Expat Talk – Finding a job in Zurich, Switzerland

Posted on June 26, 2010


I am extremely lucky. I’ve been in Switzerland for 10 months and I work about 7 hours a week. What do I do? I am an English teacher in a little (mostly German) language school, and while I have a B.A. and a Master in English, the fact that I don’t have a CELTA has prevented me from being employed by the larger schools which provide more work. Doing the CELTA would mean investing 4000 CHF which I don’t have and putting my life (and my little work) to a stop for one month, since CELTA lessons run from morning until around 8 pm. I cannot speak a word of German and therefore cannot get any other form of employment. I am not an IT geek or a banker either. So how, do you ask, am I still in Switzerland? I am lucky enough to have a supportive (both emotionally and financially) Swiss partner who told me from the start he’d help me out. In other words, I took a calculated risk. I had a home to come to and plenty of help should I not succeed in finding a job. I am still somehow managing, and above all, I am happy. If you dream of moving to Switzerland as many people do, you might benefit from reading the following article which I wrote for www.expatarrivals.com about what to take into consideration before moving to Zurich and looking for a job, as well as the most common work that foreigners tend to be employed in. Life without money in Zurich is complicated, so if I were you I’d pay attention…

Finding a job in Zurich, Switzerland

Probably the most important thing when considering working in Switzerland is your nationality. If your country is a member of the EU, then you are automatically entitled to an initial three months during which you can be employed in Switzerland without a working permit, but should you wish to continue working, you will need to acquire one after the end of this period, and most companies will be able to help you do so.

If you are of non-Swiss and non-EU nationality, getting a work permit becomes altogether trickier, since a company can only sponsor you if it can prove that the job you are applying for cannot be done by Swiss or EU nationals. Most of the people from non-EU countries which do get employed seem to be able to land a job in Switzerland through contacts back home or overseas opportunities which arise within their own company.

The following is a list, though by no means comprehensive, or types of work foreigners usually engage in in and around Zurich.

Without speaking German

IT, Computing, Engineering and Banking

These industries are quite English-friendly, and vacancies advertised rarely require the applicant to speak German unless some level of customer service is involved. Google has a large office in Zurich which routinely sponsors and employs foreigners, and major banks like UBS, often have vacancies for English-speaking professionals. One of the best sites which advertises plenty of vacancies for jobs where only English is required (by selecting the appropriate key words) is jobs.ch. Local recruiting centres will tend to dismiss you when you say you don’t speak German.

English Teaching

If you would like to teach English in private language schools you will need a minimum of a CELTA certificate and usually also a degree, preferably in English. Very few schools will take you into consideration if you don’t have the former, including the largest language centres, which are your best possibility of getting enough work to earn a proper salary. You’ll also be expected to have a few years experience in teaching exam and business courses. Even if you do have the appropriate qualifications, know that vacancies are few and far between and competition is fierce due to a surplus of language teachers and the high rate/hour offered as compensation. Added to this, full-time contracts are almost unheard of and to make ends meet you will usually have to get lessons from a number of different schools. Seeking private students independently is also an option, although then you will have to go through a rather complicated application and registration process for the status of ‘self-employed/freelancer’.

Alternatively, you could also try to teach English in standard schools, but for this you will need a formal degree in Education. A CELTA or a Master in English is not deemed as an equivalent. Despite their sometimes questionable English competence, it seems that Swiss are often preferred for this kind of post, as it offers full-time employment with excellent salary and benefits. For job opportunities check out the English Teachers Association of Switzerland (http://www.e-tas.ch/), but most schools advertise on their website instead, so a good internet search should come up with a few more vacancies.

Nannies, au pairs and maids for private residences of foreigners, specifically aimed at English speakers

These kind of jobs are usually advertised in the classified sections of newspapers and expat websites by the individuals involved, so you’ll have to keep an eye for them in the appropriate places. One such website is http://zurich.angloinfo.com/ but there are many more. In this case, remember that you will have to take care of your own work permit application, which can be a pain since surprisingly, documents are not usually available in English.

August 2010 Update – After following the activity on sites like www.englishforum.ch, I’ve noticed that experienced English-speaking nannies are in high demand wherever expats tend to live and after posting on the above mentioned website usually get lots of offers.

-Need German fluency


The Service industry and customer service

Any form of assistant, worker in the service industry or customer service representative will be required to speak German, if not also French and Italian, or any other specific language. The principle behind this is that these sort of workers will come in contact with both foreigners and locals and it makes little sense for a company to employ someone who can only speak English when there are plenty of Swiss whose English is of a very high standard. Even an English language bookshop and a call centre will require its staff to be proficient in German so as to be able to help both foreigners and locals alike.

Remember that…

The cost of living in and around Zurich is very high, so even if you have a bit of funds you’ll find that they will quickly run out if you don’t have a source of income. When you keep in mind that renting a property also needs a considerable financial and time commitment, the wisest thing to do is to try and secure a job prior to arriving in Switzerland, especially if you are limited by the fact that you don’t speak German fluently. When you’re successful, remember that Swiss value punctuality and quality of work, but also that seen from the point of view of the more direct and to the point business style typical of some nationalities, the Swiss tend to beat a bit around the bush in matters of negotiation and decision making. Finally, it is true that life in Zurich is expensive, but if you are an educated and experienced professional, you can wind up earning an extremely high salary, even when compared to the cost of living.

 – Text and Photography by Denise Pulis @ www.travelwithdenden.wordpress.com

Posted in: Zurich, Zurich