Hints and tips for international students in Switzerland

Hints and tips for international students in Switzerland

So, you’ve decided to come to Switzerland to study. Nice! There are plenty of things to look forward to during your time studying in Switzerland. Swiss cities are full of things to do: stunning attractions, great bars and clubs, and some of the best museums in the world.

But, first things first. There’s plenty you need to keep in mind before moving to Switzerland and, even after you’ve made the move, there will still be important things you need to make sure you sort out before you start living your best student life.

Make the most out of your studies in Switzerland

Check out these hints and tips for international students in Switzerland. They’ll help you keep on top of things when you move, so you can start enjoying yourself as soon as possible and head into your studies stress-free.

Sort out your student housing ASAP!

Going abroad to study can be quite a stressful experience; you’re leaving your family, you’re out trying to make new friends and, most importantly, you’re under pressure to achieve good grades. The last thing you want is to be desperately searching for a place to live while you spend your first few days (or weeks) in a hotel or Airbnb - living this way stops you from settling in properly and often distracts you as you focus on looking for a house or apartment.

This can often lead to other tasks piling up and, before you know it, you’ve become overwhelmed and fallen behind.

Our advice is to find accommodation as soon as you arrive in Switzerland or, ideally, find somewhere before you move. Luckily, there are plenty of options when it comes to student housing, with many Swiss universities offering to house some first-year students. Although, this is a popular option and official university accommodation is often fully booked a year in advance, so make sure you start looking early on!

cityscape Zurich

For those looking for a cheaper option, or looking to move in with friends, many students rent an apartment or house and live together in shared accommodation, sharing the associated costs (like rent and utilities) with each other. For those looking for a bit more privacy, students can choose to rent their accommodation from private housing companies, which offer furnished apartments, often with communal areas to encourage a collective student vibe.

The good thing is that the housing market in Switzerland is relatively stable, and usually has a good number of properties available across all 26 cantons. So, even if you don’t manage to get university accommodation, it shouldn’t be too hard to find a room in a shared house or an apartment somewhere in the city.

Also, don't be afraid to look beyond campus and the city, as Swiss public transport is excellent and getting to campus from your rural apartment should be quite simple. Still, make sure you start your search for accommodation early - so you aren’t left scrambling when university starts.

Make sure you’re covered by health insurance

All residents of Switzerland must be covered by health insurance, this includes students. European students with an EHIC card, or who are covered by a private insurance plan from their home country, are not required to take out Swiss health insurance.

However, students coming to Switzerland from outside the EU, either with a visa or residence permit, must take out some form of health insurance. Don’t think you can get away without health insurance either; a lot of universities will make sure you are covered at the beginning of the year and will insist on you taking out a policy in order to stay on campus.

Student health insurance Switzerland

Image credit: Taljat David /

There are plenty of private insurance companies in Switzerland with whom you can take out a policy. Everyone must at least be covered by basic health insurance but you can also take out supplemental insurance to include a wider range of benefits, which can include alternative medicine, discounts at gyms and access to different medicines at pharmacies.

Student health insurance costs

Student health insurance in Switzerland usually costs around 150 francs a month. A lot of providers offer dedicated student packages and deals with lower monthly costs. You could also consider raising your deductible (the amount you pay before the insurance provider covers your healthcare costs) to further decrease your monthly premiums.

Another thing to consider is paying your health insurance in advance. If you pay off your annual costs as a lump sum, rather than with monthly payments, a lot of insurance companies will be willing to lower the amount you have to pay upfront.

Research where you will be living

Switzerland is made up of 26 cantons, each with its own unique culture and way of life. It might also be useful to mention that Switzerland has four official languages: German, French, Italian and Romansh. Thus, a foreign student studying in Canton Vaud will not only find themselves engaging with different customs and practices to their friend studying in Canton Zurich, but they’ll also find themselves operating in a whole different language as well!

settling in Bern

Thus, it’s a good idea to research where in Switzerland you’ll be staying and studying. Swiss cities contain a plethora of unique attractions: iconic castles, sprawling museums, booming ski resorts, monuments, you name it.

Fancy hiking through the Swiss mountains? Go for it! What about kayaking across one of Switzerland's stunning lakes? Why not? Make sure you also look up any local customs and try your best to engage with them; a little goes a long way, and you’ll find it a lot easier to integrate into Swiss society and make friends by doing as they do.

Start learning a language

As we’ve already mentioned, there are four official languages in Switzerland. In order to try and quickly acclimatise to your new surroundings, it’s best to start practising the official language of the canton you’ll be studying in. This will help you better interact with locals, and minimise any awkward encounters you might have.

This isn’t to say that it is impossible getting around Switzerland without the local language, as a lot of people, especially in larger cities, do speak English. However, the Swiss will appreciate your attempts at trying to converse with them in their mother tongue, and learning some basic phrases will no doubt help you settle in faster and make friends.

There are plenty of ways to start learning the language of your future home canton. You could look online for German courses or French courses, or you could try learning Italian with the help of programmes like Duolingo or Rosetta Stone.

Explore opportunities for work

When you go to university, you’re going to need money - especially in Switzerland. The country isn’t known for being cheap and you'll soon find that you need some cash for all the museums and nightclubs you’ll be frequenting. That’s not to mention money for food, rent, clothes and those 1am Uber rides that are no doubt going to happen every now and again.

One of the best ways of keeping your head above water when it comes to student finances is by getting a job. First, try applying through your university, which is sure to have opportunities for its students, such as internships.

Otherwise, you can try going through a recruitment agency or simply ask around town to see if any bars, cafes or restaurants need a helping hand. Working in Switzerland is a great opportunity for you as a student to get used to working life, build experience for when you graduate and make a bit of extra cash along the way.

student working Switzerland

In some areas, students can take advantage of Switzerland’s desirable minimum wage rates, which can be as high as 23,14 francs an hour in certain cantons – that’s about 23 euros an hour! But, be aware that international students can only work 15 hours a week, and non-EU students can only start working six months after they begin their studies. However, students can work full-time during the university holidays.

Be prepared for university

One last thing to prepare for before you start university is what life at a Swiss university is actually like. Each has its own quirks and practices; one thing to look into is the scheduling system, which varies between universities. Make sure you’re familiar with how things work to avoid being late!

Universities also offer their students a vast variety of extracurricular activities. Students can take music classes and join the orchestra, they can join debating clubs, attend creative writing lessons, make use of the university gym and benefit from the health and wellness facilities; there really is something for everyone. There are also teams for almost every sporting discipline and an eclectic number of societies organising social events; so take a minute to check what things you’d like to do at university.

student life Zurich

See you in Switzerland soon!

Now that you’re ready for the adventure ahead of you, there’s only one thing left to do: enjoy your time in Switzerland! The country is home to a unique way of life that, when coupled with the country’s natural beauty and variety of opportunities for business and leisure, makes it one of the best places to live in the world. After all, there’s a reason why most people who study in Switzerland count the experience amongst the best in their lives.

Thumb image credit: Roman Babakin /

William Nehra


William Nehra

William studied a masters in Classics at the University of Amsterdam. He is a big fan of Ancient History and football, particularly his beloved Watford FC.

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