Moving to Zurich FAQ

zurichmapCongratulations on your decision to move to Zurich!

Here you will find a sophisticated city that is ranked one of the best in the world for quality of life. As a newcomer to the area, you'll find that the American Woman's Club of Zurich (AWCZ) offers a warm welcome, as well as support as you settle in and adjust to life in your new home.

If you have recently moved to Zurich, the best way to get answers to your questions is by attending some of the AWCZ's many events and activities. Learn more about our membership options and view our events calendar.

The AWCZ has also compiled an excellent 400-page resource guide, Living in Zurich®, which answers newcomers' questions. Answers in this section are drawn from Living in Zurich®.

In addition, the AWCZ offers an educational program, Living in Zurich, to introduce newcomers to all aspects of life here, from finding an apartment to choosing a school to paying taxes. This engaging program not only helps you feel more at home in Zurich but also offers you an excellent opportunity to network with other newcomers. The program is open to any resident to Zurich—whether you're an AWCZ member or not!

 

 
 



CUSTOMS
What personal property may I bring to Switzerland? May I bring my pets?
By following Swiss Customs regulations, you may import your pets and other personal items into Switzerland while paying  few or no customs duties. To learn more about customs regulations, visit the Swiss Customs Admisitration website. To learn more about importing your pets, visit the Swiss Veterinary Office website.

 

 

HEALTH CARE
How does the Swiss health care system work?

Excellent medical care is offered throughout Switzerland. Many physicians and dentists receive training in the United States. Medical and dental care in Switzerland is practiced in much the same way as in the United States and other western nations. Choosing a physician and dentist in Zurich poses the same problems as it would anywhere. Ask friends, relatives, neighbors, business associates, your local pharmacist, your local hospital or cantonal medical society for recommendations. A detailed list of English-speaking doctors and dentists for every specialty is available in the Living in Zürich® Guide.

 

What are the health insurance requirements in Switzerland?
All residents must purchase basic health insurance. In Switzerland, it is normal to arrange medical and accident insurance privately. Rates for your health insurance premium are also based on the type of hospital accommodation you require. There are three types of hospital accommodations available in Switzerland: ward (allgemein), semi-private (halb-privat) and private (privat). A ward has multiple beds in one room (usually four to eight); semi-private has two beds; and private has only one.To learn more about health insurance requirements and rates, visit
en.comparis.ch.

 

HOUSING
How can I find housing in Zurich?

Finding housing can sometimes be a challenge. Demand for certain types of housing far exceeds supply. Rents are higher than in most US cities and vary according to location, neighborhood and type of building. Both houses and apartments are usually smaller than their US counterparts and contain smaller rooms. The purchase of a house or apartment by foreigners is highly regulated in Switzerland.

Light fixtures, draperies and closets are typically not included in rental apartments and houses. Most rentals will have washing machines and dryers, but many buildings only offer shared facilities.

Apartments and houses can be found through print and online advertisements or through real estate brokers and relocation specialists.

Online and Newspaper Advertisements
Neue Züricher Zeitung Domizil
Immoscout24.ch

Real Estate Brokers and Property Management Firms
Real estate brokers are listed under the classifications "Immobilien" and "Liegenschaften." They have a very limited listing of houses or apartments at a given time, and you must call them weekly to find out if they have new possibilities. There is no fee charged to the tenant. Two of the largest real estate brokers in the Zurich area are Schaeppi and Livit.

Relocation Specialists
Relocation Specialists work on an independent basis to assist with housing searches. Many of these specialists provide additional services such as helping set up utilities, registering with local authorities and finding schools.
 
LANGUAGE
What language is spoken in Zurich?

The national languages of Switzerland are Swiss German (Central and Eastern Switzerland), French (Western Switzerland), Italian (Southern Switzerland) and Rhaeto-Romanic (South-Eastern Switzerland). German is spoken by 69 percent of the Swiss population, 20 percent speak French, 10 percent Italian and 1 percent Rhaeto-Romanic.

The language spoken in Zurich is referred to as Swiss German. It sounds and looks very different than High German. Swiss German is used for almost all oral communication, but High German is used for all written communication, such as newspapers. Fortunately, Zurich is a cosmopolitan city, and many people are fluent in more than one language. English is widely spoken and understood.
 

