Switzerland’s high wages attract expats, but why are many disappointed with daily life?

Keystone/patrick Huerlimann

Do expats in Switzerland protest too much? With an average salary of $200,000 and some of the planet’s most beautiful scenery on their doorstep, what’s not to like? 

This content was published on June 7, 2020 - 11:08

“Hell is other people,” wrote French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. While this is possibly too strong to describe foreigners’ attitudes towards locals in Switzerland, the Swiss regularly rank near the bottom of expat surveys for friendliness. 

“When it comes to safety and security, Switzerland is number one,” Malte Zeeck, the German founder and co-CEO of expat network InterNations, told The problem is settling in, feeling welcome and making friends. “Here, Switzerland ranks really badly.” 

Before we go any further, we should try to define “expat”. Anyone living abroad? Professionals working in multinationals for a set period? Somewhere in between? Here's some food for thought:

If money does indeed play a role in defining an expat, those in Switzerland are at the top of the tree, bringing home an average annual income of more than $200,000, according to a 2018 study: 

And there are many other positives: expats frequently give Switzerland good or excellent marks for quality of life, quality of the environment, peacefulness, travel opportunities and transport infrastructure, personal safety and political stability.   

However, the quality of life comes at a cost: Switzerland often ranks near the bottom of international surveys for the cost of living, with the affordability of housing, healthcare and childcare being major issues.   

Here, for any expats thinking about moving to Switzerland, is a look at the pros and cons of the main cities: 

But despite these gloomy-looking statistics, most expats don’t consider the Swiss to be unfriendly and do feel at home. 

British entrepreneur and author Richard Williams, who has lived in Switzerland since 2004, told that you only get out of Switzerland what you put in. “Get your toes in the earth. Appreciate the physical beauty. Just get out and meet people – it’s quite straightforward. Things work here! The trains are on time – it’s remarkable! There shouldn’t be too much complaining if you come here as an expat. It’s probably your own fault if you’ve got any problems because there couldn’t be an easier country to live in!” Here's the full interview:

Fitting in at a new workplace is not always easy. How formal should you be with colleagues? How important is a deadline? Here are the answers to those questions and some other Swiss cultural quirks: 

Life in a new country can also been challenging for so-called travelling spouses. But help is at hand: 

In this article an American expat in Zurich describes what it’s like to experience loneliness as a foreigner, especially during the holiday season, and offers advice on how to combat it: 

But what advice can be given on how to overcome expats’ main gripe about Switzerland: making friends? As this not-entirely-serious video explains, “just follow these easy 358 steps and you’ll have a Swiss friend in no time”: 

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