Five years after moving to Switzerland. Why I am still here.

Iwan
Apr 29 · 10 min read

When I came to Zurich in 2014 to work as a Python and Javascript developer I believed to only stay 2–3 years maximum and then leave to the US.

After I wrote “Nine reasons why I moved to Switzerland to work in tech” people started mailing me their CVs, I connected them with jobs and companies started paying me for this. Now, I am running coderfit.com and try to push local tech recruitment beyond the boring, regular commission based business to a fairer approach. But this article is all about what I experienced in the last five years in the Zurich tech scene, what changed, what stayed the same and also to give an outlook on what might happen in the next five years, should you be thinking about moving here.

The Matterhorn — symbolizing Swiss exceptionalism

Tech companies

In the last five years many tech startups popped up, and grew. Also the presence of Google, Amazon, Apple increased.

But of course, we should not forget that there is a generally bullish world-wide market climate, so it is all in all not only thanks to the Swiss themselves.

The city became more interesting to tech people than it was before. Here’s why:

Zurich’s startups

Zurich is a very expensive small place and not a famous startup hotspot. You neither have access to easy capital (like in Silicon Valley) nor to inexpensive talent (like in Berlin).

Still, Zurich manages to host a list of impressive startups, especially in the B2B space. Here is a list of startups that will give you an idea what local scene is like:

Onedot.com developed a natural language processing engine that helps e-commerce firms to clean up their product data.

Avrios.com is a SaaS that helps companies manage their vehicle fleet.

Advanon.com is a platform where companies can quickly get short term loans to finance their invoices.

luckabox.ch, “logistics Tinder” that helps to deliver same day packages within a city.

testingtime.com is a platform where companies can find test users from different demographics to test their (app) prototypes.

The majority of programming work happens in agencies or consultancies here (local outsourcing). Two interesting agencies are:

Quatico.com has built a middleware product that abstracts away legacy CRM/business process management solutions, thus making such implementations more efficient in banks and insurance-companies.

Panter.ch is a bunch of ‘hipsters’ developing full stack solutions. They grew from 25 to over 50 people in the last five years and are “different” because many people there are tattooed, have pink hair and no one wears business attire although clients include banks and insurances.

As you can see, all these firms are B2B oriented. If you want to start a consumer startup, you need to go international from day one because Switzerland is a very small market. Smallpdf.com, a web app to edit, work on and transform pdfs, doodle.com, a scheduling app and logitech, the hardware manufacturer are the few exceptions.

B2B seems the more reasonable choice because despite the rumor that Switzerland only has banking, in fact, it has a huge ‘small and middle sized’ / industry sector. There is rule of law, people trust each other and to this day many deals are closed via handshake.

Security focused startups

Security & privacy oriented companies deserve an extra paragraph. Snowhaze.com, a private iOS browser with built-in VPN, protonmail.com, a private email service and securesafe.com, a private cloud data storage, all reside here. These firms have an unfair advantage as compared with firms elsewhere because they just have to obey Swiss law, not EU law, not US law. Historically, Switzerland takes privacy extremely seriously, with banking privacy being the canonical example. Due to international pressure full banking privacy doesn’t exist anymore. Still, the laws are quite privacy oriented and that isn’t about to change anytime soon.

Bitcoin and cryptocurrency

Some of the international core Bitcoin community lives here and make use of the liberal Swiss economy to develop their ideas and products. shiftcrypto.ch is a hardware wallet manufacturer proving that even hardware startups can successfully come into being here. The first time I got in touch with the bitcoin community was at a hackathon in 2016. These “true” bitcoiners weren’t into making a quick buck but were real believers in it.

There are many more startups in the field of finance, crypto and drones but I can’t possibly list them all.

Startup failures to learn from

The most visible startup failure in the last five years was Siroop, an online shop that was attempting to be Switzerland’s Amazon. At its peak it had more than 100 employees in Zurich, advertised on every corner, tram and bus-station. Shortly after the main investors (a local supermarket conglomerate) decided to pull the plug, and sadly, 100 employee were put on the street. Money and employees are by far not enough to have success as a venture. Still, galaxus.ch/ Digitec.ch are the biggest Amazon-like online shops, with microspot.ch and brack.ch taking more or less the remainder of the market.

