The complete guide to moving to Switzerland

Updated: Aug 29, 2018

Chocolate, cheese, cuckoo-clocks and yodelling. Switzerland couldn’t get more quaint. However, it’s also a country of four national languages, stunning alpine scenes (not to mention great skiing) and modern, international cities surround old cobbled squares. It really is a place of contrasts. Whether you’re thinking of making your base in Geneva, home to Europe’s largest lake; or the laid-back cool hub of Zurich, if you’re thinking of moving to Switzerland from Australia, our comprehensive guide has everything covered.

Getting through customs

Organise a visa

Although Switzerland is in Europe, it’s not actually part of the EU, though it does exist in partnership with the EU. It also falls in what’s called the ‘Schengen’ area – a number of European countries that have no border controls between them, meaning freedom of movement for the nationalities who belong to it. This is worth knowing if you happen to have dual nationality.

For Australian passport holders, you’ll need to have a National visa (category D) and this will need to be done before you travel. If you already have a job lined up, then liaise with your employer regarding who is responsible for arranging your visa. Your company will have responsibility for arranging your work permit, which will allow you to work in the country. If you’re going to be applying for your visa yourself, this will need to be done at the Swiss Consulate in Sydney. You’ll only be able to do this once your company has the cantonal authorised documentation. You’ll also need passport-style photographs, and although you’ll need your original passport, it’s always worth having plenty of copies of this, too. There’s a fee to pay, and you’ll need to provide a stamped-addressed envelope to return your documentation to you. The Swiss Confederation website for Australia has a lot of helpful information on photograph quality, fees, opening times and contact details should you want to get in touch. This is particularly advisable if you are coming from further afield:

The final part of your work permit will need to be finalised in person once you arrive in Switzerland and will need to be completed within two weeks. Your employer should help you do this.

TIP: Liaise regularly with the HR department of your employer to make sure you’re both aware of who needs to do what in terms of visa processing.

Have a valid passport

It goes without saying really, but make sure your passport is valid – and isn’t due to run out. This is also important for your visa and work permits. If you’re worried your passport is due to run out, don’t leave it until the last minute, head over to the Australian Government Passport Authority for all the details you’ll need about renewing – or applying for – a passport.

TIP: Have at least six months’ validity on your passport before you travel. You don’t want to have to leave quickly – or arrange for an emergency replacement.


If you know your move to Switzerland is permanent and you can’t imagine life without your furry friends, there are a few things you’ll need to think about. Firstly, you’re not allowed to bring any more than five animals in to the country and pets can only arrive by air at Basel, Geneva or Zurich.

Dogs will need to be microchipped – at the very latest one month before they’re due to travel and they must have had a rabies injection prior to this and you will need a certificate from a vet to show this. If you’re bringing a puppy who is under 56 days old, they must be travelling with their mother. And you’re not allowed to import dogs with docked ears or tails.

Once you’re in Switzerland, dogs will require a licence, the cost of which will vary depending on where you are living. Have a look at this website: to give you an idea. You’ll also need to register your pooch with the Animal Identity Service (AMICUS) within 10 days of their arrival. The best option is to find yourself a new vet and they can handle this for you.

Rules for dog ownership vary from city to city, but there is a handy summary here:

Australian moggies have an extra requirement: they must have a vet certificate confirming that they have not been in an area with any cases of Hendra disease in the three months prior to travel.

TIP: Contact King & Wilson who can arrange all the pet paperwork and transportation for you.

Money, money, money


As mentioned above, Switzerland isn’t part of the EU, so doesn’t have the Euro. Instead, it has its own currency, the Swiss Franc. The cost of living in Geneva or Zurich is expensive, so maybe do a little bit of research to find out the rough cost of groceries, housing and entertainment to help your budget.

TIP: Download an exchange rate mobile app for the early days of your arrival so you know exactly how much things really cost.


It’s a destination famous for the banking and financial sector, so Switzerland is well-equipped to handle your finances. While there are a plethora of international banks represented here, it still makes life much easier if you open a local bank account. Although it’s much more straight forward to open an account when you’re here, many banks will allow you to open one while you’re still in Australia. The benefit of this is that you can send money to your new Swiss account to help you hit the ground running when you arrive.

