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How hard is finding work in Zurich without speaking German?

With a strong and resilient job market, Zurich is a major destination for international workers. But how important is speaking German - and can you get by if you only speak English?

A woman drinks a cup of tea while looking at her laptop
Are you looking for work in Zurich? Here's what you need to know. Photo by Dai KE on Unsplash

Living and working in Zurich offers many draw cards from high salaries, a favourable work-life balance and international working environment.

In addition to the economic power of the city, which contributes an estimated 20 percent of the overall Swiss GDP, Zurich has additional permits available to attract foreign workers. 

‘It’s competitive’: Essential advice for how to find a job in Zurich

But how important is speaking German – or indeed any Swiss language – when working in Zurich? 

Can you get by in Zurich without speaking German? 

The greater Zurich metropolitan area includes an estimated 1.6 million people, making it one of the largest German-speaking cities in the world. 

However, with half of population of the city’s urban area foreign, Zurich has an International feel. 

Indeed, it is not unusual to be asked to order in English at bars, cafes and restaurants in central areas of the city, due to the influx of foreign workers in the hospitality industry. 

Given the prevalence of English and English-speaking workers in the city, it is certainly possible to get by if you only speak English in Zurich. 

In addition to ordering in English, officials such as police officers and administrative staff at the town hall will also speak English or at least be able to direct you to someone who does. 

The same goes for private entities such as insurance companies, as well as utility companies for gas and electricity. 

Many official communications such as those from the cantonal government are also made in English. 

Can you work in Zurich without speaking German? 

Of course, the main element here is what industry you work in. English teachers will find it easier to get by in Zurich without German than emergency room nurses. 

Nikolaus Schönecker, Senior Team Lead at Hays in Zurich specialises in filling permanent roles in the IT sector. 

“The amount of roles not requiring German or Swiss German is increasing, since many companies are realising this is the only way to challenge the shortage of experts,” he says. Nevertheless, having even rudimentary language skills can set you apart from other foreign candidates.

Working remotely from Switzerland: What are the rules for foreigners?

“Show your willingness to learn German. If you aim to be able to follow business meetings in German at a B1 level and reply in English, the barriers will be lower.” 

Stephan Surber, Senior Partner at Page Executive Switzerland, advises job-hunters to connect with the local expat community as well as country-related networking organisations such as the Chambers of Commerce. 

Most of these groups including AmCham, Swiss-Chinese Chamber of Commerce and the Swedish-Swiss Chamber of Commerce also publish a list of its members online, which may be a good guide to finding international firms based in Zurich. 

He also suggests jobseekers to target expert networks such as the CFA or ACCA community for financial analysts and accountants. 

EXPLAINED: Which Swiss cantons have a minimum wage?

There are many English-language job portals on hand such as jobsinzurich.com, LinkedIn and The Local’s own search engine. But experts we spoke to said that recruitment agencies or headhunters could prove useful in finding hidden opportunities that are not yet on the market.

They can also provide feedback on interviews and ask their clients questions that a direct candidate would not usually get to ask. 

And if you eventually find yourself across an interviewer, aim to be modest and genuine. “Although self-confidence can surely help in most jobs, most Swiss people dislike bragging and overstating,” reminds Schönecker. “So try to show your best side in a realistic way.” 

What do the Local’s readers say? 

In January, 2022, The Local asked its readers about finding work in Zurich – with the importance of English a major factor. 

Generally speaking, the reader responses reflect those of the experts – that speaking German can be crucial at times, but is not necessary. 

Two thirds (66.67%) of the 30 respondents told us it was “very important” to speak German/Swiss German to find a job in Zurich. 

Just under a third said it was “beneficial but not necessary” while one respondent said it was “unimportant”. 

Have you found work in Zurich without speaking German? Or have you not? Get in touch with us at [email protected]. 

How do I find an English-speaking job in Switzerland? 

Other than contacting companies and organisations directly, you can go through a recruitment agencies such as Adecco or Manpower. If they find you a job you will not have to pay anything; the employer will be charged for their services.

There are other resources as well where you can do your own search.

First and foremost is The Local’s own search engine where industries are listed by categories.

Other resources include Jobs.ch and Glassdoor.

A more in-depth summary of how to find English-speaking work in Switzerland is available here. 

READ MORE: How to find English language jobs in Switzerland

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ZURICH

‘3,000 francs a month?’: Zurich to vote on trying universal basic income

On Sunday September 25th, while the Swiss will decide on three national issues in a national referendum, Zurich voters will weigh in on a pilot project involving the recurring issue of universal basic income.

'3,000 francs a month?': Zurich to vote on trying universal basic income

The idea of the government handing out a set amount of money to its citizens is not a novel concept in Switzerland: in 2016, a referendum made Switzerland the first country in the world to vote at national level on this issue.

But 76.9 percent of voters rejected this initiative because they could not see how it could be funded without increasing taxes.

Some left-leaning districts in Zurich, however, voted in favour of the universal basic income (UBI), and while nothing came of it on the national level at the time, the city will re-vote on this issue on Sunday.

READ MORE: Zurich to roll out universal basic income pilot project

While the exact details are still muddy, voters will decide whether to offer “free” money on monthly basis to 500 residents chosen for the pilot project.

Though the amount is not yet determined, it could likely be between 2,500 and 3,000 francs a month.

Contrary to what had been proposed at the federal level in 2016, the part paid by the city government will vary according to income from work.

For the political left, which launched the proposal, UBI “represents a possible answer to current challenges such as automation, poverty and the climate crisis”, the group says on its website.

Among the opponents, the municipal council “believes that paid work is the most important element to ensure the livelihood of individuals and at the same time create social prosperity”.

Does this proposal have a chance of success?

Based on the outcome of the national vote, probably not.

On a municipal level too, such initiatives have already failed in Bern and Lucerne.

However, as Swiss media points out, “Zurich is very left”, so perhaps UBI can get more of a boost there.

As far as the national referendum on September 25th is concerned, this article explains what issues will be voted on:

Pensions, farming and tax: What issues will the Swiss vote on this month?
 

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