The modern Swiss abroad

Expatriate Swiss have a very different outlook on the world compared with their compatriots at home.

This content was published on June 6, 2003 - 17:19

A swissinfo poll also shows the Swiss abroad are less conservative and more open to the idea of reform.

They are also likely to return to Switzerland more often than previous generations and feel at home in more than one country.

The online survey commissioned by swissinfo and the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA) reveals a high level of mobility among today's expatriate community.

"When the Swiss went abroad 50 or 100 years ago, they went to look for work and often stayed in their adopted country," Georg Stucky, president of the OSA, told swissinfo.

"The survey shows that nowadays, young or middle-aged Swiss will often return to Switzerland after a couple of years, before perhaps going abroad again.

"Older people who retire abroad are also likely to maintain a close contact with Switzerland," he added.

Embracing the world

The survey shows that there is greater support among the Swiss abroad for both the European Union and the United Nations.

They supported UN membership by an overwhelming majority - 86 per cent voted in favour compared to 55 per cent in Switzerland.

A majority of those polled - 58 per cent - said they would like to see Switzerland join the European Union by 2007 - a figure that contrasts starkly with the level of public support for EU membership in Switzerland.

Further evidence that they are less conservative than voters in Switzerland was their support for the liberalising of the country's electricity market in a vote last year.

Although the proposal was defeated, the survey shows that 62 per cent of the Swiss abroad were in favour.

Margrit Lyster, who works for the Swiss Benevolent Fund in London, told swissinfo she was not surprised by the survey's findings that the Swiss abroad seem to be more "open-minded".

"We do have an extra window [on the world]," she said. "And we have a wider perspective on issues."

More than one home

Only 16 per cent the Swiss abroad identify Switzerland as their "home" with a majority - 36 per cent - saying it was possible to feel at home in more than one country.

Typically the Swiss abroad define their identity in terms of the country in which they live and their Swiss heritage. Only 13 per cent of them define themselves solely as Swiss.

Lyster has lived in the United Kingdom for almost 40 years but admits she remains Swiss.

"I am 100 per cent integrated - I am married to an Englishman and have two daughters," she told swissinfo. "But I do have very strong ties and deeps roots in Switzerland."

"I have a Swiss passport, so I am very much Swiss," she added.


A higher percentage of the Swiss abroad have a university qualification - 43 per cent compared with 10 per cent among the Swiss population as a whole.

There is also a marked difference in the kinds of jobs they hold.

Many of them are in top management positions in both the public and private sectors, and a quarter of them are self- employed.

Just over one-third of expatriate Swiss were born abroad.

But for the remaining 64 per cent, personal and family ties were the chief reasons given for moving.

swissinfo, Jonathan Summerton

Key facts

There are almost 600,000 Swiss living abroad and over 70 per cent of them have dual nationality.
Only around 83,000 or 18 per cent take part in nationwide votes in Switzerland.
The largest Swiss community abroad is in France - almost 155,000, followed by the United States and Germany - around 69,000.
Almost 60 per cent of the Swiss abroad live in the European Union.

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