Advice please - settling into life in Switzerland

Hi,

We are moving to Switzerland (Geneva area - we aren’t sure yet if it will be Geneva or Vaud canton) from the U.K. at the end of next summer as my other half has been offered a job there. We plan to enrol our two children in a local school. My plan is also to work, either being employed by my current employer, or if that is not possible, I will need to look for work (I should be able to get a B permit via family reunification as although I am a U.K. national, my other half is French). I should add, we all speak French (in my case as a second language but I am fluent) in addition to English.

I was just hoping for some advice from people who have made a similar move, in relation to “fitting in”, meeting new people and generally adapting to Swiss culture and lifestyle. We will be moving without any support network (although we will have family a couple of hours away in France) and my other half will have to travel quite a bit for work. I am concerned about being quite isolated and finding ways of meeting people locally so that we can build a life and make friends in Switzerland (our plan is to stay long term as my other half’s contract is permanent). Equally, I am uncertain what sort of activities are available for families with young children (in the U.K. it is fairly easy to find activités or events on at weekends).

Thanks in advance for any tips, advice or words of wisdom you may have!

I like you already. Your posts are clear, your manner pleasant, and I’m sure you’ll do fine. Great that you all speak French already.

One of the things that can help immensely is sorting out your transport needs.

Public transport is excellent (unless you live way out in the sticks, but even then it is realiable, albeit less frequent) and many people have a season-ticket for the month or year. You’ll be able to look up the prices of your local part once you know where you’re going to live. There are even season-tickets for the whole country; the prices can look eye-watering, at first, but if you’re the kind of family who will be out and about exploring, such an annual pass could be worth it. There are discounted passes for the other adult, and very cheap add-on passes to allow you to take your children with you, for free. The timetables are, in general, set up to be coordinated, i.e. the overland bus will get you to the train station with just a nice few minutes spare to catch the train, and likewise on the way home, so you won’t be left standing at the station for 40 minutes.

It’s also worth looking at bicycles . There are separate tracks and paths, and in urban areas some parts have marked cycle lanes… this is (like so many other things) different from canton to canton and even from municipality to municipality. Always lock your bicycles up, ideally with two locks, one to a fixed object. Helmets are not obligatory, but they are very commonly used. E-bikes that have motor support beyond 25km/h must be registered/licenced, but below that, not. Household insurance allows one to add in the replacement cost of bicycles.

It’s not common for parents to ferry their children backwards and forwards to school or to their other activities. Once the children reach kindergarten age (about 4 or 5), they’re expected to walk to school by themselves or with school-mates, and a few years after that, to be able to use public transport by themselves. Children are expected to be able to pack their own bag and carry it, and not lose it, so, bit by bit and with practice, they can be responsible for what they need for the whole day.

The reason I set this out - although at first it may seem not to answer the how-to-meet-people part of your paost - is that once you’ve learnt your way about, you can be ready to grab any opportunity. Someone at school suggests going to the lake? Yes! There’s a theater show on in the next town? Yes, great, we know how to get there. There’s a school outing including parents? Yes, I can be there at that time.

Swiss Rail Annual Pass
Note than in German this is known as the Generalabonnement, called “GA”, pronounced “gee ah” whereas in French of course it’s the other way round, so AG “ah jee”. It’s often worth knowing the German version of something, because those sites which translate into English tend to adopt the German term.

The GA Travelcard for people in the same household.
https://www.sbb.ch/en/travelcards-an…rd-adults.html

The GA Travelcard for people in the same household.
https://www.sbb.ch/en/travelcards-an…card-duos.html

Children’s Co-Travelcard (for a mere Fr. 30 per child per annum)
https://www.sbb.ch/en/travelcards-an…ravelcard.html

Hi and welcome, and best of luck for the upcoming move

Excellent advice as always, from doropfiz.

