Moving abroad can be tough, but sometimes leaving your adopted home can be even harder. Here are a few practical tips on moving out of your Swiss apartment with some broader, heartfelt advice for expats planning on leaving Switzerland.
This is not a mistake: I am really blogging on Swisstory even though I no longer live in Switzerland. Imagine that!
Meghan, a fellow, soon-to-be-former Swiss Expat blogger, is leaving Switzerland and going back to Maryland, but before doing so she asked that I finish what I started with this post about five tips for moving out of your Swiss apartment and we Swiss Expat Bloggers take care of each other!
So let’s see if – almost six months after leaving Switzerland – I can dig up a few more tips for those expats during that inevitable time, the Ruckkehr: the return back home!
1. Get organized
Once you know you are leaving, and you’ve given notice at the Gemeinde that you are leaving you can pretty much tell anyone you want and you should, as there are lots of things that you’ll need to do in advance, many of which I detailed in the last things to do post, but honestly the best policy I can give you is to contact anyone and everyone that you have had contact with and tell them you’re leaving and ask if there is anything you need to do in advance.
There were heaps of things that we just learned about too late like, for example, that I had to give four months notice on my allotment garden and that you’ll need to post back your Cablecom box, and while you think you have paid all your bills in advance, you actually have only been paying a portion of each month in advance – this is the one that got us! We had a late notice on Cablecom so make sure that is all sorted out. They also need three months notice and a letter from the Gemeinde! GEEZ!
And then, what I did was put all the latest utility bills, the tax details, the letter from the Gemeinde, and all that jazz that you think you don’t need after you leave aside in a folder and I took it with me ON THE PLANE! Do not pack it away as no matter what happens, you can be sure those papers will be in the box that you can’t find or that you unpack last and, no doubt, for some reason, you’ll need them the most.
So I’d put a statement for all policies (so you have the policy number in case you need it and the telephone number for support) in a folder and carry it with you on the plane. It helped me when I had no idea why I was getting a late notice for Cablecom and when I needed my Swiss tax details on the spot. Either that or scan it into your computer and email it to yourself; then it’s also wherever you go, ready when you need it!
I also recommend copies of passports and visas – especially the Swiss ones you’re giving away. You never know when you need to show that again, just in case, so keep it digital.
Also, get the year’s worth of mail forwarding. It has really been a great thing for us: it has given me some reassurance that I closed up all the accounts and left nothing outstanding. It’s also fun to still get a bit of Switzerland every once in awhile in your post.
Get everyone’s e-mail addresses or online details so that you can contact them from overseas if you need to. This has proven to be really helpful for us; with HR contacts, the tax people, with the apartment people, and more. You might think you sorted it all before you go but, ultimately, you’ll need their email address. And email them all once you have left, so they have your contact details too!
2. Get it in writing, especially when it comes to your deposit!
If you do number 5 right, you’ll have all your notes from all the places you contact and hopefully, you’ll have details in writing about the finicky ones. The one that ended up being a bit crazy for us was our three months deposit for our apartment. I think you can get your deposit cheque deposited wherever you want, but we kept our Swiss bank account open so that we could have it deposited to our Swiss account, and then we’re holding onto it to pay our Swiss taxes. The Swiss always pay their tax in arrears, so we have until the end of this year, I believe, to pay our 2009 taxes; foreign residents to get money taken out of their pay but we ended up owing more so this was a simple way for us to be able to budget that money and put it aside.
To get our deposit back, we had to fill out a form that initially looked like the agent was going to steal our money, and actually that is what the form is: they ask that you release the money to them so that if there is something you need to pay, they can take it out of your bond and then give you the remaining funds. We did this, and then it took – I kid you not – two months before we got the money put into our account! This wasn’t so bad as we knew it was going to taxes but, still, to have this one BIG thing outstanding is a strain, especially because I couldn’t beat the women down with a wooden spoon from thousands of miles away if she did walk with my money! Luckily she didn’t and we got it.
Ours was held up though as they had to negotiate repairs for the chemical burns caused by the cleaners: they have to get quotes for repairs and take that out of your bond, and this could happen to you too. In the end, we got our entire bond back as the apartment agent worked hard for us and pretty much vouched for the fact that we couldn’t have caused those marks; a lot of people hate Wincasa, but in our case, no complaints. Oh and I had her email address so we were in constant contact and I emailed her once a week to ask ‘WHERE IS MY MONEY?!’
