Living in Switzerland as An American

A magnificent view of housing and nature in Switzerland.

Switzerland is one of the top countries on the list for American professionals to relocate to. And rightly so; who wouldn’t want to live in Switzerland? There are many great things about this country that will surely attract American expats. But before you decide to live here, you should know about what to expect before relocating. 

Living in Switzerland as an American means you will have one of the best qualities of life in the world. It has high standards of living, the highest salaries in the continent, and extremely low crime rates. There are also excellent healthcare and a great education. However, taxes and the cost of living can be high.

In this article, we explain what you need to know about living in Switzerland as an American. Here, we discuss how to relocate to this country from the US and the pros and cons of doing so. Besides, don’t miss out on our article about living in the US vs Switzerland. You definitely want to read this one.

Can a US citizen live in Switzerland?

A charming village like Grindelwald seems frozen in time, attracting tourists and expats from around the world, many of whom are Americans. Visiting Switzerland without a visa is possible for up to 90 days. However, you must follow certain procedures if you wish to stay longer. 

Citizens of the United States can apply for a national visa (also known as a D-visa) for extended stays. In order to claim residence in Switzerland, you must first obtain a permit from the state where you wish to live. 

You will also need to disclose your intentions when applying for a visa since there are several types depending on the purpose of your stay – such as retirement, studies, or moving with your family.

Occasionally, you may have to appear before a consulate or Swiss embassy and reveal more information, which is rare but sometimes necessary.

The following types of long-stay Swiss visas are available depending on your reasons for wanting to move to Switzerland:

  • Switzerland Study Visa: Swiss study visa is required if you want to study in Switzerland and have been accepted to a Swiss educational institution.
  • Switzerland Work Visa: Swiss work visa is required if you want to work legally in Switzerland.
  • Switzerland Family Reunion Visa: If you want to join a family member who is a Swiss citizen/permanent resident, you can apply for a Swiss family reunification visa.
  • Switzerland Retirement Visa: Applicants for a Switzerland retirement visa can move to Switzerland to spend their retirement years.

You might also be able to move to Switzerland without a job. Read more on this here.

It is important to understand that the requirements and conditions for obtaining a visa vary according to the purpose of your travel. You can check them here if you are determined to pursue relocating to Switzerland.

Upon approval of your visa, you can also obtain one of two types of residence permits. For short-term stays, you will need an L Permit, which is valid for one year and can be renewed once. For longer stays, you will need a B Permit.

Unless the government determines otherwise, these are valid for one year but can be renewed annually if needed. 

Once you have lived in Switzerland for 10 years, you can apply for a C Permit, which ensures your permanent residency.

Pros and Cons of living in Switzerland as an American

a morning view of housing, bridge and bay in Switzerland.

While people move abroad for a variety of reasons: to find work, to go to school, to follow love, or just to find a new adventure, it is a huge undertaking.

When you consider moving abroad, you are probably aware of how much research and work are involved in finding a place where you will be happy and comfortable.

You’ve probably dreamed of living in Switzerland if you love chocolate and picturesque mountain ranges. However, as with any country, Switzerland also has its advantages and disadvantages.

The following is a list of some reasons why you might want to call Switzerland your home, as well as some of the reasons you might want to stay away from the country.

Pros of living in Switzerland

1. High standards of living

For American expats living in Switzerland, life tends to be very comfortable and affluent. In terms of income, housing, education, and safety, the country consistently ranks at the upper end of the OECD scale compared to other countries.

In terms of average salaries, Swiss people enjoy the fourth-highest in the world, averaging just shy of $65,000 per year. In contrast, expats’ earnings are significantly higher (around $200,000 in 2018, according to HSBC).

In addition to the low unemployment rate and equal access to healthcare, moving to Switzerland typically means upgrading one’s lifestyle in many ways. In addition, there is the option for expat families to enroll their children in one of the country’s elite boarding schools.

2. Immediate community

Among the many countries where expats can choose to live, Switzerland is one of the most popular options.

Because of this, a lot of foreigners living there from all over the world and newcomers will most likely find that there is a welcoming community ready to help them adjust to their new environment. 

There’s a good chance that wherever you come from, you’ll come across others who come from the same country as you, which can be helpful when dealing with culture shock. Moreover, you won’t feel lonely if you ever get homesick because you’ll have people to commiserate with.

3. English-speaking communities

There has been an increase in the number of English-speaking expats moving to Switzerland in recent years, including US citizens. However, due to the fact that the country is located so close to their homeland, it is especially loved by Brits.

