Zurich, Switzerland, is the latest stop in American expat Gretchen’s travel adventure


Gretchen, a.k.a. "Global Librarian"

January 23 2007 

-Where were you born?
Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. But as soon as I turned 18 I started moving and haven’t yet stopped. I’ve lived all over the United States and a couple of places in Europe.

-In which country and city are you living now?
Zürich, Switzerland

-Are you living alone or with your family?
I live with my husband and our two cats.

-How long have you been living in Switzerland?
We are now approaching one month in Switzerland. We moved here on 4 January 2007.

-What is your age?

-When did you come up with the idea of living in Switzerland?
My husband was offered a promotion that included an international assignment in Zürich. When he told me about the offer my response was “Cool. When do we leave?”

-Was it hard to get a visa or a working permit?
As we moved for a Swiss company, it was easy for my husband to get a work permit. The company did all the paperwork. I have a resident permit also arranged by the company, but I am unable to work. Given that I was a career woman until last autumn, this has been a major adjustment. However, I’ve decided to focus on learning the language and settling into our new life before I look at career opportunities.

-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?
Everything was handled by the company.

-How do you make your living in Switzerland? Do you have any type of income generated?
My husband is an IT Executive and as stated above, the move came with the job. I am currently a Hausfrau and have not yet begun to look for work.

-Do you speak the local language and do you think it's important to speak the local language?
I studied German in high school and college, but that was a long time ago and most of it has flown from my brain. However, I do have enough German knowledge to get my basic meaning across to people when I must. As long as they do not mind the horrendous grammar and minuscule vocabulary! And many people here speak English, so it has not been a major issue.

I intend to start German lessons shortly. I will first study Hoch Deutsch (High German), which is spoken in Germany. Then I will study Schweizer Deutsch (Swiss German) which is a collection of multiple local dialects spoken throughout Switzerland.

In general, I believe it is important to at least attempt to speak the language of any country in which you are living or traveling. Even if you are only able to manage “hello,” “good-bye,” and “thank you.” It is disrespectful to not do so.

And regardless of where you move, cultures are always different and it is important to learn about local customs and practice as many of them as you are able. Frankly when I lived in Southern Georgia in the United States I found the culture more foreign than what I have yet experienced in Switzerland. Plus, I frequently did not understand the local dialect!

-Do you miss home and family sometimes?
As we are still so new homesickness has not yet set in. But I am certain it is just a matter of time.

Thus far my favorite recreational activity in Zürich is riding about on the public transit. I catch random trains and trams just to learn my way about the city and see what is where. In addition, my husband and I take long walks most days in order to explore our new environment. We have just decided to take the train to a different area in the Canton Zürich each time to see what is there.

-Do you have other plans for the future?
We are both Travel Hounds and tend to travel as much as humanly possible. Although we have been here less than a month, we have already made weekend trips to Basil, Switzerland and Milan, Italy. More weekend and week-long trips are already being planned. Our next pleasure trip will likely be 4-day weekend to Venice, Italy. And I will be joining my husband on a business trip to Munich in February. The general consensus is that we travel south during the winter and north during the summer as much as it is practical to do so.

-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?
We are living in a large apartment overlooking Lake Zürich. We have 4 bedrooms and 3 baths with a private garden and our own washer and dryer. For an apartment this size in a good location, you would expect to pay anywhere from 3000 – 6000 CHF. A still nice, but more modest apartment with 2 bedrooms and a bath would start at around 1500 CHF and go up from there depending upon size, location and amenities.

Houses in Switzerland are incredibly expensive. We would not purchase unless we made the decision to stay here long term.

-What is the cost of living in Switzerland?
According to the world-wide Cost of Living Index, Zürich rates in the 10th place for highest cost of living. As a comparison, Moscow is in first place and London is a couple spots higher. New York City, the most expensive city in the United States, is in 11th place on the world-wide scale. Compared to Kansas City, where we lived previous to here, it is a bit of a shock. However, salaries in Zürich are generally higher than other areas as well.

-What do you think about the Swiss people?
As we are still so new, it is difficult to say with any authority. Thus far we have found the Swiss to be extremely polite to everyone. There does seem to be a value placed on privacy which makes them seem more aloof than other cultures. And I have heard that it can take years before a Swiss native will call anyone “friend.”

I will also say that I miss people smiling and laughing in public. People tend to have very stoic expressions as they walk about the city.

-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Switzerland?
Positive aspects are definitely safety, cleanliness, beauty all around as well as easy travel to anywhere in Europe.

For me the most negative has been the presence of cigarette smoke everywhere you go. The statistic is that 30% of the people who live in Switzerland smoke, but the smokers must be an enthusiastic bunch. It has diminished some of my enjoyment in this new country. There is talk about a country-wide smoking ban in all public places. It cannot come quickly enough for me.

-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in Switzerland?
It would feel presumptuous to give tips to others after less than a month here! Check back with me in a year.

-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about Switzerland?
My own blog can be found at Expat-Experience. I link to several other blogs written by English-speaking expats living in Switzerland.

I also recommend:
* swissinfo
* expat-blog
* Expat Women

Any follow-up

MiloMoskover's picture

Hi Gretchen,

Interesting to read your first impressions. Do you have any follow-up, if you're still living in Zurich.

I'm thinking of working in Zurich in a few years and will bring my family along as well.

How do you like Zurich now, after a couple of years, if you're still there, of course.


Re: Moving to Switzerland

le70ser's picture


My name is Leser I live in New York City, I am planing of moving to Switzerland. This is my first time, I have done ALOT of research for some reason i ended up here at this site.

I would like to know how has it been for you since you move ?

can yuo please share your experience.