Out of all the lessons I have learned in the last few weeks, I have decided to take this one as the most important one and the one that has really marked my first days living in Switzerland and getting settled.
Trusting people is, from my experience, the first thing you should do once you land on the Swiss soil (or anywhere as a matter of fact, but you get my point). In the last 5 weeks I have not had one bad, negative or scary experience with people here. Although the administration almost drove me crazy, people were always here to help me and stop me from becoming Lucia di Lamermoor and scream at them and the papers.
So, with that in mind, here are my experiences with moving to Switzerland and what I would recommend if you’re doing the same thing:
I came one week before my school started so I can get settled and find an apartment without rushing in and out of lessons. If you’re from one of those countries where you need a residence permit if staying longer than 3 months, once you get a visa they will tell you that you need to report to the local immigration office as soon as you get there, or in 14 days from your arrival. The problem is that in order to register you need to have a permanent address and an apartment contract. So, logically one of the first things you should do is getting a place to stay for a longer time.
Until you find a place of your own you need to stay somewhere. I would recommend couch-surfing. Hotels are far too expensive, and to live in a hostel for more than a week is not that convenient. I have tried both renting a room (on airBNB.com) and couch-surfing (couchsurfing.com), and though I had great hosts in both occasions, couch-surfing is better since it is free and somehow a relationship with the host is different than when you just pay them and that is it. Of course you have to take care not to stay in one place to long so you don’t bore your host, and not to act just as if you’re using them to live for free. Airbnb is pretty expensive, and take in account you will have to stay somewhere for at least 2 weeks (administration and paper work take a looooot of time here). Anyways, whatever you choose, trust the people. I was worried about couch-surfing, as I have never done it before, but my host was really nice and kind and we had a lot of fun (I hope he feels the same!).
When it comes to the apartments, as I have mentioned before, be ready that 98 percent of the apartments are empty. No furniture, just lamps (sometimes) and kitchen appliances, sometimes a washer and a drier if they are not in the basement. That is a standard here. There is a site where you can find a room (that is furnished) in a shared apartment and that is a good and cheaper option if you find a good match (you can check it out here : www.wgzimmer.ch)
I tried to set some visits from Croatia, but I realised people in Switzerland don’t really like talking through email, and don’t respond to calls from foreign countries (some do respond to Skype as I have said in the previous posts but…) so actually, the REALLY first thing you do is buy a Swiss number and a Swiss phone. There are really cheap prepaid options and you can get a new phone for 30 francs (of course depending of what you expect from that phone). Put that phone to good use and start calling for all the apartments you like as soon as possible.
The prices are high, but it is Switzerland, after a few weeks you’ll get used to the it.
When it comes to the actual renting of the apartment be prepared that it takes a lot of time. They are not in a hurry so if the renting page says it is available “sofort”- right away, make sure they confirm it to you, but still don’t expect to get in the next day. You have to fill out a form, then the agency has to proof it and decide if they want to give you the place or not. If you’re a student and not working, have your parents or a sponsor write a statement they will pay the rent monthly and send it right away with the form, because they are very sensitive about it. Also, if they decide to rent it to you and you want to move in immediately, be very persuasive. It is possible they will ask you for some kind of extra payment for moving in early, but it’s not much and you’ll have your own place. It really makes a difference when you’re in “your” place and not usurping someone else’s, no matter how kind and nice they are.
What also takes a lot of time (and money) is getting your actual visa once you rent the apartment. It depends which city you go to because each has their own procedure, so I can’t talk a lot about it. I can just tell you I had to go to my office about 45 minutes before it opened in order to be received and I still waited for another 2.5 hours for everything to be done. (Well not quite everything, because I had to go take my official picture and give finger prints 2 days later but that took about 5 minutes.) Your actual visa comes to a post office near you in 5 to 10 days, and the notice it came comes to your home so you can go and pick it up (yes they like to keep you moving).
I won’t bother you much longer, just want to give you a heads up for few more things.
Be careful how you plan the moving of your things from your current place of residence to Switzerland. I had all of my things packed in 6 boxes (with a big help of my mum and her friend) and my mom and my boyfriend carried those boxes to a bus of a transport company so my things were supposed to be in Biel the next day. But it didn’t happen. They were waiting for me in a place that was a 3 hour drive from my place. And I had no car. But thankfully, as I said, people are good. I met a Croatian guy by accident in a store, and long story short, he gave me his number in case I needed any help. And wouldn’t you know it, a few days later, I really needed help, and he was so kind to drive with me for 6 hours in total so I can pick up my boxes. It was a risky move, but I decided to trust people and I’m glad I did. My things are here and I made a friend. The point is, make sure your boxes really arrive at your place or meet someone nice who can help you 😉
When it comes to equipping the apartment, there are a few options. You can order a delivery from Ikea (although it is pretty expensive and in case you don’t have a car), but there are also second hand shops (for example this one : http://www.brocki.ch/) where you can find nice pieces of furniture for a lower price and in a good shape. It all depends where you live. I was lucky I found a mattress shop close to my place so at least I had something to sleep on from day 1. Also, ask your hosts if they can help you, as I said – trust people. My friend from uni here had a great host who took her shopping for furniture and helped her with all her stuff.
And now for one of the most important things: internet. I was without internet for almost 3 weeks. Of course I had it at my airbnb and couchsurfing accommodation, but once I moved to my apartment, it was an internet hunt. You can’t have internet at home until you have a visa, so first you have to wait for that to come. Then, some companies have pretty expensive options, at some you can’t have internet if you don’t have some other contract with them (like for phone or tv). So again, some nice people came to my rescue, I met them when I was buying my Swiss phone and number and they told me where to go and what to do. I wanted to buy a portable wifi router, since it was the cheapest and most convenient, but it turned out to be really expensive because I have just arrived to the country (yes, that criteria is valid here).So I was advised to go to a company called Mobile Zone, since they have offers of almost all operators and there they could figure out something for me. And again, people are nice, and they made a great deal for me. Also, you will need an electrician to set it up for you so ask in the shop or anyone you know if they know one who can do it for you, since the official one can be really expensive. Until you get internet, most of the shops have free internet so you can find a bench and use them as hot spots. Also, if you’re studying, every university has wifi where you can login with your student account so that can be convenient as well.
We mentioned shops so I’ll just give you a little tip. There are a few different kinds of shops so be careful if you plan living on a budget. Go around the shops and check the prices, compare them so you find the cheapest one because the difference can be pretty big once you get to the cashier.
And one last thing – think about how much you will have to travel by train. Switzerland is very well connected by train, it’s maybe even the most used of all means of transport. There are no student discounts for tickets but there is a thing you can do to make the travelling cheaper. If you travel everyday you can buy a year ticket, that one is really expensive (around 2400 francs a year I think) but will definitely pay off. On the other had if you travel once or twice a week (like yours truly) then there is a much cheaper option. (If you will travel by train before you get these cards, save your ticket because you can get an even bigger discount for these offers if you show it during purchase) So, the SBB (the national rail company) has something called a half-price card, and as its name says – if you have it, you pay just a half of the standard ticket price. Besides that one, if you’re younger than 25 (or maybe 26, check it), you can buy a card called “Gleis 7”. With that card you can travel for free everywhere after 7.p.m. All in all the cost is around 300 and something francs, which is not much when you know how much the regular tickets cost.
So, I hope this all was helpful and it wasn’t too boring. If you came to this point – congratulations! 🙂 So yes, basically my point would be to just let go, trust the people (of course not every single person, but you’ll figure out who’s ok 😉 ) and go open-minded. Enjoy the adventure, you’ll be glad after.
Until the next post!