Moving to Switzerland?
Moving to Switzerland
At a Glance:
- Switzerland is a country of just over eight million people. It has three official languages, German, French, and Italian, with Romansh a fourth, semi-official language.
- The country is divided into three areas: the Alps, the Central Plateau, and the Jura.
- Switzerland’s three largest cities include Zurich, Geneva, and Basel. Each city has a significant foreign population, and many international companies and organizations have their headquarters in one of these Swiss cities.
- As a member of the Schengen community, non-EU nationals staying in Switzerland for less than three months can apply for a Schengen visa.
- EU citizens do not need a visa to enter Switzerland. However, everyone, including EU nationals, require a residence permit if they intend on staying in Switzerland for over three months. There are a number of different permit types available.
Your Move to Switzerland: Know What to Expect
Owing to Swiss neutrality, which has remained unchallenged since 1815, countless European intellectuals and artists chose exile in Switzerland during the political turbulences of the early 20th century. Did you know that one Vladimir Illyich Ulyanov, a.k.a. Lenin, was among them? Today, despite at times tight restrictions on foreigners moving to the country, Switzerland still attracts many expats from all over the world.
Despite its small area (41,285 km²) and low population figures of just over eight million, it is a diverse country both in terms of its geography and people. Situated right in the center of Europe, sharing borders with Germany, France, Italy, Austria, and Liechtenstein, you will soon discover that these neighboring countries have had a major influence on Swiss culture.
French, German, and Italian traditions still live on in the respective parts of the country. This pluralism has also influenced Switzerland’s politics and style of government. Many people who move to Switzerland from countries with a more centralized administration are surprised at the high degree of autonomy granted to each of the 26 cantons.
The country has no less than three official languages, German, French, and Italian. However, some expats might be surprised to find out that there’s a fourth, semi-official, language: Romansh, a group of old Rhaeto-Romance dialects spoken by less than 1% of the population in the upper valleys of the Rhine and Inn.
You can find out more about the local languages and their cultural significance in our in-depth article on Switzerland's Language Diversity.
One Country, Three Areas
Geographically, Switzerland can be divided into three areas: the Alps to the south, the Central Plateau (the “middle land”) to the center, which is the most densely populated region of the country, and the Jura Mountains to the north.
The different regions may be subject to quite different weather conditions: While Switzerland has a moderate continental climate, the southern regions experience warmer, more Mediterranean temperatures, as well as more precipitation compared to the rest of the country. The latter is due to the mountains, which disperse most of the rain clouds before they reach the northern regions. While snow and frost are common everywhere in winter, expats moving to Switzerland’s higher Alpine regions should be prepared for much lower temperatures.
For more information on Swiss geography, its political history, and the autonomy of the cantons, make sure to also read our article Switzerland: Small but Diverse.
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