I will share my experience, I hope some of it is helpful to you. I've been here for 2 years, I came as an English-only speaker. My first year I lived in Basel-Stadt, and my second year I'm in Ticino. Part of your experience will be canton-dependent, I think. Basel-Stadt, for a non-German speaker (initially) was quite challenging; even after a full year, I barely knew any of my neighbours. Whilst they weren't actively unfriendly, they were simply disinterested. Ticino, on the other hand, was the opposite - even though I don't speak italian, people in the local area were keen to stop and chat in the street once they realised you're a newcomer to the community. I now have friends in my neighbourhood with whom I still don't share a common language, which is quite lovely! I can't speak for the French part but I sincerely hope your new neighbourhood is friendly and welcoming - I am sure having the language down-pat already will work in your favour.

In terms of finding activities for the children (and hopefully meeting other parents / friends whilst you're at it), I have found that there always seems to be something family-oriented happening in the local community (this goes for both cantons in which I've lived) - there are always posters and advertisements about the latest exhibition / festival / family day coming to town. I don't have kids but even I've noticed how there is constantly something to do here - I recommend joining social media channels of your local canton (e.g. I follow ' Citta di Bellinzona ' on instagram, which is where I hear about all the upcoming local activities).

For meeting other people, I highly recommend seeking out expat groups - search Facebook for 'expats in Geneva / Vaud / etc' pages, or simply do a google search. Some of the groups are Switzerland-wide but this isn't really helpful as 90% of the activities advertised won't be near you. 'Geneva EXPATS' looks like a very active group on Facebook, as does 'Expats in Geneva.' InterNations is another expat group that often has activities and meet-ups happening, and so does the online platform 'MeetUp' which is designed to build communities all over the world.

In terms of culture shock, I don't think the contrast will be as shocking to you, with your French and UK exposure. I came here from the UK and whilst I found several things culturally surprising (e.g. everything is closed on Sundays / regulated use of trash bags / etc.), the culture shock really isn't too great, I think.

It seems like you're taking a proactive approach to getting to know your new home early, so best of luck with it all.

There are multiple ways to integrate. In every place I've been living the local municipality always organize events, try to promote local associations, etc. Unfortunately I've never been much interested in these but I believe these are really suitable for families with children. I rather gravitate around (local in a broader geographical sense) communities which share my passions and interests.

You will integrate much quicker if you put your kids in the local schools. In our village parents walk their kids to the bus stop and have a real chin-wag while they are waiting for the bus. The kids in international schools get picked up at their door.

In January, the GAOS put on a traditional Panto every year.

https://www.gaos.ch/

The Basel one is probably a little too far!

And if your kids are interested in the performing arts there is Simply Theatre

Hi Blikus When are you moving? Geneva is great. You got great advice so far but if you do move to Geneva sent me a message and we can go out for coffee or something. There you go, you met one person already!

I would add, make a big effort to learn and speak French. It's very easy, particularly in the area around Geneva, to get away without speaking the language as it's filled with English-speaking expats. However, if you do want to integrate, it's worth making the effort.

Note also, that you may be tempted to go and live over the border in France, though the price differential these days isn't as great as it used to be. However, you will be stuck with a messy commute. It was the Swiss who largely financed the Léman Express, the commuter rail network designed to encourage French border workers to commute by train than by car.

Yes, this is such good advice: don't live in an international expat bubble, in a whirl of people who are here for but a year or three, but rather work on getting to know the people who've always been here or others who, like you, are settling in for the long run.

As far as I understand, OP and the whole family already speak French fluently, and they're going to send their children to the local school. So that'll be a way to meet people.

One of the things that will be so much better, thanks to their command of French, is shared/swapped child-care . OP, I know you're planning to work, but sorting out the child-care is quite a task to be faced.

