Bern, Switzerland Report of what it's like to live there - 01/15/20

Personal Experiences from Bern, Switzerland

Bern, Switzerland 01/15/20

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No. Also have lived in West Africa, Cambodia, Thailand, Poland.

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

Seattle, Washington. Easy compared t other posts though the airport is a couple hours away. Flights go to the East coast then across the country. Probably 12 hours total travel time.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Six months.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Diplomatic Mission.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Post just switched to an unfurnished housing pool. Mostly apartments, commutes are fairly easy -- 20 minutes or so. Like most of Europe apartments are on the small side, with limited storage though some have a storage room available in the basement. Our apartment is new, modern and very nice but there have been glitches. The main issue here is we switched to an embassy housing pool but the embassy doesn't have adequate staff to handle maintenance. Traffic is light and public transport is good, so there are many good options for areas to live -- housing tends to be spread all over.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Everything here is expensive though groceries are not too bad if you shop around and learn the tricks. Meat is really outrageous though. we supplement by going to the military bases in Germany and that helps. But everything is available.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Literally there is nothing you cannot get here, plus you can always Amazon stuff.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Restaurants here are, surprisingly, mediocre and outrageously expensive. We rarely eat out as a family of four as it isn't affordable. delivery exists bu the issues remain the same. For special occasions we do go out for fondue which is very Swiss and worth the expense, though it is also easy to make fondue at home. Ethnic food here isn't plentiful and it isn't good, with few exceptions. There are loads of good bars and pubs and beer and wine are reasonable. bakeries are all over and bread in all its glorious forms, and cheese too are terrific and affordable.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

No.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

DPO.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Very expensive. Some people have a housekeeper that comes 1x per week but otherwise it is not common as far as I know. Child care is very expensive and there isn't really a system o day care or pre school here. many Swiss work part time and stay at home parents (usually moms) are common. Babysitting rates run 20 CHF per hour.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

I hear gyms are pricey but they are plentiful. There are lots of sporting opportunities and activities here. It helps to know German. The embassy has a small gym that is free to use. It is basic but ok. Mainly you don't need a gym here -- there is so, so much to do for exercise -- hiking, skiing, swimming, walking, running, sports. i could go on and on.

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

Yes, all fine.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

There are a couple of Christian churches that cater to expats.

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6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

English is widely spoken so it is not strictly necessary but German would be quite helpful. French is useful for travelling around the country. But again, not strictly necessary.

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7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Not really.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Yes, public transport is fantastic, though expensive. taxis are very expensive and there is no UBER or other similar service in Bern.

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

I think anything would be fine though parking might be challenging for really large cars/SUVs. gas is expensive so gas mileage might be a consideration.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes, it is affordable and easy to set up.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

There are lots of good, easy options.

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

No quarantine but a bureaucratic and expensive process is required. Good vets, but like everything else, expensive. Lots of green space in public for dog walking and it is pretty pet friendly.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

The Work permit process is not as easy as it should be and employment is limited if you don't speak fluent German. Bern is a small town really. The US Embassy is also small and everything moves at a snail's pace. If one can telecommute from here, that would be great. Local salaries are high. and unemployment is quite low. Swiss life is good!

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Yes, but again, language might be a barrier without German.

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3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Yes, there are occasions for formal dress but generally business casual works.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

No, Bern is a very safe place.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Good medical care, no unusual concerns.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

Excellent.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

It's very similar to the US -- it is Western Europe. If you can manage there, you can manage here.

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5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

No.

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6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Four seasons, so far, all gorgeous.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

The international School of Bern and the British School are the main options for the embassy community. Both are small. My kids are in high school at ISB. It is fine. Again, small. Communication is rather lacking from the administration but the teachers all seem good. If your child does well at school generally, he/she will be fine but probably not particularly challenged. Compared to other international schools we have experienced this one is nice but average. They do have some cool programs like an outdoor education week near the start of school and ski/snowboarding Fridays in winter. The school does charge for everything -- every away sports game, every field trip, the aforementioned special weeks. There is a good but expensive cafeteria.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

I don't have experience with this but I would imagine not much.

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

No. Most Swiss work part time and/or stay home with young kids; Child care is very expensive. Babysitting costs about 20 CHF per hour.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Yes, lots of opportunities but language is a barrier. However, lots and lots of outdoor activities and older kids can travel around safely.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

It seems small but there are many third country nationals here. Bern is just a small town. Most people seem happy here.

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2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

There are lots of clubs and things to do. There are so many outdoor activities and easy travel opportunities here (plus we have received SO MANY visitors since coming here) there is plenty to entertain yourself.

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3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Yes there is something fo everyone here though it seems geared to the outdoorsy.

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4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Yes. While Swiss are on the conservative side they are European and it is all cool.

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5. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?

The Swiss take effort and need time to warm up but overall I have found them to be very helpful and accommodating. Speaking Swiss German is also helpful but again there are many many non Swiss folks here. You can make friends.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Like everywhere, there is definitely racism and sexism abounding here .

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

It is stunningly beautiful green, clean, wondrously, breathtakingly gorgeous. Roads and transportation are terrific, travel is easy and there is more to do and seethan can be done and seen in a couple of years. Floating in the Aare River in summer may be the best thing i have done, anywhere.

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Switzerland is an endless opportunity to discover beautiful spots, places, views. There is, literally something for everyone. The sledding is serious and the rafting on the Aare river is just golden.

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Not really. Spend your money on travel and outdoor adventure.

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

It is really incredibly beautiful and green. Walking here is a joy and there is just so so much cultural, outdoorsy stuff happening (much of it free) all the time.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

It is so, so so expensive.

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2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Yes, of course.

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3. But don't forget your:

Skis, snow board, camping equipment, bathing suit, sense of adventure, sturdy walking shoes, camping equipment, camera, etc.

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