Your new life in Switzerland

Getting started

Your new life in Switzerland

The daily papers, television and also the radio, plus numerous Internet pages will help you to become familiar with life in Switzerland.


If you intend to stay in Switzerland for longer than three months and/or to take up gainful employment, you must report to the local authorities within 14 days of your arrival. In any case you must register before starting a job.

Translocation goods

If you transfer your legal domicile to Switzerland, you are allowed to import household effects, pets, vehicles and personal belongings duty-free as so called relocation goods. On importation, you are to present form 18.44 (Declaration/Application for clearance of relocation goods) in duplicate at the customs office. You can download this form from the website of the Federal Customs Administration; it is also available at the Swiss representations abroad (embassies and consulates).


The cost of living in Switzerland is very high. Zurich and Geneva are even among the most expensive cities in the world. Both apartments and food are very expensive here. The same applies to the compulsory health insurance; the premiums are not, however, directly deducted from salary.


The habitable surface of Switzerland is very small. The Swiss population has mainly settled in the central plateau, known as the Mittelland. For some years there has been an acute shortage of apartments in the larger cities and prices are correspondingly high (over 20% of the average salary). It can thus prove difficult to find suitable accommodation. The condition of rented apartments is generally good and the kitchens are mostly equipped with a refrigerator, a kitchen stove, etc. If you are looking for an apartment, we recommend a visit to the specialised websites. Or contact the real estate agents operating in your chosen region.


In the large towns there are a great number of supermarkets and shops of all types. In town they are mostly open over lunchtime. On Saturdays they shut at 4 or 5pm and on Sundays the shops are closed. On Thursday or Friday evenings they have late closing, normally at 8 or even 9pm. In the large railway stations some shops open until 8 or 10pm as well as on Saturdays and Sundays.


In Switzerland there are many clubs and associations which play a very important role in the integration of foreign nationals. Ask your local authorities for a list. Cultural activities are above all varied in the large towns. In villages, cultural and sports activities are organised by the people living

there. In addition to football, hiking and cycling are the most popular forms of exercise.


Income tax is levied both by the federal government (Direct Federal Tax) as well as by the cantons and communes (Cantonal and Communal Taxes). As each of the 26 cantons has its own fiscal laws, the tax burden varies from one canton to another. In general, taxpayers have to complete a declaration every year, based upon which income and assets tax are calculated.

Taxes are directly deducted (taxation at source) from the salaries of foreign workers who are not in possession of a permanent residence permit C but have their domicile in Switzerland under fiscal law. A deduction is subsequently levied in the case of gross salaries above CHF 120,000.–

In some cantons all taxpayers receive an invoice for church tax!

The imposition of taxes in the case of border-crossing commuters depends on various factors: place of residence, workplace, but also additional factors, such as wage levels.

Switzerland has concluded agreements on the avoidance of double taxation with many other countries.


The country has a very dense and efficient public transport system. Day for day, many hundred thousands of passengers take the train or bus to work or school. This range of transport facilities also has its price – train tickets are expensive. Many Swiss therefore have a so-called half-fare card, which enables them to travel at half price. Fares are also reduced for many other forms of public transport.

In towns, many people travel to work or to their free-time activities by bike. All bicycles require a sticker (vignette), which is compulsory and valid for one year (June to May). The vignette serves as third-party liability insurance and covers costs up to CHF 2,000,000.–. (Available at post-office counters and in shops).

There is a dense network of motorways in Switzerland’s central plateau. Vehicles using the motorway system must have a motorway sticker (vignette). This costs CHF 40.– per year and can be purchased at the customs as well as at post offices and petrol stations.

Validity of your driving licence

During the first twelve months of your stay in Switzerland you may, without

further formalities, drive a vehicle corresponding to the categories listed in your national driving licence, provided you have reached the minimum age (at least 18 for motorcycles, cars and lorries, 21 for buses). After this period you must exchange your foreign driving licence for a Swiss one (professional lorry drivers before the first journey).

You can exchange your driving licence at the road vehicle office in your canton. The following documents are required for your application:

  • fully completed and signed application form
  • passport or identity card
  • initial or permanent residence permit
  • original driving licence
  • current passport photograph

Changing your domicile

If you change your domicile, you must inform the aliens police/migration authorities in your commune within 14 days after your move. They will inform you about further steps.

Privat life

The registry office in your commune is responsible for the registration of births, deaths and marriages. The birth of your child, for example, must be registered within three days of the confinement.

Telephoning in Switzerland

The international code for calls from other countries to Switzerland is 41. Dial 0041 plus the telephone number without the zero: 0041 (0)31 XXX XX XX.

Further reading

Does this article help?

Do you have any comments, updates or questions on this topic? Ask them here: