Switzerland Expat Health Insurance Guide
They say that you get what you pay for, and never is this truer than in the case of Switzerland. The country – famous for giving the world Swizz army knives, Roger Federer and the first ever bond girl, Ursula Andress – is both one of the most expensive countries in the world as well as offering one of the highest qualities of life.
Both Geneva and Zurich frequently top lists of the best places in the world to live, the Swiss enjoy the 2nd highest life expectancy anywhere in the world and the highest wealth per adult of any nation.
This is just as well in a country where a beer can set you back over $5 and public transport – while clean and punctual – is some of the most expensive in the world.
The Swiss climate is highly varied and depends largely on your altitude. Alpine areas are typically much colder than lower lying areas and many of the larger mountains retain their snow covering right throughout the year. The lowlands – where most major cities are to be found – benefit from a temperate climate which oscillates between cold, snowy winters and warm, sunny summers.
In many ways this means that expats should look forward to pleasant, manageable temperatures throughout much of the year with picturesque snowy Christmases. For those with a passion, there is enough snow around even in the height of summer to enjoy skiing all year round.
The Swiss culture is characterised by good manners, punctuality and honesty. Hard work is respected while sloppiness – in your appearance or in your dealings with others – are less welcome.
Smoking is banned from almost all public places and working environments, though oddly some local councils may opt to issue permits that allow certain restaurants and bars to become smoking establishments. Check carefully before lighting up to avoid causing offence or landing yourself with a sizeable fine.
Even dropping litter is widely frowned upon and it is not unusual to receive verbal abuse from Swiss citizens if you are caught dropping your rubbish on the floor rather than placing it into the bin.
In essence then the Swiss culture is one of organization, cleanliness and efficiency. Depending on your outlook on life this culture may be either viewed as suffocating conservative or refreshingly well organized.
There is no “Swiss” language; instead there are four “official” languages in Switzerland. Of these, German is the most commonly spoken, and is used by 64% of the population. French, Italian and Romansh are also frequently spoken. While not an official language, the excellent public education system means that many Swiss are able to speak English though this is unlikely to be their primary language.
The Swiss public transport is world-famous for its modernity, cleanliness and punctuality; and rightly so. An excellent (if high priced) rail system operates across the country and connects most of the major towns and cities. Due to the mountainous terrain through which trains must travel, a number of world-famous rail viaducts have been built in Switzerland. Surprisingly these draw train fanatics from around the world, so a train ride in Switzerland isn’t just a form of transport but also a source of entertainment.
Alternatively one may drive in Switzerland with a UK, EU or international driving license. Note that in Switzerland it is compulsory to carry a warning triangle in your vehicle at all times and that, due to the climate, it is strongly advised to keep snow chains and a shovel in your vehicle should these be necessary.
While driving in Switzerland can be a pleasure, with stern fines for poor driving helping to keep drivers on their toes, be aware that roads can rapidly become impassable in poor weather. Melting snow and avalanches do not make easy bed-fellows with Switzerland’s many narrow, winding roads.
The public healthcare in Switzerland is considered one of the very best in the world. All European nationals can gain access to emergency medical treatment upon presentation of a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). That said, an EHIC will not cover the costs of medical repatriation, long term medical care or non-emergency treatment.
As a result even Swiss nations typically rely on medical insurance policies. As a visitor you should consider suitable insurance to be compulsory before leaving home, in order to ensure that you have access to the all the care necessary should a medical situation arise while in Switzerland.
Yet to join the Euro, the currency used in Switzerland is the Swiss Franc – often shortened to CHF. Many prices are, all the same, also displayed in Euros to enable visitors and expats to compare prices. In these cases, you will find that some businesses accept payment in Euros though you should not expect this service. Additionally, even in cases where they do, your change is most likely to be in Swiss francs.
The schooling in Switzerland is considered by many to be world class. What is particularly interesting is that rather than relying on one government body to oversee the entire school system, each “canton” (or area) has its own school board instead. It’s a system that certainly seems to be working for the Swiss.
Schooling in compulsory for children aged between 6 and 15 years, and is free for children of all nationalities. That said, as English is not an official language, some expatriate children struggle to keep up with the lessons.
In these cases the wide range of international schools may be considered; many of which teach in English. The Swiss Group of International Schools (SGIS) can be an excellent place to start your search.
It’s worth noting that many well-known schools and colleges in the UK have since set up sister establishments in Switzerland. Enrolment in these schools is particularly popular with expats and can lead to opportunities for international travel also.
Gstaad, located equidistantly between Berne and Geneva and has a reputation for the best schools in the country.
Food & Drink
Switzerland has long been a cultural melting pot, as evidenced by the wide variety of languages spoken here. As a result, the Swiss cuisine often reflects these different cultures, with French, Italian and German foods being commonplace.
Swiss chocolate is, of course, a speciality and cheese tends to feature prominently on the menu. Fondue is the national dish of Switzerland and is understandably popular as a result.
As with so many other things in Switzerland, food is expensive when compared to other Western nations, and this is particularly noticeable in restaurants. While there is a well-established restaurant culture in Switzerland, one should be aware of the inherent costs involved before sitting down to eat. Many expats have a nasty surprise when the bill arrives for the first time!
As might be expected from a country like Switzerland, the Swiss are overall a very law-abiding nation. Visitors and expats alike should feel just as safe – if not more so – than they do in their home country.
That said, the Foreign Office does report an increased number of minor thefts and pick pocketing around some of the larger cities such as Geneva. As with any major city around the world, keep your wits about you and keep wallets, purses and bags secured firmly to avoid temptation.
Switzerland has been experiencing an explosion in tick-borne diseases over recent years including Lyme disease and tick-borne encephalitis. The problems only occur in warmer summer weather, and are most common in the countryside. Ensure that skin is covered to reduce the chances of a tick making contact with you and if in any doubt seek medical assistance as soon as possible.
Places to Visit
Switzerland benefits from both breath-taking natural beauty and a long history; which means picturesque villages, castles and historical monuments. World famous as a travel destination, Switzerland is a mecca for nature lovers and cultural aficionados alike.
If you’re seeking alpine mountain views then the Jungfrau region should be top of your list. With three giant mountains and miles of well-maintained footpaths the avid walker and nature-buff alike will find much here to nurture the soul.
In many ways, Zurich represents the cultural heartland of Switzerland, offering visitors not just historic buildings and the largest selection of museums found anywhere in the country but also more than a hundred art galleries.
Zermatt is best described as a small town with a big personality. Each winter the town is overrun with adventure seekers looking to ski or climb in the snowy mountains surrounding the town. Its proximity to the Matterhorn is its most notable draw.
Considered by many to be one of the most attractive cities in the world, Lucerne is home to a 14th century bridge which is said to be the most famous monument in the whole of Switzerland.