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Relocating to Switzerland: Life in one of Europe’s largest life science hubs

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As one of the major hotspots for medical innovation in Europe, Switzerland is home to a rich...

As one of the major hotspots for medical innovation in Europe, Switzerland is home to a rich diversity of pharmaceutical, medical technology and biotech firms that have helped secure its position and reputation as one of the most enticing locations for candidates in the life science space. ​

More than 40% of Swiss exports come from the pharmaceutical, chemical and biotechnology industries, and the health and technology sectors in the country were among the least affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. The country's life science industry is responsible for creating more than 50,000 jobs in Basel, Geneva, Zurich and other core cities, and two of the top five pharmaceutical companies globally, Novartis and Roche, were both founded and are headquartered in the country. Other major industry players such as AstraZeneca, Eli Lilly, Gilead, Pfizer and Takeda all have major sites in Switzerland too.

But it’s not just large pharma; over 1,000 biotech start-ups in fields ranging from oncology to neurology have a presence in the country, as do many major technology firms. There’s no doubt Switzerland is a hive of innovation and opportunity, so here’s what to consider if you’re thinking of relocating. ​ ​

The perks of a life in Switzerland

There are several benefits to working in Switzerland when compared to some of its neighbouring countries in Europe. Sitting outside of the EU and European Economic Area, the country sets its own labour laws and working regulations, but still maintains a stable economic relationship with the European Commission and European Medicines Agency. Here are some of the top reasons that life science professionals decide to relocate. ​

Higher remuneration

Salaries here are much higher here compared to other countries, and rank highest compared to the top 20 European economies for entry and mid-level roles.

Quality of life

Not only are the cities of Zurich and Geneva are ranked second and eighth highest for quality of life in the world, but the average working week is 35.2 hours making for a great work-life balance, and easy access to beautiful lakes, mountains and scenic trails contribute to an active outdoor culture. ​

Lower taxes

While the cost of living is higher when it comes to food, travel and lifestyle expenses, tax rates tend to be lower than that of surrounding countries. Exact tax rates will differ between cantons.

​ Diversity

Switzerland is a hugely multinational country, with more than 20% of the countries workforce made up of expats. There are also four official languages, German, French, Italian and English, meaning plenty of opportunity for speakers of these languages too. ​

World-class education

Despite its small size, Switzerland is home to 105 international schools and 12 universities. The birthplace of more than 100 Nobel prize-winning scientists, the country ranks second-highest globally for the quality of its higher education institutions. ​

Strong healthcare systems

As a life science hub the country naturally has a world-class healthcare system, where you can expect excellent standards, short waiting times and a high level of care. The average life expectancy is 84 in Switzerland, the third-highest in Europe. ​

Buoyancy in the job market ​

The health and tech industries in Switzerland have remained strong despite the pandemic, and we’ve witnessed steady growth in demand for talent during the first half of 2021. The contract/freelance market is also far more appealing than in neighbouring countries, presenting higher average rates and lower income tax.

​​​Visas and citizenship in Switzerland

Although the country isn’t a member of the European Union, Switzerland has adopted certain EU policies when it comes to right to work regulations. That means that most EU citizens have the right to live and work in Switzerland, and have a period of up to six months prior to arriving there to find work if you haven’t already acquired a work contract prior to the move. Citizens from outside of the EU must have a guaranteed work contract and work permit prior to moving.

Many expats live and work in the country and decide against applying for Swiss permanent residency. Those that want to apply for citizenship typically qualify after 10 years of residence, depending on nationality and personal circumstances. Further information about visas and citizenship is available on the Swiss FDFA website.

​Relocating to Switzerland after the Covid-19 pandemic

As with many other countries, Switzerland introduced restrictions on travel at the height of the pandemic which have been gradually relaxed, most recently allowing travel from the UK and US in March. Since last summer after an initial pause in processing at the peak of the pandemic, local governments again began processing visa and residency applications and admitting individuals with permits to work. Up-to-date travel alerts are available on the Swissinfo website.

When it comes to employment, the Covid-19 crisis had a negative impact on the number of vacancies in life science fields, which we are gradually witnessing an improvement on one year later. While we are noticing significant demand from large pharmaceutical companies and biotech firms going into the start of Q3, smaller firms have had a slower recovery are showing more modest headcount growth.

The country’s strong healthcare system, which like many others globally struggled to meet a growing demand for Covid-19-related care during the initial wave of the pandemic, adapted quickly to the adoption of digital and introduced widespread telemedicine services with online appointment booking, consultations and prescriptions. A study rated Switzerland as the world’s safest country during the pandemic, testament in part to their sophisticated healthcare infrastructure. ​

Considering a life on Swiss soil?

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