Are you thinking about moving to Switzerland and wonder if it’s worth it? You’ll find plenty of articles, guides, groups, and forums online that discuss the pros and cons of Swiss life. What those resources don’t tell you is whether moving to Switzerland is worth it for you; you’ll need to figure that one out for yourself. If you reflect on the questions I outline below, you’ll have much more insight into whether a move to Switzerland makes sense for you (and your family, if applicable) and how you can set yourself up to thrive.
Expat moves are life-changing events and so not to be entered into lightly. If you have a choice, make sure it’s an informed one.
What makes a move “worth it?” Through my work coaching expats as they navigate such transitions, my research and writing on the topic, as well as almost three decades as an expat (the last of those decades in Switzerland), I’ve distilled the three key questions you need to ask yourself before you decide to take the leap and live in the land of cows, cheese, and chocolate.
#1: Does the move fulfill your non-negotiables?
Here are some common non-negotiables (these are not exhaustive but demonstrate why it’s important to ask the questions):
- Adequate health care—The Swiss healthcare system is one of the best in the world, but it’s also one of the most expensive. Make sure you understand how it works and how it’s different than the system you are used to, including the cost. Basic insurance is compulsory for all Swiss residents—and you have to pay it privately. You also may want to buy supplementary insurance to cover dental treatments or other services. You’ll need to estimate and add that cost to your budget.
- Quality schooling—Here too, the Swiss public system ranks among the best in the world and is mostly free…unless you have a toddler and/or preschooler, in which case it’s prohibitively expensive. And there is little cost difference whether you go the public or private route. If you are looking at international schools for older children, the cost also is high. Take all that into consideration when you do your budgeting.
- Safety—Switzerland is exceptionally safe (in 2019, the Global Peace Index ranked Switzerland as the 11th safest place on earth), so if safety is a non-negotiable, the answer is an unmitigated ‘yes.’
- Financial security—Are there economic advantages to moving? The question to ask here is whether you will be earning an income in Switzerland and, if yes, whether it will allow you the same standard of living as your previous location. The cost of living in Switzerland is high compared to other countries, but Swiss salaries are also comparatively generous. If you live in Switzerland but earn elsewhere, you might want to do the math before making the leap.
- Professional opportunities—Are you moving to Switzerland for/with a job, or are you planning to look when you’re there? If it’s the latter, make sure you have realistic expectations about the time it will take you to find employment and the requirements of sustaining yourself (and your family, if relevant) during that time, including factors such as cost of living, insurance, child care, etc.
#2: How challenging (or not) will it be to adjust? And what can you do about it?
The overarching goal here is to assess the extent to which you will feel comfortable in the new culture:
- Is the culture very different from what you’re used to? The greater the contrast between geographies, language, customs and norms, the more effort it will take you to adjust and the more skills and resources you’ll need to bring to the table.
- Does the culture fit with your personality and values? Do Swiss values and norms align with yours? For example, are you comfortable with rules? Do you have high control needs? Do you appreciate predictability and punctuality? If you answer ‘yes’ to one (or more) of these questions, you’ll fit right in and appreciate how (almost) everything works, trains run on time, and people follow the rules.
- Will you have to learn a new language, and how challenging do you expect that to be? If you’re moving to the German-speaking part of Switzerland, for example, be prepared to deal with Swiss German—in addition to German—in your daily life. Knowledge of German may help you some, but unless you’re fluent, not much. That said, Switzerland has a large expat population (about 25% of its total population are foreign nationals), so Swiss society is both used and welcoming to foreigners, and you’re likely to get by with English (or one of the four official Swiss languages).
- How easy will it be for you to build and maintain a social network? If you are comfortable connecting with other foreigners, it’s likely to be easier than in many other European countries. If your goal is to immerse yourself in the local society, you may find it more challenging or time-consuming (but not impossible), so be prepared to invest more effort. Also, factor in the language barrier, if relevant.
- Will you feel at home? In a previous article, I talked about how important our concept of “home” is for how well we adjust to a new location. Before you decide whether moving is worth it, reflect on what you need to feel at home and whether your new location will provide you with opportunities to create that home. Think of the various dimensions of “home,” such as physical environment, feeling, and relationships.
If you’re a nature lover, for example, most Swiss locations offer opportunities to be close to nature. If building a community is essential for you to feel at home and you are comfortable connecting with other expats, you will most likely find your tribe quickly. Conversely, if you’re a warm-weather person, you might need to consider whether you’ll really be happy there or come up with strategies to cope with the many grey and dark winter days.
#3: If you’re moving with your partner or family, will everyone be able to thrive?
Think about the needs of those moving with you and whether they’ll be able to get the support they need to be happy. If you are a dual-career family and your partner plans to look for work in Switzerland, what does the market look like in their chosen field? Are they likely to face issues with work permits, credential recognition, or professional certification? Will they need access to specialized support, such as CV or interview training or networking opportunities? If you have children, are there realistic childcare options that will allow you both to work outside the home? (if your children go to Swiss public school, especially at younger ages, you will most likely need to sign them up and pay for additional childcare, as most schools end around midday).
Also if you’re moving with children, to what extent will their daily lives and routines be disrupted by relocation? Will they be able to pursue favorite activities and hobbies? Will they thrive in the school system of your choice? If they’re already at school in your current location, will you be able to ensure continuity in their schooling, given the available options in Switzerland? What about the language of schooling?
If one of your family members needs special care—health-, education-related, or other—will they be able to receive that support in Switzerland?
It’s not always easy to provide definite answers to such questions but taking the time to reflect and potentially do some research can go a long way in helping you make an informed decision.
Bonus Question: Does the move fit with your long-term life plan?
I encourage you to think about your vision of your life in the medium- and long term (if you don’t have one yet, then now is a good time to reflect!) and how a move to Switzerland fits with that plan. If this is your first international move, is it a one-time thing, or are you set on leading the expat lifestyle? Will it open doors for you professionally? Will it benefit or set you back financially? If you’re moving with a partner, it’s essential to sit down together and discuss your vision plans and make sure they align.
Making a solid, informed decision with everyone on board is a key foundation for making a move—to Switzerland or elsewhere—“worth it.” If you can, give it the time and space it deserves. And once you’ve decided, own your decision. Commit to it. Make the most of it and enjoy the journey!
Are you enjoying our content? We would love to hear your opinions in the comments sections. Stay tuned for more resources, our editorial panel is talking about – Swiss travel, expat living, mental health, nutrition, wellness, transition, and activities for children this summer. Stay well and stay with us!
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