 

What is the best way to learn High German and Swiss German?
Most foreigners here learn High German, though many master a few key phrases in the Swiss German dialect.
There is a wealth of language schools in the Zurich area offering High German classes. The majority of schools offer total immersion courses, meaning the courses will be taught entirely in High German. New classes are starting all the time, and price varies depending on class frequency, class size and your level in the language. Many AWCZ members also opt for private tutoring. The AWCZ German conversation group meets weekly and is a free opportunity as a member to work on your language skills. You can also find German and Swiss German language instruction books in the AWCZ library.

PERMITS & VISAS
What type of permit or visa will I need as a US citizen to enter Switzerland?
A valid US passport, but no visa, is required of an American citizen entering Switzerland as a tourist for a maximum period of three months. Information on residence, student visas and other immigration issues should be obtained from the Swiss Embassy in Washington or one of the Swiss Consulates General in Atlanta, Chicago, Los AngelesNew York, and San Francisco. Switzerland has no vaccination requirements.
 

 

Do I Need a Residence Permit in Switzerland?
Switzerland has a very restrictive immigration policy. The government gives each canton a quota for the number of residence permits it can issue each year. There are several types of residence permits in Switzerland. Among them are: seasonal (type A), annual (type B) and permanent (type C). Initially, most people are given a B-permit, which must be renewed annually. A B-permit restricts the holder to living in the canton which has issued the permit. It will also indicate the reason for being in Switzerland. Depending on country of origin, a B-permit holder is usually given a C-permit after 5 years of continuous residency. US citizens can also apply for a C-permit after 5 years of uninterrupted residency in Switzerland. Holders of C-permits are permitted to change jobs and cities of residence, in Switzerland, without applying for a new work permit. The holder is also free to leave the country for up to two years without losing permanent resident status. Learn more about permits and registration from the Migrationsamt Kanton Zürich.
 

 

How can I obtain a Swiss working permit?
As a US citizen in Switzerland, you must have a job offer before you can obtain a work permit. Job hunting in Switzerland is really no different than anywhere else. More detailed advice on job hunting can be found in the book Living and Working in Switzerland by David Hampshire.

Once you have a job offer, the next step is to apply for a work permit. This is done by your employer and consists of the official application form, an accompanying letter (which includes a job description, a description of your qualifications and the difficulties of finding a suitable employee in the local labor market), type of residence and work permit already granted, plus the employment contract and your C.V. The decision to grant a work permit is based solely on the application and is usually made within a few weeks. The government's primary consideration is to protect Swiss jobs: if there are qualified Swiss citizens or C-permit holders available for your job, your application may be denied.

Once you are accepted, your employer's name is entered on your residence permit and this then becomes your work permit as well. This permit is valid for one year and must be renewed annually. Note that this permit only applies to one employer in one canton. If you change jobs, your new employer must reapply for another work permit.

If you plan to work as self-employed in Switzerland, you will also need a work permit. Permits for self-employment are very seldom granted. When they are, it is usually for professions such as an artist or a writer.
 



 
TRANSPORTATION
Does Zurich have a good public transportation system?

Zurich and its surrounding areas have an excellent transportation network. Trains, buses, trams (streetcars) and even boats are part of Zurich's impressive transportation system. One of the many advantages of this integrated transport system is that you do not need separate tickets for the various stages of a journey. For pricing reasons, the Canton of Zurich has been divided into 43 transit zones. The price of your ticket depends on the number of zones you will travel through (except for the shortest local trips) and the time limit required. On local and regional buses outside the city, tickets can be purchased from the driver, but city transport and the S-Bahn (subways) may not be boarded without a valid ticket. Ticket machines are usually found at city bus and tram stops. For more information, please visit www.zvv.ch and www.sbb.ch

 

Will I be able to drive in Switzerland with a US license?
You may drive in Switzerland with your valid US license for up to one year after your arrival. If you have a valid US license, you will not need to take any driving tests to receive a Swiss license. Holders of expired US licenses must take the Swiss driving test when applying for a Swiss license. To apply for your driver's license, you will need to go in person to the Strassenverkehrsamt and bring your residence permit, two passport size photos and your valid foreign driver's license. You will also be required to have an eye test.
 
