8.9 million residents vs. 331.9 million. 15,943 square miles vs. 3.8 million. The differences between Switzerland and the US can seem vast when moving between the two countries.

Population: 8.9 million
Land Area: 15,943 mi2
Capital: Bern
Currency: Swiss franc (CHF)

Population: 331.9 million
Land Area: 3.8 million mi2
Capital: Washington, DC
Currency: US dollar (USD)

To help you make a smooth transition between Switzerland and the US, we put together the following must-knows. They’ll help you navigate the moving process, prepare for the cultural differences between the two countries, and spot the similarities—all of which will help you settle in quickly to your new home.

#1: Switzerland Has Four National Languages; the US Has None

You might think that English is the official language of the US. While English is the most widely spoken, the United States doesn’t have an official language on a national level. (Some states have designated English as their official language, though.)

languages spoken

Estimates suggest that the US might be the most linguistically diverse country in the world, with as many as 430 languages spoken or signed. That said, English works just about everywhere.

speak German/Swiss German

Switzerland, on the other hand, has four national languages: German, French, Italian, and Romansh. The majority of the population (62.3%) speaks German or Swiss German as their primary language.

Note: “Swiss German” is a blanket term for number of different Alemannic dialects, which are a bit different from the German spoken in Germany or taught in schools.

If you’re headed to Switzerland, having some knowledge of one of the national languages will be helpful. If you only speak English, rest assured that it’s one of the most widely-spoken non-national languages. (Along with Portuguese!)

#2: US States Are Like Cantons—or Are They?

As the term “United States” implies, the US is made up of 50 individual states under a single national banner. Within the US, some laws apply to everyone (federal), while others apply only within a state.

Switzerland is divided into 26 cantons. Each canton is a member state of the Swiss Confederation. Like the US, Switzerland also has laws that apply Confederation-wide, as well as laws at the canton level.

In other words, it’s easy to draw some parallels between the two countries.

However, there’s one interesting difference: Each Swiss canton has significantly fewer residents than a US state. The median population of a Swiss canton is 234,000. Compare that to 4.3 million, the median population of a US state.

Additionally, the ratio of political representatives to constituents is quite different in Switzerland and the US. In Switzerland, there’s one national legislature representative for every 33,000 constituents. In the US, that ratio is one for every 598,000 constituents.

From these numbers, it’s easy to see how the scale of politics and government can feel quite different in Switzerland than the US. For some, this might feel like a big adjustment.

#3: Duty-Free Importation Is Possible Going Both Ways

Both the US and Switzerland offer duty-free entry pathways for household goods. This can save you a significant amount of money, so it’s worth it to get this process right.

#4: You’ll Spend Your Sundays Differently

In many parts of the US, Sunday feels just like every other day. Some states restrict the purchase of alcohol or prohibit legal proceedings on Sundays. However, it’s pretty easy to go about your business, run your errands, etc.

You’ll find the opposite in Switzerland. Outside of resort areas, stores largely shut down. Families spend time together, and most people generally use the day to unwind.

As you transition between Switzerland and the US, this is one cultural difference you’ll need to adjust to. Those moving to US might enjoy the newfound convenience, while those moving to Switzerland may relish the opportunity to unplug.

5: Make Sure You Get an All-In Quote

When you’re comparing quotes for your US-Switzerland move, it’s important to make sure you’re comparing “apples to apples,” as we refer to it.

Here’s what we mean: Some moving companies offer all-in-one quotes that cover additional fees, like terminal handling charges (THCs), which are standard for international moves. Other companies may add these fees later down the line. This makes their quote look less expensive up front, but it can lead to surprises when you receive your final invoice.

As you’re shopping around, make sure to ask your moving company what’s included—and what’s not. This question can eliminate unexpected costs, and it can help you locate a company you’re confident will deliver a safe and easy move between Switzerland and the US.

