This is the very question I asked myself after Christmas in 2013. I had just secured the placement at the end of term which was a huge weight off my shoulders. Now there was the small matter of actually sorting things out for life en Suisse like accommodation, travel insurance etc.
Thankfully the company I am working for were very helpful and carried out the majority of the paperwork regarding a work permit so I don’t have much advice in that area. All I did was send some photos and a copy of my passport to HR. I can at least detail the other elements I organised myself…
My employers suggested I live in Basel rather than Liestal, the town where the plant is actually located, because there would be more to do in the evenings and at weekends. I had already fallen in love with the city via a quick Google image search so I was perfectly happy to do so and commute via train like they suggested. They directed me to the university’s personal ads page where I posted my own advert saying I was a female student looking for 12 months accommodation in Basel from July/August. The earlier you do this the more time you have to shop around and find the best option for you – plus if you’re as over-organised as I am it will keep you from worrying.
Pretty soon I started to get a few responses and this was when I started to get an indication of Swiss rental rates. CHF 650 (£450) per month, CHF 850 (£587) per month….for student lets? Yikes. Switzerland really is expensive as they say it is! Eventually a German architect got in touch offering me a room in quite a central part of Basel for CHF 450 per month including bills. It seemed almost too good to be true. After some more e-mail exchanges and seeing some photos I decided to go for this steal of an apartment.
There were a few options for flights for me. There is a direct EasyJet flight from Edinburgh to Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg EuroAirport or I could fly via London/Paris/Amsterdam with a combination of British Airways, KLM or Air France. Once I knew how much I was planning to take with me I did some sums and worked out it wasn’t much more expensive to fly with KLM with one extra hold bag than with EasyJet with two. Interestingly enough it was about £100 cheaper to fly from Glasgow than Edinburgh, even though it’s technically closer! The usual “don’t book on a Sunday” and “try to fly during the week for better deals” tips come into play here.
I took out an Endsleigh Gap Year insurance policy which covered possessions, health insurance and travel insurance for any flights that started or ended in the UK (i.e. the important ones for getting there and back!). I took out a fairly basic policy because I knew I wasn’t going to be doing a lot of skiing or dangerous activities. I haven’t had to use it so far.
I later learned that the health insurance clause in this policy wasn’t sufficient to cover the compulsory health insurance all Swiss residents of more than 3 months have to have so I later took out an additional policy with SwissCare, on the recommendation that it was the cheapest around. They offer exemptions for students and those working on placement or apprenticeships. I was told to expect to pay CHF 250 per month. With SwissCare I only had to pay that per quarter. Health Insurance can be sorted out during your first 3 months so it doesn’t need to be top of the priority list.
Also regarding health, I stocked up on medicines like hayfever tablets and pain killers. Us lucky Scots can get them on prescription for free or for 20 p in supermarkets. I have since found out a box of ibuprofen costs CHF 12 (£8) from Swiss pharmacists so I’m very glad I brought supplies.
I made copies of my passport, birth certificate, insurance documents, EHIC card and university SAAS funding certificate. The last one came in very useful for proving I was a student to get various exemptions. Regarding the EHIC card, although Switzerland is not part of the EU it can still be used to get you a “discount” if you ended up in a Swiss hospital without insurance. Thankfully I never needed to use it. Besides, it would probably have been cheaper for me to fly home to be treated anyway.
I also prepared a separate folder of university documents such as my placement guide book and the distance learning module I was going to be carrying out while on placement. A couple of general textbooks made it into that pile as well just in case I needed them for reports or reference.
In general my move to Switzerland was fairly simple. As a single student with no furniture to her name, moving into a furnished room with bed linen provided, I only really needed to pack my personal possessions. Other expat blogs can help with details regarding moving furniture, cars, enrolling children in school etc.
After arriving in Switzerland
Once in Switzerland all I had to do was register in my canton (county, in this case Basel-Stadt) within a fortnight of arriving in order to get a residence permit. This just involved filling in some forms at the Justice and Health department building for which I required my passport, my employment contract and proof of residence. I had a slight hiccup with the last item on that list because my landlord was so informal he said he didn’t need me to sign a lease! Luckily the authorities had a make-shift lease form he could fill out to prove I wasn’t sleeping on the street. I was initially given a paper permit, much like a temporary driving license, which would tide me over until my purple plastic L-permit (valid for 12 months) arrived a week later. Of course, there was an admin fee (around CHF 25 if I remember). Typical Swiss.
So that I wasn’t carrying around hundreds of francs before my first payslip I set up a UK Post Office Travel Money Card. It’s like a pre-loaded credit card which is accepted anywhere you see the Mastercard symbol. It was really simple to set up and allowed me to keep track of the balance and top it up from my UK account as needed using a handy iPhone app. I could have asked for an advance on my first month’s salary but I was happy enough using my savings while I found my feet.
Setting up a bank account involved a similar process but I found only the local Kantonal Banks would take my paper residence permit so if you’re wanting to shop around – it’s Switzerland, there are plenty of banks! – wait until you get your full permit. I was only looking for a basic student account so I wasn’t overly fussed and actually got quite a good one from Baselland Kantonalbank which included a debit and credit card with student discounts. I actually made the mistake of registering in the Basellandschaft bank rather than the one in Basel-Stadt which are not the same company. I live in one canton (Baselstadt) and work in another (Baselland) – kind of like living in Aberdeen and working in Aberdeenshire. This worked out ok for me though because it was easier for me to get to Baselland branches during the limited weekday opening hours from placement.
So I guess that is how you set yourself up with the basics for life in Switzerland!