Living in Switzerland
Moving Home, paying taxes, getting married, social insurance, mobility, etc. The Swiss portal www.ch.ch is a joint venture between the Swiss Confederation, the cantons and communes and is the quickest way to find information about rules, regulations and procedures that govern our daily lives. The Federal Chancellery is responsible for its content, structure and operation.
Switzerland is a small country and is proud of its four national languages: German, French, Italian and Romansh. Swiss German is spoken in German-speaking Switzerland, French in western Switzerland (Suisse romande) and Italian in southern Switzerland (Ticino and parts of southern Grisons). Romansh is spoken by a minority in Grisons.
The majority of the population (over 60%) speaks Swiss German, albeit with different regional dialects. These dialects differ greatly from standard German, or Hochdeutsch, having their own specific expressions and pronunciation. Hochdeutsch is the written language in German-speaking Switzerland and is what children are taught at school.
Swiss German is spoken in Zurich, but in many WSL research units, English is the language used for communication and academic exchanges. In the private sphere, too, many Swiss people speak very good English. Nonetheless, it is important to have a basic grasp of German, as this will make you feel on more solid ground in everyday situations and enable you to communicate more confidently. Furthermore, learning German is an important step for your integration into German-speaking Switzerland.
Suitable German language courses are offered by the following providers, among others:
Education system and Childcare
Education in Switzerland is governed at the cantonal level. The differences lie in details, such as the language used for teaching, the order in which foreign languages are taught and holiday regulations. A good introduction to Switzerland's complex education system can be found on the website of the Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education (EDK).
Compulsory schooling lasts 11 years: 2 years of kindergarten, 6 years at primary school and 3 years of lower secondary level education. After this, students may pursue their studies at the upper secondary level, e.g. at a specialised or baccalaureate school or a vocational training facility.
Most children attend public-sector schools, which are non-denominational and provide free education. Local education authorities assign children to a school near their place of residence or abode. Children who cannot speak German attend special intensive courses.
Many different types of places for younger children are available in day care centres or other facilities away from their family environment. These places are highly coveted, so you may have to contend with a waiting list.
Zurich's lakeside location and proximity to the Alps help to make it an attractive location. Its many restaurants, cafés and bars cater to every taste, and in summer the surrounding area, with its numerous lakes and hilly landscapes, is a pleasure to explore for hikers, climbers and cyclists. During cooler times of the year, operas, plays, films, museum exhibitions, clubs and bars offer interesting indoor alternatives. Beautiful snow-covered mountains are within easy reach for skiers and snowboarders.
The City of Zurich invites newcomers to a Welcome event and tour of the city. Those who attend receive practical tips on everyday life in the city.
There is plenty to do besides work at WSL. Apart from asking your co-workers, we would like to recommend a few homepages for you to visit:
Mobility and Cars
Switzerland is world famous for its flawless train and public transportation system. Any location in Switzerland is accessible via train or bus. The national railway company is called SBB. The Zurich Transport Network ZVV gets you around the canton of Zurich. In the canton of Grisons you travel with the Rhaetian Railway or the Verkehrsbetrieb Davos.
Tickets can be purchased online (browser, app), at a local ticket machine or at the ticket-office. The SBB app is also useful to check the schedule and to see whether trains are on time.
Once you have received your contract from WSL (longer than 6 months and more than 50% work load), you are entitled to get a free Halbtax – a half-fare card that allows you to get a 50% reduction on any purchased ticket (chose “1/2” when buying a ticket).
Your foreign driving licence is also valid in Switzerland. However, within a year of your arrival in Switzerland, you must exchange it for a Swiss driving licence. The conversion procedure will depend on the country that issued your licence. All the relevant details can be found (in German only) on the website of the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Office (ZH).
Third-party insurance is mandatory. It will cover you as a driver for any damage you cause to other road users, animals or property, and also protect you against unjustified claims for damages by third parties. Comprehensive vehicle insurance is voluntary and will cover damage to your car. You can choose between partially comprehensive and fully comprehensive insurance.
Taking out accident insurance (also voluntary) will guarantee you financial support if the vehicle's driver or passengers are injured or killed, even if the guilty party has not yet been identified. Please ask an insurance provider of your choice for details (e.g. Die Mobiliar, Zurich Insurance, etc.).