Eight reasons why I moved to Switzerland to work in tech

This article was written in November 2014 but all things here are still valid in 2018, so read on.

I run a technical recruitment agency based in Zurich. I will help you skip boring calls with non-technical recruiters, assess you reasonably and match you with cool tech jobs in Zurich (and also Munich and New York)! Please reach out to me at iwan@coderfit.com.

In 2014, I was a twenty-something, recent college-graduate in computer science who grew up in Germany. I moved to Switzerland to work as a full-stack software engineer.

On the back-end, I worked with Python/Flask, Elasticsearch, RedHat, Docker and on the front-end I did ES6 and mostly React. The customers of the company I worked for were also quite exciting, some of them have stores on Bahnhofstrasse — the Fifth Avenue of Europe.

I consider myself lucky to work on amazing things while residing in one of the most liveable cities of the world. I will outline some reasons why I moved here to work in tech.

1. High living standard

Although Zurich is among the most expensive places in the world, it is easy to live here due to the high salaries. A comparison of net-salaries in Europe shows that while average pay in West-European countries are around 2000 EUR, Swiss companies pay 4000 EUR on average. The average net-salary in Zurich is around 5500 CHF but skewed upwards by people making insane salaries at UBS, Credit-Suisse and other banks.

Like many places, Switzerland lacks qualified software engineers. The average market salary is high and it is the only place in Europe where it is on San Francisco/Bay-Area level.

Taxes

Switzerland’s tax system is simple: There are federal taxes, canton taxes and city taxes. Combined they amount to only 15% — 25% of gross-earnings for higher-middle class salaries. This is really little compared to other countries (e.g., Germany which is around 45-50% for the same income bracket).

In the canton of Zurich, a junior software engineer can get 6000 CHF per month after taxes. A senior engineer can earn up to 9500 CHF after taxes. If one goes into management, obviously, there is no upper limit.

bruttonetto.ch or lohncomputer.ch estimates your salary after taxes.

No capital gain tax

Switzerland is one of the few countries in the world that doesn’t have a capital gain tax: If you make money on the stock market you pay 0% taxes )if you keep the stocks for at least a year). More on this topic in my blogpost that I wrote in recently: How buying real-estate can kill you financially and two reasons to go for stocks instead

Health insurance

Swiss law forces everyone to be insured. However, it is up to you “how fancy” your insurance is. You can choose between different models that vary in the monthly payment and “the franchise” (=deductible). Like many young people, I chose a insurance with the maximum franchise of 2500 CHF. It costs around 250 CHF a month. If I go to the doctor, I pay everything up to 2500,- CHF a year out of pocket (this is the “franchise”). If I get a serious sickness that costs more than that, the insurance kicks in. Another model would be to pay 350 CHF a month and have a 300 CHF franchise.

Both models are really thought true: You are expected to cover minor costs like cavity fillings yourself (skin in the game) but you are protected against major, black swan events (cancer). Compare this to the German system that on paper covers everything and “doctors are free” but in reality you have to pay for good-quality cavity fillings and many things “eye-related” anyway out of pocket. In Germany, you have a socialist system in place where the monthly fee for health insurance depends on your salary and not on your “risk preference” like in Switzerland.

2. Economy and democracy

Since over two hundred years Switzerland is politically neutral, meaning that they officially do not take any side in case of a war.

Switzerland is ranked the most stable economy in the world and the most competitive nation. The Swiss Franc is tied to gold-assets of 7% and it is the sixth most-traded currency in the world. If you get your salary in Swiss Francs, you maximize the chances that the salary you earn will actually be worth something in the future. If you think that is a crazy thought that any European currency will collapse, look at Ukraine: The savings of people there halved in value due to war-like conflicts. If you think, “yeah that is far away, too”, think of crises with Greece and how it impacts the Euro.

Direct democracy

Switzerland is the only country in the world that implements direct democracy. That means every Swiss person can do and undo any political decision by organizing a referendum.

You can really feel the difference to the rest of Europe. When people talk about politics, the Swiss literally say “we decided that …” whereas the Germans say “they decided that …”. Swiss often stand behind decisions made by political parties they despise because “the people” voted for it. Also they often vote for a left-wing party on topic X but might vote for a right-wing party for topic Y which doesn’t seem to happen in other countries.

(The theoretical downside of direct democracy is that if the population is stupid, you’ll get stupid decisions instantly forced onto everyone. A small, well-educated population like the Swiss should not have this problem though — I hope.)

3. Reasonable living costs

Switzerland has a bad reputation when it comes to costs. Yes, Switzerland can be super-expensive, but you can always choose what you buy and how fancy you live. For Swiss standards, I managed to live frugally when I was single: I lived on less than 1600 CHF a month. My costs consisted of living space, insurance, transportation and food. I shared a flat and payed less than 800 CHF for rent. My health-insurance costs were around 250 CHF. For food, I spent around 200–500 CHF per month and my ticket for commuting was less than 120 CHF, this includes trips to Germany. (Now my life situation changed a little bit, but my costs increased only slightly.) If I would have chosen to live more fancy, I would rent a bigger apartment and spend maybe 1000 CHF more per month. If I would go to the restaurant more often that would be a couple of Francs more. Still, I could spend serious money each month.

If you eat out in Zurich and get shocked by the prices, remember that both people and space is expensive here. You do not pay for the food but you pay for the rent and the waiter’s salary which can be 3500–4500 CHF or more. Hence, a beer has to cost around 5–8 CHF, and a quality meal at least 20 CHF.

