2019 Top Tips for living in Switzerland

Have you recently moved to Switzerland? Need a few hints on how to get settled in? Here is a list of Top Tips to help you feel more at home.

Most useful book or website: If you have not yet bought a copy, the Know-it-all Passport  is a great investment. This book is the ultimate English-language guide for the regions of Geneva, Vaud and neighbouring France. Wether you are looking for a ballet class for your child, a cake decorating store, a hospital close to you or something to do over a weekend, this is a great reference.

Another great resource is a site called Glocals which is a large community of expats networking to come together to do many different activities.

Weather APP:   For one of the most accurate weather forecasts, the Office fédérale de météorologie et de climatologie de Météo Suisse has developed an app with animated precipitation forecast and weather alert notifications. The notifications are extremely useful as the weather can at times change unexpectedly and if you are out on a hike or doing a water-based activity, they can  give you time to seek shelter. Just look for Météo Suisse in your App Store.

Driving tips: While all the main navigation apps work well in Switzerland, Waze has a very large number of members that are constantly updating traffic information providing users with the most up to date information on police presence, construction, accidents and other traffic related issues.

As most long time residents will tell you, avoid the A1 during the Geneva International Motor Show (usually held in March). Use public transportation or secondary roads during the show. Traffic is often backed up in the Geneva direction all the way to Coppet and beyond. If you do have a chance, the Motor Show is well worth a visit, by train!

If you wish to have the safety of roadside assistance, TCS offers 24 hour road side assistance in Switzerland for CHF83 a year. They also offer packages for Europe-wide roadside assistance which you may consider if you plan to do a lot of driving.

In case you ever find yourself in a fender-bender, it is a good idea to keep a form called Constat Amiable d’Accident Automobile in your car. The forms are available in several languages, including English, through your insurance company and at police stations. Simply complete the form with the other party and keep 2 copies for each of the drivers. If anyone is injured, then do call the police immediately at 117.

Winter tires are usually recommended for winter driving. They should be installed from October to Easter. While they are not mandatory for city driving, they are a must for driving on some mountain roads in the winter. It is also a good idea to keep a set of chains in your trunk if you plan to do a lot of mountain driving. Avoid the rush for winter tire installation and have your tires installed during the October school break.

Drivers need to be cautious at pedestrian crossings and must come to a full stop when someone is waiting on the sidewalk to cross. Failure to do so will result in a large fine.

And remember, there are photo radars at the most unexpected places so respect the driving speed at all times as speeding ticket fines are based on your family income.

Train passes: You can purchase a Half Fare travel card for CHF185 yearly which gives you a 50% discount on SBB routes and most other railways as well as on boats, buses and trams. Children under 6 travel for free when accompanied by a parent and children from 6 to 15 can also travel for free if they are holders of a CHF30 annual Junior Card but must be accompanied by their parents (so this does not apply to children who travel on their own to go to school).

Many communes are also holders of discount daily train passes for a fee of around CHF40 which can be used by their residents. The cards are called AG-FLEXI (Flexicard CFF) and give you access to any route, worthwhile when traveling long distances. You need to contact your commune for more information.

24 hour medical care:For 24 hour access to a doctor, a paediatrician or a dentist in Vaud you can call 0848 133 133 and they will put you in contact with the medical professional on call.

In Geneva, there are several 24 hour services that can send a doctor to your home, or you can contact one of the cliniques in Geneva.In France, you need to dial 15 in Ain to get access to a medical clinique or you can use a private service that will put you in touch with a doctor 24 hours a day by dealing 118 418 .

For emergency prescriptions on weekends and holidays, the Pharmacie de Mie is opened Sunday mornings and Pharmacie Sun Store at the airport is open 7 days a week from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Sunday shopping:  Stores are closed in Switzerland on Sundays, except at Geneva Airport, and at some train stations. However, grocery stores are open until lunch time in France and there is a great market on the main street in Divonne on Sunday mornings.

Cross border shopping: You should be aware that although shopping in France can be considerably cheaper than in Switzerland, there are limits to the amounts you can bring back (CHF300 per person in the car). There are specific limits on meat (1 kg per person in the car), alcohol (5 l of wine and beer; 1 l for liquor) and cigarettes (250 cigarettes). For more information you can consult the Swiss customs website. Note that the border guards can stop you even after you have crossed the border.

Tipping: A firmly entrenched custom in many countries, tipping is not, however, necessary in Switzerland. Staff salaries are good, compared with other countries, and tips are included in the price of your meal. You can certainly leave something if you want, but don’t feel obliged. Round up a few francs if service is exceptionally good.

Sightseeing and Tourism Offices: If you are wondering what to do over a long weekend or looking for great hiking routes, there is a Swiss tourist office in Nyon and a French tourist office in Divonne. Both have maps and brochures on all the local sites as well as great recommendations for hiking.

It Is also worth mentioning that there are excellent free walking tours in Geneva given daily by Free Walk Switzerland.

What is a Troc?: If you are looking for second hand ski equipment, bicycles, children’s clothing or toys, there are regular neighbourhood markets held in most communes several times a year. These are called trocs, often held at a local school or commune hall and you can either purchase second hand items or can bring your items to be sold. They are often advertised on street posters.

Skiing for beginner: Skiing is obviously a major winter sport and we are lucky to have many centres so close. If this is your first time on skis, you need not dish out thousands of dollars on ski equipment. You can find second hand ski equipment on various websites or you can rent it for the season. If you do buy second hand equipment, make sure you get the bindings properly adjusted by a professional for your height, weight and level of skiing before hitting the slopes. If you decide to rent your equipment, don’t wait, get it done in October as some of the major rental stores run out of equipment by the Christmas holidays.

For options on renting ski equipment or ski schools for beginners, please refer to the En Bref article called Top Tips – Skiing for Beginners.

Auto cueillette farms and local farms: You can find great local produce at most of the farms around the school. You can also pick your own food (auto cueillette) at several farms, especially during berry season. Have a look at this link, which lists local farms offering  ‘pick your own’ fun.

Be on time: It is true that the Swiss are always on time including for dental or medical appointments. So if you think you might be late (even 5 minutes) or are stuck in traffic, call ahead and let them know you are on your way.

Local news: For local French language news, you can download the apps for La Côte, 24 heures or Radio Television Suisse. For English language options you can download the apps from The Local or Swiss Info

Enjoy the lake:  Lac Leman is very clean and there are many hidden beaches along its banks. For a map of the beaches you can visit CIPEL. You can enjoy swimming and many other water-based sports. There is also a great network of CGN cruises that allow you to cross the lake quickly for day trips or even lunch. Lakeside Buvettes are usually open during the summer months, although you will still find some welcoming customers well into autumn. Read our post on Summer Buvettes to find out more. 

Fondue: While everyone has their favourite fondue restaurant, you might want to invest in a fondue set and make your own. There are many varieties of fondue mixes at the grocery store which are easy to make.

Best top tip ever: One of the first tips I received has proven to be the most useful. Always greet people with “Bonjour Madame” or “Bonjour Monsieur”, this includes when walking into a store, being pulled over by the police or crossing someone on the street while going for a walk.

For any additional information, feel free to post your questions on the La Chât  Parent to Parent Facebook page. You will always get plenty of advice.

Also have a look at all of the posts listed in our Local Life section for further information and inspiration.

By: Karen Eugeni

Pictures thanks to Pixabay.com

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