Working abroad: is the grass really greener in Switzerland?

Expat news
  • Geneva, Switzerland
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Published on 2021-08-31 at 10:00 by Mikki Beru
According to the IMF (International Monetary Fund), Switzerland is one of the countries that showed greater resilience during the pandemic, with a stable economy and low unemployment rate. The country is currently hiring and spreading the word. For expats, it is the opportunity for a radical change of life, with a significant rise in purchasing power. Switzerland still conveys this image of a country with high wages, and moving there to become rich is a dream for many. But what does it take to make this dream a reality?

Switzerland: a dream for expats around the world

Before considering relocation to Switzerland, let's take stock of the situation. For most people, Switzerland means Geneva, wealth, and tax benefits. But this is far from being the reality. The Confederal Republic of Switzerland is, by nature, an international country. It can boast of 4 national languages: French, German, Italian, and Romansh. There are also many dialects.

Many people tend to think that only French is spoken in Switzerland. In fact, French is mainly spoken only in Neuchâtel, Jura, Vaud and Geneva, or 4 out of the 26 cantons in the country. French is spoken more in the west of the country, called the Romandie. The neighbouring cantons Bern, Friborg and Valais are bilingual French and German. German is also the first language of the country, spoken at more than 63%, against 22.5% for French, 8.1% for Italian, 0.5% for Romansh, and 6.6 % for other languages, including English). This might be both surprising and confusing for expats. Conversely, part of the Swiss population denounces what they call "ease" on the part of expats who only stay in some parts of the country, not trying to really integrate, according to them, Swiss culture. The same ambivalences can be observed concerning employment.

A liberal employment policy

As we mentioned above, Switzerland is currently hiring. Qualified and skilled expatriates are particularly sought-after. It is, in fact, a dream opportunity for all expats wishing to settle in Switzerland. European expatriates would also be better regarded by the Swiss compared to frontier workers, expatriation being considered a strong commitment. However, there are certain things to consider.

With a population of a little over 8 million for Switzerland), Switzerland has a GDP per capita of € 75,890, according to 2020 figures. In 2020, the annual GDP reached € 655,978. In 2019, Switzerland had one of the lowest public debt ratios globally, at 25.8%. The country is criticized by the other European States for its excessive restraint. Thanks to its ultra-liberal political culture, the government hardly intervenes in the economy. During the 90s real estate crisis, Swiss debt reached records, pushing the State towards greater austerity. But Switzerland remained rigorous and is counting on the economic rebound observed in recent months. Industry is picking up again, with a nearly 5% rise in the first quarter of 2021. Orders and exports are picking up. The medical, chemical and pharmaceutical sectors, and all sectors under pressure, are currently boosting the Swiss economy with increasing orders, turnover, investment, recruitment. This situation contributed to raising growth forecasts. The KOF (Economic Research Center) forecast a growth of 3% for 2021 and now expects 4%. 

Switzerland is experiencing full employment, with a little less than 3% unemployment (2.8% in June 2021). According to the GFK institute, in July 2020, Switzerland ranks 3rd among the countries with the highest purchasing power (€ 41,998), behind Liechtenstein and Luxembourg. On average, Switzerland's purchasing power is three times that of other European countries, which is quite appealing for expats. However, Swiss experts warn that the current rebound could only be temporary. In the long term, growth would be more modest.

Is Switzerland an eldorado for expats?

Swiss wages are assumed to be one of the highest in Europe. For example, an electrician earns more in Switzerland than another country (around 76,054 € per year). On average, a manager earns, on average, € 107,712 per year in Switzerland, and a worker earns around € 63,880 per year. It professionals also make a better living in Switzerland. For instance, a web admin can expect around € 95,613 per year. In communications, a director earns € 115,792 per year, on average. In the arts sector, a character animator earns around 84,047 € per year in Switzerland.

There are wage disparities in virtually all sectors. Combining the economic rebound and the recruiting sectors, Switzerland is an attractive and popular destination for expat professionals. These figures, however, hide a reality well known to locals: the cost of living. In fact, the cost of living in Switzerland is more than 30% higher compared to other European countries, and it often depends on professions. In fact, Switzerland is one of the countries with the highest cost of living in Europe. Therefore, the high salaries go hand in hand with more daily life expenses. 

Accommodation, transport, shopping, etc., are much more expensive in Switzerland compared to other European countries. For eating out, count, on average, € 46 for a full meal. Find housing, insuring your property, eating, school fees for children, health insurance, medical consultations, gym subscriptions, going to the cinema, telephone subscription, cultural activities, and eating out, have a significant cost. High salaries, therefore, compensates for the many expenses you will have on moving to Switzerland. Besides, keep in mind that these estimates vary from canton to canton. According to the Swiss media, the most affordable cantons are located in central and eastern Switzerland. The canton of Valais, for example, is ideal for families. 

Perks and drawbacks of living in Switzerland

The cost of living is one of the main reasons why there are many cross-border workers in Switzerland. Indeed, many prefer to live in their country while working in Switzerland to get these benefits. At the federal level, each canton is independent and has its own tax policy. There is very intervention from the State. 

Depending on your situation, whether you are single or a couple, with children (of preschool, school or university, age), with health issues requiring advance care, living in Switzerland can be either a good strategy or a risky choice. Overall, the country offers a good living environment, with many green and well-maintained spaces. However, this ideal living environment goes hand in hand with a high cost of living. 

To better assess the cost benefits and risks, you should define your budget first, all income on one side (salaries, allowances, various assets, etc.), and expenses on the other (rent, gas, electricity, Internet, insurance, taxes, loans, and other fixed charges such as childcare, telephone package, health costs, current expenses such as food, clothing, transport, leisure, etc. Then, compare the results to the cost of living in Switzerland before coming to any conclusion.