The prospects for Ireland’s commercial real estate market sits right between the sunny uplands of a booming multinational sector that some have described as

What is life in Switzerland like?

I lived in Lausanne for over three years, and I can talk about the perspective of life in Switzerland from this experience.

First, the people are very formal. They may appear to be very cold, and this may come as a shock to people from cultures that are relatively more “open” such as Australia or Italy. There is a great emphasis on mutual respect and privacy, so it is very unlikely two people can become lifelong friends from just chatting at a bus stop. This is simply part of the local culture, and it does not mean that the people are unfriendly in any way. In my experience, the local people still gladly come to your aid if you are actively seeking assistance and they feel they can be of help.

Swiss people

If you managed to find a job, which is by far the most important issue with respect to living there, then you should be able to survive financially. The economic system is designed such that a family can live on comfortably with a single source of income. Because of the comfort and security associated with jobs, most Swiss people do not change jobs during their life time. This also means that it may be difficult actually find a job. I’ve been told that my salary as a postdoc at EPFL is comparable to that of a senior supermarket checkout staff, and I have met elderly refugees arrived in 1970s who worked in supermarkets in a small village for 40 years and live and travel very comfortably. Yet at the same time, I also known countless highly qualified and very talented people (mostly spouses of people working for EPFL) who for years struggle to find a job.

Swiss jobs (not really…)

If you manage to find an apartment, you’ll have access to very good housing conditions. Under normal leasing arrangements, all buildings are rent-controlled, where annual rent must not exceed 3% of the total building cost. The quality of residential buildings (in terms of build-quality) is the best I have seen in the world, in general better than what I have observed in Australia, China, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Germany, United Kingdom and United States. There are federal laws mandating the indoor temperature of rental housing, and the interior and exterior of the buildings must be regularly refurbished. However, obtaining lease of an apartment is extremely difficult in competitive urban areas such as Lausanne and Geneva, where the rental vacancy is less than 1% of the total market volume.

Swiss apartments

It has been a well known cliché, but the Swiss society really do work like a well-made clock. The public transports runs on time for the great majority of times. Under normal conditions, you never have to interact with any elements of the criminal-justice system (the police, courts etc.). The shops typically closes 7pm on weekdays, 6pm on Saturday, and not open on Sunday, so you have to plan your weekly shopping accordingly. If you abide to the rules and norms of society, which the Swiss society see as your personal responsibility, things will run smoothly for you.

Swiss clock and Swiss trains

Lastly, you will find that in Switzerland there is a very strong distinction between the local and foreigners, and some may interpret this attitude as xenophobic. I however, came to see it differently. The Swiss have always lived in the centre of Europe and at intersection of other European empires, and are keenly aware of their identity. Unlike other countries where mass immigration is quite new, they have a long history of hosting foreigners make them part of their community (think French-born John Calvin or German-born Albert Einstein). They know that in order to have a thriving society they will need foreign expertise, yet they also know they do not want to be swamped to an extent that they lose their own identity.

Swiss political ads

To learn more about actual life in Switzerland, particularly from an Anglo-US perspective, I recommend the books Beyond Chocolate: Understanding Swiss Culture by Margaret Oertig-Davidson and Swiss Watching: Inside the Land of Milk and Money by Diccon Bewes. Alternatively, English Forum Switzerland is a good resource to find out everything from estimate the cost of living, how to contest rent increases to how to leave Switzerland properly (there is a whole forum section dedicated to this topic).

Books on Switzerland

So to answer your follow up questions: Unless you are independently wealthy, only consider drop everything and move there if you have a job waiting for you in Switzerland, and preferably an apartment that your job has managed to find for you. Be prepared for the culture shock regardless of where you’re from, for there is no other places in the world like it.