The Pros And Cons Of Living In Switzerland
The good and the not so good things about living in Switzerland as an expat - some might be an unexpected surprise
Multiple sources are reporting that Switzerland has become the international hotspot de jour for wealthy Britons looking for a new home overseas to escape April’s tax increase in the UK.
The nation is easily accessible from Britain, the rest of Europe and beyond, it is an incredibly conservative and stable country – which can appeal to those seeking the finer things in life – and it’s rising popularity amongst Brits is making it perhaps a little less stuffy!
But Switzerland isn’t perfect, and whilst its tax rates are incredibly competitive compared to those about to become reality in the UK, anyone seriously thinking about relocating their entire life overseas needs to know the pros and the cons of living in Switzerland before they make a firm commitment to the country.
If you’re looking for a haven to relocate to where there is employment in your particular field of expertise, where you can be assured of a high living standard and a good quality of life, and you’ve heard that Switzerland is the place to be, read on to get the rundown on the good and the bad aspects of living in this particular European country.
The good news is that if your company is relocating to Switzerland, as some mainly financial firms from the UK are alleged to have done, and you’re offered your ‘old’ job back, you can probably move to live and work in Switzerland relatively easily.
As Switzerland is not in the EU and does not, therefore, have the same rules relating to ease of relocation as nations such as France and Germany have, you can’t just decide one day to move to Switzerland with no residency permit or work visa – unless you are very, very wealthy indeed.
However, as stated, if you have an offer of employment, you can get a visa and relocate. The financial services sector in Switzerland is strong and remains strong even in the face of the global economic downturn.
What’s more, the tax increases in the UK and the tax on bonuses which have been a final nail in the City of London’s coffin have helped bolster the Swiss employment coffers as apparently, companies that could do so have relocated their main offices from London to the likes of Geneva and Zurich.
The highest tax rates in Switzerland are far lower than the highest tax rates in Britain, despite the fact that you have to pay tax to the Canton in which you live as well as the City and the Federal Government.
Tax rates differ across the country and according to your wealth status, with the super-rich able to apply to different cantons for their own unique tax status. Why else do or have famous people such as Tina Turner, Phil Collins, Celine Dion, Shania Twain, Roger Moore, Yoko Ono, Michael Schumacher and William Wordsworth all made Switzerland home at some point.
Aside from the tax aspect – which many high net worth individuals assure us ‘isn’t a problem in principle,’ i.e., the majority of people don’t actually object to tax, they object to the percentages charged and the way it’s wasted – what has Switzerland got in its favour?
It is a geographically stunning nation with amazing mountains and beautiful lakes, pretty villages and highly polished cities.
You can shop for diamonds in Switzerland and ski the best slopes, you can dine in the best restaurants in the world and live in a crime-free society.
Your children can receive the best education and you can receive the best healthcare, (all for a price), and you can purchase or have constructed absolutely fantastic real estate.
More Britons are moving to Switzerland all the time in the lead up to April 2010 when the 50% tax rate in Britain becomes a reality, and as a result, you can even find it relatively easy to integrate and make friends.
There are now even British pubs such as Lady Godiva in Geneva (ladyg.ch), and the Mr Pickwick chain in the likes of Baden, Basel, Zug and Zurich (pickwick.ch); there’s even a shop selling British groceries in Zug, which is not exactly the largest town in Switzerland. So you can make a home from home in Switzerland if you have the money and the determination to do so.
Finally, points worth mentioning include the fact that the standard of living for many Brits in Switzerland is high, the nation is clean, has excellent infrastructure and functions well on all the essential levels. I.e., you won’t get a foot of snow crippling the country, you won’t get (much) disaffected youth causing trouble at all times of the day and night in all types of community, and as a result, Switzerland feels like a very good place to live.
Switzerland can be an exceptionally difficult place to adjust to on every single level – for example, whilst you may relish in the fact that the trains and trams run on time all day every day, you may be rather horrified to discover that you are banned from the likes of evening ablutions in your own apartment in case you disturb your neighbours.
In Germany, the other nation famed for its rules, you’re not allowed to hang your washing out on a Sunday, but in Switzerland, they take it to a whole new level with some who rent apartments advising that in the communal cellar space there are washing machines for Swiss and separate washing machines for ‘Auslaender’ – i.e., ‘foreigners!’
So, the rules and a certain degree of underlying ‘alternative racial awareness’ are perhaps reasons to like Switzerland a little less.
The country is often accused of being boring – but then, is Britain exciting because it’s town and city centres are boozed up carnage every weekend?
There is a balance, but perhaps parts of Switzerland are a bit too far the other way and one does occasionally wonder what goes on behind all those locked doors and window blinds of an evening!
Switzerland’s real estate is expensive, and on all levels, it can hardly be called a cheap or even an affordable country. But hey, if you’re super-wealthy or at least nicely affluent, you’d probably rather spend your money on yourself and your family than on even more tax in Britain.
Pockets of employment for the international workforce are generally limited to the likes of Zurich and Geneva, this can restrict where you live.
Finally, of course, you’ll need to work on your Swiss German (and even a bit of Swiss French) in order to really settle in – or at least cope with all the bureaucracy that comes in letter format through your door every week.
If you’re seriously contemplating an escape from the UK and you’re being lured by the thought of Switzerland, it could stand you in very good stead if you plan an extended break to the nation.
Travel around, get to know different areas, don’t just look at the surface charm, scratch a little deeper and see if you still like the look of the country.
Speak to other expats – if not in person then on forums, and ask all the questions you need of the nation before you commit to it. It certainly has a lot of plus points, but some of the negatives are genuinely enough to drive you mad.