In some cases it can be difficult to open an account without a Swiss address, and for some banks you need a Swiss address to open an account. You HR department may be able to give you some advice on this. Accounts take around 7 days to open, so if you are waiting until you’ve arrived to do it, it makes sense for it to be one of your top priorities.

Most banks charge a monthly fee for running the account, which can be up to 11CHF ($15 AUD). Fees can often be reduced, or waivered entirely if you have other accounts with the same bank, such as a savings account or a mortgage. Even simple things like opting for online banking rather than paper statements will save you money. Many banks, even the local Swiss institutions, will charge a transaction fee for withdrawing cash. In the majority of these instances, the fee is for withdrawing at an ATM of another bank, though some banks charge a fixed fee no matter what.

Click on any of the 24 listed banks below to be taken to their website.

Rather confusingly, there are also ‘national’ banks in Switzerland that you could open an account with:

Credit Suisse -

The Swiss Post Office -


TIP: If you need to send money back home, check to see if your Australian bank has a Swiss presence – international transfers can be costly.


Taxation and insurance are well thought-out in Switzerland to take in to account unexpected changes in circumstances and also for retirement. The system is based on ‘three pillars’ of public welfare, occupational benefits, and private pensions. Both the public welfare and occupational benefits are compulsory, while private pension plans are not, though they are encouraged.

The idea of the compulsory social security payments is to cover you for any changes to your circumstance meaning you can no longer work do to age, disability or illness. You’ll automatically be registered with the AHV (old ages and survivors’ insurance) by your employer – depending on the industry you work in and where you work, depends on the branch of Ausgleichskasse (the name of the office) you are registered with. For certain sectors, such as banking, there is a specialised fund you will contribute to, which is separate from the state. Your employer should run through all of this with you, as it’s important you know where you are contributing to, and what you will get in return.

Your contributions as an employee are deducted from your salary under the PAYE (pay as you earn) system. Your employer will also contribute the same amount to the fund. The annual amount is around 8.5% of your salary. In addition to this, you’ll also contribute to a sickness fund and a maternity fund which is also matched by your employer.

If you’re self-employed, the rules are slightly different, and you’ll need to visit your local AHV office (local to where you are living) and confirm you fulfil the criteria for self-employment in Switzerland.

On top of this, you also have income tax to pay. While Swiss regulation states you have to pay income tax on any worldwide taxable income, this does not include real estate, so if you’re renting out your home in Australia, or any other property, this won’t be included in your Swiss tax bill.

The system can appear quite complex at first, as there are three levels of government tax to pay: the federal, the cantonal, and the municipal. For the federal, you’ll have a basic amount of tax on earnings up to a certain amount, and then an additional rate of tax on anything over that.

The cantonal (or state) income tax is very similar to the municipal income tax, and will vary depending on where you live and how that city/canton is spending public money and what they have to spend and upkeep in the area.

Depending on your employer and the type of residency visa you have, you’ll either need to fill out an annual tax return, or it will be deducted from your pay as part of the PAYE scheme.

TIP: Check with your employer to confirm whether your tax needs to be paid via an annual tax return or if they deduct it through PAYE. Also, confirm they will be contributing to your social security payments – some international organisations do not.


When you’re living and working in Switzerland for over three months, you’ll need to contribute towards a basic health insurance policy. Basic is the key word here – although premiums are high, you’ll still be expected to pay towards treatment and the policy does not cover dentists, so you will need to take out additional cover for this and for your eye sight check-ups.

There is no mandatory contribution from your pay towards public healthcare in Switzerland as everything is privatised and regulated by Swiss Federal Law. This means that at least basic cover will be offered to everyone, regardless of age and any pre-existing medical conditions. The only exemption from this is if you are a member of an embassy or a civil servant, as you and your family will be covered under a different system.

The basic policies cover emergency treatments, prescription medication, maternity check-ups, prenatal classes and labour costs, and general GP visits. They will still usually all have an excess, so you will still be required to pay some of the cost upfront.

Confirm with your employer if they have their own insurance scheme, or a recommended provider for you to take out cover with. While your premiums may be higher, it might be worth you talking out additional cover – especially if you have a pre-existing or ongoing medical condition.

