Swiss nationals living abroad (Swiss Abroad) are often referred to as the “Fifth Switzerland”, representing another region on top of the four different language regions. Getting the formalities sorted out right is essential for your emigration experience to be a success. This doesn’t just mean legal and financial issues. The key factor is making sure you can successfully integrate into your new home country. Petra Marty Zan, relationship manager in the Swiss Abroad team at the Cantonal Bank of Zurich and former expat herself, gives some useful advice and reports on how she got started in Argentina. Additionally, she will share insights into what helped her in overcoming the challenges she faced.

What should I bear in mind when it comes to finances?
If you move away from Switzerland, you will have new living costs in your new country. This means it’s worth calculating how much start-up capital you will need and drawing up a financial plan. The Swiss Abroad often rely on a bank account in Switzerland even after moving abroad, for example to pay a mortgage or receive a pension. On top of this, in some countries proof of assets or income needs to be provided first in order to be able to open a local bank account at all. Switzerland’s stable economic situation and the strong franc are other possible reasons why it may be worth keeping a Swiss bank account even after leaving. Similarly, only a limited range of investment solutions may be available in your new country. If you own property, the maturity of the mortgage and any impact on the affordability check should ideally be checked – this applies in particular if your home is being rented out after you emigrate. It is also advisable to check the account configuration before you leave, including all powers of attorney.

You are also advised to make enquiries about pensions and taxes at an early stage. These can vary significantly depending on the country. Before emigrating, foreign nationals should consult an expert in their destination country about the applicable regulations as well as any tax-related issues, e.g. in the event of pension payouts.

What needs to be taken into consideration with regard to insurance?
When you move abroad, the statutory obligation to take out health and accident insurance in Switzerland almost always ceases to apply. Emigrants should therefore enquire about their options with Swiss or international health insurers at an early stage and find out how the healthcare system works in their destination country. Since everybody has their own individual requirements when it comes to health insurance, you should check any additional benefits in accordance with your needs. If your new country offers compulsory insurance, you are advised to check whether a temporary solution is required until this becomes active and whether the compulsory solution provides the standard you are looking for.

Some Swiss health insurance companies also offer international services. International providers are also available as an additional option. With international insurance solutions, it is advisable to check whether insurance benefits that are taken for granted in Switzerland, such as pregnancy, are included. It is important to note that insurance solutions with Swiss health insurers must be taken out before you deregister with your local municipality.

Additional tips
It is generally advisable to thoroughly familiarise yourself with the conditions in your destination country before leaving in order to gain a better understanding of the day-to-day challenges faced by local residents and to find your own way of dealing with them. It is important to know that the Swiss Abroad will always remain part of Switzerland and are still eligible to cast their vote in elections and referendums. However, you must send a request to the Swiss consulate in order to remain on the electoral roll.

The Cantonal Bank of Zurich has created a checklist to help you prepare for leaving the country. In addition to this, Soliswiss (https://soliswiss.ch/) provides comprehensive advice on the most common questions relating to emigration, globetrotting, travelling and returning to Switzerland.

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“The country doesn’t change for you” – a former Swiss abroad reports

Petra Marty Zan is a client advisor in the Swiss Abroad team at the Cantonal Bank of Zurich. As a former Swiss expat herself, she explains how she got off to a good start in Argentina.

Petra Marty Zan

Can you still remember your first impressions of your former adopted country of Argentina?
I was on my way back to Switzerland. While in the taxi heading to the airport in Buenos Aires, a sudden realization struck me: “I want to stay here”. But it wasn’t until years later in 2008 that I finally emigrated. I had very high expectations, it was the feeling of a new beginning mixed with the anticipation of the new and unknown. I was raring to go, and I sometimes had too many plans in my head all at once. After all, my dream had become a reality.

What challenges did you have to deal with in your new country?
One thing is for sure, when you move to a different country you quickly come down to earth. Things don’t always run so smoothly and easily as you might imagine. You come up against cultural differences on a daily basis. I recommend mixing with the locals wherever possible in order to understand what makes people tick. It’s not just about the language but about the kind of things they care about – Their interests, daily routines and way of life.

Can you tell us more about that?
Learning new things every day and growing into a new culture was more challenging than I had expected. I had to keep reminding myself to remain open, curious and flexible. Being shy won’t get you anywhere here either. As we know, how people communicate is downstream from culture. How direct people in Argentina are caused me a lot of issues at first. They even often speak in the imperative. An Argentinian woman of German origin then explained to me that communicating directly is an expression of closeness and familiarity. This also applies in reverse: the more polite the communication, the more distanced the person is. So I adapted the way I communicate to a more Argentinian style.

I think that dealing with new circumstances and accepting them entirely depends on a person’s expectations. At first of course, because I’m used to Swiss efficiency, excellence and punctuality I used to get frustrated all the time. I wanted to get lots of different things done on the same day, which is not a problem in Switzerland. However, only a fraction of this was possible in Argentina. For example, there were often metro strikes and bus cancellations. Some branches of banks were also closed in the middle of the day because an employee had to refill the ATM with money. Another problem is inflation and how it eats away at the value of a currency. For example, when I would try to buy things with my credit card it would get rejected because the limit was too low. It took time to get used to things being the way they were in Argentina. It helped me to lower my expectations and to be more flexible and spontaneous when I was travelling.

What in particular helped you to integrate and overcome the challenges?
It sounds so obvious, but as a newcomer you have to accept that a country isn’t going to change for you. Instead, it’s you who has to adapt to the country and its people. Only then can you successfully integrate into a foreign environment with a different culture. That’s also the fascinating thing about it – how you develop as a person. Your own horizons are constantly expanding, it never stops. It was a 13-year experience that I wouldn’t have missed for anything.