Swiss towns, including Zug, Baden, Basel, Zug, and Zurich, now have British pubs and chains like Mr. Pickwick. There’s even a store selling British groceries in Zug, which isn’t exactly the biggest town in Switzerland. 

If you have the money and the determination, you can make Switzerland your home away from home.

4. Proximity to everything

There are so many people who dream of seeing the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, or the London Eye in their lifetime. There are so many European vacation spots that are a short (and often cheap) flight away if you live in Switzerland. 

This means that you’re just a few minutes away from all those European vacation spots displayed all over Pinterest boards. While living in the US, you won’t have an opportunity to visit them all unless you are retired.

Therefore, if you’re a frequent traveler, Switzerland is an excellent home base for exploring dozens of other countries nearby. So, make sure you have your passport ready!

5. Excellent healthcare

In Switzerland, there is a universal healthcare system, and all insurance providers are non-profit and government-approved, ensuring that their policies are affordable as well.

In the Swiss healthcare system, there is a significant amount of cost-sharing – insurance plans come with deductibles and co-pays. 

However, yearly co-pays are capped to protect Swiss citizens from financial hardship as a result of medical expenses. In addition, Swiss health insurance plans have annual out-of-pocket limits.

Ultimately, healthcare in Switzerland will cost you significantly less than in the US.

6. Outstanding natural beauty

There are a surprising number of natural and cultural attractions in Switzerland, including 13 UNESCO World Heritage sites. Swiss people are known for their love of the outdoors and their work-life balance that is less centered around long hours in the office and more focused on enjoying the Alps, lakes, and the delights of the Central Plateau.

Switzerland is a European heavyweight when it comes to hiking, skiing, yachting, and more, from exclusive ski resorts such as St. Moritz in winter to hiking the ‘Top of Europe’ at Jungfraujoch in summer.

After you’ve explored the Alps or Lake Geneva, you can explore five countries just across the border (France, Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, and Italy).

Cons of living in Switzerland

1. Extremely high cost of living

There is no doubt that Switzerland is a very expensive place to live. Rent in these areas is comparable to what one would pay in places like London and New York City. It is also costly to buy groceries and eat at restaurants. 

Moving to Switzerland will be only beneficial for your pocket if you are relocating from cities like New York or San Francisco. Otherweise, you will pay for everything more than you used to.

That said, the country is home to several of the most expensive cities in the world, so if you’re moving there from somewhere like Orlando, it might shock your wallet.

To make the most out of life in Switzerland, you’ll need a high salary and some good budgeting skills, especially if you’re planning on living in the city center where all the action takes place.

Check out our comparison of living expenses in Switzerland vs the USA.

2. Rules and regulations can be hard to adjust to

It can be extremely difficult to adapt to Switzerland on every single level. For example, you may enjoy the fact that the trains and trams run on time all day every day, but you may find it horrifying to discover that your neighbours will not allow you to do evening ablutions in your apartment if you disturb them.

If living in Germany, the other nation famed for its rules, you’re not allowed to hang your washing out on a Sunday.

In Switzerland, they take it a step further with some apartment landlords informing me that there are washing machines in the communal cellar space for Swiss and separate washing machines for ‘Auslaenders’ – i.e., foreigners.’ 

As a result, the rules and an underlying sense of ‘alternative racial awareness’ may be reasons to dislike Switzerland.

3. Discrimination may be existent

There is still a lingering issue of the conservative attitude towards gender roles in Switzerland, as well as the wage gap between men and women (among expats as well). 

Typically, women earn almost 20% less than men, though most working mums do not have the option to work full-time due to the pressures of the home. As far as LGBT rights and religious freedom are concerned, there is still work to be done. 

Switzerland controversially banned the construction of new minarets in 2009, exposing tensions in a country with a population of 38% who are Roman Catholic and a country that is one of the last western European nations to approve same-sex marriage.

4. High property prices

It is hard to call Switzerland a cheap or even affordable country at all, especially when it comes to real estate. Homeownership is extremely common in the US, while in Switzerland, only the richest can afford it.

Even so, if you’re super-wealthy or at least relatively affluent, you’d prefer to give your money to yourself and your family in an economically prosperous, safe, and stable environment. 

The number of employment pockets for the international workforce is generally limited to Zurich and Geneva. But the property prices are also the highest in these cities. This fact may determine where you can live and own a home.

Read more on the cons of living in Switzerland.

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