Is Switzerland an expat paradise?

October 24, 2014, 1 Comment

Cabrio bench

Where’s the best place in the world for expats to live? Switzerland! According to the 2014 HSBC Expat Explorer survey of expats in 34 countries, Switzerland was ranked 1st, beating Singapore and China to the top spot. But behind the headlines are the interesting realities of what life is like for expats in Switzerland.

Top scores on the doors: areas where expats put in Switzerland in the top three

  • Household income
  • Satisfaction with the economy
  • Opportunities for sport
  • Travelling around locally
  • Environment

Back of the pack: areas where expats rated Switzerland last or second last

  • Social life
  • Making local friends
  • Finding accommodation
  • Making friends (in general, not just local ones)
  • Cost of childcare

Take money out of the equation (which you can do on the interactive website) and Switzerland drops to 6th place overall, just behind Germany and South Africa. So for many, big salaries are a big part of the quality of life here – not surprising given that a quarter of expats in Switzerland earn over $200,000 a year. Incomes that many can only dream of, even with the high cost of living.

For childcare, Switzerland ranked tenth with high scores for language learning (big surprise!), quality of life and standard of education – but for cost of childcare Switzerland was bottom of the table.

Overall the benefits – higher wages, wonderful scenery, healthier lifestyle, good childcare – more than outweighed the downsides of high costs of living, lack of a social life and the barriers to friendships.

You might think that the HSBC survey focused on bankers, given the sponsor, but actually only 26% of the 174 respondents in Switzerland worked in banking & finance (compared to 17% across all the countries). Two other Swiss figures: 33% of expats came from the UK and 64% were aged 35-54. I fit into both categories but no-one asked me!

Another expat survey has also recently been published by InterNations, a worldwide network of expat groups. Its Expat Insider survey ranked Switzerland 4th out of 61 countries in the general list of Best and Worst Places for Expats. Switzerland came top for quality of life and education but ranked a low 53rd for the ‘Ease of Settling In’ category (ie finding friends, feeling welcome, learning the language) and 58th for cost of living.

So is Switzerland an expat paradise? I would say a qualified yes. What the surveys didn’t include (at least in the published findings) is how long the respondents have lived in each country, or plan to live there. If you’re in Switzerland for two or three years, as many expats are, then the quality of life is wonderful as long as you accept that you may not make many friends locally.

But if you live here medium to long-term then feeling at home becomes even more important. It takes time to learn a language, find some friends, understand the culture and build a life- All that can sometimes be hard in Switzerland, as both surveys showed, but it’s worth the effort. Expat life is exactly what you make it.

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