The ultimate guide for expats in Switzerland

Switzerland Tourism Member Logo

Insider tips that will make your new life much easier.

In this ultimate expats guide you will receive many valuable tips that will definitely make you happy when you start your new life in Switzerland. by Marc Gottwald

Insider tips that simplify life in Switzerland

Moving to a new country is a big step. It feels like there are thousands of questions and often you are simply overwhelmed for no reason. Do you know this feeling too? Then you are like many of our expat customers who come to Switzerland with us to get to know the country better. questions upon questions. There are some sites that mostly answer the same questions. For many questions, however, the answers are missing or you can only find them with time-consuming searches. A good link that takes up the questions that are often answered on the web is this one. Here you will find everything, among other things, about job hunting and training. In this report, however, I will go into the ultimate insider tips that can make life in Switzerland much easier for you.

Shopping: Shopping tips and how to get Amazon to Switzerland.

The Swiss go shopping in the shopping streets of the cities and their shopping centers. The online market has now also taken on a dominant size. The Swiss Post is literally inundated with packages. A good recommendation is or their outlet and my favorite is Bargains of up to 80% can be made here on any branded item. New offers are coming every day. Another great site for bargain hunters is Deindeal is a Switzerland-wide bargain site where you can find various great deals for every city, such as massages & Wellness, restaurants but also hotels. Those who like a large selection of shops are in good hands at the Foxtown Outlet in Ticino (largest outlet in Switzerland) or at the Landquart Fashion Outlet. We recommend (owned by Migros) or (owned by Coop) for technical offers. In my experience, digitec is often a little more expensive than Microspot, but the customer service is much better in the event of problems. Anyone who likes to shop on Amazon will often be disappointed during the ordering process in Switzerland. Apart from books where Switzerland has a special agreement with the EU, it says: “this article will not be sent to Switzerland”. Nevertheless, you don’t have to do without if you know how. There are various parcel shops at the borders to Germany and Switzerland, which can receive and collect your parcels for a small fee. In Germany, a lucrative business model has developed through us Swiss. Simply enter “parcel shop + city” on google. Since the demand from the Swiss side is so high, many parcel shops are no longer accepting new customers. But you would find this information on the homepage. Villages with parcel shops near Basel are Weil am Rhein, Lörrach, Rheinfelden, Bad Säckingen and near Zurich Jestetten, Waldshut-Tiengen, Laufenburg and Konstanz.

Shopping in neighboring countries: return VAT difference

Many Swiss love to travel to neighboring countries to shop. In Basel in particular, it’s easy because the tram even crosses the border and you don’t even have to buy an extra ticket with the U-Abo. The Swiss also go shopping in Germany or France from time to time. The reason: groceries and cosmetics are much cheaper than in Switzerland and there are other products, which brings variety. Since the value-added tax in Germany is significantly higher at 19% than in Switzerland (7.6%), you can ask for an “export certificate” when paying at the checkout. There you write down your name and home address and stamp the export certificate at customs on the same day. Unfortunately, stamping later is invalid, which means it is only worthwhile if you return to Switzerland on the same day. It is very worthwhile for larger purchases, but the duty-free import amount is CHF 300 per person. For a family of four, this is 1200 CHF. Further restrictions, such as alcohol, can be found here. If exceeded, duty must be paid.

Exchange sites and trade among private individuals

Are you looking for houses, land, concert tickets, used furniture or clothes? You can find everything on these exchanges. They are exchanges where private individuals put their items in. Items often have to be picked up locally. When buying a house or renting an apartment, please beware of scammers. NEVER transfer any money before viewing. Here are some of the platforms (Swiss auction platform similar to Ebay)

Discover your city with 2 for 1 vouchers?

Restaurants, bars, clubs and also various activities such as wellness, theatre, cinema can be discovered 2 for 1 with the percentage book A great way to get to know a city, especially for expats. Book of vouchers are available for the cities of Basel, Bern, Lucerne and Zurich and are valid in one city from November to October. A new edition will then appear. There are also some similar concepts in other smaller towns. It’s a good idea to go to a local bookstore and ask.

