Moving to Zurich for work!

Originally Published July 19, 2010 | By Mafoo (aka Matthew Fopp) - Due to the age of this post please remember that some of this information maybe out of date.

There are several things you need to sort to move to Zurich for work.

They are:

• Work Contract
• Work Permit
• Accommodation
• Bank Account
• 1/2 price Transport Card

1) Work Contract

Obviously you want this in your hand before you commit to anything else. Get one signed by both parties if at all possible, and photocopy it. A few of the places you’re going to go will want a copy and have a photocopy that they can keep is just helpful and saves time. Once you’ve got that you’re ready to go.

2) Accommodation

You might want to get started on that right away. You will want to try – this is a central and massive portal for all forms of rental accommodation, both short and longer.

In brief:
“Serviced Apartment” style accommodation is relatively easy to get, but goes VERY quickly and cost WAY more than you would expect!

If you see something you like and you want it, take it immediately. You will not get a second chance. I seriously missed out on apartments because I delayed about 10 minutes, and with multiple agents selling the same rooms, they can’t even hold stuff for you. Don’t e-mail them, just phone – they will all answer in German but switch immediately to English.

They go too fast. In fact, they go so fast that even looking online becomes a bit pointless as they don’t update their websites when things get rented.

Please note for this kind of accommodation, you will end up with a shoe-box and pay WAY more than you want to for it. I suggest if you want that immediate start, so you can start earning the Chuffs, you suck it up and take it, but only for the first month while you find something cheaper/more reasonable. If you’re not starting immediately, start looking at accommodation NOW for a month’s time and sign that contract for it.

Also be aware that the “expat” websites are loaded with fakes and scams. On a few really quite polished websites we browsed for accommodation, as much as 90% of the replies were standard format “send your identification and bank details now” scams. Buyer beware!

“Longer term Rental” is available from, but be aware then they tend to start asking for quite hefty bonds and security deposits.

You’re quite safe to give them your money – the Swiss government has some sort of scheme in place to protect tenants and landlords both. So unless you do trash a place, you’ll get your bond back at the end. But some places were asking for 2 months bond + 2 months rent in advance, totalling a quite ludicrous amount of money to outlay before even your first paycheck. We were also slightly put off by the weird terms in Suisse leases that stipulate that a landlord can keep your bond for up to 12 months after you move out before you’re allowed to complain.

They can be a bit negotiable on this, and especially tell them where you will be working and that you have a contract, and be prepared to show your contract to prove it. They might suddenly get a bit more reasonable – one lowered rent and bond requests by 300 chuffs a month for me when he saw I was working at UBS.

Once you’re in Zurich, depending almost entirely on how much you are prepared to spend, you will probably find something more reasonable in that first month. There are also internal resources in the banks – bulletin boards and “for sale” boards where people post rooms for rent and that sort of thing.

You will have to go out of the city to get the price down to anything like other cities. Like all popular cities full of unusually wealthy people, there is a premium price for central location. If you don’t want to pay that much, look further out. Swiss public transport is legendarily efficient so staying somewhere a bit further out may not be that much of a burden.

2b) Bonds vs Bond Insurance

On the topic of Bonds, you should be aware that there are other options – arising as a result of the outrageous bonds probably. There are two main “insurance” style products that you can purchase that offer a landlord the same level of protection as a bond. These are “SwissCaution” and “Zurich Security Deposit Insurance”. You can only use these if your accommodation provider accepts them, but SwissCaution seems to be the more commonly recognised and accepted one.

They cost about 200-300 Chuffs, and you don’t get it back.

So it’s a toss up between a much higher initial outlay (and the hassle of getting your bond BACK at the end) versus a higher initial outlay of up to 300 chuffs that you will not get back. These policies last 1 year, regardless of the duration of your lease. They are not transferable from property to property.

They work as a form of guarantee, but they are not an insurance in the strictest sense of the word. For example, reading the full terms of the Swiss Caution policy, we learned that all it basically does is promise the LANDLORD that they will pay him in full in the eventuality of a default or damage. They will still then pursue you for repayment of that amount.

Also another note we made on reading the terms – if you do not cancel it, they will automatically renew and bill you for another year. The renewals are cheaper (about half) but need to be paid every year. So set a reminder to cancel the Swiss Caution policy(which of course, has to be done in writing and well in advance) for when you leave the property.

Also – We had one landlord tell us he didn’t accept Swiss Caution because it didn’t insure furnished properties. He clearly doesn’t understand how it works. You may encounter this with private rental.

3) Work Permit

You need to go to a “KreisBuro” office and register as a foreigner working in Zurich. It’s not a long form, and they fill it in for you from the information you bring with you.

