Can You Get a Job in Switzerland If You Only Speak English?

Switzerland has once again been declared “Best Country Overall” by the 2023 U.S. News & World Report. It is therefore not surprising that many people want to migrate to this small Alpine nation. English is widely spoken, so you might be able to get by if you don’t speak the local languages. However, you can increase your chances of landing highly sought-after Switzerland expat jobs by learning basic German, French, or Italian.

Getting By with English in Switzerland

If you’d like to work in Switzerland, but you don’t speak German, French, or Italian, don’t worry. You’ll be able to get by with English, especially in metropolitan areas like Zurich and Geneva. In Switzerland’s major cities, more than 30% of the population is non-Swiss, so there are plenty of other non-native speakers. Additionally, Swiss children learn English at school, and many reach a high level of proficiency.

Despite this, making an effort to learn the local language will pay off, especially if you intend to stay longer than a few months. Learning German, French or Italian can make social interactions easier and open professional doors.

The Swiss Language Landscape

To determine which language you should learn, you first have to understand the language landscape in Switzerland. The country has four national languages:

  • German: Well over 60% of Swiss people speak German. Zurich, Basel, Berne, and Lucerne are all predominantly German-speaking.
  • French: Over 20% of people speak French in Switzerland. Geneva, Lausanne, and Neuchatel are the three biggest French-speaking cities.
  • Italian: Around 8% of the Swiss population speaks Italian. You might need to learn this language if you want to settle in the southern area of Switzerland, called Ticino.
  • Romansh: Spoken by less than 1% of the population, this language is rarely used in business.
Can You Get a Job in Switzerland If You Only Speak English?

Swiss Language Variants

Although the French and Italian dialects are slightly different to the languages spoken in France and Italy, the deviation is minor. If you already speak French or Italian, you won’t have any trouble adjusting.

The same can’t be said for German. Swiss German is a collection of dialects that are very different from standard German. If you speak standard German, you won’t necessarily understand Swiss people talking among themselves. However, it’s important to note that written communication is almost always in standard German, since Swiss German is predominantly a spoken language. Most people who move to Switzerland start by learning standard German, especially if they want to become Swiss citizens or feel at home working at companies where German is widely spoken.

Common Language Requirements for Jobs

Many Swiss employers measure your language skills by the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). This system splits language learners into six levels:

  • A1: Beginner
  • A2: Pre-Intermediate
  • B1: Intermediate
  • B2: Upper-Intermediate
  • C1: Advanced
  • C2: Proficiency

Each level takes about 100-200 hours to reach, although it depends on your aptitude, understanding of language structure, and other languages you already speak. At each level, you can take a test to prove your competency.

Swiss employers sometimes require a B1 or B2 level, especially if you’ll be communicating with team members in the local language. For customer-facing roles, a C1 level might be more appropriate.

Best Switzerland Expat Jobs for English Speakers

You can still get a job in Switzerland if you don’t speak intermediate German, French, or Italian but work in an international or English-centric industry. IT is a good example because many multinational tech companies have their headquarters or a satellite office in Switzerland. English is often the primary language in big organisations, even if the offices are located in a German or French-speaking area.

Other good options are finance and hospitality/tourism. Switzerland is also the European home of several intergovernmental organisations, such as the UN, CERN and the WHO. Jobs within these organisations are often English-speaking.

Tips for English Speakers

1. Choose an English-Friendly Location

Not every area of Switzerland is set up for English speakers. If you settle in a rural town, you might struggle to find other English speakers to spend time with. On the other hand, large cities are becoming increasingly international. According to the EF EPI English Index, Zurich, Basel, and Thurgau are the most English-speaking cantons.

2. Make Use of Expat Communities

If you arrive in Switzerland without being fluent in the local language, you might be worried about feeling left out. But this doesn’t have to be the case. The expat scene is vibrant in many cities, and you can find large groups of English speakers to interact with. Look for communities on Meetup, Facebook, or the Directory of Immigrants’ Associations.

3. Display Cultural Sensitivity

Even if you don’t speak German, French, or Italian, it’s important to display cultural sensitivity when interacting with locals. Punctuality, neutrality, and tolerance are important values in Switzerland. Make an effort to arrive at meetings on time, stick to ‘safe’ conversational topics such as travel and free-time activities, and refer to people you don’t know by their surname unless they introduce themselves with their first name. Swiss people keep work and their private lives strictly separate, so avoid calling your colleagues or business partners after hours.

4. Learn the Basics of the Local Language

If you want to stay in Switzerland for several years, it’s important to learn the basics of the local language. You can start for free with a language learning app, attend a group class, or take private lessons. Aim to spend 1-2 hours a week learning German, French, or Italian, and practice using your newly acquired vocabulary when you’re out and about.

5. Use Language Learning as a Networking Strategy

When you attend a local language class, you’ll meet other new expats. Interact with them, and ask them about their experiences. You might pick up tips about living in Switzerland, build up a social group, or even make valuable business connections.

Although you can live and work in Switzerland without speaking the local language, taking a class could be a good way to meet new people and increase your chances of landing your dream job. Apply for an IT position at Rigby AG to find out more about English-speaking Switzerland expat jobs.

Can You Get a Job in Switzerland If You Only Speak English?