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Switzerland has a population of 8 million inhabitants and about 25% of them are foreigners. I myself am a foreigner in Switzerland. I have lived here for 2 years and still I face “foreigner problems” on a daily basis. Here’s a list of why I hate being a foreigner in Switzerland!
1. The crazy high cost of living
Living in Switzerland is expensive and if you don’t have a Swiss salary, then you’re going to struggle really hard to make ends meet. For two years, I was living off a monthly scholarship of $1,600. Although that amount might sound HUGE for a college student, it’s almost nothing for Switzerland. Anyone who earns less than $2,200 is considered to be living below the poverty line!
Before I learned where to shop and how to save money in Switzerland, I really struggled with making ends meet every month. I had no idea where to shop for the best deals and was consistently overpaying for everyday items (sometimes double or even triple the price that I’m used to!). It took me A LOT of time to adjust to the high Swiss prices!
2. The bureaucratic can be a total nightmare
Let me tell you the story of how I got my residence permit (permis de séjour). I applied in March 2016 from Canada and waited until August 2016 to get the “okay” from the Swiss cantonal authorities to get my short-stay visa. This short-stay visa allowed me to enter Switzerland for 90 days (even though my Canadian passport already allowed me to enter the country visa-free). I had to pay $90 for this, mind you.
Then after arriving in Switzerland, I had to register officially at the commune. The process was pretty quick but I had to wait another 3 months to get my Permit B which allowed me to live in Switzerland for one year for studies. Without this permit, I wasn’t allowed to sign up for a bank account or even get a cell phone plan!
I even had to go to this office in downtown Lausanne for them to get a copy of all my biometric details (i.e. scan my eyeballs and take my fingerprints)! I believe I paid around $200 for all of this.
A year later, I had to renew my permit. It took me almost 4 months this time to get the new permit. Renewing my permit was slightly cheaper, I think I only paid $60 or so.
Now, in 2018, I finally got a work permit (since I’m starting a PhD). My university applied for the permit for me back in May, and I did not get it until July. Oh, and I had to pay another $147 just to change my permit from a student one to a working one!
All in all, the bureaucracy is a nightmare here. There is a special procedure for every little thing. If you ask 5 government officials a question, you will get 5 different responses (because the rules differ by canton and commune).
Oh, and not to mention, I moved homes 6 times. Every time I changed my address, I had to register again and pay an arrival tax (around $30 each time). It is extremely time-consuming and expensive!
Again, as I mentioned before, Switzerland is by no means a cheap country to live in!
3. The feeling of being a foreigner
I feel like because I’m Canadian with Asian ancestry, I would never truly fit in in Switzerland. It’s very difficult to make Swiss friends because, compared to Americans and Canadians, Swiss are quite reserved. I have a hard time connecting with them culturally. Also, a lot of Swiss people have grown up with the same friends since their childhood and are not really looking to integrate a foreigner into their group.
Most of my friends here are part of the expat community and we all express the same difficulties with making friends with Swiss people. I’ve been lucky because I hitchhiked a whole bunch in Switzerland in 2014 so I was able to make some Swiss friends (older Swiss in their 50s-60s who used to travel frugally like me). In terms of meeting younger Swiss people, however, I still struggle a lot.
4. Not being able to function in all the national languages
Switzerland has 4 official languages: German, French, Italian, and Romansch. I speak only one of them, French, and not at a native level. I learned French in Canada and in Canadian French, we use a lot of different words (and we also have a different accent).
After having lived in Switzerland for 2 years, I’ve learned most of the local words and can function perfectly fine. However, when I venture off to the German part or the Italian part of Switzerland, I am completely lost, again.
When I first moved to Switzerland, I studied German for 8 months. It was my attempt to “integrate” myself.
However, I later realized that my 8 months were completely wasted. Swiss people speak Swiss German which is its own local dialect. Each region has a different dialect. Some of my Swiss German friends have even told me that they can’t understand accents from other regions because they are so strong. For German speakers from Germany or Austria, they can only understand about 2% of Swiss German. So imagine how difficult it is for me to try to understand them!
5. How long it takes to get a Swiss passport
Switzerland is one of the toughest countries for getting citizenship. Every canton has its own rules about citizenship, some being tougher than others. Even having lived in the country for 10 years is often not enough. If you’re curious, you can read all the complicated rules for naturalization.
In most cases, getting a passport requires that you live in Switzerland for at least 10 years and be fully “integrated.” My friend told me that for his test he had to explain how to prepare a cheese fondue 😉
To gain permanent residency, you need to spend at least 10 years in the country (or 5 if you’re a EU citizen, American, or Canadian). My plan is to stay in Switzerland for at least 3 more years so that I can at least get permanent residency!
6. How nothing is open on Sundays
Normally, I love using my weekends to go shopping and run errands. However, in Switzerland, Sunday is a total write-off since almost all the stores are closed. The Swiss don’t take their holidays lightly!
Even on weeknights, most stores close by 6pm. What a horror!
I still vividly remember the first day I moved to Switzerland. It was a Sunday. I had no idea where to go to get food so I just starved myself that evening. It wasn’t fun but I learned my lesson to always stock up on food for Sunday!
7. The difficulty finding a job
Thanks to its high salaries, Switzerland is an extremely attractive job market for job seekers. If you’re a EU national, you can work in Switzerland without a visa.
However, if you’re a non-EU citizen, things get more complicated. In order to get a work permit, your company will have to prove that they made every effort to search for another candidate within the EU and that you are the most qualified person above them all. Imagine how difficult it would be to argue that you’re THAT qualified when you just finished college? Not to mention, most employers are reluctant to go through the paperwork as it is time-consuming and the results are not guaranteed.
One of the other reason I decided to do a PhD was because I was getting rejected left, right, and centre for jobs that I was WAY too qualified for. Most employers were interested in my profile, but as soon as they learned that I was Canadian, they stopped showing interest in me. I was feeling depressed for months with my job search until I finally decided to do a PhD instead!
On my blog, I often dote on how amazing it is to live in Switzerland. However, in this post, I talk about the not-so-glamourous side of things. Being a foreigner in Switzerland sucks. Unless you’re super rich, you’re going to have a hard time adjusting to the cost of living, at least in the beginning. And the bureaucracy is such a nightmare.
Other posts you may like
- 6 Things That Are Actually Cheaper In Switzerland
- What It’s Like To Be An Asian Living in Switzerland
- 10 Photos That Will Make You Want To Move To Switzerland Right Now!
- How To Find A Job While Living Abroad
- How I Saved Over $11,000 Living Abroad As A Student In Switzerland
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