11 things you should do before moving to Switzerland

Lucerne, SwitzerlandShutterstock / Boris StroujkoThe old wooden covered bridge in the picturesque town of Lucerne, Switzerland.

Switzerland is a great place to visit. It’s also a great place to be anexpat.

But the process of becoming an expat isn’t always easy and can be daunting when you don’t know the steps to take.

Here are 11 things Americans should do before you make the big move to Switzerland.

1. Obtain a residence permit and submit your documents to your embassy.

The first two things Americans need to enter Switzerland is a valid US green card and passport, which allow for up to a three-month stay in the country. Those planning on staying longer than three months need to obtain a residence permit or “Ausländerausweis” as it’s called in German.

There are three kinds of permits: short-term residence permits for those planning to stay less than one year, annual residence permits for those planning to stay longer than a year but not indefinitely, and permanent residence permits, which offer an unlimited stay in the country.

The Swiss don’t let just anyone into the country. In order to be approved for a residence permit, you have to have a job offer and it has to be for a job that cannot be done by a Swiss national. Your company must second you — assign you to work in a different department for a certain period of time.

Once that’s been determined, the next step is to submit all your documents to the Embassy of Switzerland in Washington DC. Those documents include an application, offer of employment, two passport photos, your original passport, and the visa fee. It’s best to get your paperwork in to the embassy sooner than later since processing takes anywhere from eight to 1o weeks.

2. Figure out your moving strategy ahead of time.

Shipping household items such as furniture, matresses, and appliances internationally takes time. So if you choose to move your items before you leave the country, consider staying at a friend or relative’s home until you make the move. You can then have your items delivered right when you arrive in Switzerland.

Or you can choose to have your movers come right as you leave the country, but then you’ll have to find a temporary living situation once you arrive in Switzerland while you wait for your items to be delivered. Either way, looking into moving companies before your move will help reduce stress and ensure that you choose the option that’s best for you.

3. Fill out an application for the items you plan on bringing with you into the country.

As long as you’re making Switzerland your new place of residence, the Swiss government allows you to import belongings duty-free. However, that’s only if you fill out form 18.44 (Declaration/Application for clearance of relocation goods) and have it with you to present at the customs office. The website of the Swiss Federal Customs Administration is a good place to go for more information.

4. If you plan on bringing a pet, make sure it’s been vaccinated against rabies.

Swiss regulations require a vaccination certificate for any dogs or cats entering the country. Your pet must have been vaccinated at least 30 days before entering the country, but the vaccination can’t be more than a year old. In addition, dogs, cats, and ferrets have to be microchipped for identification purposes.

5. If you plan on having a car in Switzerland, know that you’ll need a motorway vignette.

Although you won’t need to apply for a Swiss driver licence until a year after moving — you’re allowed to drive in Switzerland for up to a year with your American driver licence as long as it’s valid — you will need to obtain a motorway vignette or “Autobahnvignette” in German. This is a sticker that goes on your windshield that allows you to drive on all of the country’s highways. It costs 40 Swiss Francs per year (around $US42) and can be purchased either at the Swiss customs office or at gas stations and post offices around the country.

6. Notify your bank of your move, and look into opening a foreign bank account.

It’s a good idea to keep at least one bank account in the US, especially if your move is not indefinite and you still have property — and therefore bills to pay — in the US. However you’ll want to make sure you tell your bank that you’re moving and will be using your debit and/or credit cards from a foreign country. Otherwise your bank is likely to assume your card has been compromised or stolen and cancel it.

Even if you keep your American bank account, you’ll probably want to open a bank account in Switzerland so you can use local ATMs and have some of your money in the country where you live. Start researching banks before moving; you might even want to try to open an account and transfer some money into it in order to make your transition and arrival more smooth.

7. If you’re moving with children, look into schooling.

The Swiss school system is very different from the American school system. So while sending your kids to Swiss school is a great way for them to learn the language and pick up on the country’s customs quickly, it can be a tough adjustment at first.

The other option is to look into sending your children to international school. Most international schools give students the choice between following an AP (advanced placement) program or IB (international baccalaureate) program. The AP program is more similar to an American curriculum, while the IB program is better for students hoping to stay in Europe or go to the UK for college. The common language spoken at school — except for in language courses — is English.

International schools fill up quickly though, so it’s a good idea to look into enrolling your children as soon as you find out about your move. Picking a school can also help determine where you’re going to live, since you’ll want your children to have a manageable commute.

8. Figure out if your health insurance will still cover you abroad.

Some health insurance companies offer coverage that travels — ie you’re still covered when you move to a different country. But that isn’t always the case, so make sure to check with your provider.

Also keep in mind that even if your health insurance will cover you in Switzerland, you’ll still need to register with the residency office of the canton — or state — that you’ll be living in. Foreigners have up to three months to complete this registration. Upon registering, the canton will tell you if you they accept your international health care plan — if you have one — and if not, what your options are for a Swiss health care plan. Each canton within the country offers one or two health insurance providers — known as “sickness funds” — to choose from.

9. Ask your company about a salary adjustment.

Switzerland’s cost of living is one of the highest in the world. Chances are, maintaining the same type of lifestyle you had prior to moving to the country will cost you more to maintain once you actually move there. This could be an issue if your salary stays the same. For this reason, it’s a good idea to ask your employer about adjusting your salary so that you’re able to deal with the higher cost of living in the country.

10. Familiarise yourself with the language.

Zurich, SwitzerlandShutterstock / Andreas ZerndlPeople in the city of Zurich speak Swiss German.

Switzerland is split up into three regions: German, French, and Italian. Know what region the city you’re moving to is located in, and learn a few necessary phrases in that language if you don’t already know some. Even though most Swiss speak impeccable English, they will be happy to see you make the effort to speak their native language, especially if you’re going to be living in their country.

Keep in mind that although the Swiss who live in the German region of Switzerland learn proper German in school, they mainly speak a dialect of German known as Swiss German everywhere else. Because Swiss German is not a written language, it can be a little hard for foreigners to pick up. In the first few months, ask to speak “hoch Deutsch” (high or proper German), until you start picking up on Swiss German.

11. Be ready to embrace your experience living in Switzerland.

Moving to a foreign country is a great opportunity to get to know a different culture and to travel. The more you make the effort to establish roots in your new home, the more you’ll be able to do these things and really absorb the experience.

If every trip you take is a visit back home, you’ll be missing out on many of the benefits living abroad has to offer. Make the effort to celebrate holidays in Switzerland, have friends from home come visit you, get to know the new area you live in, and make friends with locals. This will not only help to make you feel more at home, but will also help you to take full advantage of living in Switzerland.

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