#6: Both Switzerland and the US Are Countries of Immigrants

Culture shock is a very real phenomenon. As you adjust to your new surroundings, you might find it useful to recognize similarities between your old home and your new one. For example, Switzerland and the US both share a culture shaped by immigrants.

of the Swiss population are foreign nationals

Around 25% of Swiss residents are foreign nationals living permanently in Switzerland. (That’s about 2.2 million people!) The majority of Switzerland’s immigrant population hails from other European locations—Italy, Germany, and Portugal.

U.S. residents were born abroad

The US also hosts a large population of immigrants—the largest in the world. More than 40 million US residents were born in another country. Top countries of origin for US immigrants include China, India, Mexico, and the Philippines.

No matter which country you’re living in now, you’re likely accustomed to the diverse points of view and cultural heritage that immigrants bring with them—and you’ll continue to enjoy them in your new home.

#7: Importing a Car to Switzerland Can Be Expensive

It’s long been said that Americans have a love affair with their cars. Some might even say they can’t imagine living without them.

If you’re moving to Switzerland, think carefully about bringing your car if you’ve owned it for fewer than six months. These vehicles aren’t eligible for duty-free import along with your household goods.

Instead, your car may be subject to:

  • Customs duties
  • A 4% automobile tax
  • A 7.7% value-added tax (VAT)

All of this can add up quickly.

But here’s the good news: If you’ve owned your car for more than six months, you may be eligible to import it tax and duty-free as part of your household goods shipment.

Make sure you talk with your moving company up front about any vehicles you plan to move so you can plan appropriately.

#8: In the US, Punctuality May Vary

The Swiss have a reputation for punctuality—a well-deserved one. In Switzerland, everything seems to run not just efficiently but also markedly on time. Even the Swiss Federal Railways takes punctuality seriously, aiming to deliver at least 89% of passengers with less than a three-minute delay. (They achieved a 92.5% on-time rate in 2022.)

Compare that to Amtrak, the federally-chartered corporation that operates many US passenger trains. Only three routes beat the Swiss Federal Railway’s 89% standard:

  • The Keystone, which runs between New York City and Harrisburg, PA
  • The Hiawatha from Milwaukee, WI to Chicago, IL
  • The New York – Albany route

Amtrak’s other 30+ lines fell below the Swiss standard, with on-time percentages ranging from 19% (the Sunset Limited from New Orleans to Los Angeles) all the way up to 92% (the Capital Corridor from Auburn to San Jose, CA).

If you’re moving to Switzerland, be aware that punctuality is a deeply embedded cultural value that’s important to respect. If you’re moving to the US, punctuality may vary.

#9: Understand Each Country’s Tipping Point

Tipping culture is a concept that can confuse even the most cosmopolitan global citizen.

As a general rule, in the US, a tip of 15-20% is expected (and appreciated!) to recognize good service. Servers, bartenders, hairdressers, taxi/Uber/Lyft drivers, massage therapists, and other workers in the US service industry rely on tips as a part of their take-home pay.

Additionally, in the US, you might also consider tipping when:

  • You’re ordering coffee at a local shop (some might tip $1 or $2, depending on the complexity of your order)
  • Someone carries your bags at a hotel (you might offer the bell staff $1-2 per bag)
  • You stay at a hotel and the staff cleans your room (you might leave $1-2 per day)

Coming from Switzerland, this might feel like an adjustment. You might be used to rounding up a few francs or two—or leaving 5-10% extra for exceptional service. Many in Switzerland see tipping as completely optional, since service workers receive a more livable wage than they do in the US.

That said, the US workers who depend on tips will appreciate you for observing local customs.

#10: Declare Your Dog When Moving to Switzerland

In Switzerland, dog ownership is a much more formal affair than it is in the United States. In fact, the country has a series of very specific regulations regarding dogs:

Making Your Move Eas(ier)

Overseas moves can be challenging. Between the logistics, the paperwork, customs regulations, and the cultural adjustments, there’s a lot to deal with. However, by understanding some of the potential speedbumps, you’ll pave your way toward an easier move between the US and Switzerland.

If you need some help moving your household goods between the US and Switzerland, our international experts would love to assist! We specialize in delivering safe, simple, and stress-free moves from start to finish. Just reach out to our team to get started with a complimentary quote.

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