The Swiss are clearly more liberal than other Europeans. The FDP holds often a 25% majority, whereas in Germany this party is more a side phenomenon. Also, there are even interesting Libertarian groups who like to meet at events of libinst.ch or hayekianer.ch. They regularly organise talks on liberal and local or global topics. Most talks are given in German but sometimes in English, too. There is more interest in small government here than anywhere else I have lived before and that feels good.

Consumer apps

In the last five years many “local consumer” startups appeared that made daily life even more comfortable here. Note that these are not Snapchat-like consumer startups that aim to capture the world but rather apps that can only be used in Switzerland:

Banking: Since this year, after Postfinance raised prices, Neon is the only real “free” bank; all other banks charge money to hold your money, not because they are more secure (all banks follow similar regulations) but because their internal processes are inefficient to the extent that a new customer opening a new bank account costs at least 700–800 CHF. So, they have to charge their clients fees. Neon is a startup that can operate with low expenses because they outsource the actual money handling to a local bank (Hypothekarbank Lenzburg) and take care of the user interaction via an app. The UX is great and the registration takes ten minutes. Compare this to local big banks where you have to schedule and attend an hour long face-to-face appointment with a banker. Twint is supported by most banks, it’s ‘Swiss Venmo’ and allows to send (usually small) sums to friends or pay online instantly via a convenient app.

Car sharing: Instead of owning a car, you can use sharoo.com to rent one starting at ~6 CHF / hour with free mileage on some electric cars (e.g., this Renault Zoe). The train system in Switzerland is, however so good that this is only required if you need to transport something like furniture. I typically use it when I have to ride 30km to Lottstetten/Jestetten, Germany when I have stuff delivered to swiss-paket.de, a German pickup address at the border (some sellers don’t deliver outside the EU, or import taxes / extra shipping costs can be avoided by picking it up at the border.)

The threshold for taxfree delivery to Switzerland is only CHF50 (items that are more valuable are subject to a 7.7% VAT import tax. However, if you cross the border carrying your stuff yourself the threshold for tax free import is CHF300. Both Jestetten and Lotstetten have the S9 train stopping there, it take less than an hour to get there from Zurich, so you don’t actually need a car to go there. This is never a chore because the train ride is beautiful as it crosses the bridge over the Rhein.

Public transport: You can use fairtiq.com to always get the cheapest ticket without thinking about which ticket to buy for how many zones etc., just tap the app before you hop in a train/tram/ferry and tap it again once you have hopped off. You get the best price for a (roundtrip or multi-stop) trip.

Not a real startup but for public transport with the half-fare card, train trips are half price and local tram trips 30% reduced. You also get half off at mountain railways and cable cars, which makes this card worth it if you want to explore the mountains of Switzerland.

Bike sharing: If you want to feel especially adventurous, you can rent a e-moped on mobility.ch, an electric bicycle that goes up to 45km/h on smide.ch or an e-scooter on goflash.com. These services are priced between 25–30 cents and not more expensive than similar services in generally “cheaper” Germany.

Co-working: You can work from Impact hub in two excellent locations, near the main train station and in Hardbrücke, or in spacesworks.com which is stunning inside, creativespace.ch, which is more in Oerlikon and has a lot of space. All are around ~CHF20–30/day for a day pass.

Saving for retirement: For saving taxes and thinking of retirement you can use viac.ch to take care of your retirement “extra” pension fund (the money can be used for buying a house or starting a business, too). Compared to traditional providers they are transparent with their fees and flexibility. For example you can easily invest in stocks, something that is not easily done with other providers.