Travel to events, hotels or public transport with big discounts?

Bank Raiffeisen really has a lot to offer its members. If you have a memberplus account, you will receive many discount vouchers and will also find a very attractive offer online with discounts on public transport, hotels, ski day tickets, concerts and museums. Since the site is only available in German, French and Italian, if you are interested, the direct number would be: +41 844 724 333

Public transport: SBB Half-Fare travelcard, supersaver tickets and municipal day tickets

Public transport in Switzerland is unique. To get from the city to a remote mountain area, everything can be done by train, bus, boat and cable car. It is not a lie to claim that Switzerland even has the best transport network in the world, because the state heavily subsidizes certain unprofitable routes. But that has its price. The tickets are expensive. To save money, we recommend the SBB (Swiss Federal Railways) half-fare card, which offers half-price travel on all routes (apart from a few mountain cable cars). The price is 185 CHF/year. If you drive 4 times ZurichBern and back, you have equalized the amount again. You can buy this at the counter at a larger train station. If you don’t use public transport in Switzerland as often, the day pass is particularly worthwhile. There is a municipal day ticket, where the day ticket can be purchased from the respective municipality for CHF 40. Reservations can and usually have to be made online on the municipal website. It’s worth booking early, but you commit to buying. If the day ticket in your municipality or city is already gone for the desired date, it can also be bought at short notice from other municipalities. This page gives you an overview. Do you want to be a little more flexible? The SBB has savings day tickets on their website. The prices vary, depending on the availability of the tickets, between CHF 29 and 59 for one day with a Half-Fare travelcard in 2nd class or twice as much without a Half-Fare travelcard. The SBB also offers supersaver tickets, some of which are massively cheaper. It is advisable to book early here. The saver ticket is only available online and can only be used for the selected time, unless the train is late. However, delays are generally exceptions, because the Swiss transport system is very punctual. Coop also runs campaigns every year where the day ticket is available for just CHF 49 for a certain period of time. The day ticket is then limited to a certain period of time. There is a GA travelcard for frequent travelers. From an annual amount of around CHF 3850 per year you can use almost the entire transport network in Switzerland, which works out at around CHF 10.5 per day.

Car sharing, bicycles and e-scooters

You really don’t need a car in Switzerland. Especially not if you live in a big city or a suburb of a city. The connections and accessibility are just too good. Many Swiss now do without the car and only use public transport. Car sharing such as Mobility is also very popular. Mobility is a cooperative in which, after paying an annual fee, a car can be reserved for very cheap fees. These are often found at train stations and in city car parks. Everything is done online. The Swiss who live in the cities mainly use bicycles, because it is often faster to reach your destination by bicycle than by public transport or by car. If you own a bike in the city, you have to be careful. There are gangs of thieves from neighboring countries who sometimes collect hundreds of bicycles by truck. So my tip: buy a very good lock and if possible don’t leave the bike outside. E-scooters are also becoming increasingly popular. Swiss cities are literally flooded with e-scooters and bikes that can be rented. Since the providers, which are mostly startups, change as quickly as they appear, it is not worth describing the brands here. If necessary, simply download the app of the respective provider (brand is always written in large letters), upload a small amount with your credit card (since the companies usually disappear quickly, I really recommend a small amount) and then start driving.

