So, we got our so long desired jobs. How do we proceed? Well, let’s start with the beginning: what documents do we need?
The work market in Switzerland is pretty interesting. Switzerland is part of the Schengen area but is not part of the European Union. Romania, on the other hand, is exactly the other way around. So the regulations are not as relaxed as you may think. Basically, to be able to work in Switzerland as an expat you will need a work permit.
This permit can be L – temporary, valid for at most one year, B – definitive, valid for 5 years and can be renewed if there’s proof of the employment or G – if you are a cross-border commuter. Any employer, when asking for a permit for you, has to justify the decision of hiring you instead of a local person, usually stating that the job opening couldn’t be filled for a long time and that you were the ideal candidate for the job.
So you need to have something special for them to agree with you working here. Also, because we have become the embarrassment of the entire European area, for Romanians and Bulgarians was introduced, for a few years, an annual quota of at most 996 B permits that can be issued across all Switzerland.
This quota appeared because some people, apparently mostly from Romania and Bulgaria, were coming here, working for a few months, and then collecting unemployment even though they didn’t contribute too much to that fund. So we discussed with our employer about this situation and we have decided to have an initial contract for one year and to apply for the L permit.
We realized that, even if we applied for the B permit and we wouldn’t get it due to the quota, we couldn’t apply afterward for the L permit because they could believe that this is an attempt to bypass the quota and would refuse our L permits as well.
And although Basel is right near the border, and we could have applied for a G permit, we hope that, over time, we could try to apply for citizenship, and it’s pretty hard to demonstrate your connection with the Swiss community and culture when you don’t live in this country, even though, of course, the rent and the cost of living outside of Switzerland would have been more affordable.
Concerning the paperwork, almost all the things that we needed to do were connected to each other. Once we received our contracts by post (yes, these people trust their mailing service and they send important documents like that), so after two weeks from the sent date, we could try to find a place to rent.
Looking for a place to rent in Switzerland
The real estate market is very badly balanced at the moment, the offer is way smaller than the demand, so the landlords can afford to be very picky when it comes to their decision. That’s why we found so many horror stories online, like how they ask for account balance proof from your bank, or your work contracts to see that you can afford the place, recommendations from former landlords where you have lived before or from former employers and other such things.
You basically come to an appointment to see the place as you go to an interview, and the landlords can choose their best candidates. Of course, our Romanian name was of no help at all, so we were a little scared of this step. So we started scraping all sites we knew and, most of all, all options for furnished apartments. We discovered that here, most people rent apartments unfurnished, only with the kitchen in place, and they rent or buy the furniture after that.
For us this was not an option: since we weren’t here, we couldn’t handle so many things exclusively online and there was a great chance of screwing things up. Also, our first day here was going to be the first Easter day, so no one would have worked then to bring us our furniture. So we tried our best to find an acceptable solution.
Also, we wanted to find a parking space we could use, or an option to pay for it at a third party because the city is not actually car-friendly and our dear car could have been a problem, but it brought here all of our belongings, the poor thing.
And, let’s face it, we also had a budget we had to take into account, we weren’t planning on spending here more than we were going to earn.
So we started the house-hunting process. Since we were really panicked about this whole thing, we thought about having as many meetings to view houses as possible, so we could increase our chances of not sleeping in the train station. And we started to apply on all websites we could find on a Saturday evening, around 10 PM.
What do you know? No one answered to our applications. We slept the whole night dreaming about making our own home out of cardboard boxes or on a beach in a park. The next morning we started the process again, applying to hundreds of offers. And even though in Switzerland people usually relax on Sundays, we even got a few confirmations.
The first one was a really nice lady, Monika (she has my mother’s name), and she called to have a small talk with us. And, although I was strongly shaking due to nervousness, I still had a really nice feeling while talking to her, she calmed me down really fast. We established the first meeting with her in a period of time we had previously agreed we would like to come to visit.
It’s almost like after we talked to her, everything else just got fixed. We only had this meeting scheduled, but we bought our plane tickets and hotel reservation to come and see the place. And after that, we started getting a bunch of confirmations from other landlords too. It looked like it would never stop!
In the end, we had around 12 meetings scheduled in three days, we hoped to be able to fit them all in two-hour intervals for each meeting. The meeting with Monika was still the first one from the first day because we liked her and the house very much and we were really hoping to get it. But if this would not have happened, the other options were still really good, but we had already decided on our favorite from the list.
Before coming to these meetings we went to translate our documents. There was nothing written anywhere that we may need this, but we thought that if there’s a need for translated documents we’ll be in big trouble if we don’t have them.
I tried to translate everything I could think of, but the lady from the authorized translations place kept on asking about different translation types, like with or without an apostille (I sure hope this is the right word for it, I don’t even know what that means in Romanian) or which type of legalization will I need, and other different terms I have no idea about.