For general GP visits, you are usually able to pick your own doctor, though again it is worth confirming this with your insurance provider. Ask colleagues in the office if they recommend their doctor, as that is usually the best way to find a good, local GP - especially one who is English-speaking.

It’s also worth noting that for a GP visit, you’ll often be sent a bill in the post, which you’ll need to pay within a certain timeframe. It’s common for you to pay the bill and request reimbursement from the insurance company rather than them paying on your behalf.

TIP: Websites such as Allianz have a facility for you to search hospitals and doctors close to you. This is worth looking at while you’re searching for a home.

Setting up home

Geneva? Zurich?

By far these two cities are the most popular for expats. They’re also the most expensive. Thankfully, Switzerland is very much on the small side – especially compared to expansive Australia.

Geneva has a lot to offer for expats. In terms of work, the city is home to many international institutions, such as the Red Cross, and it is, of course, home to the UN. It’s on the French side of the country, so there is a big Francophile influence. It is also the most expensive place to live in Switzerland due to the number of diplomats living there. Living here, one of the main attractions is of course, the lake. Lake Geneva is one of the biggest in Europe, and the 140 metre-high Jet d’Eau can be seen throughout the day. The old town is quaint, and there are a number of winding alleys to get lost in while getting to know your new home.

Zurich is the main business hub in the country, and is home to many national and international companies in the financial, technical and media sectors. As you would expect, this means house prices are as high as the demand. Expats with young families tend to live on the outskirts of the city, where things are a little greener and quieter. For those who want good nightlife, great restaurants, plus museums, galleries and of course, the pretty, historic old town, living in central Zurich may be the place for you.

TIP: Research the city you are thinking of heading for and check it matches your personality, family needs or work industry.

To rent or buy:

Like most countries on the European continent, renting is king. Real estate is prime – particularly in Geneva and Zurich and you might find you prefer to live like a local and opt for rental properties, too.

Oddly, Geneva and Zurich have switch-over periods, usually around each quarter, when new homes come up for grabs or people don’t renew their existing lease. These tend to be the times to have a look for properties, at the end of March, June, September and December. Given that over 60% of residents in these cities rent their home, it can be a huge expense when first setting up. You can be expected to pay up to four times your monthly rent in the deposit and down-payment. If you’re going through a letting agent, their fees will be on top of this.

Similar to the Australian rental system, landlords want to know they’re getting a reliable tenant, and will ask for a lot of information – both personal and financial – upfront before agreeing to let their property. It’s therefore a good idea to have a folder with copies of important documents like bank statements, letters of recommendation from your current landlord (if applicable) and some passport photos thrown in for good measure. You’ll need to declare your salary, whether you have pets and whether you play a musical instrument (some places will have a mandatory ‘quiet time’ where your rock guitar will be frowned upon – as would any classical piano recitals late at night.

This is also because most Swiss apartment blocks will adhere to a 10pm – 7am quiet time, which is some buildings also includes lunchtimes, and Sundays – meaning you need to avoid excess noise which might cause a disturbance to your neighbours.

When looking at properties, be very clear upfront about what is included – building maintenance, utilities and even laundry facilities may not be included in your rent. While properties are not usual on the market for long, do take in to consideration that leases are usually long-term and that three months’ notice to leave is normal. Plus, if you’re living in Zurich, official notice dates are 1st April and 1st October, so you will need to take this in to consideration, too.

To get a feel for what’s available, grab a glass of wine and have a look through property websites. have a housing section, as well as a driving section, plus insurance:

Immostreet and homegate both have a selection of properties to rent or buy if you’re considering taking the plunge:

Most homes come unfurnished – including white good kitchen fittings – and this is something you really should confirm before you sign the lease. In apartment blocks, you’re likely to find shared laundry facilities. It’s not uncommon for your apartment to have set days/times for when you can use this.


If you’re lucky, your rental agreement will include what’s known as ‘Nebenkosten’ which covers water, use of shared facilities (if applicable) and the general maintaining of the building. Electricity can be included but this is at the discretion of the landlord.