Now, another question I get asked is can you keep your Swiss bank account open? When I contacted UBS, they said that we could keep the account open as long as we wanted but that we had to cut up and return our credit card accounts. Interesting, eh? So yeah, we still have Swiss bank accounts, but to be honest, as soon as the government cleans us out (don’t forget the taxes!), we’ll close the account by withdrawing all the money.
Another thing you want to get in writing is your referral if you worked in Switzerland. You might not think you need the Swiss format, formal, written referral but I’ve used mine already and Jace too. It just makes it easier for potential new employers to get your background. So get it in writing and use it!
3. Get your new life organised
So you haven’t even left yet; is it too soon to be arranging an apartment? Getting a new job? Getting in touch with old friends? The answer is no! It’s never too soon. I can’t tell you how much easier it made the transition having things worked out on the other end. For example, I got my new job via a referral and I interviewed over Skype. Ok so having two days between landing and starting my new job was NOT such a hot idea, but since Jace has had a bit more trouble finding the right job now, my having a job has made the transition WAY easier.
I also gave notice to the tenants that rented our house WAY in advance, more so than they needed but that ensured we got into the house sooner and didn’t have to rent a place in the interim. We also got in touch with utilities in Australia, ensured all visas were up to date, and enquired about things like new licences and transport before we even left Switzerland. You might think you have all the time in the world but – trust me – in between all those goodbyes and the reuniting on the other side, you have little time to get your stuff in order after you land. The more you can do in advance, the better.
For example, we saved heaps by getting into our house sooner as we didn’t have to pay the movers to store our furniture and container for several weeks or months. We were able to get our health coverage turned back on in Australia before we left so we were covered for the flight and didn’t need expensive travel insurance, and we were able to proposition relatives and friends for furniture in advance so that we didn’t spend too many days sleeping on the cold, hard floor (a la our first few weeks in Switzerland).
We even got on the puppy wait list months ahead so that we could get our little Labrador Sasha earlier than expected!
4. Make a list of last things to see and do
You will miss heaps once you leave Switzerland. It is a hard fact. I ate a chocolate croissant a few weeks ago that made me want to cry and, no, not because it was good. Damn Swiss. You’ve ruined the flaky pastry for me for life. The bar is so high.
While you won’t be able to fit it all in, but make sure your list contains the following, as you’ll miss these the most: mountains, mountains of cheese, huge mountains of Swiss chocolate, travel by efficient and clean trains, drinking from water fountains in the street, strolling around and memorising the sounds of every last bell. Honestly, I think we took advantage of Switzerland as much as one can, but there are so many things now where we say, “Well, if we were still in Switzerland, we could…”
Yeah, you’ll miss it. Soak it all up, and then soak up some more. The good life is coming to an end, and perhaps an even better one is around the corner, but you’ll miss Switzerland. No doubt about it.
5. Enjoy the ride
You knew this day would come – you’re an expat – and you have to go home eventually, even if it’s just for a visit… so make the most of it all. Get gifts for friends and relatives far in advance, perhaps even send them home instead of packing them or sending them with your container, as you must ensure that you pack light: packing restrictions are way tougher than what the used to be. I almost got stuck with a AUD 400 fine for over-packed bags, even after throwing some stuff out! But thanks to the kindness of the Singapore airlines lady, she waived the fine – but only because the flight was pretty empty.
Give everyone your new address or Facebook details or email address WAY in advance, as you will forget if you leave it to the last minute. Embrace every red shirt with the white cross that you’re given, every stuffed cow, every flag… and don’t get hung up on the fact that it’s taken you years to get in with the Swiss and now you’re leaving! They make friends for life, remember? We’ve had our first Swiss visitors already!
When things get you down, just remember that only a small fraction of Americans actually have a passport and only a small fraction of anyone with a passport will get to live in Switzerland. Yes, you are one of the lucky few, and if you get really homesick for Switzerland (as you inevitably will!), I am sure a ski-vacation is just around the corner. Embrace the change and relish the fact that for a small amount of time you were an Auslander in Switzerland, and boy was that an amazing ride.