The Cantonal Bank of Zurich’s expertise proved to be a great help to Alfred Gafner-Lalji when moving out of the country. Now retired and living in Malaysia, he gives some useful tips in an interview.

Are you looking to emigrate? Alfred Gafner-Lalji has already done so, and the Cantonal Bank of Zurich used its expertise to make the process easier for him. Alfred Gafner-Lalji, a retired chef from Switzerland, travelled the world as part of his job and finally landed in Malaysia. Today he is involved in voluntary work, and in this interview, he has a number of tips for those who are planning to move out of the country. Matthias Leu, Relationship Manager Private Banking International at the Cantonal Bank of Zurich, also gives his views.

Mr Gafner, as a chef you travelled all over the world. How much “Switzerland” did you take with you?
A lot. The crucial ingredient was the top-class apprenticeship I did. After I finished it, all the doors in the world were open to me. As well as that, there were the typical qualities such as accuracy, reliability, punctuality and openness to new and unfamiliar things. Switzerland’s good reputation helped me to work with people in a goal-oriented way.

In 2016, after 25 years in Switzerland, you decided to leave the country again – this time to Malaysia. Why there?
For my “retirement” adventure, my wife and I were really impressed by the island of Penang. It’s a multicultural city with influences from India, China as well as Europe. I don’t know anywhere else in the world where three cultures harmonise so well. The people are carefree, friendly, helpful, warm-hearted and honest. Additionally, it never gets cold thanks to the tropical climate. It’s safe, medical services are first class, and the cost of living is low. I can try three different national cuisines here in one day which are absolute top quality; I have never experienced that anywhere else. There’s a beautiful beach, the jungle… As you can see, I can’t stop raving about it.

What kind of barriers did you have to overcome?
From my point of view there were no major challenges – except for the residence permit. My wife and I arrived in Malaysia with two suitcases each and looked for a furnished flat. We found one right by the sea. It’s easy to make new friends in Malaysia as well, people are always happy to help with their local knowledge. You don’t need to spend all your time in a European bubble. The traffic here is different to what we are used to. A lot of drivers don’t take any notice of road markings and don’t indicate.

How is banking in Malaysia different to in Switzerland?
A lot of new arrivals first go to the local branch of their bank to do small banking transactions, only to find out that they can’t do anything without their original passport.

What do you appreciate about your business relationship with the Cantonal Bank of Zurich?
The basis of every business relationship is trust. Firstly, it’s the close, professional and personal relationship with our account manager. This is irreplaceable for me and my wife. The financial products offered to us have all proven to be extremely suitable and worthwhile. They are also cost-effective.

What are your main hobbies in this new stage in your life?
I use my spare time to try out new recipes. Going swimming on a regular basis keeps me fit, as does my weekly climb up Penang Hill. It’s more than five kilometres from the foot of the mountain to the top station at 833 metres, and it’s a very steep climb in places. There are always monkeys, snakes and plants to look at as well as impressive rock formations – a real adventure! And I’m always doing MOOC (massive open online course) courses; these are free and available on all sorts of topics. And of course I’m very passionate about my volunteering projects as well.

Please tell us some more about these projects.
Since 2010 I have been doing “hands-on” assignments in less developed countries for the Senior Expert Contact – thanks to this programme organised by Swisscontact, retired experts can contribute their experience anywhere in the world. So I was able to train young cooks, mainly in Nepal. I am always very touched by how grateful people are when I go back somewhere and see how things have developed. It was a big step out of my comfort zone, but it has helped me grow as a person. I was there in 2015 when they had that devastating earthquake in Kathmandu – a tragedy. On the one hand you’ve got the mantra sounds of Om Mani Padme Hum and the deep, tranquil religiosity, while on the other hand you’ve got a cold bedroom and regular power cuts… everyday life there can be beautiful and difficult at the same time. Passing on and sharing one’s own happiness can be meaningful as well as fulfilling. Albert Schweitzer once said that “Happiness is the only thing that doubles when you share it.” I think he’s right.

What tips do you have for somebody who wants to move to Malaysia?
Moving to another country comes with risks. Everyone has to decide for themselves whether it’s right for them. What kind of risk am I willing to take? If you are thinking of moving abroad, it’s best to have a trial period first if you can: not in a hotel, but in a flat. That way, you know what you’re getting into. When moving home, I recommend renting somewhere first. This means you can be flexible. I can say with all honesty though to all those who are thinking of emigrating, welcome to Malaysia and “Selamat makan”, which means “Bon appétit”. Go on a journey of discovery and let yourself be surprised.

Matthias Leu has been helping the Cantonal Bank of Zurich’s clients abroad since 2010.
He knows what emigrants should bear in mind when it comes to their finances.

The Cantonal Bank of Zurich looks after Swiss clients living abroad all over the world. What kind of services does it offer them?
Our specialised Swiss Abroad team is fully committed to ensuring that clients can do their banking in the Swiss quality they are used to, even far from home. The Cantonal Bank of Zurich offers its clients security, reliability and competence even after they leave Switzerland. Our clients can depend on the wide range of products and services provided by the Cantonal Bank of Zurich as a universal bank. We offer Swiss people living abroad a solid and stable banking relationship back in their homeland.

Do you have to know the countries personally to be able to serve the clients who live there?
Many of our employees have travelled a lot, are interested in foreign countries and cultures and speak different languages in particular. Our team looks after Swiss expats all over the world. We stay by our clients’ side, not only in faraway places but also as they go through their lives. We’re always learning something new in the process. And no, you don’t have to have been to every country in the world to ensure good advice.

Advising almost the whole world from Zurich: what are the obstacles to looking after Swiss people abroad?
Due to legal, regulatory or tax provisions, the availability of products and services to certain persons may be subject to restrictions which may arise in particular due to their place of residence.  Therefore, we recommend that you plan early and get in touch with us to ensure that your new start abroad goes smoothly.

Are you moving abroad? Let us use our expertise to make things easier for you. Tap here to find out more.