Having said that, electricity in Switzerland is privatised, so there are plenty of options to choose from. You’ll also find that most utility companies offer electricity, gas and water, so you’ll not really need three separate providers. Prices are regulated, so while it’s always good to shop around, prices are fairly similar.

Gas isn’t that common in Geneva or Zurich, partly due to the high price. However, if your property does have gas, there are only one provider in each city:

Geneva -

Zurich -

TIP: Bringing electrical goods from Australia? Not all appliances will be compatible with the voltage in Switzerland

Internet & mobile phones

Many mobile phone providers also provide internet, and vice versa. Some companies will also include TV packages, too.

The main providers are:

DFi -

Green -

Orange -

Swisscom -

Telekom -

Mobile contracts usually run for 24 months or will be pre-paid options.

TIP: If you’re bringing your Australian handset with you, make sure it’s unlocked and use to check it will work with your new carrier.


Every Swiss residence requires a TV licence, which currently costs CHF730 (approximately AUS$1010) for households of multiple occupancy, and CHF365 (approximately AUS$505) for solo dwellers. You can register and pay online here:

Hopefully, your landlord will have included cable TV fees in your rent. This won’t always be the most super-duper package will every channel, so you might want to top-up your TV.

The most popular cable TV providers in Switzerland are:

Slingbox -

Swisscom -

UPC Digital -

Getting around

Public transport

Excuse the pun, but public transport runs like a Swiss clock, and many people find they have no need for a car in Geneva or Zurich, though you might consider hiring a car if you want to get out in the country for hiking or skiing.

Almost all Swiss towns are connected to the rail network, and is possible the easiest way to get between cities. The Swiss network has over 700 stations and is used by around 445 million passengers each year.

There are four different types of train in Switzerland:

EuroCity – which connects Switzerland to neighbouring countries

InterCity – connects all the major cities

InterRegio – similar to the above, but with more stops

With such an extensive network and large usage, you might be forgiven that public transport in Switzerland is cheap – it isn’t. The best thing to do if you plan on using the network regularly is to invest in a rail card. There are a few to pick from, depending on what your usage will be.

The Half-Fair card entitles you to half-price travel across the rail network, trams, busses and boats (if needed in Geneva!).

In Geneva, there is a tram network with six lines and stops throughout the city centre and on to the suburbs. You can find a map on each of the stations. For the places that the trams don’t quite reach, there is also a regular bus service. The system also includes the yellow boat busses which operate on the lake. They all utilise the same ticket system, so you can buy a ticket which will incorporate all the modes of transport. There is a useful app that you can also download for your smartphone, which will be particularly useful when you first arrive in the city, to help you get accustomed to the city.

Zurich is equally well-connected, with some form of public transport stop every 300 metres. You can buy tickets valid for an hour, or for a 24 hour period. This is particularly helpful if you’re looking to get home after a night on the town – certain rail routes operate throughout the night – you’ll need to buy an additional ticket at a small surcharge if you’re using one of the premium night services.

TOP TIP: Make sure you keep hold of your ticket – trams, busses and stations are regularly patrolled and you’ll incur a hefty fine if you’re travelling without your ticket.

Getting a driving licence

You can drive on your Australian driving licence for up to 12 months after arrival, but then you’ll need to exchange for a Swiss licence.

Whether you opt for a new, or used car, there are certain legal regulations you need to take in to account. The biggest being insurance. You must ensure you have liability insurance for your vehicle, but you might also want to think about taking out fully-comprehensive insurance, and/or passenger accident insurance, as liability insurance only covers the car not the actual owner/driver.

TIP: Visit a comparison website, such as to explore the difference insurance options and costs.

What will the kids do all day?

School Options

The education system in Switzerland is excellent, with a mix of public and private schools offering a mix of international education systems.

Schooling is compulsory from ages six, when your little ones will start primary school and will stay there until they are 11 or 12. The exact timing will depend on your canton, as they rule the education system and curriculum. It’s also likely that if you’re sending your kids to a public school, whether primary or secondary, they’ll be taught in the language of that canton. So, if you’ve got particularly young children, this might be a good time for them to learn a second language, as the younger the child the quicker they’ll pick things up. Of course, it might help if that language is spoken outside of school too – a chance perhaps for you to dust off your old language lessons.

