Switzerland has an area of 41,285 square kilometers, of which more than 60% is occupied by the Alps, a great mountain range stretching circa one thousand kilometers from Austria to France. The Alps, with more than 80 peaks above 4000 meters, is a result of the collision of the African and European tectonic plates. The collision is actually still taking place, and these mountains grow at a rate of about 1mm per year.
Environment and quality of life
Switzerland's competitive economy has had a limited impact on environment. The 2012 Enviromental Performance Index ranks Switzerland in the first position, mainly due to its use of hydroelectric power and its highly efficient public transportation system. A well-preserved environment easily accessible by public transport, safe cities, and excellent infrastructures make living in Switzerland very pleasant, and explain why the Global Ranking of Cities with a High Quality of Life ranks three Swiss cities among the top ten
The climate of Switzerland is influenced by the Atlantic Ocean. The westerly winds transport the sea air to Switzerland and are responsible for the precipitation levels in the country. In addition, the cold and dry northern wind can make temperatures drop very quickly, but also contributes to the often clear skies. The Alps act as a climate barrier: Southern Switzerland, which is mainly influenced by the Mediterranean Sea, is characterized by a much milder climate than Northern Switzerland. The mountainous character of Switzerland is also responsible for spectacular differences in the weather among different regions. It is common to move from a cold and cloudy landscape to a beautiful clear blue sky in just a few minutes.
Lifestyle in Switzerland
Switzerland is a small country, but it is also a land of great diversity. Not only have the three main linguistic areas developed their own culture, traditions, economy and cuisine, but the great number of foreigners settled in Switzerland have also brought with them their various cultures and languages. With four national languages (German, French, Italian and Romansh) and over 22% of the population consisting of foreign citizens, Switzerland is a unique melting-pot in the heart of Europe. Although the majority of people (60%) speak German - or, more precisely, Swiss-German - Swiss residents often speak at least two languages. Cross-cultural encounters are part of daily life in Switzerland; plurilinguism is essential.
Lifestyle can vary greatly depending on the area of the country and the background of the inhabitants. Nowadays, the Swiss population is mainly modern and urban, with slightly more than one third of the population living in the five biggest cities (Zurich, Basel, Geneva, and Lausanne), another third in smaller urban areas and the final one-third in rural areas*. Traditions are kept alive especially in these mountain and rural areas. However, even the biggest Swiss city, Zurich, numbers only 372,000 inhabitants.
As in other industrialised countries, the population is growing older, even though the birth rate has been on the rise since 2007. The population growth over the last few years has been due mainly to immigration.
Despite the fact that Switzerland lacks natural resources and that the Swiss economy is highly dependent on exports, its economic situation has been very stable over the years; its GDP per inhabitant is higher than in most industrialised countries. The Swiss population on the whole enjoys a high level of living and Switzerland deserves its reputation of high-quality standards and services in all sectors (health, industry, public transport, education, etc.).
Art and culture in Switzerland
Switzerland is characterized by three major linguistic areas, and its culture is influenced by its neighbouring countries. This allows Switzerland to offer a glimpse of France, Germany and Italy within its own borders, while at the same time developing a unique culture of its own. The rich and varied cultural offerings range from traditional events to the trendiest exhibitions and performances. Seasonal traditions such as Advent, Carnivals and Spring Festivals are still very much alive throughout the country. At the same time, Switzerland enjoys a thriving modern arts scene.
Admission to a Bachelor's Programme
The decision concerning admission to a course of studies rests with the individual institution. The basic admission requirement is a Swiss secondary high-school-leaving certificate (Matura, Maturité, Maturità) or a foreign secondary high-school-leaving certificate considered equivalent. Students not holding fully recognized certificates qualifying for university entrance may be required to take a university entrance exam.
Admission to a Master's Programme
The prerequisite for access to a Master's programme is a successfully completed Bachelor's level programme. Each university makes its own decisions as to whether a foreign Bachelor's degree can give the holder access to Master's programmes, and what are the conditions, if any (entrance examinations, further requirements).
Admission to a Doctoral Programme
To be eligible for a PhD programme at a Swiss university, applicants must hold a Master's degree or equivalent from a recognised or accredited university. As conditions vary among universities, interested students should check the admission requirements of their prospective university.
All Swiss universities require good knowledge of the language of instruction. The Universities of Fribourg, Neuchâtel, Geneva and Lausanne, as well as the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, are in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. Fribourg is officially a bilingual university, with courses offered both in French and German, while Italian is the teaching language at the Università della Svizzera italiana, located in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland. The universities of Basel, Bern, Lucerne, St.Gallen, Zurich and the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich are located in the German-speaking part of Switzerland.
An increasing number of study programmes at Master's level are offered in English, thus a solid knowledge of English language is advisable for all prospective students.
Consumer Price Index (Excl.Rent):
Consumer Price Plus Rent Index:
Local Purchasing Power:
The currency used in Switzerland is the Swiss Franc (CHF), which is unique to Switzerland and Liechtenstein. Usually, in bigger cities or large international stores, Euros are accepted too. However, the change will be returned in CHF. Credit cards are accepted in most shops and restaurants.
