August 24 2006
I was born in Mississippi, USA
-In which country and city are you living now?
-Are you living alone or with your family?
I live with my husband.
-How long have you been living in Switzerland?
I have been in Switzerland almost three years, and in Lausanne for a year this month. However, I have also lived in France for a number of years.
-What is your age?
-When did you come up with the idea of living in Switzerland?
I followed my French husband, first to Zurich for his job and then to Lausanne.
-Was it hard to get a visa or a working permit?
It was extremely easy for me, because I am married to an EU citizen. It is very hard for Americans to get a visa without being invited over by an employer, and in Switzerland, spouses of non-Swiss or non-EU citizens only get a residence permit automatically…they are not immediately issued a work permit. So despite having a US passport, I got my work and residence permits by virtue of my marriage to a European citizen.
-How do you make your living in Switzerland? Do you have any type of income generated?
I work as a secretary. My job search was much easier (and employers were more likely to hire me) because I had all the papers I needed. Keep in mind that for spouses who tag along, it is very hard in Switzerland to get a job if both of you are non-Swiss and non-EU. This is because unless you have very specialized skills, it is very hard for your employer to prove to the immigration authorities when they ask for your work permit that they are justified in hiring someone that they cannot find in the "locals." It is also close to impossible to find a job, even if a job is advertising for an English-speaker, if you do not have a GOOD level of French (or German). By "good level" I mean able to carry on a phone conversation and write a letter with decent spelling. Good websites for job hunting (assuming you have all the paperwork necessary and are physically IN Switzerland or Europe) are JobUP and jobpilot.
I made the mistake of looking for jobs in the month before my wedding, and employers did not want to touch me with a ten-foot pole until I was legally married and had my Swiss work permit IN MY HANDS. So do not be surprised if you don't get asked for an interview or don't get hired once they find out you don't have the permits necessary.
-Do you speak the local language and do you think it's important to speak the local language?
English is widely spoken in Geneva and there are plenty of people in Geneva who have been there 30 years with little to no French. However, I do speak the local language and think it is EXTREMELY important to be able to do so, even for silly things like paying the bills and going to the grocery store. Do not underestimate how much language can help you.
I think customs are up for grabs. You need to know a minimum in order to function, but I don't think you need to eat fondue every night to blend in with the Swiss. To blend in with the locals, just learn the cultural norms. One stereotypical example is driving: the Swiss are very safe drivers, and they always stop for pedestrians, even those who jaywalk. You will, however, get dirty looks from old people if you jaywalk or cross the street when you aren't supposed to.
-Do you miss home and family sometimes?
I am from coastal Mississippi, an area that was destroyed in Hurricane Katrina, so the sad reality is that even if I went home, it would not be the same as I remembered it from my childhood. That said, I am blessed that my family are able to visit me often, and I used to (before Katrina) go home about one a year. I have only been back once since Katrina and do not know when I will go back.
-Do you have other plans for the future?
My ultimate goal is to live in the Paris region again in the not-too-distant future, but we are happy in Switzerland for right now. I can pretty much live anywhere at this point, where I live is not as important to me as family and happiness.
-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?
We are currently renting. Rental prices vary widely in the French part of Switzerland…Geneva has a housing bubble, much like London, and it is impossible to find something bigger than a shoebox downtown for less than 1000 CHF a month. As you move into the Vaud canton and closer to Lausanne, rents become much more reasonable. For a three-bedroom apartment in Lausanne, you could probably pay about 1400 CHF a month; for a three-bedroom house in Geneva, you are looking at 2500 CHF.
However, like in New York, sometimes people luck out with rent-controlled buildings and wind up with a deal, but these stories are rare. If you do not have kids and do not mind riding the train into Geneva, I suggest sucking it up and living in the Vaud canton, like we do. Rents in Lausanne can be half or even a third what they are in Geneva or Nyon. People with kids may want to look in France, where there are more houses with yards available at decent prices.
-What is the cost of living in Switzerland?
Cost of living is very high, but salaries are commensurate. For example, groceries are several hundred francs a month for two people. Rent is at least a thousand, even for a one-bedroom. Remember that when negotiating your contract when you move to Geneva--make sure you get the same salary as the locals because at the end of the day, your rent and phone bills and food all cost the same.
Many expats get taken for a ride because figures get cited that are great by US standards, but are barely livable on in Geneva. If you are in your early thirties and important enough professionally to get invited to transfer to Switzerland, do not come for less than 100,000 CHF a year, either in cash or in kind (e.g. company car, rental allowance). For the rest, do your market research. Cruise the job sites I mentioned and see what they are posting for your field.
-What do you think about the Swiss people?
The Swiss are a mixed bag, just like anyone from any country. I don't think I could draw any conclusions that wouldn't be applicable to the rest of humanity. I will say that speaking the language has helped.
-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Switzerland?
Switzerland is CLEAN. So clean (well except for parts of Geneva). Compared to New York or Paris or even Washington DC, things are almost sterile here. Also, the standard of living being so high, people really do live "the good life" here.
One negative aspect involves the fact that things ARE so expensive. It took us about a year to figure out how to live on the cheap (I could write a book on the subject).
-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in Switzerland?
As I said above, do your market research and know what to expect in Swiss terms, because Switzerland is nothing like anywhere else I have lived. Also, private health insurance is mandatory. Do not "forget" to pay your health insurance. Shop around for the best price (a good site is www.comparis.ch) before your commune slaps an expensive policy on you.
-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about Switzerland?
A reasonably exhaustive list of Swiss blogs is at blog.ch.
My own blog is called: www.dictatorprincess.blogspot