Why Switzerland is the top location for expats
Stunning scenery and high quality education are just a couple of reasons why expats enjoy living in Switzerland.
The findings of a HSBC survey of 20,460 expats from 46 countries showed that Switzerland was the favorite place to live and work for the third year in a row.
Some 93% of respondents reported an improved quality of life since moving to Switzerland and voted it one of the top three countries, along with Australia and New Zealand, for overall wellbeing.
For Honor Jackson, a 29-year-old doctoral assistant at the University of Neuchatel, one of the big draws to Switzerland is its “beautiful natural features,” with plenty of mountain hikes and gorges to explore.
“It’s just beautiful, it’s such a stunning country,” Jackson told CNBC via telephone.
Jackson also noted how much cleaner the air was in comparison to the U.K. capital of London, where she moved from in 2018 with her partner Alex, who is a full-time stay-at-home dad to their two-year-old son.
The cost of living is high, but she said there’s a focus on selling locally grown produce and fewer imported goods, and everyone is paid “pretty well.” She earns around 70,000 Swiss francs ($76,303) a year. In 2020, the Swiss canton, or region, of Geneva introduced a minimum wage of 23 Swiss francs an hour, said to be the highest in the world.
Jackson said she and her partner pay about 1,100 Swiss francs a month to rent their three-bed flat in Neuchatel. According to the Swiss Federal Statistical Office, the average rent in Switzerland in 2019 was 1,362 Swiss francs a month.
Swiss residents don’t pay a national insurance tax and other taxes are “relatively low,” and Jackson said the cost of health care was “very expensive.” In Switzerland, residents legally have to pay for health care insurance to live in the country. Data from the Swiss Federal Statistical Office found that in 2019, 801 Swiss francs was spent per person a month on health care.
Jackson said the quality of health care in Switzerland was “amazing” but that the cost was a “shock” coming from the U.K., which has the tax-funded National Health Service.
She also liked how “family friendly” Switzerland is and the fact that it offered her son the opportunity to become bilingual, learning French at “creche,” while also speaking English at home.
At the same time, she said there could be some “conservatism.”
“For example, Alex is a stay-at-home dad and there can be a little bit of confusion as to who works and people will tend to address Alex as the person in charge of the money and stuff like that,” she explained.
Jackson and her family are soon due to move to Los Angeles for a year, as she’s been given a grant by a national Swiss body to fund some research leave, but they plan to return to Switzerland afterwards and stay long term, if possible.
“There’s no way, if I have an option, that I’m leaving,” she said.
‘Extortionate’ health care
Paula Thiebaud, a 39-year-old freelance English teacher, also liked that the Swiss education system would enable her three children to become bilingual.
She moved over from York, in the U.K., in 2006 to work as an au pair for a year and then stayed after getting a job at a residential site for people with disabilities, which was where she met her husband.
Thiebaud also liked how safe it was where she and her family lived in Neuchatel and the slower pace of life.
“Everything’s shut on a Sunday, you can’t do anything on a Sunday apart from go to the swimming pool or go to the cinema — it makes you sort of prioritize a bit differently,” she told CNBC via telephone.
While Thiebaud believed the cost of health care insurance in Switzerland was “extortionate,” she said the system did offer faster access to services than might have been possible through the U.K.’s NHS, such as an assessment for her son’s ADHD.
One drawback, she said, was that the child care system could be complicated, particularly for someone who works in the sector. In Switzerland, schools don’t typically provide lunch, so children return home or parents have to find child care for that part of the day.
Thiebaud said she set up a lunchtime child care group, where kids could also come to learn English. However, she said in her county restrictions stated that only five children could attend her group, which included her own kids, while other areas didn’t have the same rules.
Thiebaud, who earns between 2,500 and 3,000 Swiss francs a month, also said the cost of food, particularly meat, could be expensive but that she liked the quality and seasonality of products in Switzerland.
She said she would eventually like to move back to the U.K. and buy a house, as it wasn’t “economically viable” to do so in Switzerland. In fact, Switzerland had a home ownership rate of just 36% in 2019, according to the Swiss Federal Statistical Office. By comparison, British government data published in 2020, showed that 63% of households in England owned their home in 2018.
Sam Bourgeois, 34, is a lecturer at the University of Lausanne, earning around 3,000 Swiss francs a month. He lives in the town of Biel, also known as Bienne, with his wife Katherin and their son, having moved over from where he was studying in Texas in 2013.
One advantage of Switzerland, Bourgeois told CNBC on a video call, was the fact that it’s quite “stable,” particularly in terms of politics.
“I mean, it is nice that things in the institutions function and you can count on them,” he said.
However, he added there could be a bit of cultural “reservedness” that comes with that stability.
“So I mean, when I go hiking, if I dare step off the trail, there’s a bit of a ‘oh, you can’t go off the trail,'” Bourgeois explained, saying that he missed some of the “American wildness” of where he grew up in Vermont.
Bourgeois said he found the health-care system in Switzerland much more “liberating” than in the U.S. because it wasn’t tied to your job.
“Many people I know keep jobs purely because of health care, even though they’re completely unhappy there,” he said.
Bourgeois is applying for a two-year academic grant in the U.K. but is also applying for Swiss citizenship.
“The only reason I would go back to the USA, for example, would be as if somehow I was offered something … it would have to at least be the equivalent lifestyle if better, which is unlikely to happen,” he added.