Cost of Living
The cost of life in Switzerland is similar to that of big European cities. In most areas of Switzerland, cost of life is cheaper than Paris or London, although some items, such as food, are on average more expensive than elsewhere in Europe. For an estimate, depending on the exact location of the stay and on the entity of personal demands, living in Switzerland entails a monthly expense comprised between CHF 1,500.- and 2,500.- (this budget calculation for students considers housing, health insurance, food, daily transportation, small daily expenses, and educational material).
In some cases and depending on the terms of their agreements with the University, international students and researchers will be offered accommodation opportunities. Usually though, each person must find his/her own accommodation. The most common solution for international students or researchers is to rent an apartment or a house, or a room in students' residences. Please refer to each university's website or practical information guide to find out city-specific recommendations concerning housing.
Switzerland has a compulsory health insurance system that guarantees access to a range of quality medical care services and appropriate medical treatment to all people living in Switzerland. Every person living in Switzerland for more than three months, including international students, must have basic health insurance coverage. Students from countries that provide international international health coverage may be exempted from the compulsory health insurance. Other students may be exempted if they have equivalent health insurance coverage in their home country.
Immigration and VISA in Switzerland
Residence permit / visa
The application for a residence permit or a visa is different for EU/EFTA citizens and for people from other countries.
Students from EU/EFTA countries must register with the Residents' Registration Office of the local authorities of their municipality of residence within 14 days and apply for a residence permit. The following documents are required:
• Personal application for residence permit
• Valid passport or identity card
• Proof of registration at the university
• Evidence of sufficient funds (bank certificate or certified document)
• Proof of address at place of residence
• 2 passport-size photographs
Students from non-EU/EFTA countries must contact the in their native country and apply for a visa. Students are responsible for gathering the information and the documents required for the visa issuing process. Among other things, they must submit proof of registration at a university. Students must be aware of the fact that, as a rule, an application for a visa takes several months to process.
In Switzerland, health insurance is mandatory for all residents. Students from foreign countries must purchase their own health insurance policy if they intend to live in Switzerland for more than three months. This does not apply to students from countries which provide international coverage or offer equivalent insurance protection.
Switzerland admits employed foreign citizens on the basis of a dual system. People from EU/EFTA countries profit from the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons (there are transitional differences for Bulgaria and Rumania till 2016). People from all other countries are subject to different directives.
• Employment for students: EU/EFTA citizens studying in Switzerland are permitted to accept a side job for a maximum of 15 hours per week without any additional permit or notification required. This remains true for the entire period of validity of their student permit.
• Short-term employment: EU/EFTA citizens working in Switzerland for less than 3 months per year do not need a work permit. They are, however, required to register with the competent authority.
• Long-term employment: for employment exceeding 90 days per year, EU/EFTA citizens must acquire a work permit. The work permit application can be handed in to the local municipal office at the place of residence or work.
Citizens from non-EU/EFTA countries are subject to certain restrictions in their access to the Swiss labor market. Only a limited number of highly qualified professionals are admitted and issued a work permit.
Part-time employment for students:
• Non-EU/EFTA citizens studying in Switzerland are permitted to accept part-time employment for a maximum of 15 hours per week, but only after residing in Switzerland for a minimum of 6 months. Students must maintain full-time student status and show regular progress in their studies.
• Exemption: Master students with a Bachelor degree from a university abroad working for their Swiss university/institute do not have to wait 6 month.
Short- and long-term employment:
• Third country nationals who earn a degree from a university in Switzerland may stay in the country for up to six months after graduation to seek full, permanent employment.
• Non-EU/EFTA citizens must acquire a work permit before beginning their job. In general, the employer submits an application to the relevant authority of the canton where the prospective employee will be working. The application process can take up to several weeks.
• Candidates who receive a degree from a university in Switzerland will be granted facilitated admission to the Swiss labor market. Employers will still have to show proof that the candidate is of economic and scientific interest to the Swiss labor market.
Switzerland's economy is based on a highly skilled labor force. The main areas include microtechnology, hi-tech, biotechnology and pharmaceuticals, as well as banking and insurance know-how. Swiss companies are extremely competitive in world markets. The best-known export items are watches, chocolate and cheese; however, mechanical and electrical engineering and chemistry together account for over half of Swiss export revenues. Consulting, banking, insurance and tourism also make up a significant part of international trade. Switzerland's international reputation as a research center is beyond dispute. The high standard of the two Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology, of the 10 cantonal universities and of research institutes in Switzerland attracts many scientists and students from overseas.
• Large international population: foreign citizens account for 22% of the Swiss population
• One of the highest annual pro-capite GDPs worldwide
• Very low unemployment rate: 4.3%
• Most competitive economy in the world
• The world's highest gross and net wage levels (Zurich)
• Ranked second in the world for quality of life (Zurich)
• Ranked first in the Global Competitiveness Report 2012-2013
• Ranked first in the Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report 2011
• Home to an increasingly large number of European companies' headquarters, due to the favourable business and living environments