living in Switzerland

What Life is Like in Switzerland: My Personal Experience

Even though I’m an American who lives in Switzerland I never really thought about documenting my experiences here, even though I often write about my travels to other countries. It’s been over 10 years since I moved to Switzerland, and boy there have been a lot of ups and downs. I’ve had many a friend come and go and met enough acquaintances throughout those years to know that no two stories are the same. Some people thrive as soon as they arrive, others simply hate life in Switzerland and still others have mixed feelings about living here. And you know how the local Swiss feel about us…”you should feel so lucky you’re even here.”

Switzerland life

I’m speaking very generally of course and it’s obviously more nuanced than this, but these are the types of people I see usually thrive in Switzerland:

  • Avid nature and hiking lovers
  • People from small towns or villages where the population is low
  • People who have never lived in Europe before

living in Switzerland

And these are the people I usually see have a difficult or mixed time in Switzerland:

  • People from large cities with high population and high energy
  • People from places with strong communities typical of Mediterranean or Latin American countries
  • People who do not speak any of the local language
  • Unemployed trailing spouses struggling to find work here

It was very difficult for me to get used to how small even the biggest Swiss cities are. Coming from Los Angeles, Zurich and Geneva felt like tiny little villages to me with hardly any people. Someone from a small French village, though, is going to feel like Geneva is a full-blown bustling metropolitan city. Someone from a small French town actually told me that once. It’s all relative. While Zurich is certainly more dynamic, in general, Swiss cities feel slow, low-energy and underpopulated to me. They are, however, some of the most beautiful cities you’ll ever live in. And if you hate overpopulated cities, the quiet life you’ll lead in Switzerland is going feel like a peaceful respite.

living in Switzerland

Why I Can’t Live Anywhere Else Now That I’ve Lived in Switzerland

Despite my struggles during the first few years living in Switzerland, I cannot see myself living in any other country now. Once you’ve lived here, living anywhere else feels like..a major step down. This is the land of luxury as one of the richest countries in the world. You know how people complain about Paris being dirty? You’ll never hear that about Switzerland.

Compared to the pristine, meticulously maintained landscapes and roads of Switzerland, everywhere else looks rough around the edges. Basically, other neighbouring European countries look like aesthetic poverty, while Switzerland is aesthetic luxury. If you’re not rich in other countries you live aesthetically poor, but even if you’re not rich in Switzerland, it still feels like you’re living a rich lifestyle just because the standard of living is so high. There’s no stark contrast between rich and poor like you would see in major cities elsewhere in the world. Don’t fight me on this, I don’t make the rules.

life in Switzerland

life in Switzerland

Unrivalled Nature

Once you’ve experienced the Swiss Alps, which is a hop and a skip away from any city you live in here, all other mountains will be ruined for you. I went to Big Bear on one of my visits back to LA, and the mountains looked so sad compared to what I was used to. It felt downright depressing to be there for me. Switzerland will turn you into a snooty mcsnootster because I felt bad for all the local Californians around me, that this was all that was easily accessible to them. Plus, the air and water here is clean and safe and comes from the Alps, whereas tap water in other European countries is undrinkable.

living in Switzerland

Walkable Cities

Angelenos, which is what people who live in Los Angeles are called, are used to spending a third of their lives in their car driving. I was born into this lifestyle and it was the only one I’ve known and how everyone I knew around me lived. You cannot get anywhere in Southern California without driving, and within LA city itself, the joke is that going from one part of the city to another, even if it’s just 7 miles, will always take an average of 45 mins. Don’t even get me started on having to find parking.

living in Switzerland
in the restaurant section on the Swiss train

In Switzerland, the cities are so compact and walkable, I don’t even need a city public transportation pass because I live in the city center. And the buses and trams here are clean and safe, something that I’ve never had in LA.

living in Switzerland

As a Woman, Not Having to Exist in Fear

This one is for the ladies. In Switzerland, you don’t have to walk around with your head on a swivel. Even at night, I can walk around past 10pm not having to fear for my life or look over my shoulder every other second. I do not wake up to news every morning of shootings and missing persons.

The joke in Switzerland is that the Swiss police are only around to solve noise complaints and parking violations. If you come from a major metropolitan city, and you are not a man or you are not white, then you know the low key-fear you carry with you at all times, and how exhausting it can be. Just existing as a woman means living in fear. In Switzerland I don’t have to carry that burden anymore.

living in Switzerland

Actual Work Life Balance and Great Benefits

Unlike the US, burnout isn’t something to be proud of here. Having the most PTO days is something to brag about. Swiss people care about work life balance and that goes for all jobs not just corporate, so all shops and groceries stores close at 7PM on weekdays, 5PM on Saturday and are closed on Sundays. I can’t tell you the number of times I would forget about this and head out to grocery shop on Sunday, because who wants to do it after an exhausting work day or on a fun-filled Saturday, and find the shop closed.

PTO is almost always 3-4 weeks a year, which is super uncommon in the US. Europeans value their vacation time. A lot of stores and boutiques, even restuarants, will shut down for the entire month of August so they can go on holiday too.

Unemployment benefits are incredible too. When I left my job, I had been working there for more than 2 years so I was able to receive unemployment benefits of 60 or 70% of my salary for 2 years.

International Hub

The caliber of people you will meet generally in Switzerland is high if you’re in the international circles. I can’t speak for the local Swiss – they’re a hit or miss depending on how ambitious they were in life. In international circles, people are usually in Switzerland for professional reasons and they have “made it” to a certain extent in their careers to end up here. The likelihood of meeting interesting, successful people in hubs like Geneva and Zurich is high.

