August 16 2006
In which country and city are you living now?
Switzerland, near Basel
-How long have you been living in Switzerland?
I moved to Switzerland in July of 1984, so just over 22 years.
-What is your age?
I'll be turning 41 in October 2006.
-When did you come up with the idea of living in Switzerland?
After a two-year relationship with my Swiss boyfriend in Canada, he had to return to Switzerland to do his military service. I then decided to join him. Although it didn’t work out for us, I decided to stay in Switzerland and just "see how things would develop."
I now live with my Dutch boyfriend in a town on the outskirts of Basel.
-Was it hard to get a visa or a working permit?
I have dual citizenship (Canadian and Swiss) by birth, so I never needed either one.
-How do you make your living in Switzerland? Do you have any type of income generated?
The first thing I did when I arrived in Switzerland was to learn High German (I only spoke the dialect back then) and then did an apprenticeship in telecommunication. I found most of my jobs after that either through ads in the newspaper or via an agency. I've been working for my actual employer for the past eight years, so I haven't been on job search for a while. But I would say that the most common ways today – like in most countries - are newspaper ads and the Internet.
-Do you speak the local language and do you think it's important to speak the local language?
Yes, I am fluent both in the local Swiss-German dialect and High German (written language). I think it's essential for expats to learn at least some conversation in High German, French or Italian (depending on the region in Switzerland they are moving to). Although many locals (especially in bigger cities) speak English, they will definitely appreciate it if you make an effort to learn and speak the language and understand and observe the local customs. It will definitely facilitate the integration and acceptance. If you don't learn the language, it will make it all the more difficult to understand the customs and enjoy your stay.
One of the customs that should be observed – at least until you get to know your Swiss neighbours better – is not to be too noisy on Sundays. The Swiss like their peace and quiet (also after 10 PM on weekdays). No lawn mowing, loud music or hammering on Sundays. The younger Swiss are less picky about this, but the older generation will definitely expect you to stick to this law. If you're not sure, ask them if they mind or inform them that you will, for example, have a few guests over. It will be much appreciated and usually it will be no problem.
-Do you miss home and family sometimes?
It would be a lie to say that I don't miss them, but we phone regularly and keep in touch by e-mail. I try to visit my family every 2-3 years and the goodbyes are always quite difficult. I have also started a blog to keep family and friends in the loop. Not only does blogging make me feel a bit closer to "home" - thanks to the many expats that visit - but it's a way to exchange and express thoughts, and to meet new people. I highly recommend expats to start up a blog.
Switzerland offers many indoor and outdoor activities. The most well known outdoor activities are certainly skiing, hiking and biking, but there are many more available.
-Do you have other plans for the future?
Yes, actually we are returning to Canada next summer. Although Switzerland has been my home for the past 22 years, I feel the need to return to my "other" roots.
-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?
We live in a semi-detached house that we rent. Depending on the region, area (city centre, main road, quiet residential) and comfort of the apartment, the monthly rent for a three-bedroom apartment will be between CHF 2,500 and 3,500+.
Buying a house in Switzerland is very expensive. Prices for a 2-3 bedroom house of approx. 150m² (approx. 1600 sq. feet) in the Basel region will vary between CHF 500,000 and 800,000 (and more!) and the price of land between CHF 700 and CHF 1500 per square meter (10.8 sq. feet) if you want to build.
-What is the cost of living in Switzerland?
Compared to other European countries and North America, it's very expensive. I'd say the costs of living are about 20-30% higher than in the neighbouring countries. On the other hand, the salaries are quite adapted to the costs of living and the income tax is lower than that in most other European countries.
Eating out is also generally very expensive. The service is included in the price of the meal, but a small tip (5-10%) is usually given anyway to round up the sum in a "normal" restaurant. A high-class restaurant will expect between 10% for good service and 15%-20% for superior service.
VAT is 6.7% and is included in the price, so what you see on the price tag is what you have to pay.
-What do you think about the Swiss people?
I consider the Swiss in general as being very friendly, but often distant, polite, conservative (especially those in the centre and eastern part of Switzerland), reserved, cautious, well-mannered and correct. The French and Italian regions are less conservative and more open to cultural diversity. In larger cities, foreigners are quite well accepted, but you might find that the Swiss are distant and superficial in the beginning. The younger generation (mid-20’s-40) seems easier to approach and more open-minded.
-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Switzerland?
*High quality of life
*Because it's situated in the middle of Europe, Switzerland gives excellent opportunities to visit many different countries within a few hours' drive or a short flight.
*Beautiful landscapes and nature
*Low income tax
*Excellent health care services (but pricey)
*Very low unemployment rate
*Expensive cost of living, insurance, etc.
*No Sunday shopping and most stores close between 6.30 and 7 PM on weekdays and have one evening shopping (usually the Thursday or Friday) until 8 or 9 PM
-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in Switzerland?
*Visit as many websites as possible and get informed about the region you will be living in and the "Do's and don'ts."
*If possible, learn enough of the local language to carry out a simple conversation.
*Swiss customs are very strict about what you can bring with you, so keep yourself informed.
*If you're coming from North America, remember that Switzerland (and the rest of Europe) works with 220-230 voltage. None of your 110V electrical appliances will work except for computers, laptops, printers and such. So leave your mixer, TV, etc. at home!
*Put up a blog either before you move or once you arrive in Switzerland.
-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about Switzerland?
The CanadianSwiss Blog: our website
Basel: Basel’s official website
Hotel Restaurant Bar Guide: Basel’s restaurant and hotel guide
The xPat xchange
You'll find more interesting sites here: