Top Tips for Newcomers to Switzerland
It’s an adventure moving to a new country but it can also be fraught with worry and uncertainty. Switzerland is a wonderful country to move to and its key cities rank highly in international quality of life surveys. However, as with anything new there are bound to be ups and downs when you arrive in a new country, so here are some top tips for newcomers to Switzerland.
When you move to a new country things can take longer to get organised and things are done in a different way to back home. You may feel that your lack of knowledge of the system, lack of language skills etc hamper you getting things done quickly. However, don’t let these things get you down – you will get there in the end – it just may take a little longer.
Deal with The Paperwork As Soon As It Arrives
Everything is very well organised in Switzerland and there are quite a few rules to make sure things run smoothly. When you first arrive you will need to register with the Gemeinde straight away, you will need to arrange compulsory health insurance (in addition to normal insurances) and you will receive a lot of paperwork! Deal with the paperwork as soon as you get it and don’t be frightened of asking for help at the Gemeinde if you are confused about anything you receive from them. Once your registration is complete you should receive your Ausweis and you can then apply to exchange your driver’s licence. (See below for more on this)
Keep An Open Mind
Just because things are done differently in Switzerland doesn’t mean it’s wrong – it’s just different. Embrace the novelty of the adventure and enjoy the differences and try not to compare. You may find some things incredibly frustrating when you first arrive – but once you get accustomed and “know the system” it all becomes much easier.
Don’t Compare Prices to Back Home
It’s well known that Switzerland is an expensive country but taxes are low and generally people earn better salaries here than in most other countries. One of the things new arrivals remark upon is how expensive the prices are! However, if you keep doing a currency conversion to prices back home you won’t go out of the house and you won’t do anything! As with anything you will soon learn to find places to shop, to eat out, to visit etc that are more affordable – but do go out and explore.
Try to Learn the Language
It always helps to learn some of the language. Even a few words can go a long way. By joining a language class you will not only get to meet new people (and even if you don’t progress to being fluent), you will find any language you learn a great help in reading signposts, your mail, listening to announcements and for giving you a better general awareness of what’s going on around you.
Join Clubs, Organisations, Sports
When you first arrive you may know nobody at all so do join clubs, organisations, sports clubs, take up new hobbies, get involved in organisations and interest groups. There are plenty of clubs such as the Meetups which have groups for almost every interest you can think of throughout Switzerland, and for women in Zurich there is the ZIWA association and the AWC and many others. If you have school age children find out if there are any clubs for parents – the international schools are particularly good at organising activities.
Be Aware of Local Customs
There are quite a few Swiss customs to get used. From “quiet hours” during lunchtime and in the evening (ask your neighbours or at the Gemeinde if you’re not sure), to many businesses still closing at lunch from 12-2 (or for some time within that timeframe), to greeting people with Frau or Herr So-And-So, even though you’re used to addressing people by their first names. There’s also other things like using “Grüezi” (in the German speaking parts of Switzerland) for hello, to buying special bags to dispose of your rubbish (or buying Abfallgebühr to go on black rubbish sacks) and so on.
Get to Know Your Town
Explore the area where you live – it will help you feel at home and get connected. Ask at the Gemeinde for leaflets, information packs about activities and events that take place. Many Gemeindes organise welcome events for new arrivals and there are often swimming pools and sports centres where you can go to the gym etc and meet other people.
Get to know Your Neighbours
It’s always good to have someone close by that you can rely on, whom you can ask questions of and who can help out (and someone you can help out too). If you’re new, the onus is on you to reach out, so why not invite all your neighbours to an “Apéro” to get to meet them all? Choose a date a couple or even 3 weeks in advance, specify the time eg 5pm till 7pm etc and invite them all round for wine, beer and some cold meats and cheese for example. Event if they can’t attend they will be flattered that you have invited them and it really helps build bridges. It’s a good idea to give them a written invitation via their letter boxes.
Take some trips out to explore the country. Switzerland is so amazingly beautiful and there is so much to do from hiking, swimming, boating, to skiing and of course taking trips up the mountains all year round. The transport system is fantastic so if you don’t fancy exploring by car then let the train take the strain. Work out the best tickets for you and your family (visit the SBB office or check the SBB.ch website and don’t forget your camera!
Driving In Switzerland
If you drive, do apply for your Swiss driver’s licence as soon as you get your Ausweis. You have to do this within 12 months of being in the country and the consequences of not doing so can be very expensive and time consuming – so it is very, very important to make sure that you switch your licence as soon as you have your Ausweis! Read all about how to exchange your driving licence here.
There are so many speed cameras in Switzerland that this really does deserve a point on its own. If you drive you will likely get a speeding fine at some point within your stay. When we first arrived we were advised by a colleague to reserve CHF 100 per month to put towards speeding fines until we had got used to the system! We soon got to keep to the speed limits! 🙂 Unlike British speeding cameras which are usually bright yellow the Swiss ones are grey and are difficult to spot. They also have a number of mobile speed cameras too. Find out more about Speeding here.
Keep Abreast of What’s Happening in Zurich or Your Town
There are events, exhibitions and activities happening all over Switzerland so it’s helpful to try and find out what is going on by taking a look at the local papers and checking local websites. If you live in Zurich do subscribe to NewInZurich to find out what’s going on and to get the most out of your stay in Switzerland. Every Friday we publish an update on what’s on in Zurich so that you can get ideas for things to do for the weekend and the week ahead. Have fun and enjoy and explore!
Do you have any additional tips? If so, feel free to tell us in the comment box below.
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