7 things expats in Switzerland need to know about in December 2021
From the beginning of the ski season to the threat of new COVID restrictions, and the start of many of Switzerland’s best Christmas markets, there is plenty for expats to prepare for in December 2021.
1. New COVID-19 rules may be on the way for Switzerland
The month of December is likely to be dominated by the announcement of more COVID rules and regulations to cope with the recent spike in cases. The Swiss government has already forced travellers from over 20 different nations to quarantine in order to slow the spread of the new Omicron variant and is currently planning more restrictions.
After the COVID-19 Act was accepted by voters in the November national referendums, the federal government now has the authority to maintain current rules and enforce others. Some of the new measures may include mandatory vaccination, an extension of the mask-mandate to more locations, a move to a 2G set of restrictions or some restrictions on businesses.
Even before the COVID-19 Act was accepted by the public, healthcare officials from the cantons of Switzerland had already announced that they were considering their own restrictions to cope with the pressure on the healthcare system. This may lead to the “patchwork” system of restrictions that were seen at the end of 2020, where one canton's rules differed dramatically from others.
The President of the Swiss Conference of the Cantonal Ministers of Public Health (GDK), Lukas Engelberger, said recently that all cantons were making their own plans to curb the spread, in preparation for a possible no vote in November. Now that the vote has passed, the Federal Council have announced that they are in contact with cantonal authorities in regard to new restrictions, which they will discuss in detail on December 1.
2. COVID booster programme continues in Switzerland
Alongside new restrictions, Switzerland will continue the campaign to provide COVID booster shots. After starting the push at National Vaccination Week, which produced mixed results, the booster campaign that started with the over 65s is now moving down the age groups.
Studies from the United Kingdom and Israel have shown the efficacy of a booster shot, particularly for people over the age of 65. You will receive a text from your cantonal authority when you are able to book a booster, and can then get an appointment using the same system as the first two jabs.
3. Make sure your finances are in order for your tax return
The end of December is also the end of the official tax year in Switzerland, so make sure your paperwork is in order. Your Swiss tax return may be months away, but it is important to have all your payslips, bills, payments to insurance and contributions to social security to hand.
If you do not have an accountant, it is vital that you provide all the evidence required to the tax authorities. Having your information prepared by the end of this year will make the start of 2022 a little easier. Whether you are a freelancer, or have a regular nine to five job, having your financial data ready is always advisable.
4. The new timetable from SBB to allow shorter journeys to Europe
As of December 12, Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) will start their new timetable. This will include faster, more direct trains to European destinations like Munich, as well as a new night train to Amsterdam.
The timetable is a reaction to an increase in passenger numbers after the slump caused by the pandemic. Alongside new transnational routes are more services to Swiss cities, more night trains and an extension to several Intercity routes.
5. The start of the best Christmas Markets in Switzerland
Almost as famous as the Christmas markets in Germany: Despite the threat of new coronavirus restrictions, the vast majority of Christmas markets in Switzerland are underway. As the winter rolls in and the snow begins to fall, residents have the chance to attend one of Switzerland's best winter attractions.
The Christmas markets in Bern, Basel and Zurich are all already underway, and the beginning of December will see almost every council (Gemeinde) across the country hold some form of Christmas celebration. Bear in mind that the largest markets that are running, particularly those indoors, may require a COVID certificate.
6. The beginning of the ski season in the Alps
Alongside Christmas markets, December will see a large number of expats, locals, and - quarantine permitting - tourists take to the slopes. After a beginning to the ski season that saw a lack of snow on most mountains, ski resorts in Switzerland are ramping up for a full opening in December.
Some of the larger resorts in the mountains, like Davos Klosters, have reported extensive snowfall and temperatures as low as -10 degrees Celsius. Provided the sun shines through in the coming weeks, 2021 may turn out to be a great year for skiing and snowboarding.
7. Switzerland says goodbye to 2021
Of course, the end of 2021 will be marked by several New Year's Eve celebrations. Instead of fireworks, the city of Zurich will be lit up by a spectacular light show, illuminating some of the most famous historical sites in the city. Other celebrations will be more reserved in order to not attract large crowds, due to the COVID pandemic.
Despite Christmas day and New Year falling on a weekend, meaning no official holidays, the moment will still be an opportunity to reflect on 2021, and look, hopefully with optimism, to 2022. Wherever you may be in Switzerland, New Year's Eve will always be a moment to remember.