Living in Switzerland?
Living in Switzerland
At a Glance:
- Although Switzerland is located at the heart of Europe, it is not a member of the EU or EEA.
- The railway network is extensive, and trains are reliable. However, train tickets tend to be somewhat expensive.
- Vignettes are required if you are driving on a Swiss motorway. They cost 40 CHF per year.
- Health insurance is obligatory in Switzerland, although it is the responsibility of the individual to ensure they are covered.
- Education in Switzerland is compulsory from the age of six, and there are different forms of high school. Each cantonal determines its own curriculum and language of instruction.
A Special Experience
Around a quarter of all people living in Switzerland have no Swiss passport — despite the regulations introduced to control the number of foreigners living and working in Switzerland. The country has both a high quality of life and a high cost of living. It is true that the latter is somewhat counterbalanced by high salaries and low taxes, while the average standards of health, security, wealth, and education among most people living in Switzerland is very high.
There are several things which make Switzerland unique among its European neighbors. Despite its central location in the middle of Europe, it is neither part of the EU nor of the EEA.
This is due to a second interesting fact about Switzerland: Swiss citizens are the only ones in Europe who can directly influence their government’s decisions on a regular basis. Every new law, especially if it affects the constitution, needs to be ratified by a majority of the voters. So, when the question was put to the Swiss people in 1992, 50.3 percent of the voters elected against joining the EEA.
The Swiss Alps are another important aspect of Switzerland’s identity, shaping the country’s culture in many different ways; from agriculture to the arts. Heidi, the classic tale of a little girl growing up in the mountains, for example, is equally as popular with children living in Switzerland and as with kids abroad. Some argue that the Swiss tendency towards isolationism is a result of the mountains and their historical role as an obstacle to free movement and as a protective wall against foreign influence and invasion.
The Swiss Rail Network: Highly Developed but Not Cheap
Despite the country’s mountainous territory, expats living in Switzerland will benefit from good national and international transport connections by road and rail. This might not be the case if you plan on living in a remote Alpine village, but Switzerland is a highly urbanized country — around 75 percent of the Swiss population live in the country’s metropolitan areas.
The Swiss rail network has been under state control since the beginning of the 20th century. The Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) now transport more than 1.2 million passengers every day. Nearly all cantonal capitals are served by the SBB network, and the largest cities also profit from direct rail connections to neighboring countries.
Trains are modern, clean and mostly on time, but not cheap. However, if you enjoy traveling by train, the scenic routes and breathtaking views of the Swiss mountains go some way to make up for the cost of a journey. For more information on infrastructure, fares and timetables in German, French, Italian and English, please consult the website of the SBB CFF FFS.
We have also collected some more information and tips on ticket purchases, as well as alternatives to trains in our article on Switzerland's public transportation system.
Getting a Vignette
After arriving in Switzerland, you will soon notice the extensive and well-maintained road network, with numerous mountain passes and tunnels. In order to drive on the motorways, a vignette is required. The vignette is a small sticker which is attached to the windscreen. It shows that the annual motorway toll of 40 CHF has been paid.
In order to avoid long queues at border checkpoints, it is best to purchase your vignette before entering Switzerland by car. You can purchase a vignette from your country’s automobile club or post office or in some cases online. For more details, go to the Swiss Federal Customs Administration website.
If you are already living in Switzerland, you can buy the vignette at most petrol stations or kiosks. Please always follow the instructions on how to affix the vignette to your windscreen. An incorrectly displayed vignette can incur a significant fine.
Hefty fines are also the norm when driving too fast or under the influence. Take a look at our guide for driving on Switzerland's roads for more information on traffic rules and how to exchange a foreign driver's license, as well as for tips on how to drive in snowy conditions.
We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete.