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Old 13.01.2021, 04:42
FabioSuave FabioSuave is offline
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Yes. This.

OP, if you arrive at the Swiss border with only a dollar and a dream, you will, at first, be without a roof over your head, and hungry.

However, there are drop-in centres where anyone who is homeless can go by and, as long as they aren't yet full for the night, get a place to sleep. Typically, they also serve something like soup and bread. In Zurich, for example:
Next day, you take yourself off to the Swiss Social Services (called Sozialamt, in German), and tell them that you're a penniless returning Swiss. From the perspective of Switzerland, any Swiss out there, who is going to come back here, is "returning", even if they've never been to Switzerland before.

You will then get most likely get some kind of immediate support. It may be vouchers to sleep in a hostel, or perhaps food coupons with which you can buy a hot meal, or groceries, at specific shops or centres. That's intended as short-term help, so you don't starve. Within days, you will be called in to see a social worker. They are generally overworked and have heard every crazy story under the sun. They're heartily sick of liars. Depending on their personalities, this may make them hard and cold, or all the more compassionate.

You - being Swiss - are completely entitled to this help. You just have to politely answer all their questions, knowing that, if it's person's bad day, you may be berated for having arrived with nothing, expecting the tax-payers to support you, just like that, etc., etc., or you might be told: "Welcome to Switzerland" and "get a job as soon as possible".

It can take some weeks to sort it out, during which you might have to keep going back to ask for food vouchers.

Once it is in place, the Sozial Services will cover
  • a modest rent (a room in a shared apartment, see:, where "free" means "available" and not that it does not cost anything),
  • compulsory medical insurance premium,
  • the self-pay portion of some medical bills, and
  • a small monthly sum with which you are supposed to cover all your living costs.
It is not easy to live at that level, but one can get by.

Here are some budget examples of low incomes: file:///I:/Downloads/01_19_WZ_Einzel_2250-3000%20(3).pdf

Typical killers in low and medium budgets are: smoking, unchecked usage of electronics, servicing debt and eating out.
In other words:
  • if you smoke, give it up before you get here,
  • before you leave tell everyone that you're going to be online only sporadically during the first few months
  • once here learn about the costs of internet, phone, etc. before you choose a provider and scheme
  • don't take any loans once here, and
  • learn to cook well.
Examples of avoidable costs:
You will most likely have to see that social worker several times. The thing to do, to keep the relationship with him/her working, for the fairness towards The System and, of course, for your own dignity, is find work as soon as you possibly can. Document and demonstrate your every effort to find employment and to get a really good command of the language.

Whatever you earn will reduce the amount of Social Security you receive. That's fair. Hopefully, at some point you'll find a job which pays enough for you to no longer need any of their assistance, at all.

wow doropfiz, this information is priceless to me. thank you for being so detailed and helpful.

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Fabio, as you make plans and do your research, another resource that might be helpful to learn about how your field is practiced in Switzerland might be the Schweizerischer Verband der Berufs-Masseure:

I was concerned about this, thank you!!

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Another thing to look into and read up on is taxation.

As a U.S. citizen you're still required to file taxes no matter where you live in the world. You may or may not owe tax, both in the USA and in Switzerland.

For people who work abroad, the U.S. tax law includes what is known as Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (FEIE) in order to reduce your taxable income. I don't know whether Swiss social assistance counts as "earned income". I suspect it does not, as pension income doesn't count as "earned income" because you're not actively earning it. If that's the case, the full amount of your social assistance would be taxable and you'd need to use tax treaties to offset so you're not paying double tax.

Remember that 70K sounds small for Switzerland, but 70K for a single person in the USA is very good indeed, especially as today's exchange rate makes 70K CHF to 78,651 USD. A quick glance a the 2019 tax table shows that after the standard deduction but before any treaties were applied, you'd owe $10,483 in taxes.

You really don't want to wind up even worse off by having to pay U.S. tax on the small amount of social help you receive here.

In terms of banking, few banks accept U.S. citizens as clients these days, even if they happen to be Swiss too. You'd be looking at UBS, Credit Suisse, and maybe PostFinance. You'll also have to sign away your privacy rights under Swiss law.

I'm not trying to scare you. I think it's good you're doing your homework now instead of hopping on a plane and hoping for the best.

(Edited to update figures)

thank you so much for the information and kind wishes! nothing to be scared

OP here

I cannot thank all of you enough for the valuable information and words of encouragement you all have provided. I was not expecting anyone to notice this thread at all, but I have enjoyed reading everyone's responses over the past few days.

Thank you all again for your help, words of encouragement, and reality checks. you have all motivated me that much more to make this a reality in the near future.

Last edited by roegner; 13.01.2021 at 08:08. Reason: Merging consecutive posts and removed link as per forum rules
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