That said, electronics — especially Apple stuff — is cheaper in Switzerland than almost anywhere else, with the possible exception of the US. This is due to the low sales taxes of 7.7% in Switzerland (19% in Germany).

Food

One thing very different from the US is this: Healthy, non-processed, natural food is comparably cheap. However, unhealthy, processed, artificial food is expensive. In the US, artificial food is cheap and real food expensive.

If you want to eat processed food, you can find 50% discounted food that expires this day almost every evening before the shops close:

Due to high labor costs, sandwiches made in Switzerland can be expensive, but often are 50% off at different shops after 5 p.m. They are really tasty and not full of chemicals.

If you shop at Aldi-Suisse, Lidl, Denner, Migros or Coop (order from cheap to expensive) and cook for yourself, you can eat healthy and don’t have to spend more than 5 CHF a day on food.

If you want to be super-hardcore about costs, you can drive over to Germany (which takes about 45 minutes) and shop there — you might save 30–50%. But there is a caveat; German supermarket-food is of lower quality compared to Swiss supermarket-food.

Accommodation

It is hard to find something while you are not in Zürich physically. Therefore, it might be a good idea to find a room (via Airbnb) first. 600–950 CHF for a room in a shared apartment via Airbnb is reasonable.

How to find a permanent place to live: Regardless of your needs, the trick to find a suitable place is to never stop looking. Set an e-mail reminder on comparis.ch and wait for the right deal to come in. (Also, englishforum, comparis or ronorp are good places to start looking for apartments). When you see something, that fits your needs, try to be the first to e-mail the landlord with a personalised cover letter stating why you want the apartment. If you can’t think of anything creative, say you have close friends living in the district.

4. Multiculturalism

One third of residents in Zurich don’t have a Swiss passport. In some districts half are not Swiss. Anyhow, there is no “clash of cultures” or anything like the things you hear from big cities in the rest of Europe because people who move here are either well-off already or come here for (mostly) highly-qualified work. Some people say the Swiss are particularly hostile to all kinds of foreigners (including Germans and Italians etc.) which might be true on the countryside. However, I did not experience such things in Zurich so far.

5. Low bureaucracy

When I finished university, I applied at many firms. I had offers from the same big-corp, for the same positions both in Switzerland and Germany. The German work-contract was seven pages long, while the Swiss work-contract was one and a half pages long. Also, if you have to do with authorities Switzerland is simpler. Back home, I had to wait three hours in line just to let the authorities know that I am moving away from Germany. In Zurich it took me twenty minutes to become resident of the city and get a 5-year work permit (without having to wait in line).

6. Simple entrepreneurship

It takes 25.000 Euros to start a GmbH (=limited liability company) in Germany , while in Switzerland you only need 20.000 CHF (17.000 EUR). Taking into account that the average net-salary is double in Switzerland, you can assume that you’ll be able to finance a Limited much faster here. Also, paperwork to setup sole-proprietorships and all entrepreneur-related activities is easier here.

In Zurich, doing business is straight forward: Things are about perceived quality, reputation and durability. Switzerland is not a cost-sensitive market and Swiss value quality over price. If you have a good product or service to sell, you can charge a lot since people have money and are willing to spend it.

7. Easy immigration (for EU citizens)

Thanks to the free-movement inside the EU, the immigration process is especially simple for EU-citizens. If you have two things, (1) a job-offer and and (2) official place where you live, you get a B-permit valid for five years within twenty minutes.

As a person in tech, getting a job should be not too hard. Finding a great job might be tricky because the Swiss market is small compared to London, Berlin or other truly big cities. Yet the job-to-people ratio in Zurich (which has only 400.000 inhabitants) is much higher than in other major cities in Europe that have millions of people living there. If you need help with finding a job here e-mail me at iwan@coderfit.com and I will help to find you a job here.

If you are not from the EU, a Swiss company can still get you a work permit. However this is hard. The company has to show jobs adverts and a stack of resumes to the authorities and point out how these applicants were not suited for the job and how you are. I know some companies who have done this successfully with foreign developers in canton Zug.

8. No second chance to come here

Immigration to Switzerland spiked in the summer of 2014 due to the referendum for a cap on immigration that was accepted by a majority. The laws will be introduced in a few years to limit the number of immigrants. No one really knows how the Swiss government is going to sell this to the EU, since it might break some bilateral contracts.

Employers I talked to were scared that this decision will limit their ability to hire good people. We have 2018 now and still nothing really changed. Also, the tech- and IT-market always got special treatment because there is a clear lack of talent. When there were similar regulations in place in the 90’s, it was still easy to hire programmers from abroad.

Conclusion

Due to the high salaries, Switzerland has an unparalleled living-standard and gives people financial stability which leads to lots of personal freedom: Some like saving money. Others prefer having lots of free time and many here can afford to work part-time, only 4 days a week etc. Some like to buy shiny, expensive things. In any case, whatever you like to do, Switzerland, this small but great country gives you the freedom to do what you enjoy.

If you are a software engineer, or if you can refer one, read on. I run a technical recruitment agency based in Zurich. I will help you skip boring calls with non-technical recruiters, assess you reasonably and match you with cool tech jobs in Zurich, Munich or New York! Please reach out to me at iwan@coderfit.com. If you like this article, you might love:

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