Health insurance: I am using assura.ch as a health insurance provider, benefits are like everywhere else because they are mandated by Swiss law. Assura is cheaper because in case you visit the doctor you have to pay the doctor bill yourself and you get reimbursed later by Assura. Other, more expensive, insurances pay the doctor directly. I really hope there will be some neon.ch-like health insurance disruptor soon as most of the providers are either more expensive or even less user-friendly.

Buying used stuff: If you want to buy used stuff you don’t go to ebay but you will go to tutti.ch or ricardo.ch. These two sites captured the Swiss market quickly and prevented eBay from establishing here. The deals on electronics can be great. I bought my last three phones on ricardo and they were all in great condition. Used cars can be bought on auto.ricardo.ch and are usually better than used cars in Germany because on Swiss roads you can’t drive faster than 120 km/h and that makes the car live longer.

Apartment hunt: To find an apartment still the same sites exist like five years ago: comparis, homegate with flatfox.ch trying to catch up. Still nothing disruptive appeared yet in this space that is consumer-facing.

Fitness: Not a startup but basefit.ch gym memberships goes for 400–500 CHF/year and it has everything you need if you’re just into barbell training. activfitness.ch has saunas etc. but you can’t drop a barbell at activfitness, so you can’t do exercises like power cleans.

Finding work: When searching for work, both the bigger international sites like indeed.ch and linkedin.com work but also vertical niches such as IT jobs freshjobs.ch, and the more German speaker oriented ictjobs.ch are useful.

Additionally, I can help you with finding programming jobs as I run coderfit.com, a tech recruitment agency.

On health insurance

Switzerland has a private, non-socialized health system where providers compete on price and quality. The health providers can’t deny anyone and they have to offer the same package and they can’t exclude preconditions.

Also nurses and pharmacists can do more than elsewhere. Nurses can take blood samples and pharmacists can fix open wounds. If you cut your finger you can go to most pharmacies and they will even suture/fix a heavy wound. In Germany that would only be allowed done by a doctor. From people that have had this done I heard that you only pay the material costs, so it’s cheap.

Although most people choose a health insurance that has a deductible (CHF2500 of doctor costs per year you pay on your own, after that, all is free), accidents and everything related to pregnancy is always paid by the insurance.

Final thoughts

There could be more development in recruitment, real estate, and health care and — surprisingly — finance. Also, Swiss firms should be more open to allow remote work and flexible working hours. Often, I still see “Blockzeiten”, mandatory attendance hours, on job descriptions. Maybe a more open mindedness on this perspective wouldn’t hurt.

The number of people migrating to Switzerland has stabilized. Unlike 2008 when there was a net-migration of 100k people (people moving here vs. moving away), now it is not even half of that. Maybe this will spike up again during the next economic recession.

I mainly have an eye on the IT field and I do think there is a good chunk of people thinking to move here. I had several cases of people relocating from the US (these folks all had some European passport). Mostly young couples who want to start a family. Recently, there are more and more Youtube vloggers, who release interesting content about daily life in Switzerland ( dawn for life and how to Switzerland).

If you happen to look for programming work, feel free to reach out at iwan@coderfit.com. (You must have citizenship of a EU-28 country or have a Swiss work permit because visa sponsorship in 99% of cases isn’t a thing here at the moment.)

Referral codes

The startups mentioned above that have referral codes are listed here:

  • neon-free.ch — banking, C4UYPL gives you CHF 30 on your new bank account.
  • sharoo.com — rental of private cars: Signing up via app.sharoo.com/r/52b86530 gives you 10 CHF discount on your first ride.
  • fairtiq.ch — public transport ticket: code: “M9JL46R73” gives you 3 CHF discount on your first train / tram ride.
  • smide.ch — e-bike ride sharing: “TAFJL9LF8” gives you free 10 minutes on an electric bicycle.
  • viac.ch — third pillar (“Säule 3a”) retirement savings account, either code “aunlCQ”, Ozp4J3”, “HSBhdm”, or “nCMa9A” will give you zero management fee on the first CHF 500.

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Originally published at https://coderfit.com on April 29, 2019.

Thanks to Szilveszter for ideas and corrections.

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