My family and I moved to a small town just outside of Zurich when I was younger and lived there for five years. Switzerland had the fifth highest GDP per capita in the world at $84,815 in 2013, coming in close behind the Macao region in China, Qatar, Norway, and Luxembourg.
That’s a whole $30,000 more per citizen the US, which has a per capita GDP of $53,042. From its pristine and punctual public transportation to the abundance of clean drinking water, Switzerland brims with the feeling of well-being that goes hand-in-hand with wealth. In fact, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development finds that the Swiss have the fifth-highest quality of life out of the 34 countries measured, outranked only by Australia, Sweden, Canada, and Norway. Even as an ex-pat, things were good. Here’s where Switzerland shines for anyone who lives there.
Their healthcare is top notch.
While my family was living in Switzerland, my mom had her knee replaced. She spent two weeks recovering in the hospital, and was then supposed to go to a rehab spa in the mountains for three weeks. We would have had to pay out of pocket for the spa, though, so she declined. The surgery happened over 10 years ago and my mom still remembers the care being excellent. The hospital was immaculate, and she says everything ran smoothly and on time. According to USA Today, out of the 34 developed countries that are part of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (the OECD), Switzerland ranks number three in terms of healthcare spending, preceded only by the US and Norway. The Swiss spend a total of $6,080 per person on healthcare, and their healthcare spending amounts to 11.4% of their GDP. The country boasts the third lowest obesity rate (10.3%), and the third highest life expectancy (83 years).
It’s a great home base for traveling.
Throughout my family’s five years living in Switzerland, we traveled extensively (see some of my favorites places we visited here). Our travels were made easier by the fact that we were living in the center of Europe. Switzerland borders France, Italy, Germany, Austria, and Liechtenstein, meaning a relatively short drive or train ride can get you to any of these countries. And for such a small country, Switzerland itself has a lot to offer. Its three regions (the German part, French part, and Italian part) are all very different from one another, so visiting one sometimes feels like being in a completely different country.
Zurich’s Hauptbahnhof (the city’s main train station). Their public transportation is the best I’ve ever taken.
There’s really no need to have a car in Switzerland. The Swiss have their public transportation system down to a science. The trains are on time down to the second — trust me, I’ve missed enough to know — and you can get across the whole country with just one ticket that works for multiple kinds of transportation. And here’s the best part: You’ll actually want to take public transportation because it’s incredibly clean. According to Knoema, Switzerland’s gross investment spending in transport was just over $9 billion in 2010.
They’re really well-educated.
Although I never went to Swiss school — I went to an international school because their system was more comparable to an American school system — I always noticed that Swiss kids around my age spoke multiple languages. Note that the country has four official languages: German, French, Italian, and Romansh. According to the OECD Better Life Index, the average student in Switzerland scored 518 on a test assessing their literacy, math, and science skills, compared to the average student in the US, who scored 492. Almost 90% of 25-34-year-olds have received the equivalent of a high school degree. Maybe the Swiss school would have been a good idea after all!
They have a sizeable expat community.
There were a few Swiss kids who attended the international school I went to in Zurich, but for the most part, it was kids who were expats, just like me. And there were a few other international schools not far from Zurich, which were also attended by mostly expats. Although my family had some Swiss friends from our neighborhood, a lot of our friends came from the large expat community we became a part of while living there.
Drinking Fountain Switzerland
One of Switzerland’s many fountains. Their water quality is amazing.
There are beautiful fountains all over Switzerland, and the best part is, most of the water that spews from them is 100% drinkable. This comes in especially handy when you’re doing anything outdoors — whether hiking or exploring a city — and don’t have a water bottle with you. If a fountain is not safe to drink from, in true Swiss fashion, they’ll warn you with a sign that says either “kein trinkwasser” or “eau non potable.” Tap water is also safe to drink, no need to filter.
The country is very safe.
Even though I was in my early teens when my family lived in Switzerland, my parents had no issues letting my sister and I go into Zurich alone. Had we still been living in the suburbs of Chicago, I know that wouldn’t have been the case (my mom was uneasy about letting us go to the mall alone). According to the OECD Better Life Index, 78% of Swiss people feel safe walking alone at night. The country’s homicide rate is a very low 0.5 — just to put that in perspective, the OECD average is 4.1. Although I don’t plan to move back to Switzerland — I would just miss the US too much — I’d go back for a visit anytime, to see old friends, enjoy the scenery … and use the public transportation, of course.