Get to know Switzerland as a complete package without any effort

There are various ways of getting to know a country. Thanks to the great feedback and demand from our customers, we have designed a trip especially for expats in Switzerland. In two, three or four days you will get to know Switzerland and its different cultures in an exclusive private tour. You will discover some well-known and many unknown places and breathtaking landscapes, as usual with a lot of background knowledge. On request, there is even a daily language course insert with the most important words and phrases to simplify your daily communication. If you are interested, write to us without obligation at

The must-have APPs in Switzerland

Every country has its must-have apps. You will find the following apps on almost every Swiss mobile phone, which I can also strongly recommend: SBB: The app of the Swiss Federal Railways. Here you can find every connection that takes you from A to B and also see if a train or bus is late. You can also conveniently buy tickets online here and have access to supersaver tickets (if available). Meteo: The app from the state weather service Meteo Schweiz is a very helpful app when it comes to planning excursions, walks or hikes. Dangers such as thunderstorms, avalanches or storms are also displayed. 20 minutes: The 20 minutes app is simple, uncomplicated and free. Here you always get the headlines of what’s happening in Switzerland. However, the news is often very superficial. The Neue Züricher Zeitung is recommended for in-depth news, but it costs money. The site is readable in German, French and Italian. Too good to go: Sustainability is a big topic in Switzerland. More and more startups are springing up that want to make it easier for society to lead a more sustainable life. As a graduate environmental scientist with a focus on sustainability management, I know that you either want to live more sustainably out of the right conviction or because it is financially attractive (companies also work in exactly the same way). The too good to go app focuses on the latter. At a spot price, leftover food can be picked up in restaurants and takeaways in the usual quality shortly before the end of the day. A super great concept of an app that is increasingly on the road to success. Twint is a super cool tool if you want to transfer money from smartphone to smartphone or if you want to pay cashless at the checkout. In Switzerland, many people use this app.

Swiss food culture

Here we do not go into fondue, raclette and chocolate, but rather into the special eating habits. In Swiss companies, it is often the norm to go to lunch as a whole team or at least with a few work colleagues. You also have the Znüni and Zvieri together, a small snack at around 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Morning snacks and lunch in particular are very well taken care of, often up to the higher management levels (at least they try). Because here you have time for the interpersonal and to exchange ideas. On the weekends the rhythm is usually a little different and confused, but at work it has a familiar tradition.

Fine Dining (Gault-Millau), meal times, reservations and tips

Fine dining is very popular in Switzerland. Lucky for us that we have so many good restaurants. The best restaurants are each awarded Gault Millau points. We are proud that the restaurant of our partner hotel “Les Trois Rois Basel” was voted the best restaurant in Switzerland 2019 with 19 out of 20 Gault Millau points. The best restaurants in Switzerland according to Gault-Millau can be found under this link. Gault Millau restaurants with a high number of points sometimes have to be reserved a few months in advance. Otherwise, a reservation is recommended, especially on Friday and Saturday evenings. Then the Swiss often go out for dinner. Reserving a few days in advance is sufficient in most restaurants. Important: If you are prevented from attending for any reason, be sure to cancel beforehand. The Swiss usually eat out between 6:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. at the latest. From 8.30 p.m. you can usually find a place on a Friday and Saturday evening. After eating, the Swiss often go out for a drink or to the cinema. By the way, tipping is not mandatory in Switzerland, but it is almost expected. It is therefore advisable to give a tip of around 10% for good service.

Vegetarian/Vegan Food

In Switzerland, a very large number of people are vegetarians. This cult has grown over the years. Vegan, i.e. only plant-based, is also becoming more and more popular. With Hiltl (in Zurich), Switzerland has the oldest vegetarian restaurant in Europe. However, the traditional family business has already expanded to other cities with the new “Tibits” chain. These are located in Basel, Bern, Lucerne, St.Gallen, Winterthur and also in Zurich.

Leitungswasser ist trinkbar

Wer kennt es schon nicht aus dem Ausland? Im Supermarkt kauft man sich Bündel voll mit Wasser. In der Schweiz ist dies überflüssig. Dank den vielen Quellen und Seen sind wir das Wasserschloss von Europa. Noch besser: Auch die Wasserqualität ist hervorragend. Aus praktisch jedem Brunnen in der Schweiz kann getrunken werden, ausser es steht angeschrieben «Kein Trinkwasser». Dementsprechend sind die vielen Plastikflaschen in der Schweiz zum Glück überflüssig und es kann mit dem Verzicht auch etwas gutes für die Umwelt getan werden.

