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SWISS CITIZENSHIP

Reader question: What does being ‘successfully integrated’ in Switzerland mean?

One of the criteria for foreigners to be naturalised in Switzerland is that they should be well integrated into Swiss society. In many instances, this requirement is more important than the knowledge of the country’s history.

Reader question: What does being 'successfully integrated' in Switzerland mean?
Complaining about bells around cows' necks is a ground for refusal of naturalization. Photo by Fabrice Coffrini / aFP

For the authorities, whether on the federal, cantonal, or municipal level, it is important that new citizens have fully adjusted to, and assimilated, “the Swiss way of life”.

This means that they “should participate in the economic, social and cultural life of society”, according to the State Secretariat for Migration.

This requires not only fluency in the national language of a particular region, but also familiarity with the Swiss way of life and local customs.

READ MORE: Zurich makes naturalisation free for under 25s

While preparing for their naturalisation procedures and questions from officials, many foreigners learn about Switzerland’s history.

They are then surprised when they are asked instead about events of regional importance, such as the meaning of certain local holidays, what the main industries in the area are, or even the names of local wines.

Applicants are also sometimes asked for specific examples of how they participate in the life of their towns or villages, and what local organisations they belong to. Being a member of local choirs or volunteer fire brigades is particularly valued, as it demonstrates the willingness to be part of, and contribute to, their local communities.

This may explain why some people who seemingly qualify for Swiss citizenship because they have lived in the country for a long time, speak the language, and are gainfully employed, are turned down by local authorities.

One such example was a British café owner in canton Schwyz, who was denied citizenship after failing to answer a question about the origins of a Swiss cheese dish, raclette. 

READ MORE: How much does it cost to become a Swiss citizen?

Another well publicised example was a Dutch woman living in Aargau, whose first attempt to get a Swiss passport was turned down because she complained about the noise of cow bells in her village.

In 2020, an Italian man was denied Swiss citizenship because he failed questions on the test about animals in the local zoo. The decision was however overturned by a federal court. 

It may seem that decisions in all these cases, and others like it, were baseless and incomprehensible.

However, they illustrate that naturalisation officials determined there was lack of integration and acceptance of Swiss customs — two of the most important criteria for Swiss citizenship.

READ MORE: IN NUMBERS: How many people become Swiss each year – and where do they come from?

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For members

HEALTH INSURANCE

How to save money by changing your Swiss health policy

Switzerland’s compulsory health insurance is notoriously expensive, but you can lower the cost of premiums substantially by changing your company or coverage.

How to save money by changing your Swiss health policy

The cost of health insurance premiums usually represents at least 7 percent of a typical household budget.

An adult spends nearly 4,600 francs a year on average on the mandatory basic coverage (KVG / LaMal) alone – covering only medical care, not dental. If any extra policies are taken out, the cost is even higher.

Not only that, but premiums have been rising practically each year, and look set to go up again in 2023, possibly by as much as 10 percent — the sharpest hike in 20 years.

READ MORE: Why Swiss health premiums are set to rise — and what you can do about it

Even though these costs are high and climbing, many people keep the same health insurance for years.

However, significant savings — to the tune of thousands of francs a year — could be made simply by switching carriers or plans, from the more expensive to the cheapest ones, according to a new study by the cost comparison site Comparis.

How much and where

The amount of the savings varies depending on policyholder’s place of residence, because rates are determined by cantons.

However, Comparis calculated that over a 10-year period, people living in Zurich could have saved 33,396 francs in premium costs and for those living in Bern this amount is 30,064.

Lausanne residents could cut their costs by 36,494 francs over 10 years, 31, 032 in Geneva, and 33,490 in Basel-City.

“With the strong premium increases expected this fall, the savings potential is even greater,” said Felix Schneuwly, health insurance expert at Comparis.

So how can you save money? Here are some of the ways:

Increase your deductible

In Switzerland, the deductible (franchise) ranges from 300 to 2,500 francs – this represents the medical costs that you have to pay out of your own pocket before your health insurance kicks in.

As with most types of insurance, the lower your deductible, the higher your premiums, and vice-versa.

If you are young, healthy, and are not on any long-term medication then you can save substantially with the highest franchise.

Keep in mind, however, that if you choose the highest deductible and end up having an accident or falling sick and needing medical care, you will have to pay a greater proportion of the costs.

Switch to a less expensive plan.

The standard model for healthcare in Switzerland is that you can consult any medic that you want, and you do not need a referral to see a specialist.

However, there are some types of health insurance plans that have cheaper premiums, but impose certain limits on your access to non-emergency medical care.

For instance:

Health maintenance organisation (HMO)

Under this model, policyholders are required to consult a particular HMO practice. Two disadvantages of this alternative is a limited choice of doctors and you also need a referral to see a specialist.

However, the benefit is a premium reduction of up to 25 percent compared to the conventional insurance.

Family doctor model

Your family doctor, a general practitioner, will be designated by your insurance company and will be in charge of all your non-emergency medical treatment.

He or she will refer you to a specialist if necessary. 

If you opt for this option, you could save 20 percent on your insurance.

READ MORE: Five tips for getting cheaper health insurance in Switzerland

The Telmed alternative

If you choose this option, you have to call a telephone service and get a referral to a doctor or hospital.

This does not apply to medical emergencies and there are other exceptions, such as eye exams and annual gynaecological check-ups.

Total savings could range between 15 and 20 percent. 

Cancelling or changing your policy

If you want to cancel your current insurance policy and take up a cheaper one , you have to do so by registered letter before November 30th.

By then, you will know what your premiums will be in 2023 because your carrier must notify you of the new rates by October 31st.

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