Swiss landscape.
Photograph: Andreas M

Moving to Switzerland: a guide

Here are 12 key things to know for anyone relocating to this amazing country

Written by
claire doble

Welcome to Switzerland! We’ve put together a short taster guide on some of the things people moving here will need to know to make life smooth and simple, plus a few great tips to help you begin exploring this incredible, jaw-droppingly beautiful place. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it’s a great place to start.

So, go forth and start enjoying Switzerland, and don't forget to check our comprehensive living in Switzerland guide for more advice. And once you've got your head around your new home country, head straight for our top tips on the best things to do in Switzerland, which should keep you busy for a good while.

12 things to know when you move to Switzerland

Facts and figures about Switzerland
Photograph: Chris Henry

1. Facts and figures about Switzerland

The capital of Switzerland is Bern, but the biggest city is Zurich. The country has 11 UNESCO World Heritage sites of which the entire Old Town of Bern is one. True to the stereotype, Swiss residents adore cheese and chocolate, consuming on average over 23kg of the former and just under 10kg of the latter per person per year (both are some of the world’s top amounts per capita).

And while Switzerland is only the world’s third-biggest producer of watches, it does produce 95% of all high-end watches (priced over CHF1,000). As you’d expect for an alpine nation, Switzerland boasts several sky-high spots, including Jungfraujoch, which is Europe’s highest railway station, and its highest-altitude town – Davos-Klosters – as well as some of the world’s steepest (and, we think, most incredible) gondolas and funicular railways

Swiss money
© Swiss National Bank

2. Swiss money

Those unfamiliar with Switzerland are often surprised to find it doesn't have the Euro. That’s because Switzerland is not part of the European Union (EU), despite being located smack in the middle of it. Money here takes the form of Swiss Francs (CHF) and we’d be lying if we didn’t tell you you’ll need a fair bit of it to get by.

Newcomers are often surprised at the high prices here compared to the UK, Europe and north America. There’s even a name for this: 'stickershock'. However, there’s an element of you-get-what-you-pay-for and some residents will even tell you they find Switzerland “reassuringly expensive”. Generally, high wages and low taxes go some way towards making up the shortfall.  

  • Travel
  • Public transport

You're in for a pleasant surprise here. Public transportation in Switzerland is second to none. The Swiss Travel system incorporates 27,000 kilometres of transportation routes country-wide and connects to 150 local public transport services in Swiss towns and cities.

However, transport in Switzerland is not cheap, so if you'll be living here for a year or more, it's worth buying a yearly pass (GA) or half-fare card to reduce costs. The ride is well worth the price, as services are regular, clean and bang-on time. Oh, and did we mention the views? 

Photograph: Mariano Mantel / Flickr

4. Cantons

Switzerland is divided into 26 cantons, each of which has its own distinct atmosphere. We may be biased, but we'd say that all of them are well worth visiting. On the French side, one of the largest and best-known cantons is Vaud, where you’ll find Lausanne (the canton’s capital), Montreux and Vevey. Valais is a mixed French and German canton where popular ski resorts include Verbier, Zermatt, Crans-Montana and Saas Fee. The mountainous canton of Graubünden in eastern Switzerland is where you’ll find Davos-Klosters and St Moritz; it’s also Switzerland’s only officially trilingual canton, where Romansch is one of the official languages. 

Photograph: Hansjörg Keller

5. Sport

The Swiss are extremely fit as a nation (with one of the lowest rates of obesity of any OECD country) and it's easy to see why. Locals, expats and tourists alike love getting into the great outdoors and there's a huge range of sport on offer all year-round. In winter, the ski season runs from mid-November to mid-March and you can hit the slopes at Switzerland's amazing ski resorts for skiing, snowboarding, snow biking and winter hikes. Swimming is also extramely popular. Where does one swim in a landlocked country? Well, in lakes, rivers and outdoor pools during 'badi season', from mid-May to mid-September. Meanwhile there's hiking, cycling and mountain biking, rowing, ice skating, yoga, horseriding, golf... You won't be short on options when it's time to get active, essentially.