* You will not be able to do this until you have accommodation. *
* You will need a passport photo *

They will ask for your passport, your contract and your proof of place of residence. They will charge you 75 chuffs and give you a temporary one that you must carry around with you, and your permanent one will come in the mail a week or two later.

You can’t just go to ANY KreisBuro (trust me, I tried). You have to go to the one that is closest to where you live. If you go to the wrong one, you will get given the address of the one you need to go to. Like all government agencies in the world, they seem to be understaffed and very prone to queues, so allow a bit of time to do this. Don’t go at lunchtime.

If you can’t be spending time working out which one to go to – you can do what I did, go to the very easy to find central one and ask. It’s in the big Government House on the main river and is a massive tourist site too, so well signposted. Then just go in and show them your address and ask them for directions. They will tell you what tram to catch and everything and exactly where YOUR KreisBuro is.

If you’re married or in a UK Civil partnership, you can get your partner a Permit as well, this will also cost another 75 chuffs. You fill in a small form (in German) to state that their entitlement is fine by you. If you do not do this, then you will most likely be considered to remain tax resident wherever your “family home” is. Be aware of that and look into the implications.

Your partner has a choice – they can either have a 6 month one which allows them to look for work here, or a 5 year one which DOES NOT allow them to look for work here which would be appropriate if they earn their income elsewhere. They will need your marriage or civil partnership certificate. This allows them to declare any income here (earned outside of Switzerland) which can be quite advantageous. They will need to be with you.

If you have a civil partnership (not a marriage), you may encounter a KreisBuro staff member who is NOT familiar with them. You are correct to insist that they are on the “List of Accepted Partnerships”, and make them check it.

Also note – if you change address (which you’re probably going to if your first accommodation is temporary) – you have to go back to the same Kreisburo and tell them when you do. So make a note of where you are to come back later.

4) Bank Account

You can go to any bank to do this. Credit Suisse and UBS are the obvious choices.

* You will not be able to do this until you have your Temporary Work Permit *
* Allow at least 45 minutes to 1 hour *

They will ask for your paperwork, including your temporary work permit. They will not process you if you don’t have it. They will also not process you if you arrive within 1 hour of their closing time (I am NOT kidding, I was turned away when I wanted to open an account with them because they were closing in half an hour!).

I did discover that there is a Credit Suisse at the Airport, which is open until 8pm. Go there, the guy was quite helpful as well. Choose your options and you’ll walk away with all the account numbers you need to give your recruiter on the spot. Cards, PIN numbers and the rest will come in the mail within about 48-72 hours.

If you’re married or in a UK Civil partnership, you can open a joint account if you and your boyfriend/wife prefer to. It takes longer and they will need to be with you to do this.

5) Half-Fare Card for public transport discounts.

* You will need another passport photo*

There is a system in Switzerland where you can basically pay half the usual rate on the public transport of all kinds if you have a “Half Fare Card”. All the machines that sell tickets, like the tram and train station ones have a button marked with “1/2″ which you press and suddenly it’s all cheaper.

To get one – go to the central Train station. Stay above ground. The office is in the old, beautiful building above ground on the North side – it’s the main ticket office. Go at a non peak time, they have issues with queues as most train stations do. Press the button for “Abonnements” and take a ticket.

Take a passport photo, and your passport. They have several Half-face cards available with different durations. They will hear your accent and assume you want the tourist one which only lasts one month.

Tell them you want the 1 year half-fare card even if you only have a shorter contract. They will then ask for your passport and other paperwork you’ve got (including proof of address).

They cost 150 chuffs.

They will give you a paper one to start using immediately. Your real credit card sized one will come in the post in about 3-4 days.

They are SUCH a money saver if you’re commuting to Zurich or within Zurich. I saved the 150 chuffs in the first 2 weeks, I kid you not. It reduced my fare for train tickets to Lausanne from 80 chuffs per trip to 40 chuffs. It only took 4 journeys (not counting the amount it saved me on trams and ferries) to justify the cost of the half-fare card.

They also allow you to ride the tram for 1/2 fares (child fares), and reduce the cost of monthly and multitrip tram fares.

On the topic of public transport – the efficiency of Swiss public transport is not a myth. It’s ludicrously efficient and on time to within 30 seconds 99% of the time. The trams are fast, spotlessly clean and twice as regular as London tubes without all the grime. They’re also very well air conditioned.

Final Note – Post box!

Which brings me to:

Post – you will be expecting so much mail in the first two weeks from all these new bank accounts and contracts and Maestro or credit cards. Make absolutely SURE you put your name on your letter box of your accommodation, even if you’re only there for a month. Postmen seem to depend more on the NAME than the NUMBER. Everyone will want to remind you of this.