Public high school is split in to lower and upper secondary. Those in lower will have a broader education, with the curriculum covering humanities, sciences, sports and languages. It is only lower secondary school that is compulsory, at the end, students can decide to follow a more vocational-based route, or can continue to upper secondary, where there curriculum will be more focused in a pathway they choose – languages, humanities, maths and sciences for example. While opting for the vocational route might appear the easy option, students will still need to pass an entry exam to get in to vocational school, which they can begin to learn a trade that they can continue in vocational college.

If you have an older child, or they don’t speak an additional language, it’s likely they’ll attend an international school. There are 44 across the country, and so spaces are limited. They usually follow the International Baccalaureate (IB), though there are some schools offering the Montessori education system, as well as a couple of international systems. To have a look at the options, have a look at this website: which lists them all, along with contact details and websites for you to look further at the right option for your kids.

For all the ease of learning in a more familiar environment, and in the same language, international schools come at a price. Average fees are around CHF15,000 (AUD$21,000) per year. You’ll need to apply directly to the school itself and as already mentioned, there are few schools so competition for places is high and a lot of the schools have waiting lists for places.

TIP: Start researching schools as early as possible, particularly as there are so few international school places.

Under 5s

Childcare is expensive in Switzerland. Many working parents use day care centres, which tend to work around traditional office hours, Monday to Friday. However, some will expect you to take you child home at lunch time.

As with schools, private childcare facilities are more expensive. Crèches are perhaps the most popular option, and take children from 3 months to four years old. Some do include lunch care (including older children) and after-school care for the under 11s.

The amount you pay at a crèche will depend on how much you earn – and how many children you have in their care.

If you prefer you child to be at home, you might want to consider a nanny, or a Day mother. Nannies are usually expensive – and you’ll need to pay things like social security for them. However a Day mother, is very similar to a nanny in that they’ve usually raised their own children but do not have a job outside of this. Contact the town hall in Geneva or Zurich for a list of registered Day mothers.

Work Stuff

You’re not going to be able to work at all without having your paperwork in order. Whether you’re hoping to land a job before you arrive or are wanting to scope out the market when you’re here, use this time to polish your CV.

If you’re recruited from Australia, you may find you’ll be offered a generous relocation package, but if you’re already in Switzerland, there’s not the same incentive from potential employers to try and lure you across the globe. However, given some of the complex visa rules, this doesn’t mean that the company won’t assist you in getting legalities in order, have a clear list of questions regarding remuneration that you can ask.

Think about your language skills, too. As it’s such an international destination, English is very common, however, knowing an additional language will certainly help you stand out from the crowd. So, to get ahead of the game, you might want to start brushing up on your languages while you’re still in Oz.

Most expats arrive with a job, if only because it’s the easiest way to get other essentials like a house, utilities, and in some cases, a bank account. Plus, the lengthy visa process includes having an employer arrange your work permit. Otherwise you can only enter on a tourist visa for a limited stay.

TIP: While English is commonly spoken in the workplace, it will do you no harm to learn some additional language skills in either French, German or Italian depending on where you’re working or living.

Pack and close up shop

Book your flight

The earlier you can book your international flight the better price-wise. If you can travel outside the school holiday peak season, you’ll save money too. This usually means travelling around February to March, May to June, late July to mid-September, or mid-October to mid-December. The sooner that you can lock down your moving date the better so you can plan ahead and save. Check out this Australian Government education resource for school holiday dates.

Check out Skyscanner or Webjet, a couple of the handy air travel aggregators to help get you the best ticket prices possible. Especially if you are not fussy about which airline you fly with.

Cull the clutter

Packing up your life and starting a new one is a good chance to cleanse. Don’t stick everything you own into boxes and transport the lot to your new home. Take the time to cull! There are a few good reasons for this.

You may have been hanging on to old heirlooms from a previous life that don’t need to make the journey across the world. If the planned move is unlikely to be forever, then consider storing a few old boxes with a friend or relative or utilising King & Wilson’s long term storage services. You can revisit your old university text books again one day when you resettle back home. Or if the move to Switzerland might be indefinite, ask yourself whether you need eight boxes of old cassette tapes from the early 90s before you realised that CDs weren’t a passing fad… and while you’re there, how about that CD collection?