Photograph: Janosch Diggelmann

6. Language

There are four official languages in Switzerland: French, German, Italian and Romansch. English is generally spoken enough for you to get by if that's your first language, particularly in the more touristy spots. That said, if you’re moving here to live it’s worth learning some of the local language(s). The divide between Suisse Romande (the French-speaking, around 22% of the population) and German-speaking Switzerland (around 63%) is often called the Röstigraben – the rösti curtain (rösti is a Swiss dish of shredded fried potatoes). Italian speakers in Switzerland make up around 8% of the population and Romansch speakers (Romanschan is ancient Latin-based language) around 0.5%.

Shopping in Switzerland
© Christof Schuerpf

7. Shopping in Switzerland

New arrivals should take note that Swiss shops are generally closed on Sundays, except for some at the major train stations and airports. In general, you’ll find less variety and higher prices than in North America, the UK or western Europe. Switzerland doesn't really go in for shopping malls, but most cities have interesting shopping districts, such as Flon in Lausanne and Viadukt in Zurich West. The Swiss love market-shopping, and you'll find a huge variety of Swiss markets, including farmers' markets that are full of fantastic local produce, flea markets bustling with vintage and designer clothing, furniture and accessories, and specialist product markets.

Supermarkets: Coop or Migros?
Photograph: Jonathan Borba

8. Supermarkets: Coop or Migros?

There are two major supermarket chains in Switzerland: Coop and Migros. Both are local companies that have wide-reaching interests – with banks, DIY stores and even a Migros School, where you can take anything from language classes to pottery. The supermarkets stock fairly similar ranges although Migros favours more own-brand products, so your weekly basket may wind up a tad cheaper. Coop, however sells alcohol in its stores, so there’s that. You’ll also find independent grocery stores as well as branches of ALDI, LIDL and Spar dotted about, particularly in the bigger cities.

Festivals, holidays and annual events

9. Festivals, holidays and annual events

Here's more good news for people relocating to Switzerland. There are lots of public holidays and an average of five weeks of annual leave. Public holidays and school holidays often vary between cantons and some of them occur for quite wacky occasions – check out our roundup of Switzerland’s quirky festivals. There are also plenty of music festivals in Switzerland, generally taking place in the warmer months, although there are winter music festivals, too. Christmas is celebrated across Switzerland with markets, outdoor ice rinks and general merriment. Other big annual events include fireworks on August 1 (Swiss National Day) and at New Year's Eve. 

Health and schools in Switzerland
Photograph: © Claire Doble

10. Health and schools in Switzerland

Health: All residents of Switzerland are required to purchase health insurance within a few months of moving here to live. There's a large choice of health insurance providers, with various packages on offer, from the basic mandatory insurance upwards. 

Schools: The Swiss education system is generally regarded as very good. While it varies a bit from canton to canton, most children start compulsory kindergarten at age five, then go on to primary school at seven. You’ll find a good choice of private and international schools in Switzerland (including Montessori and Steiner schools), particularly in larger cities and towns.

Eating out
© Art Deco Hotel Montana

11. Eating out

You're in for a treat here. For a small country, Switzerland boasts a galaxy of Michelin stars and many Gault Millau points. Check out our pick of the best restaurants in Switzerland. Fancy a cocktail? Here are Switzerland's best bars, many of which take advantage of incredible views. Speaking of views, during winter we recommend these restaurants with winter sun decks or a traditional Swiss fondue. In warmer months, dine al fresco at some of the country’s loveliest summer restaurants. Switzerland also hosts lots of street food fairs and events throughout the year. 

Swiss National Day
  • Things to do
  • Fireworks

Swiss National Day on August 1 goes off with a bang, whether you're celebrating Schweizer Bundesfeier in German Switzerland, Fête nationale Suisse in the French regions, Festa nazionale svizzera in Ticino and Italian Graubünden or Fiasta naziunala in the Romansch areas of Graubünden. Click through below to find out more.

    You may also like
    You may also like