A Swiss driver's license is valid for life, although older drivers must have regular eye tests. The minimum age for driving or learning to drive is 18. In Switzerland, liability insurance on motor vehicles is compulsory and must be provided by a Swiss insurance company.

Will I be able to bring my car into Switzerland?
Your own car may be brought into Switzerland duty free if you plan to re-export it within two years and if you have owned it for at least six months. Simply declare the car along with your household goods when you arrive. Foreign license plates may be used for the first year, as long as your insurance is Swiss and your license plates are valid "Z" plates. This indicates that the customs duties have not yet been paid, but Swiss license plates should be obtained for the second year. After establishing residence (Permit B), a regular Swiss license plate is issued. Bring with you a letter written by your former insurance company attesting to your safe driving record. This letter will help lower your premiums.
 


 
TAXES
As a US Citizen, do I have to pay Swiss and US taxes?

Any person residing or working in Switzerland must pay tax at local, cantonal and federal levels. Since the tax structure varies from canton to canton, it is not possible to give a general estimate of what various taxes may be. There is a treaty between the United States and Switzerland to avoid double taxation on income, which means that taxes paid to Switzerland by a resident of this country must not necessarily be paid to the United States.
 
In general, Americans employed in Switzerland can expect to pay at least as much tax to the various Swiss government levels as they would if they were paying tax in the United States. However, being subject to Swiss taxation does not exempt a US citizen from filing an annual return with the IRS. It is also important to note that the deadline for filling a US tax return if your tax home is abroad is June 15.
 
The America Center Zurich has IRS trained volunteers available by appointment for tax consultation during the tax time (mid-March to mid-June).  Contact the America Center Zurich by calling 043 499 29 60 or by emailing zurich-ca@state.gov. Learn more on US Embassy of Bern's website.
 
  
SCHOOLS
What is the school system like in Switzerland?
Zurich offers excellent public schools and a large selection of private and international educational facilities. Each canton in Switzerland makes its own laws about schooling, allowing for locally adapted solutions. The obligatory school system in Canton Zurich includes primary education (Primarschule) and secondary education (Sekundarstufe I). Before that, children in Canton Zurich are required to go to two years of kindergarten. At the end of primary school (or at the beginning of secondary school), pupils are separated according to their capacities and career intentions in several sections.

Students who aspire to an academic career enter high schools (Gymnasium or Kantonsschule) to be prepared for further studies and the Matura (normally obtained at the age of 18 or 19). Students intending to pursue a trade or vocation complete only three additional years before entering vocational schools. Vocational training consists of a practical, hands-on role at the company and a general studies course. In all, the traineeship takes about three to four years. Two-thirds of young adults in Switzerland choose this path for career training. The dual education system creates a high level of general education in the population and ensures a steady supply of skilled workers.
In addition to its excellent public schools, Switzerland is home to numerous private schools. The greater Zurich area has more than 20 English-speaking schools (with an international curriculum) and numerous bilingual schools. Children in Zurich are guaranteed an outstanding education and a smooth transition to other schools and universities around the world.
 
Learn more about the Swiss education system:

 

RECOMMENDED READING
What books would you recommended I read before moving to Zürich?

 
 

 

 

US REPRESENTATION
Where are the US Embassy and Consular Agencies located?
The American Embassy in Switzerland is located in Bern, the capital of Switzerland. The Embassy in Bern maintains consular agencies in Zurich. US citizens residing abroad should not only have a valid US passport but  should also have in their possession several certified true copies of birth and marriage certificates, divorce or annulment decrees for use as the need may arise. While it is not mandatory for US citizens residing or visiting abroad to register with the nearest US Embassy, it is advisable to do so in order that the consulate can better assist in cases of lost passports, serious illness, accidents, death, disappearance and other issues. It is important and strongly recommended that persons report to their consulate, as soon as possible, the birth, death or arrest of a US citizen within their consular district.
 
 
Please note that the resources and listings in this section are not endorsed by or affiliated with the AWCZ. Please contact us with any updates or corrections to this list.

 

 

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