Escape Brexit Britain… To Switzerland?
It is now a bit more than a year since the contentious vote for the UK to leave the EU. For some people considering a secondment to Europe, uncertainty over working rights may have put plans on ice. Yet, there are plenty of logical arguments in support of 2017 being a great time to escape Brexit Britain. Post EU referendum, Google reported a spike in search queries relating to relocating to far off destinations, such as Australia and Canada. If the thought of a gruelling long haul flight once a year just is not attractive, Switzerland presents a convenient, more local option to escape Brexit Britain. If crossing the Alps on foot von Trapp style is also not your thing, there are great air links offered by Swiss, BA and Easy Jet.
At a glance, Switzerland is a landlocked country in central Europe. The main industries consist of banking and financial services, insurance, pharmaceuticals, and engineering. Switzerland’s main business hubs of Zurich, Geneva and Basel feel extremely international. Aside from speaking very good English, the Swiss have four official languages (German, French, Italian and Romansh). If you choose to look for work here, depending on your skills set (such as IT and banking), it is often possible to find work without second language skills. From both a personal and career perspective, it does make sense to try to learn some basic language skills, although it may take a foreigner quite a while to be able to master notoriously tricky words in the local Swiss German dialect, such as “chuchichaeschtli”.
Switzerland is not part of the EU, but thanks to a bilateral agreement, EU citizens have full working rights. Switzerland lures expats with attractive employment packages and a high standard of living. Zurich and Geneva are consistently ranked within the top ten global cities within by HR Consultancy Mercer’s annual Standard of Living survey. But there are pros and cons to expat life in Switzerland.
Breaking the Bank
Switzerland is not renowned for being cheap and in fact the country tops the Big Mac index. When asked about the biggest difference in the cost of living, most expats in Switzerland love to hate the cost of rent, compulsory health and unemployment insurance, as well as eating out. If you have young children, the cost of a Kinderkrippe or nursery school in Zurich can be as much as 1750 CHF (£1375) per month, based on three days per week. Mandatory Zurich bin bags (Zuri-Sacks) cost several pounds per bag, but are evidence that Switzerland embraced recycling long before most countries. It is, however, a small price to pay given you could almost eat your (extremely costly) Big Mac meal off the pristine streets.
Despite the high cost of living in Switzerland compared to the UK, the good news is that highly skilled expats will earn comparatively well. Further details on median salaries can be found here. Income tax depends on the Kanton in which you live but is usually a great deal lower than the UK. On arrival, expats are often surprised to learn that world-beating public transport costs less. If you take a train in Switzerland, it is practically guaranteed to turn up on time. Moreover, most inter-regional trains boast an impressive buffet cart, and will often have a kids’ play area, and a designated carriage to store sports equipment, such as mountain bikes. British expats will also listen in awe, as ticket collectors effortlessly slip in an out of several languages to politely greet their passengers.
Worth the bother?
As the EU referendum result has led many British people to question if, when and how they can work abroad, it makes sense to take stock of why anyone would or should choose to escape Brexit to live in a place like Switzerland. From a career perspective, living and working overseas will give you a more global understanding of your industry, as well as a wider global perspective, and valuable cross cultural skills. Most expats will tell you that working abroad is great for your personal growth, as it exposes you to different ways of life and people from a greater mix of backgrounds. Earning Swiss Francs will give you greater purchasing power for those holidays abroad, or alternately you can use these impressive trains to take you away on weekends to one of Switzerland’s breath-taking ski resorts or lakes. Being so international, most major cities in Zurich have a strong support network through other expats, whose insider knowledge will prove extremely valuable when relocating.
Regardless of which side of the EU referendum fence you sit, the very act of going through a move abroad helps you prioritise what is important from both a life and career perspective. This not only includes your personal “stuff” you would take with you. It also helps you evaluate what ties you to your place of origin, what you will miss and in which direction you wish to take your career. Should you wish to seriously consider the move, HSBC has compiled a handy guide to everything you need to know about becoming an expat in Switzerland. Escape Brexit, Viel Glueck and bon voyage!