9 important things expats in Switzerland need to know about in October 2023
As the leaves turn brown and autumn tightens its seasonal grip on the country, October promises to be a busy and important month for people in Switzerland. From federal elections to price hikes, here’s what you need to know about October 2023 in the alpine nation.
1. Swiss health insurance providers to announce price increases
As confirmed by Health Minister and President of Switzerland Alain Berset on September 26, the cost of health insurance is set to rise by 8,7 percent on average when premiums are renewed for 2024. The price increase was blamed on the heightened cost of Swiss healthcare, as a consequence of an ageing population and new medicines and treatments becoming available.
Your insurance provider has until October 31 to inform you about the price increase that applies specifically to your policy - either by email or post. If you want to switch to a cheaper basic health insurance deal, you have until November 30 to do so.
2. Rental costs set to rise for roughly half of Swiss households
Sticking with price rises, October is also the month when higher rental costs are due to kick in. This is because of the increase in the reference interest rate on June 1, which allowed landlords to raise rents by 3 percent on roughly half of those who rent a house or apartment in Switzerland.
As landlords can typically only raise rents on tenants once a year, and must give three months' notice before doing so, October will be the first month when the new rents apply.
3. Switzerland to start saving energy... again
Despite the lack of an imminent threat, October 1 will mark the start of Switzerland’s new voluntary campaign to save energy. In a statement given to the media, the government said that the goal was made in “solidarity” with the European Union, arguing that as practically all the country's natural gas has to be imported from the EU, it makes sense to cut back to help other European nations cope with possible shortages.
While this year will likely not see the release of a full-blown voluntary campaign or emergency saving plans like in 2022, the Federal Council has still encouraged residents, businesses and government bodies to cut down on energy use, especially when it comes to heating. They also warned that policies would be drafted if an energy shortage becomes more of a threat.
4. Rules for drivers in Switzerland to change
From October, the rules around driving in Switzerland are set to change, especially for those learning to drive. Generally speaking, the changes will relax some rules around driving offences and the grounds on which authorities can extend probation or withdraw driving licences.
Among other measures, those on certain probationary licences will no longer have their probation period extended and their licence withdrawn when a minor driving offence is committed. Only “moderately serious or serious offences” will be punished in this way. For more information about the wider changes, visit the official website.
5. Switzerland to Italy international rail links to resume
After a limited number of regular services were resumed in the Gotthard on September 29, October will see the return of several international services between Switzerland and Italy. From October 23, direct trains from Zurich to Genoa and Bologna to Zurich will resume - although passengers looking to go in the opposite direction will still have to change at Chiasso, Canton Ticino.
However, while they are set to return, the two services will still be unable to use the Gotthard Base Tunnel itself for the time being, instead using an hour-long detour on the Gotthard Panorama Route. After a cargo train derailed in the tunnel in August, officials have been unsure of how long it will take before normal services will resume, with some predicting it will take until 2024.
6. New COVID vaccination drive
With the emergence of the new COVID variants over the past few weeks, the Federal Office of Public Health has announced that, with the help of Swiss cantons, they will begin a new vaccination drive beginning in the middle of October.
The vaccination effort will be focused on those over 65 years old and people “with individual health risks because of a pre-existing condition.” Vaccines from Moderna, Pfizer and Novavax are expected to be used. For more information, please visit the official government website.
7. Autumn school holidays in Switzerland
This October students in Switzerland will be given a well-deserved break, with the autumn school holidays set to begin in most cantons. The holidays are staggered throughout the month of October to avoid overcrowding on Swiss public transport, roads, airports and motorways, but all are between one and three weeks long.
8. Swiss citizens to vote in federal elections
On Sunday, October 22, Swiss citizens will go to the polls as part of the 2023 federal elections. The votes are held to decide the composition of the Swiss Federal Assembly, which includes the National Council (lower house) and Council of States (upper house).
Thanks to population growth, 2023 will see Canton Zurich given one more seat in the National Council compared to 2019, up to 36 - the biggest caucus in the house - while Basel-Stadt will get one less down to four. Cantons are given one or two seats in the Council of States, depending on their size.
In a campaign where the cost of living has dominated, current polling suggests that like every single federal election since 1999, the Swiss People’s Party (SVP) is expected to win the most votes and occupy the most seats in the National Council.
They will likely be followed by the Social Democratic Party, with a three-way fight for third between FDP. The Liberals, the Green Party and the Centre Party. If this sounds to you like the composition of parliament before the elections, you would be correct…
9. Daylight Savings in Switzerland to end
On the morning of Sunday, October 29, people across the alpine nation will wake up feeling a little fresher than usual thanks to the end of Daylight Savings. At 3am the clocks will be turned back an hour, beginning five months of afternoon darkness as winter closes in.
Despite the fact that the government promised to scrap Daylight Savings by 2021, it still hasn’t happened. Speaking in 2021, federal authorities explained that in order to prevent the country from becoming a “time island” in the middle of Europe, it will only make the change when the EU follows suit - which given their own inaction on the matter, may be a long time to come.