Moving to Switzerland? It is a fabulous country, but if you’re coming from Canada or the U.S., here are ten things to know before you go. It just might cushion some of the culture-shock you will experience.
- Money, Money, Money: You will need lots of it. Food and other necessities here are expensive.
- German, French or Italian? If you have time to brush up on one of Switzerland’s official languages, pick German. It is the dominant language here. French is the second choice.
- English? If language is not your thing, you can get by with English in most parts of Switzerland.
- Check-out line-ups: The Swiss are orderly, but they waste no time, so if they see a gap in a line-up, they will immediately fill it. Never hang back from a counter – plunge right in and belly up to the counter or you will be swept aside by the Swiss, not because they are rude, but because they assume you haven’t made up your mind yet.
- Swiss rail pass: As soon as you get a residency card, take it down to the train station and purchase a Swiss Rail pass. It will cost lots (about 150 Swiss Francs), but for 12 months you can use it to pay half-price on all rail fees, bicycle rentals and more, easily saving the cost of the pass. Try this: You can sometimes obtain the pass simply by showing your passport and having a Swiss mailing address, so if you’re waiting for your residency card, don’t wait to apply for the rail pass. If, however, you’re thinking of cheating the system and getting a pass without being a resident, don’t. The Swiss check everything.
- Clothing: The Swiss dress in much the same way as North Americans, so leave the leiderhosen at home. While Switzerland is expensive, a number of franchise clothing stores here are relatively cheap, so whatever you don’t pack, you can buy.
- Drugs: A bottle of the Swiss version of NyQuil costs 30 Swiss francs, so if there’s room in your luggage, stock up on painkillers, antacids, cold drugs and other meds. Brand names for drugs often differ, so if you need to restock, bring your old packaging to the pharmacy and ask for the Swiss version, but be prepared to have to try out something different.
- Crime: Crime is relatively low in Switzerland, however, train stations are favorite strike-spots for pickpockets, so be wary. Switzerland decriminalized heroin here several years ago, and injection clinics are spread across the country, so you can expect to see some very whacked-out characters on the street, but they are mostly harmless.
- Alcohol: Booze is stocked in regular grocery stores, and public drinking is not regulated in any way, so be prepared to see open liquor consumption, with the attendant drunken behavior. Mostly, however, the Swiss keep it reined in.
- Salon goods: Almost every specialty hair and cosmetic product found in North America can be found here (except for Rusk), and Body Shop stores/kiosks are everywhere. No need to lug multiple bottles of shampoos over. Prices are about 30 per cent higher than in Canada.