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LIVING IN SWITZERLAND

How moving to another Swiss canton could complicate a foreigner’s life

Even for a Swiss citizen, relocating from one canton to another is often a burden. For a foreign national, such a move could be even more of a headache.

The Swiss flag
Image by Ruth Vivian Aschilier-Foser from Pixabay

As Switzerland is such a small country, you may think that changing your place of work and residence is no big deal, apart from the usual stress of packing and transporting your belongings from point A to point B.

That is true if you move within the same municipality or the same canton, in which case the administrative burden is minimal

But changing cantons is usually more onerous — even more so for foreigners with certain types of work permits.

New canton, new rules

While federal laws apply across Switzerland, the cantons wield quite a bit of power as well.

Each one has its own laws, as well as various rules and regulations — including those relating to foreigners.

READ ALSO: Why Switzerland’s cantons are so powerful 

That’s because certain cantons are more inclusive of foreigners — in terms of political rights and citizenship — than others.

Studies have shown, for instance, that in terms of naturalisaton, “the cantons of Zurich, Appenzell Ausserrhoden and Jura have the most inclusive provisions. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the cantons of Aargau, Schwyz and Graubünden have the least inclusive provisions, generally imposing higher requirements in terms of residence, language, civic and cultural integration, good moral character and economic resources.”

Yet another study revealed that the level of tolerance toward foreigners differs across the country, with the split observed along the geographical and linguistic lines. 

For instance, foreign nationals are “perceived as different” less frequently in the French and Italian-speaking cantons than in the German ones, with the exception of Zurich.

There is also an urban – rural divide at play.

“Openness is comparatively less wide among those politically oriented to the right and those living in sparsely populated areas,” the study found.

Overall, “the population living in urban spaces turns out to be more open to national or cultural difference. Inhabitants of densely populated municipalities generally show more openness than people living in low-density areas”.

All those factors play a role in how easy or difficult a transition from one canton to another could be for a foreigner.

You can’t just pack up and move to another canton. Photo by Brina Blum on Unsplash
 

But there is more to consider as well.

Other difficulties foreigners could face in another canton are more of an administrative and practical nature:

Work permit

While people from the EU / EFTA states and their family members don’t require a new permit if they move to another canton, those from so-called third countries, who have short-term L or B permits face tougher rules.

They can’t just pack up and move because their permits are not automatically transferred to and valid in another canton.

Instead, they must request a new permit from the canton they are moving to, and that could pose a problem.

The reason is that non-Europeans are subject to more restrictive conditions than their EU /EFTA counterparts, including permits based on the quota system.

As individual cantons have only a limited number of permits for third-country nationals, and the hiring requirements are very specific (only highly-qualified professionals who can’t be found either in Switzerland or the EU / EFTA), it is unlikely that these people will be allowed to change cantons.

The only exception would be if the third-country national has lived in Switzerland long enough to receive a permanent residence B or C permit, in which case they can move around the country the same way as people from the EU / EFTA.

READ ALSO: Does my work permit let me move from one Swiss canton to another?

Language

Moving within the same linguistic region is much less of a hassle than relocating to a canton where a different language is spoken — unless, of course, you are proficient in that language as well.

The linguistic factor is important not only from the practical point of view — the ease of communication and integration — but also because it is a determining factor in whether or not you can obtain the Swiss citizenship.

Candidates for naturalisation must demonstrate A2 level writing ability (elementary) and B1 (intermediate) spoken skills set out in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. 

And knowing one national language is not sufficient if that language is different from that of your new canton.

For example, if you used to live in Zurich (and speak German), and move to Geneva, you must master French in order to be eligible for naturalisation.

That may be less of an issue if you don’t plan to apply for citizenship, but will still be important from the practical point of view.

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For members

WORKING IN SWITZERLAND

Six ways working in Switzerland is better than in the US

Sometimes it is difficult to compare different systems because much of the context is missing. But when looking at employment conditions in Switzerland and the United States from a purely factual perspective, some conclusions can be drawn.

Six ways working in Switzerland is better than in the US

In terms on politics, social system, demographics, and economy, Switzerland and America are, both literally and figuratively,  worlds apart.

But if you are a US citizen who is moving to Switzerland for professional reasons (and lucky enough to be granted a work permit as a third country national), then you may want to know how the Swiss employment system compares with the American one.

Let’s look at general differences — that is, laws and practices applicable to the working population as a whole, and not just relating to the most fortunate employees like top-level executives, who typically have more benefits than the rank-and-file workers.

Wages

Much depends on your professional level, of course, but generally speaking, on average employees in Switzerland earn more than their US counterparts.

An average annual income in Switzerland is about 80,000 francs, while in the US it amounts to $59,428 (53,000 francs).

You may argue that cost of living is lower in the United States, so the money foes further there. This is true in a general sense, but on the other hand, taxes are lower in Switzerland.

Workers in Switzerland have more statuary protections

Swiss law grants certain rights to its employees, which the US legislation doesn’t.

For instance, Swiss workers are entitled to at least four weeks’ of paid vacation time per year.  

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about annual leave in Switzerland

In the US, on the other hand, there is no statutory minimum paid vacation. Instead, this is left up to the employers’ discretion.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), about one–third of private industry workers received 10 to 14 days of paid vacation after one year of service. After 10 years of service, 33 percent of private industry workers received between 15 and 19 days of paid vacation.

‘Sick days’

Swiss employment law only mandates that employers offer basic paid sick leave: generally, three weeks in your first year in the job, rising with each additional year to around four months max, depending on the canton.

However, many Swiss employers take out insurance that covers a more generous sick pay deal.

In the US, on the other hand, no law guarantees workers a single paid day off, and many aren’t even entitled to unpaid time.

According to BLS, only 77 percent of the private sector workforce has paid sick time. This means that almost one in four workers do not have even a single paid sick day. 

Work-life balance

This phrase is used to describe a division of time between work and leisure activities. This means the ability to successfully combine work, family commitments, and personal life .

Here too, Switzerland (and Europe in general) has a definite edge.

The Better Life Index by the Organisaton for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), found that  “in Switzerland, full-time workers devote a similar amount of their day on average to personal care (eating, sleeping, etc.) and leisure (socialising with friends and family, hobbies, games, computer and television use, etc.) as the OECD average of 15 hours.”  

 In the US, on the other hand, employees devote “less than the OECD average of 15 hours” to their non-work related activities.

Health insurance

Most US residents who are employed get their health insurance through their company.

In Switzerland, on the other hand, individuals are responsible for purchasing their own policies from one of the dozens of insurance providers.

It is difficult to say which approach is better; however, not having one’s health insurance tied to (and dependent on) a specific employer means that a person won’t be left without a coverage if he or she loses their job — even more so, considering how expensive medical care is in the United States.

READ ALSO: How does Switzerland’s healthcare system compare with the US? 

Unemployment benefits

If you have worked — and paid into the Swiss social security system — for 12 months in the past two years, you are entitled to 260 days (approximately 37 weeks) worth of unemployment allowance.

In the case that you had been employed for at least 18 months, you will collect for 400 days.

Workers in most US states, on the other hand, are eligible for only 26 weeks of unemployment allowances.

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