By Bill Harby
In some ways, Switzerland is the envy of the world, which brings expats here from around the globe, hoping to ski, eat superb chocolate and open their very own Swiss bank account. In fact, now nearly 25 percent of people living in Switzerland are foreigners, says the Swiss Statistics Office. That’s a new high, passing the 2 million mark in this little country with 8.3 million residents. In Geneva (canton), non-Swiss comprise 41.2 percent of the population.
So all these foreigners must absolutely love it here, right? Not necessarily, according to the 2016 Expat Insider InterNations Survey. This global analysis tallies info from more than 14,000 people in 60-plus countries, and scores them across five categories: quality of life; ease of settling in; personal finance; working abroad; family life.
In a few categories, Switzerland ranks pretty highly. The nearly bullet-proof economy, even measured against the credit-card-melting cost of living, contributes to a high quality of life (health, safety, transport, leisure options, personal happiness). Switzerland is #10 out of 57 nations. Taiwan is first, Nigeria last.
In a related 2016 survey called happy expat kids, Switzerland scores well for children (whose parents are paying for everything). For children’s general well-being, the country where kids learn to ski almost before they can walk, and who eat more chocolate than Willy Wonka, ranks 7th, behind #1 Canada, where some infants are reportedly forced to wear lumber jack shirts and are weaned on beer, something probably overlooked by the folks at Expat Insider.
In other categories, Switzerland fares less well. In last year’s poll of expats for best and worst expat destinations, Switzerland ranked 14th out of 58 countries. But this year it sank to 31st. (Taiwan is top. Tanzania is the least tantalizing).
Why this plummet steeper than the Matterhorn? Factors include:
Not feeling welcome: Out of 67 countries, Switzerland ranks 64th for friendliness and making newcomers feel welcome, one of the questions under ease of settling in. Mexico is rated most friendly (hey, they have tequila). Dry Kuwait is last.
The price of prosperity: Again among 67 countries ranked for the highest cost of living, Switzerland came in only two spots above Nigeria, again in last place, in the personal finance category. War-ravaged Ukraine gets bragging rights for the best cost of living index, but then a 68% slump in a nation’s currency isn’t all fun and games.
Though the numbers suggest life is good for expat kids in Heidi’s home, oddly, the country doesn’t get high marks for family life. With parameters focused on education, Switzerland ranks 30th out of 45 countries. Cost and availability of education and child care weigh heavily on Switzerland’s score. On education quality it ranks third. Overall, Finland is first and Brazil is last.
Bad romance: Sadly for expat couples hoping the thermal springs will heat up their relationship, Switzerland comes up cold, only three steps above last-place China. Malta is steamiest for “satisfied” couples.
So expats love Switzerland for being stunningly beautiful, exciting to explore, safe and efficient. But many find it expensive, less conducive to family life, and a hard place to settle in and make friends, especially among locals. And, in spite of the vaunted aphrodisiac qualities of all the chocolate consumed here, couples aren’t swooning.
Or so says this survey. But we wonder if some expat participants gave Switzerland bad marks because they don’t want any more foreigners in on their secret.