In some areas (and you'll hear it over and over again, in Switzerland things are different from canton to canton and even from municipality to municipality) there are full-day care centres arranged around the schools, so that children can go there before school starts, through the lunch break and again after the afternoon session of school until the parents get home from work. Places in such centres are not always guaranteed, and the costs vary. In areas where such a service doesn't exist, or also to economise on the fees, some parents set up a roster. Each family hosts several children over lunch, each on a different day, i.e. the children in that little group are together, but go to four or five different homes for lunch, through the week. This is sometimes extended to after school. And some parents do that for sports and other club activities, too. Naturally, it takes quite a lot of networking. Some teachers help, others don't, and some kindergartens and schools have a whatsapp group or similar to facilitate building such cooperation.

Thanks so much for all your replies above (and apologies for my delaying replying)! I’m afraid I haven’t replied to everyone individually but I do appreciate your advice, thank you so much for this.

@Gata: we will be moving in August next year. A coffee would be great!

@doropfiz: that’s useful to know re childcare - unfortunately I had assumed that wraparound provision would be quite good (and better than it is in the U.K.!) but it clearly will be another factor we will need to consider.

Another thing came to mind: get all your documents and certificates up-to-date before you leave where you live now. Things such as : each person's birth certificate each person's passport current marriage certificate if either of you were formerly married, the relevant death certificates or any divorce papers including Court Orders adoption papers if applicable if the children are from previous relationships, written permission from any other living parents of the children, to let them emigrate each adult's driver's licence a good set of passport photos of each person medical records of each person (obtain them from the treating doctors of the past few years; this may not be common practice where you are but if you push, saying you're emigrating, you might have more success. In Switzerland, patients have an absolute right to their full medical records.) lists of any medication currently used, not just the product's name (which might be different in Switzerland) but the chemical substance therein if possible a supply of any medication used, to tide you over the first month or three, until you've found doctors here if any of you will likely need medical treatment right away, from when you arrive, a doctor's report detailing what has been done and what will be needed ask the current school-teachers or music/sport teachers and/or psychologists if any are involved for a general letter of assessment of each child (and edit it and take it back for changes until you're satisfied, or perhaps even draft it yourself and submit it to the teacher for changes). For example, swimming certificates may be completely different where you are now, compared to Switzerland, so it should not just say "Frog" or "Sea-Eagle" nor "Level A3" or "medium", but rather "can swim 25 metres breast-stroke", "can jump into deep water", and so on, by analogy, for all skills and education. all education records of each family member, including if possible the detailed curricula of whatever the adults studied, (even not in their current field) including the hours and modules and duration and practical training (for a job already secured, this tip is irrelevant, but unless the adults are already super niche-specialists, it may become useful for future job applications, to be able to show the level of education attained, and/or for the Swiss formal process for recognition of qualifications or titles). dates of all employment, certificates proving work there, references from former employers and/or colleagues from those jobs. proof of your contributions (how much, how long) to pension plans and unemployment insurance, social security, etc., as some of this may be transferrable into or acknowledged by the Swiss system, and other parts you will need only when you retire and must apply for your pensions in Switzerland as well as in all other countries in which you have contributed.

This list may seem obvious to you, or not, but I add it here because we've seen people having significant administrative troubles because they arrived here without having obtained some of their papers in their home country, and having to apply for them from here just adds another level of unnecessary stress and expense to the process of immigrating.

The last item in the previous post rings a bell with me. I retired here in Switzerland a couple of years ago, but am also collecting pensions from the UK, France and Germany, as I had previously worked in those countries. Whilst the AVS were helpful in kicking off the pension process in all those countries, I did have to supply them with information relating to my employment. One of the biggest headaches was simply finding my social security number for each of the countries. I left the UK more than 40 years ago and really didn't have any idea what my social insurance number was. It took some effort to recover it.

Hi there!
If you are in Geneva and your kids are at primary school they will be able to attend the parascolaire at lunchtime and after school. Check out the site here: https://www.giap.ch . Drop them a line as I am 90% sure that Geneva canton ensures that every child can get a place if they want one.

Why would they learn French when they are already fluent??