of your arrival in Switzerland, the authorities will ask you to provide proof that you have health insurance coverage. Health insurance is normally obtained from a private insurance company.All you need to know about insurance in Switzerland
10. Well, there might be more than 10 things you need to do, but let’s keep it simple...
Get mentally ready and adjust your social expectations. Swiss people are introverts, so don’t expect big hugs and smiles as you move here. Breathe in, take it slow and read this excellent article on how to settle in.
Prepare for some Olympic form filling and adjust your social expectations by 10%, especially if you are arriving in winter. Marvellous! You're all set with the basics! Should you want to use the expertise and knowledge of a professional relocation consultant, simply book a Guidance Call and find out all you need to know about moving and living in Switzerland.
One last piece of advice
If your three-year-old daughter has already given your dog a middle name like, ‘Princess Fluffy Cuddle Dog’, now’s the time to lock that in on all your pet relocation paperwork!
If you liked this article, stay tuned for more and sign up to our newsletter. Every two weeks or so we'll send you useful infos about Switzerland, inspiration on amazing places to visit, key local events and our current hot deals.Sure, sign me up to the newsletter
About the Author:
The article was created by a team of Packimpex relocation experts and brought to comedic perfection by Bruce Anderson.
Best described as a kilt-wearing British-Australian with a slight Kiwi accent who now lives in Switzerland, Bruce graduated from London’s Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in 1992 and has since visited almost 50 countries, some of which allowed him to perform on stage. His comic writing style, which has been spotted more recently in a variety of New Zealand publications has brought several editors to tears (in a good way!). Bruce has worked in marketing and business development for several multinational companies and was a co-founder of the European-based training and development company Dramatrix. His first travel book will be published in London in 2021.