I asked her what I thought would work, based on no real information and hoped for the best, since I didn’t have any concrete knowledge about what’s needed. We also printed all the bank information we could so we would be able to prove we’re not in huge debt. Of course, we also had some copies of our work contracts because, after two weeks spent at the Romanian post company, we had finally received them.
And because we were going to Basel rather soon, we decided to take the signed original papers to our future workplace ourselves so that they’ll arrive earlier than two weeks. Anyway, we were thinking that if everything was going to work easily and the time would allow us, it was going to be a good idea to also apply for the work permit while in Basel, so we actually needed to have all the possible documents with us.
Visiting places to rent
So, with all the possible documents and still afraid it won’t be enough, we went to Basel. On the morning of our first scheduled visit, Monika sent us an email that she’s waiting for us and we were both nervous as if we had a date, each of us with their respective fantasy partner.
We got to the meeting place and we fell in love right away with the amount of green space and the quietness of the area. Monika and her husband, John, turned out to be some super cool people. They were very warm and friendly and we never felt we were in the middle of a business meeting, but we had a constant feeling we were four adults that are just talking about random stuff.
We tried to show them our work contracts, our bank account statements, we were ready to do anything to prove we were trustworthy. They were very firm in stopping us from these things, telling us that our financial situation is something very personal and that they don’t feel comfortable knowing this about us.
They took a very brief look at our work contracts just to see the company and the period of employment and didn’t even get to the financial part of if. They were actually joking that we’re programmers, we should be able to afford to pay rent. Also, we were ready to pay for 2-3 months of rent in advance, as we had read on all websites.
They told us that, because they also rented another place, they have encountered this situation and they felt that was a huge amount of money to pay in one go. This being said, they told us they would like a deposit of 500 francs if it’s not too much for us; this is about a third of one month’s rent. We were amazed by these people and their empathy. We were, of course, convinced we wanted the apartment, it was just their choice to make.
Although usually, landlords end these meetings with: “We’ll call you back!”, they decided right away that they wanted us for their apartment. We didn’t know what to do, it was like the first thing that went so well for us in such a long time. We started all the process by directly paying them the first rent and the deposit, we signed the contract and, because they’re really nice, they took us to the Gemeinde, an office for local population monitoring, to declare our future moving in here.
Of course, they also had to declare their part of this contract, to be able to properly apply and pay their taxes for the current year. We spent almost 15 minutes in there. They asked for our passports and marriage certificate from the pile of documents we had with us, and the work contracts to be able to define our tax system.
The only thing that took more time was for us to get to the train station and take some pictures of us which we knew we would need, but didn’t think we would need them right away. And even if I told everyone I had the documents officially translated, no one cared, so that’s money thrown away right there.
And because we don’t live exactly in Basel, but in a small town nearby, we asked them where do we have to go to apply for the work permits: where we work or where we live? By the way, the two are also part of two different cantons, so our question actually applied to two different cantonal authorities.
And the answer was: Well, you have all the needed documents to apply, minus the pictures you’ll bring me in an hour or so, we can put everything in an envelope and send your application by post, so you don’t have to waste your time going there, and we’ll give you some sort of a proof of application so you can start working until you get the official one by post at your new home.
I would like you to read again, slowly, what you just read, and to think about all official counters you had to go in your whole life. So the lady, a hired person in a public institution, although not having to and her job didn’t cover this, did something for us, expats in her country, to help us and not make us spend time going around places.
So it can be done! We’re still in shock, to be honest. After we went to the train station to take the pictures and use the Wi-fi to cancel all of our meetings for the next days, we took the pictures to the office and got the document that proved we applied for the work permit. Just like that.
After the storm
Since now we had a huge amount of free time on our hands and our state of mind was relaxed, we started to take advantage of the Basel card and visit museums, see places, go to France by tram, since to Germany we had already gone when we came in for the interview (LINK Basel). We also spent some time in some shopping places to decide which are the things we should bring with us from Romania and which are not worth it for us to bring along.
We basically took a small vacation due to our newly earned free time, which I have to admit it’s pretty unusual. Of course, we also went to give in our work contracts, but the fact that we had everything we needed made us very relaxed and confident to try to discover the city we were going to move in.
Well, that’s about it. I’m aware that we were probably very lucky. But I cannot help but notice that the horror stories are very far away from the truth. The cold people the Swiss apparently are is nothing else but a stereotype like the Romanians that steal and the English that drink. Every Swiss person I have encountered until now was very eager to help me or to point me in the direction of someone who can.
Also, they’re absolutely not reluctant to expats, but are actually really curious about the place you come from and how do you do certain things in your country. I will say more about this in the future posts, once we start to integrate and adapt more, but the feeling, for now, is that we landed in a country that we thought it was nice, but it is apparently better than we expected it to be.