For more on minimalist packing check out this interesting perspective from

Tip: Cull unnecessary belongings and possessions before packing boxes

10 Weeks Before Moving Day

Give yourself plenty of time to plan the logistics of packing. A good international removalist, like King & Wilson will be your best friend in this regard – they won’t want you leaving this to the last minute either. A few things to think about 2-3 months out from the big day:

  • Put together a folder or box for all documents and receipts relevant to the move.

  • Start a conversation with an international shipping company such as King & Wilson to get an estimate.

  • Create a floor plan for your new home to get a sense of how many of your large sized furniture or appliances you may need to get rid of.

  • Your belongings will be arriving by sea; however, it only takes a couple of weeks for your boxed-up life to arrive in Switzerland. You may therefore only need to pack some additional clothing, linen, towels and key crockery and key kitchen utensils in your flight luggage. You may also consider pre-arranging excess baggage as it is much cheaper to book in advance than turning up on departure day with more than your baggage allowance. King & Wilson offers a smaller air shipment service to cover off this need as well.

  • If you haven’t done so already, and you’re able to, get yourself a Swiss bank account, and if possible start to pay a little in to it so you have a cushion when you arrive.

Tip: Start a conversation with international movers now rather than later

6 Weeks Before Moving Day

Now you are edging closer to the big move, you want to start ticking off what will and won’t make it on the journey. For example:

  • Take an inventory list of all items around your home that will need to come with you.

  • Start selling off large or redundant items via Gumtree or ebay that you don’t want to take with you.

  • Hold a garage sale or take advantage of any local market stalls or jumble sales

  • If you are not wanting to ship your car across, then start the process of selling your vehicle on Carsales or a similar online classifieds service

  • Begin getting any paperwork you need for bringing your pet, make any necessary vet appointments and have any vaccinations your animal needs.

  • Start to compile your paperwork: things like CV copies, letters of recommendation, health certificates, medication lists. Basically, anything you might need to register for a service, or secure a house/job.

4 Weeks Before Moving Day

With less than a month to the move, you need to start getting your hands dirty and actually packing a few things away, particularly items you are not using day to day:

  • Collect moving boxes and packing supplies. Or if you move your home with King & Wilson, simply use the international shipping cartons provided.

  • Start by packing things you don't use much currently like extra dining or kitchen utensils and seasonal clothing. Visit this resource from Energy Australia on the right way to pack when moving house or this interesting blog post on the subject by Frugal Mama.

  • Donate the things you don't need (or that you haven’t been able to sell off).

  • Think about consuming your pantry stocks and frozen goods as well as home cleaning products, shampoos and soaps.

Tip: Start by packing the things you do not use day to day

1-2 Weeks Before Moving Day

Eek! You are merely days away from the move now and need to be thinking about leaving behind a clean, empty home for a new inhabitant. You also need to think about tying up loose ends at home, the flight and what you need for your first days in Switzerland:

  • Confirm all your travel arrangements.

  • Finish packing your essentials.

  • Clean and defrost your refrigerator 24 hours before you move, turn off all the pipes and make sure you didn't leave any appliances on.

  • Cancel the newspaper subscription, contact Australia Post to redirect your mail to your new address in Switzerland, disconnect your utilities like the electricity, gas and internet.

  • If you know your new address in Switzerland, you may wish to pre-arrange your utilities connection. A specialist international moving company like King & Wilson can arrange this for you.

  • Say your goodbyes, provide your new contact details and travel itinerary to your family and friends.

Tip: Don’t forget to redirect the mail to your Swiss address.

On Moving Day

You’ve made it to the big day. The job now is mainly to get out of the way of the professionals and focus on your breathing:

  • Let the professionals do their thing. A good removalist will take care of packing your belongings carefully and thoroughly.

  • A good international shipping mover will also cover off all the necessary shipping documentation to facilitate prompt customs clearance and quarantine inspection once your belongings arrive in Switzerland.

Get to the airport, put on those noise cancelling headphones and relax for 3 hours or so in anticipation of your new adventure!