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Living in Switzerland

If Swiss chocolate, watches, the Alps, and fondue make your wildest dreams come true, you might want to consider living in Switzerland. InterNations provides information on public transportation, healthcare, and international education, so you may prepare accordingly for expat life in Switzerland.
The Swiss are proud of their cultural heritage.

More than a fifth of all people living in Switzerland have no Swiss passport — despite the numerous regulations introduced to control the number of immigrants. Living in Switzerland is often considered a luxury, both in terms of the high quality of life and the cost of living. While the latter is somewhat counterbalanced by high salaries and low taxes, the former is certainly true, if measured by the average standards of health, security, wealth, and education among most people living in Switzerland.

A Special Experience

There are several things which make Switzerland quite special 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 peculiar fact about Switzerland: Swiss citizens are the only in Europe who can directly influence their government’s decisions. 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 them in 1992, 50.3% of the people who took part in the referendum voted against joining the EEA.

The Swiss Alps, to pick up on another typical aspect of life in Switzerland, have indeed shaped Swiss culture in many different ways, leaving their impression on various spheres of life, from agriculture to the arts. Heidi, the classic tale of a little girl growing up in the mountains, is equally popular with children living in Switzerland and kids abroad. However, the alleged “hedgehog mentality” of those living in Switzerland is also attributed to the mountains and their historical role as an obstacle to free movement and a protective wall against foreign influence and invasion.

The Swiss Rail Network: Highly Developed, but Not Cheap

Despite the 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. Up to 75% of all people living in Switzerland are gathered in the country’s metropolitan areas.

The Swiss rail network was brought under national control at the beginning of the 20th century. Annually, Swiss Federal Railways transport more than 350 million passengers. Nearly all cantonal capitals are served by the Swiss Federal Railways network, and most big cities also profit from direct rail connections to neighboring countries.

Trains are modern, clean and mostly on time, but not cheap. However, people who enjoy travelling by train should find ample recompense in the scenic routes and breathtaking views of the Swiss mountains. 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, complemented by mountain passes and tunnels. A vignette is required for using the motorways. 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, you should purchase your vignette before entering Switzerland by car, for example, from your country’s automobile club or post office. 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. 

Andrey Vasilyev

"I was able to connect with other expats in Zurich who enjoy cycling as much as I do and organize weekly rides."

Elin Gustavson

"At the first InterNations event that I attended, I met my wonderful partner. We now live together in a flat next to the Limmat."

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