Only cash is real

Although this saying is no longer entirely true in Switzerland, we are still very passive when it comes to credit cards. Most Swiss people have cash with them in addition to their EC card or credit card. Cash must be available, especially at markets (e.g. Christmas markets), parking meters in the city, tickets for remote mountain railways or private roads. It’s particularly annoying when you want to park in the city and don’t have a coin with you. Parking meters (apart from multi-storey car parks) usually only accept coins.

Meet the locals

Admittedly, getting to know the locals can be difficult – but it doesn’t have to be. Personality is particularly important here. The easiest way to do a hobby is with a group. Bootcamps in fitness centers, hiking groups or dance evenings are popular. The Migros Club School is particularly recommended: in addition to many other categories, language, dance and cooking courses are offered. The prices are fair because they are supported by the Migros Culture Percentage, among others. You can also get to know people online. For example, a great page is social contact. However, it is in German. More and more are using social media such as Instagram (direct messages) or Facebook (via Facebook groups) as a medium to make new contacts.

Hiking and nature lovers watch out

Hiking is a cult in Switzerland. There are 2.5 million hikers (out of 9 million inhabitants) who do an average of 20 hikes of 3 hours each year. Many go to overcrowded places, but the trend is increasingly towards sustainable hiking tourism. If you want a guided hike, write to without obligation. You can also find free tips on our website. You can find even more tips on our partner site Switzerland by Locals. You will find everything from well-known Swiss places to insider tips in Switzerland. But that’s not all: there is a Switzerland e-book with 111 excursion destinations available for download for FREE. An absolute must and still far too little known is the federal hiking map. Here you can use GPS to locate where you are and where to go, provided you have reception. It’s still best to print out a trail map, just to be on the safe side.

Events Switzerland

There are many events in Switzerland. With so many cultures and traditions, it’s no wonder. Especially the cultural events are a beautiful tradition. Events can be found in the event calendar of Myswitzerland, the state tourist office. My absolute favorite link is the events list from Myfarm, where, among other things, many insider tips on traditional events are listed. The Ronorp homepage is also recommended. It shows events, courses, get-togethers, etc. categorized by cities in Switzerland.

4 official national languages and dozens of dialects

Switzerland officially has four national languages: German, French, Italian and Rumantsch, although Rumantsch is now only spoken by around 20,000 people (language in Graubünden). It is an advantage to be able to speak the language spoken in your area, or at least understand a few snippets. Many national websites are also only available in German, French and Italian. Most companies offer language courses or provide financial support. It’s worth asking. How about English in Switzerland? Normally you get very far with English, especially in the cities, in the country it’s a little worse. Young people up to the age of 40 can often speak English, which is sufficient for communication.

Parking confusion blue and white parking lots and how to avoid buses

In Switzerland there are, among other things, blue and white parking spaces. Parking spaces marked in blue can be used free of charge for one hour including the hour started. However, an official parking disc must be deposited. You can apply for this free of charge at the Swiss Tourist Office. Only one is required per car. Here is the direct link. As soon as you see a sign in a blue zone, such as “Only parking card 4056”, this means that the official parking disc is also valid! However, if you want unlimited parking, you have to buy a special parking card from the respective city or municipality. In this case, 4056 is the postal code of Basel, in another city the number is different. Replacing the parking card is not refundable in any case. The police fines impersonators and can check this with their system. In this case, the car would have to be relocated. The parking spaces marked in white can, among other things, cost (payable only with coins). If parking is free, the official parking disc must be deposited. A sign indicates the maximum parking time. Subsequent payments are not reimbursed in any case, the police fines late payers. In this case, the car would have to be relocated.

