Moving To Zurich
Are you moving to Zürich? I get so many emails from moms who are relocating or considering a job offer in Zürich. They are nervous and have a lot of questions, and rightly so! I was in the same boat three years ago and understand the anxiety that comes with a job opportunity in another country. Especially moving to a place with a language you do not know. All I can say is take the leap. You can always move back. Here is my advice and answers to your questions.
Choosing a school
We chose a local school, as the public schools in Zürich are amazing. We wanted our girls to integrate as soon as possible and make friends with neighbors from kindergarten and not solely from an expat bubble. In Zürich, I chose the neighborhood based on some public school research I did.
Here is a chart that shows the percentage of kids getting into gymnasium. But the more you learn about the Swiss school system, the more interesting this all gets. With everyone earning a livable wage, is going to university as important? It’s a total mindset game changer.
There are a lot of interesting factors to the school system here and everything is not as black and white as it seems to be in the UK or USA. Nevertheless, I like a good chart, so this was crucial in my decision making on where to live before I moved to Zürich. But now that we are here, I’m learning so much more about the school system and how every person plays a role in society. It’s actually fascinating, and my girls are only 5 and 7 years old!
The local schools are fantastic, so there will be very high quality schooling. We went the public school route as private was not a feasible financial option for us. Also, we plan to live here and integrate as much as possible. Only 5% of children in Switzerland go to private schools. Here is a book I read before moving here all about the public school system. We would like to aim for citizenship in Switzerland, which takes at least 10 years before you are eligible to apply, as a USA citizen.
We are very happy with the schools for our girls, the independence, self sufficiency, responsibility, and leadership the children take in school. Kids start walking to school alone from 4 years old in kindergarten. This removes the parents from drop off and pick up, also removing a lot of the judgement that is so easy to make when parents drop and pick up their kids. Kids are free to make their own friends and have their school life a bit separate from their home life.
Choosing a school is very stressful and I understand the stress. I am very happy with our girls school and would highly suggest the local schools, especially if you want your children to integrate, learn the language, and have neighborhood friends. If need be, they can always be moved to a specialized school after trying the local route. Children are amazing and learn language remarkably quickly. Also, there are German as a second language classes that both my girls attend at school and they absolutely love it.
Children Learning German
Children are amazingly fast learners. Our girls only spoke English when we moved to Zürich (though my husband has only spoken Afrikaans to them their entire life). They had never heard German before we moved.
When you first arrive in Zürich and have secured an apartment, go straight to your local Gemeinde and sign in to your new town. Then go to the Gemeindeschulhaus (the place where the people assign your child to a school). They are in charge of placing your child into a school based on safety of walking and a few other factors. So, unlike London, it is not as easy as a catchment area. Your child may go to any school in your town, depending on what this person assigns, although it’s most likely the closest school on the safest walking route.
It took my 5 year old almost 6 months to become friends with the kids on our street due to the language I think. But once she was fluent, they all played so nicely together. My daughter took German as a second language twice a week when we arrived. The class size was tiny, three kids I think. And she has always loved her teachers. Now my littlest is in Kindergarten and taking German twice a week in school.
Children on our street speak Swiss German. In Kindergarten, starting the year they turn 5, they have two years of Swiss German education. Starting in 1st class, the year they turn 7, they will only be taught in High German (or regular German for those never who didn’t know Switzerland speaks Swiss German and Germany speaks High German, unless you are in the French speaking or Italian speaking parts of Switzerland…). I think the first two years of Kindergarten are important to learning Swiss German as that is the local language spoken.
Adult German Learning
I learned the most from taking intensive courses at Berlitz in Bellevue. The teachers were great and I made some nice friends from around the world. My classes were Monday through Friday from 9:30-11:40. This is the perfect schedule for the mom who has to be home to cook lunch for her kids, which you might do if your kids go to local school. (Plus, Wednesday all Swiss school children get out at noon.)
There are a lot of other options. There are options in each Gemeinde that even include childcare and are the most affordable. So check with your local Gemeinde about German classes when you arrive. But there are lots of private German courses like Berlitz in Zürich.
