4 tips for people new to Switzerland
(originally published in the July 2009 issue of Expat In Switzerland)
1/ Buy a “Half-tax” card. Issued by the Swiss transport system (SBB) this card can be used to get discounts of 50% off the majority of public transport fares in Switzerland (some special routes e.g. some cablecars and mountain train routes are excluded) including buses, trains, ferry boats and more. Available for CHF150 for 1 year, or at lesser per annum price if you buy a 2 or 3 year pass. This card is great if you are a moderate user of public transport and fits in nicely in the market for those who travel on public transport more than once or twice a year but not so frequently on the same route that a travel pass is justifiable.
2/ Don’t rush to commit to a mobile phone contract – they can be very pricey and lock you in. Instead why not first try a pay-as-you-go service. All are good but we have found Yallo to be our favorite due to exceptionally low call prices to other phones in their network (CHF 0.05 per minute to a fellow Yallo subscriber - perfect for families keeping in touch) and to European countries. Click here for more info and to choose your phone number.
3/ Don’t get too hung up on prices. You will most likely suffer some “sticker shock” the first time you visit the supermarket. Switzerland justifiably has a reputation for being expensive. Two things to bear in mind here a) unlike tourists who visit from abroad you are hopefully here to work and will be earning considerably more than in other countries thereby compensating for the increased cost of living and b) the tax rate here is moderate when compared to most other European countries and the US. If you’ve arrived from Dubai… not so much!
4/ Don’t be scared! Browsing the internet will reveal a whole host of horror stories, warnings and grumbles about different aspects of life here. These range from the tales of draconian noise regulations, being unable to flush toilets at nighttime, being unable to have a washing machine in your apartment, neighbors reporting neighbors for parking violations, complicated recycling laws, extortionate speeding tickets and so on. In actual fact things need not be so bad. Do some homework. We live happily in an apartment with its own washing machine (and dryer), have a barbeque on our balcony, can put washing out on our balcony (but choose not to when the bbq is on!) and take a shower at 3 in the morning if we choose. Our neighbors do the same. It is no problem because the building is new and very well soundproofed. Do not get into the trap of having to find an apartment in one suburb of a city. Take a look at the neighboring towns and villages- they can be much more relaxed and family friendly. Also take a look at any future potential neighbors - are there perhaps too many elderly stern faces or an excess of youthful exuberance?
In Switzerland you find a large number of expats for whom this is their first experience of foreign living. If you have already lived abroad chances are you will find it easier to adjust than if this is your first experience of expat life. Things can be frustrating and there is a lot of bureaucracy to get through, at least initially. However, unlike many other countries, the bureaucratic systems here in Switzerland do actually work – are remarkably clear of corruption and your file is most unlikely to get lost – it just will not always be dealt with in quite the efficient manner that, after years of clever marketing & PR, Switzerland has created a whole mystical aura around.
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