Why Switzerland is the top location for expats
Breathtaking landscapes and high quality education are just a few reasons why expats like to live in Switzerland.
The results of an HSBC survey of 20,460 expats from 46 countries showed that Switzerland is the most popular place to live and work for the third year in a row.
Around 93% of those surveyed stated that their quality of life had improved since moving to Switzerland and, alongside Australia and New Zealand, selected Switzerland as one of the three best countries for general wellbeing.
For Honor Jackson, a 29-year-old doctoral student at the University of Neuchâtel, is one of Switzerland’s great attractions for the “beautiful natural features” with many mountain hikes and gorges to explore.
“It’s just beautiful, it’s such a breathtaking country,” Jackson told CNBC on the phone.
Jackson also noted how much cleaner the air was compared to the UK capital, London, where she moved in 2018 with her partner Alex, who is a full-time dad to their two-year-old son.
The cost of living is high, but she said there is a focus on selling locally grown produce and less imported goods and everyone is paid “pretty well”. She earns around 70,000 Swiss francs (76,303 dollars) a year. In 2020, the Swiss canton or the Geneva region introduced a minimum wage of CHF 23 per hour, which is considered the highest in the world.
Jackson said she and her partner pay around 1,100 francs a month to rent their three-bed apartment in Neuchâtel. According to Federal Office for statistics, the average rent in Switzerland in 2019 was 1,362 francs per month.
Swiss residents do not pay national insurance taxes and other taxes are “relatively low”, and Jackson said health care costs are “very expensive”. In Switzerland, residents are required by law to pay for health insurance to live in the country. Data from the Federal Office for statistics found that in 2019, 801 francs per person per month were spent on health care.
Jackson said the quality of health care in Switzerland was “amazing” but the cost was a “shock” from the UK, which has the tax-financed National Health Service.
She also liked how “family-friendly” Switzerland is and that she gave her son the opportunity to become bilingual, to learn French in the “day nursery” and to speak English at home.
At the same time, she said there could be a certain “conservatism”.
“Alex is a home dad, for example, and there can be a little confusion about who works and people tend to refer to Alex as the person in charge of the money and things like that,” she explained.
Jackson and her family will soon be moving to Los Angeles for a year, given a grant from a Swiss national institution to fund a research vacation, but they plan to return to Switzerland afterwards and stay long-term if possible.
“When I have an option, there is no way I can go,” she said.
“Extortionate” health care
Paula Thiebaud, a 39-year-old freelance English teacher, also liked the fact that the Swiss education system enables her three children to be bilingual.
She moved from York, UK, in 2006 to work as an au pair for a year and then stayed after accepting a position in a dormitory for people with disabilities where she met her husband.
Thiebaud also liked how safe it was where she and her family lived in Neuchâtel, and the slower life.
“Everything is closed on a Sunday, you can’t do anything on a Sunday except go to the swimming pool or the movies – that lets you prioritize a little bit,” she told CNBC on the phone.
Thiebaud believed that health insurance costs in Switzerland were “extortionate,” she said, but the system provided faster access to services than the UK NHS would have allowed, such as an assessment of her son’s ADHD.
One downside is that the childcare system can be complicated, especially for someone who works in the industry. In Switzerland, schools usually do not offer lunch, so the children return home or the parents have to find childcare for that part of the day.
Thiebaud said she started a lunchtime care group that children could also come to to learn English. However, she said that in her district restrictions only five children could join her group, which included her own children, while the same rules do not apply in other areas.
Thiebaud, who makes between 2500 and 3000 francs a month, also said the cost of groceries, especially meat, could be high, but she appreciated the quality and seasonality of products in Switzerland.
She said she would like to move back to the UK at some point and buy a house as it is “economically unsustainable” in Switzerland. In fact, according to the Federal Statistical Office, Switzerland had a home ownership rate of only 36% in 2019. In comparison, UK government data released in 2020, showed that 63% of households in England owned a home in 2018.
Sam Bourgeois, 34, is a lecturer at the University of Lausanne and earns around CHF 3,000 a month. He lives with his wife Katherin and their son in the city of Biel, also known as Biel, after moving from his place of study in Texas in 2013.
One of the advantages of Switzerland, Bourgeois told CNBC on a video call, is the fact that it is fairly “stable”, particularly when it comes to politics.
“I mean, it’s nice that things work in the institutions and that you can rely on them,” he said.
He added, however, that there might be some cultural “reluctance” with this stability.
“So I mean, when I go hiking, when I dare to get off the trail, there’s a bit of ‘Oh, you can’t get off the trail,'” Bourgeois said, saying that he is something of the “American savagery “Missed” where he grew up in Vermont.
Bourgeois said he found the health system in Switzerland to be much “more liberating” than in the US because it was not tied to his job.
“A lot of people I know keep their jobs just because of health care when they are completely unhappy there,” he said.
Bourgeois is applying for a two-year academic scholarship in the UK, but is also applying for Swiss citizenship.
“The only reason I would go back to the US, for example, would be as if somehow I was being offered something … it would have to be at least the equivalent lifestyle, if better, which probably won’t,” he added.