Where To Live In Zürich
I found this very stressful before we moved. We were moving from London and where you live seems extremely important there with catchment areas and the best state schools and all. One thing to note is how small Zürich is. It is a very tiny city (400,000 people). You can live next to a bus stop or train station and it is still quite quiet with no riff raff. We live near Lake Zürich and absolutely love it. There are many wonderful choices of where to live. When I asked a few friends who lived in Zürich as well as some Facebook groups, I found the area that seemed best for us. I am quite happy with our little place in Zürich.
I would recommend living as close to Zurich as possible. Wädenswil, Horgen, Thalwil, Rüschlikon, Kilchberg, Enge, Küsnacht and Zollikon are some of the places I would recommend as they have strong schools and high English speaking communities and there are quick transport links into the city.
The rents generally go down the further away from Zürich and Lake Zürich you go. But, the English speaking community goes down as well. I wanted a high group of English speakers to quickly integrate while I adjust the kids to Zürich and take my German classes. Also, Zürich being so small, the closer you live to the city center, the more food options you have. Coming from the high street in London I really missed all the food options at first, so if you are a foodie, live close to the city center.
Finding An Apartment
When we found out we were moving to Zürich, I got online to look at apartments. I found our flat right away on Homegate.ch and knew we had to move there. A few months later, after my husband flew to Zürich for 3 days of house hunting, we got it! I did not go on the house hunt but I felt like I knew everything about each area and apartment and am so happy with our family friendly and kid friendly street.
My husband’s company helped us with a relocation agent who assisted with the contract, drove him to the viewings, and chatted with us to find out our needs. Ultimately, I found our flat. But I think the relocation agency helped mostly with the paperwork and getting us the rental agreement.
What To Bring With
Some of you are moving to Zürich on a 2 year contract with work, or for university. So what should you bring with from your house? My first recommendation is to bring absolutely everything. The reason is that people end up staying here. If your company is paying for the move, why not bring everything? Are you absolutely sure you will go back home after two years? What if they extend the contract? What if you are relocated to another country besides your home country? I would bring everything.
We brought everything to London and then to Zürich and I do not regret it. I have friends who missed all of their baking supplies while living in London and a friend who left all her furniture and dishes and now might make Zürich her permanent home. You just never know. So if possible, bring everything.
Except the car. I wouldn’t bring your car. But that’s up to you. Also, I never use ANY of my USA appliances. So give those to friends unless you want to use a transformer to have them work here (make someone happy by giving them your KichenAid mixer).
Join These Facebook Groups
Facebook groups are a wealth of knowledge for idea sharing with moms who already live here and love to offer advice. You will find all kinds of people and differing opinions and ideas, so ask your questions and see who you connect with and whose advice you enjoy hearing and go from there. Search for the following in your Facebook search and add them. Some are closed groups so you just have to be given access by the group administrator.
Mums & Mums to be in Zürich
International Mothers Living in Switzerland
Moms of Zürich and Baden
Zürich Mamas Group
Zürich Silver Coast Parents
Moms Tots Zürich
Mom In Zürich
Family First Switzerland
Is It Expensive
Of course it is expensive. There is no way around it. Coming from the USA it is quite shocking. Coming from London it is still shocking. My friends came to visit from San Francisco last month and bought two iced coffees at Starbucks and were shocked at the 16 franc bill. But pick your battles and figure out what is most important to you and what works for your family.
When we first arrived in Zürich our hotel restaurant had burgers for 25 francs. I was a cross between shocked and irrational about it. On Sunday, we went to lunch and the burgers were 48 francs. WHAT? (I ordered a salad…25 francs)
And supposedly coffee is the most expensive here in the world. You will probably cook at home more than ever before. If you are from the USA, there are no drive through’s here, and take out is not common. You will find the free parks, museums, and free activities and steer clear of things that are price prohibitive. You will also see the sometimes needless spending that does not seem to happen here in Zürich, such as shopping at Target.
What other questions do you have about moving to Zürich? I would love to hear your other questions. Moving to Zürich from abroad is a big life change and family change, but it’s well worth it and it’s such a wonderful small city. Please keep your questions coming.