How to adapt to life as an expat in Switzerland


Moving to Switzerland? You’re not alone.

There are now over 2 million foreign residents in this small Alpine nation. That’s a quarter of the population and one of the highest proportions of foreign residents for any country in the world.

The majority of expats are from Germany, Italy, Portugal and France, but there are also over 40,000 Brits here. It was a British expat here who invented the World Wide Web you are surfing right now, after all. (That was Tim Berners-Lee working at CERN in Geneva.)

It’s not hard to see why they come. You must have already heard that Switzerland tops almost every survey for quality of life. Even the United Nations says Switzerland is the second happiest place in the world, just behind Denmark.

There are some things about Switzerland you may not have heard, however. So here’s our guide for settling in.

You’ll need a bunker

swiss house

Admit it. You’ve always wanted your own nuclear bunker. Well, good news. By law, everyone in Switzerland must have access to a nuclear fallout shelter near their home.

If your home is in a new building then there will already be one for you. If you have an older home without a bunker then you’ll need to pay for a spot in a communal bunker. It’s a timeshare scheme you never want to use.

Once you’ve finished pretending to be a Bond villain, you can use it as a store room instead like most Swiss. Many are full of bikes, old boxes and wine. Ironically, some do actually look like a bomb has hit them.

Learn the languages

german langauge

Switzerland has four main languages - German, Italian, French and Romansh.

If you know Italian or French already then you’ll have little difficulty with the Swiss versions. However, it’s not as simple for German speakers. Swiss German is very different.

These language groups are largely divided by region so you can focus on the one that is most common where you live.

Swiss German is the most widely spoken, so knowing at least a few words will always help. Just remember there is also Swiss Standard German, which is spoken by immigrants from Germany.

To get started, check out these 6 apps for learning a new language.

The Swiss mentality

swiss flag

The Swiss are famous for being neutral.

That’s true for foreign policy, but don’t expect it in everyday life. You will hear plenty of opinions from your new colleagues, friends and neighbours - especially if you live in a small village.

The Swiss like to do things their own way - just look at their square flag - and will be more than happy to correct you if you don’t follow the rules.

The cost of living


If you like to save every cent, then Switzerland isn’t easy. For a start, they don’t even bother minting 1 or 2 cent coins anymore.

Yes, Switzerland is expensive for almost everything from property to groceries. Even your morning cup of coffee can claim to being the most expensive in the world.

If you live near a border then you might want to hop across to do your weekly shopping.

On the plus side, many expats find that high wages and low taxes more than make up for it. Just spare a thought for Americans living here who also have to pay the tax difference to their government.

Owning pets

swiss dog

The Swiss love animals. As a result, they have the world’s strictest laws to protect them.

Don’t think this just affect farmers or zoo keepers. If you want a pet in Switzerland then it affects you too.

All dog owners need to complete (and pay for) a course. If you have a ‘social pet’ - like a guinea pig - then they must be kept in pairs, or at least have regular contact with another pet of the same species.

Even a fish tank is carefully regulated here - and you definitely can’t flush any inhabitants down the toilet when they are sick.

Opening a Swiss bank account

bank account

This might sound exciting, but opening a bank account in Switzerland is considerably more boring than it looks in the movies.

In reality, if you are an international criminal mastermind then your application will probably be rejected anyway.

As an expat opening a bank account as soon as possible will make life easier and cheaper. So we've put together this complete guide on how to open a bank account in Switzerland.

Don't get ripped off sending money abroad

Whether you're moving money to pay for your new digs in Switzerland, or paying off your student loan at home - don't get overcharged.

Banks charge up to 5% and hide their fees in poor exchange rates. Wise always uses the mid-market rate meaning it's up to 8x cheaper.

Please see terms of use and product availability for your region or visit Wise fees and pricing for the most up to date pricing and fee information.

This publication is provided for general information purposes and does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from Wise Payments Limited or its subsidiaries and its affiliates, and it is not intended as a substitute for obtaining advice from a financial advisor or any other professional.

We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether expressed or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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