Geneva, Switzerland Report of what it's like to live there - 06/14/22

Personal Experiences from Geneva, Switzerland

Geneva, Switzerland 06/14/22

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

Second overseas post. Previously in Pristina, Kosovo.

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

USA, Vermont. Some direct flights from Montreal, Canada, NYC and Washington, DC. Connections through Zurich, Amsterdam, Frankfort are common.

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3. How long have you lived here?

One year.

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4. What years did you live here?

2021-current.

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5. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Diplomatic Mission

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Most are townhomes in the suburbs with small lawns or nice sized apartments in the city. There are a few stand-alone houses scattered around as well. The housing is very spread out within 10-15 miles of the mission. Some of the housing is older and some is new. It is a pretty mixed bag, but most people seem to be happy enough with their housing. There is a huge housing crunch in Geneva and the mission keeps a pool of homes. You do have to bring your own furniture to this post, which I like (surprisingly).

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

You can find almost everything here. There are all types and levels of grocery stores, Coop, Migros, luxury Globus and the food is delicious and Fresh. There are also farmers markets that are delicious but not cheap. I have four children and live 5 minutes from several great grocery stores in France including Grand Fraise, and Carrfour. I spend literally half the cost by shopping in France. Be sure to check if there are rules about purchasing some types of products (e.g., meat) and taking them across the border.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

We ship the kids favorite snacks for their comfort, Goldfish, Nutragrain bars, peanut butter, a few of their favorite cereals, chocolate chips, protéine bars etc, but they have plenty of options here. If you can bring your own oil and oil filters for oil changes that would save you a bundle with the mechanic.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

They have it all if your willing to pay. From KFC, five guys, McDonald’s, to luxury 5 star Michelin restaurants. We don’t eat out in Switzerland. We save it for our many trips around Europe where everywhere else seems incredibly cheap. On the occasion we have gone to five guys, our family of 6 pays 170-200chf/usd.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

They don’t have screens on any windows. It’s like they don’t believe in them. Strangely though, there are not that many mosquitos, or animals that I see. I bought the hanging door screens and the make your own Velcro screen kits and they work well.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

Through the DPO.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Household help is minimum 25CHF/hour. I know a few people who splurge. Minimum wage is 23.50.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Plenty. Gyms everywhere. I think most work on yearly contracts so be mindful and give a 90 day notice. Proper gym available for free at the mission.

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

Credit cards and ATMs are everywhere. One thing that really drives me crazy is paying bills here. You often have to take cash to the post office to pay bills. I can’t figure out why many businesses haven’t figured out how to have online payments.

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5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

In Geneva you can get by with mostly English. It’s great to know and learn French. Most people don’t understand my French and I end up on google translate if there is a language barrier. Five minutes into France, nobody speaks English, or pretends that they cannot.

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6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Yes. I actually am a care giver and use a wheelchair with a client. There are literally lifts that wheelchairs don’t fit in, or no lifts at all. It’s quite surprising how many barriers I face in this first world country.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Public transport is great, but I don’t find it that cheap. Our children ride free with us on any transportation with the 30chf/year card, and I have the half priced card. However there is a tipping point that a car is cheaper if the trip has 2 or more people. For example, it was 1200 for our family of 6 to train from Geneva to Rome so we just drove. Many times flying is way cheaper then the train when you buy your tickets way in advance.

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

There was two days of snow in Geneva this whole winter. It’s nice to have four wheel drive if you are hitting the mountains in the winter, but even that is not necessary. If you have good snow tires, which are required, it is probably good enough.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

It’s good and fast and not that expensive. You basically have Swisscom or sunrise. We pay 40chf for Swisscom per month for all the high speed my four boys can use.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

We use AGEAS mission business plan and like it. We pay 70chf for unlimited everything in all of Europe/US/ and about 100 other countries. They have cheaper plans for kids, 30chf for Switzerland, and 50-60chf/month for Europe plans. Not having to worry about changing SIM cards in the US and while traveling is huge!

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

Tons of great vets, no quarantine, just paid the 200 usd crate fee to travel as cargo/baggage from the US. You have to have the chip placed on your pet followed by the rabies shot in that order. Once you arrive you have 10 days to see a vet, where they give you a pet passport, get insurance on your pet, and register your pet with the Marie.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

There are EFM jobs at the mission that much less than the local market. It is hard, very hard, to get a job on the local market. If you don’t speak French, it’s practically impossible, unless you are a certified teacher, you might have a chance. I have hustled and been able to find work at the school my children attend. Work is made more difficult by the cost of childcare which is 3000-4000/month.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Plenty of volunteer opportunities through serve the city. I work with the soup kitchen.

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3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Business casual or a suit when there are meetings.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Nope. There is some stealing of things, but most people are super rule following, and even return money and wallets on social media sites.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

No

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

Good air quality.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

Seasonal allergies are pretty bad.

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5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

People complain of feeling isolated. Covid made it worse. You have to get out there and find your own way and groups and explore.

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6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Surprisingly little snow in Geneva in the winter. The climate is like Virginia, when I was expecting Vermont.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

Tons of schools. Our four boys go to CDL, a fancy international school in Versoix that has about 300 boarding students there as well. For some reason, it seems the school has a bad reputation in our mission community. We have found it to be an excellent school. When we had issues with our primary student and children being unkind, we wrote an email and the entire school addressed our problem immediately. Our Middle school student has anxiety and adhd. The counseling department is amazing. They have this excellent setup in my opinion, because they are a boarding school as well, but we have used it to the full degree. They have 3-4 counselors, a therapist, tutors, etc. My son takes study skills classes there and does a lunch brunch for children that are struggling. All of our teachers have been excellent. I’ll write a school report soon.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

They helped guide me through our educational assessment and cc all teachers on any issues with our son and guidance. They have many different classes and will help your child as much as they can.

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

Available but very expensive. 3000-4000usd/month.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Our school has an entire book of extra curricular activities, but most cost money 300-400 per semester. Things like soccer, one time per week, is maybe 300/year.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Huge expat community. I think morale varies. Some love it here, some feel isolated. Strangely, I think families with young children feel the most isolated. Our family really enjoys living here, and we love all the travel opportunities that we have.

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2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

Barbecues, birthday parties with kids, monthly hail and farewell, CLO coffee. Our school has a parent hiking club, walking club, and out and about club. I’m involved in all of those.

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3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

For everyone.

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4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?

Swiss people are not generally friendly. After three months, I took cookies to our Swiss neighbors.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Yes.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

The country seems insular. Everything is neat and tidy like their lives. There are always demonstrations at the UN.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Traveling to the mountains in Interlaken, Rome, Paris, skiing in the alps.

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Within 1 hour you can be at the top of a mountain looking at Mount Blanc in the distance. We liked Kendersteg. Montreaux jazz festival, Gruyere, Annecy, yvoire.

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Not really. It’s mostly cow bells or Swiss Army knives.

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Clean air, postcard scenery every where you go.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

I’m waiting for the cost of things not to shock me. 250-600 for an oil change broke my heart.

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2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Absolutely!

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3. But don't forget your:

Skis, sleds, hiking boots, walking sticks.

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