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What you need to know before studying… in Switzerland

A multilingual country where the international map is a historical tradition, Switzerland attracts nearly 10,000 French students each year. Which institutions to choose? What budget should you plan? The Student takes stock of what you need to know before crossing the border.

It is the fourth favorite destination for French students according to Campus France. Nestled in the heart of Europe, Switzerland is a country which – although small in size – is rich in four national languages: German, French, Italian and Romansh. No wonder it attracts young people from all over the continent, who flock to join its recognized schools. If you too are tempted, L’Etudiant helps you prepare for your mobility.

Focus on the Swiss education system

In Switzerland, higher education is called “tertiary”. There are two types of institutions there. First, the university colleges : oriented towards fundamental research, they bring together universities, the best known of which are in Zurich, Geneva and Basel, and the federal polytechnic schools, in particular in Zurich and Lausanne (which offer education in natural sciences, engineering sciences and architecture).

Then, universities of applied sciences : more practical, they attract more and more students. The country is well known for the quality of its hotel training. Specificity of the system, the establishments are either French-speaking or German-speaking.

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Switzerland is no more in the Erasmus+ program since 2014, but it is one of the partner countries in the same way as Canada, the United States or Brazil. Less easy, therefore, to enter a Swiss institution, even when you are European. However, you can integrate a university exchange with the parallel program SEMP (Swiss-European mobility program). Otherwise, you will have to apply to universities yourself, and do it well in advance, to put the odds on your side, because the selection is tough in some establishments.

Good to know: if you are studying in Switzerland, your semester (or your year) will be automatically recognized in France thanks to ECTS (European credit transfer and accumulation system).

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Health, currency: what you should not forget

You are a national of a European country, you will therefore only need an up-to-date identity document (or a passport) to cross the border. If you are leaving for more than three months, you do not need a visa, but you must still justify your presence on the territory with health insurance, sufficient financial means to meet your needs, ensure that your main objective is to continue your studies and be registered in a Swiss institution. This certificate is valid for one year.

You would have understood it, health insurance is therefore compulsory to reside on Swiss soil. Remember to apply for a European health insurance card: free, it allows you to be taken care of in the event of a problem.

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Finally, since Switzerland is not part of the euro zone, the currency is the Swiss franc : you will therefore have to inform your bank of your mobility and see what it can offer you to avoid paying exchange rates that are too high.

Budget: a very high cost of living

If you leave without an exchange program, you will have to pay registration fees, called university “taxes”. Count between 500 and 2,000 € per yearbut it can climb, especially in Italian-speaking Switzerland.

Apart from this expense, the whole of life is expensive in Switzerland. Several studies agree on an average monthly budget of around €1,700 to €1,800 for students (including university taxes). According to The Cost of Expat, your budget in Switzerland could increase by an average of 25%. To give you an idea, here is an indicative table where Swiss francs are converted into euros.

Cost in Paris Cost in Bern Percentage difference
Monthly rent for a room in the city center €1,175.49 €858.51 – 18.5%
Monthly pass for public transport 75 € €71.36 – 4.9%
Modest restaurant for one person 15 € €18.07 + 20.5%
fast food menu €8.90 €11.74 + 31.9%
Water bottle (1.5L) €0.88 €0.68 – 22.7%
Local draft beer (0.50 L) €6.50 €5.42 – 16.6%
Rice (1 kg) €1.83 €2.18 + 19.1%
Potatoes (1 kg) €1.92 2,17 € + 13%

Few scholarships are offered by Swiss universities for foreign students, or most often at doctoral level. If you leave with the SEMP programme, you may however be granted aid, the amount of which depends on the host institutions (€300 per month at the University of Geneva for example). You can also request aid from your region of origin, if it offers any, as well as aid for international mobility (400 € per month).

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For housing, again, a significant budget to plan

Places are rare in university residences. If you manage to find one, count more than 500 CHF per month (about 470 €). On the private car park side, the prices are very high (even much more than in Paris!): rents generally start at €500 and can go up to €1,400 for standard accommodation. To optimize your roommate searches, go to the Colocappart website.

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Student life: some good tips

You can opt for the European Youth Card : valid for one year, its cost is €10 and it allows you to take advantage of numerous advantages throughout Europe. In order to lighten your daily expenses, turn to second-hand stores which are numerous in Switzerland.

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