You know all those social media videos that try to teach you how to level up in life say, if you want to meet the right people, then you need to start placing yourself in settings where those people are? If there was ever a setting where you could network with the right people, it would be Switzerland.

living in Switzerland

Dog friendly

Not that this is unique to Switzerland, but I appreciate it’s a dog friendly country. There are free dog poop bag stations everywhere and plenty of dog parks. It’s also just a much nicer setting for my dog than a concrete jungle.

High Quality European Food & Wine Is Your Norm

In the US if I wanted to have authentic Italian or French I had to go somewhere fancy, probably a little snobby, to get it. It’s tired and pretentious. Here, good French and Italian food is just food, as in it’s just normal, everyday staples not something fancy.

Frequent Trips to all the European destinations like it’s NBD

I saved the best for last. Can you believe I will have gone to Italy 5 times by the end of this year. It’s so easy and cheap to fly around Europe when you live in Switzerland (probably more difficult if you live in Eastern Europe or Portugal), because you’re so central. It’s still mind-boggling to me that it’s just normal to go to France one weekend then Spain the next. Most people back home in California will go on a Eurotrip maybe once in their lifetime, or more if they’re highly successful with a flexible job. A trip to Europe from any other continent is always going to cost thousands at the bare minimum, while it can cost as little as $30 for me to fly to a cool island.

living in Switzerland

What I Have to Put Up With Living in Switzerland

Now that I’ve covered the biggest pros of what living in Switzerland is like, here is the dark side of life in the land of cheese. Things move very slowly here, as in life is slow. There isn’t much of a startup culture here as in the US so there’s just not much innovation happening all across the board. Ideas are adopted from the US and started by some brave folks here about 5-10 years after it’s taken off in the US. Poke, boba, açai, goldendoodles. Actually, goldendoodle sightings are still rare here, but I’m sure the country will be overrun with them within the decade. Switzerland is an old society with a large ageing population, and they’re not into new. They like things just as they are as they were 50 years ago.

My biggest woe living in Switzerland has, and will always be, how stupidly expensive things are and the lack of cheap, good Mexican food.

If you’re coming from LA or NY not everything is going to seem all that more expensive, but life is just more expensive overall.

A meal out for 2 is always going to cost north of $100.

Taco Bell? Forget it, you’re never going to have anything remotely similar to that or Chipotle here. You *can* however pay more than $8 for a single decent taco though.

24/7 is not a concept here and probably will never be.

Making friends is very difficult. Sure I met a ton of people, even befriended some of them, but those relationships didn’t last. Most of the time, it’s because most people don’t live in Switzerland forever. They’re here for a temporary post and once they’ve secured the bag they go home or onto the next country. Out of all the people I’ve hung out with over the last decade, only a few are friends I could actually count on if I needed help. That’s not to say that making friends even if they’re temporary isn’t worth it. Each person taught me a little something or impacted my life in some way.

There’s very little shopping choices available here and it you’re heavily fined with customs and import taxes if you try to buy and ship things from other countries. I don’t think the dudes will care about this as much, but for women this can be a real bummer. We need material things to be happy ok!? Most Swiss people will take the train 3 hours to Paris to go shopping or to London. If I want to buy stuff from brands outside of Switzerland, I have to keep it to under 60 francs to avoid customs fees, which is something like 30% of the product value + shipping cost combined.

There are some small cultural nuances that also make life in Switzerland so different. This is a reserved, closed off society, so someone chatting you up while waiting in the grocery checkout line is extremely odd and the Swiss would assume something’s a little wrong with you upstairs. In the US it’s not at all uncommon to have friendly banter with a total stranger, and this is something I do miss.

If you’re BIPOC, I can guarantee you’ll have to deal with microagressions if not outright racism. It’s always the middle-aged and old folks. It’s unlikely to be violent like it could be in the US, but keep in mind you’re going to be surrounded by people who have lived in homogenous countries their whole lives, whether it be Switzerland or another country. It’s wild to me that a lot of these people have never been exposed to diversity, and I’m assuming they grew up in bigoted households. Some people don’t know how to treat you like everyone else because all they see is your race. It’s like they literally can’t see past it.

People are not as “woke” as Americans have to be, and racism is not called out and put on blast in other countries like it is in the States. Switzerland is the country whose news reporters most recently during the start of the Russia Ukraine War said on national TV, we should save Ukrainian refugees because “they look like us, they don’t look like other refugees.”

I don’t care what anyone says, racism is accepted in Switzerland, and Swiss people aren’t exempt from having some of the most racist people ever. I have heard a great deal of casual racism towards refugees, Africans and Muslims when Swiss people have felt comfortable enough to speak freely with me in private conversations. The racist Swiss people always have a superiority complex and they even view the Spanish, Portuguese and darker Italians as beneath them. The latter is what Mexican immigrants are to racist Americans.

I have experienced microagressions both in and out of the workplace, and if you have or had to deal with this, either put them in their place in that moment or move on. I am so glad I never have to deal with misogynistic, bigoted bosses, ignorant coworkers and annoying asf people in a Swiss workplace again.

If you’re a white person reading this, I hope you call out racism when you see it. It isn’t enough to be “not racist” anymore, you need to be anti-racist.

So yes there are a lot of annoyances to living in Switzerland, but they don’t outweigh the pros for me.

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