Cellular operator and Internet

Since the network is no longer private, various providers have flooded Switzerland. The reception is different in each case. Swisscom is still recommended for the best reception, even if the semi-public provider is a lot more expensive than the competition. Other companies such as Mbudget (from Migros), Coopmobile (from Coop) and Wingo also have Swisscomnetz. There are always very good special offers. One of the best offers for calling abroad is Leicamobile, but I have no personal experience. Incidentally, it is common to conclude a combined contract with TV, Internet and mobile phone connection. This massively simplifies the administrative effort and is even cheaper.

Waste Disposal & Recycling

The Swiss are real champions when it comes to separating waste. Each municipality has its own rubbish bags (in Basel they are called “Bebbi Sagg”, for example, ten bags cost around 20 to 30 francs depending on their size) or rubbish stamps, which can usually be bought in grocery stores or pharmacies. Household waste is usually picked up twice a week. Glassware and cans have special bins for disposal in each municipality. In supermarkets such as Migros or Coop there are collection points for plastic bottles (PET). Paper and cardboard can be left on the side of the road once a month, where it will be picked up free of charge. Most Swiss have a compost where they dispose of their organic waste. In the cities there are some collection points for organic waste.


Many jobs are advertised on sites such as or Indeed. But my favorite site is from the state, which has only been around for about 1.5 years (as of October 19) and is still very unknown. In general, you can say that you should react quickly to an advertisement (maximum 14 days old). It’s a good idea to call ahead and ask a few questions. A number and a responsible person are usually written in the job advertisement. The 14-day rule does not apply to very high-level positions, as it is much more difficult to find suitable personnel there.

Obligatory insurance: health insurance and household insurance

The healthcare system in Switzerland is complicated. Some time ago it was completely state-run, but now the health insurance companies are private, but the hospitals are often state-owned. Having health insurance is compulsory in Switzerland. Unfortunately, one hears many cases of dissatisfied customers where the health insurance companies are not accommodating or do not want to pay an amount. Therefore my request: Choose your health insurance company very carefully. I am happy to make three personal health insurance recommendations that should not normally cause any problems. Swica: Won the award for best health insurance company in Switzerland several times in a row. Helsana: Many people around me are insured with Helsana and are extremely satisfied. ÖKK: A very family-friendly health insurance company, making it a good choice for families. You can find the full list of customer satisfactions here: With the annual policy, it is advisable to either take a very low (CHF 300) or a very high deductible (CHF 2100). According to experts, everything else makes little financial sense. Monthly fees are charged by the health insurance company. In the event of illness, you have to pay the amount of the deductible yourself. If you exceed the deductible, you usually pay 10% of the costs, and the health insurance company takes over the remaining 90%. For the house or apartment: household contents insurance A second compulsory insurance is household contents insurance. If you rent a house or an apartment or if you break something in a friend’s apartment, the damage will be covered by the insurance company. Good insurance companies here are, for example, Mobiliar Versicherung (cooperative which returns 10% of the policy to the customer in a successful year) and Basler Versicherung.


Annual income and wealth taxes are levied in Switzerland at municipal, cantonal and federal level. At the beginning of the year, people are asked to fill out their tax returns. Tax deductions such as deductions for insurance premiums are possible. In some cantons, the estimated tax liability can be prepaid. The amount can be assessed using a Zürcher Kantonalbank tax calculator.

Legal issues

The Swiss brand “Beobserver” is an excellent address if you need legal advice. If you are a subscriber (an annual subscription fee costs 129 francs), you can contact them for legal advice in addition to their magazine. You also have access to the Guider online platform, where you can conduct your own legal research on topics such as labor law or tenancy law. They also have inexpensive legal protection insurance

Marc image, owner of Private Tours Switzerland
Image of Joshua, co-owner of Private Tours Switzerland

Request A free tour itinerary

Our founders, Marc and Joshua, have been helping our guests realize their dream vacation in Switzerland for over six years. Wherever you wish to explore in Switzerland, contact our local specialists today, and they will start hand-crafting a complimentary bespoke itinerary just for you.