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Old 29.01.2011, 14:40
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My opinion on IT contracting in Geneva

Well, I've been working out here in Geneva as an IT contractor for almost 6 months now and thought it was time to air my opinion.

First the positive: it's all quite pretty with the lake and the mountains, there's no crime to speak of and, if you have the money, you can ski at the weekends in winter.

Now the negative:
  • The money sounded quite good and I was hoping to save a fair bit however after taxes, agent fees, compulsory pension, compulsory health care, food, my UK mortgage (not excessive) and a couple of flights back each month I end up with pretty much nothing!
  • The language. Geneva bills itself as an international town but, put simply, you're screwed if you don't speak French. Shops, transport, everything is French. What I don't understand is why people would hire an English speaker to work in an office where French is spoken 99% of the day.
  • Apartments in Geneva are at a premium - there are simply too many people here for the housing on offer. If you intend to bring your family over then expect to be searching for around 4 months for a suitable place. Even sharing a flat isn't easy - expect about 2 months of searching. Most people then want a number of months rent upfront but of course your work won't tell you your contract has been extended until the week before it's due. Be prepared to live in a soulless dormitory town on the French border.
  • Health - best to just not get ill as most health cover won't pay everything. My colleague caught the flu and had to take some days of work but he needed a note from a doctor to say he'd been ill - this cost him over 200 CHF (140 GBP).
  • Social life is poor. Most socialising seems to centre around the home and the various bars are quite uninviting. There are a few more western orientated bars but the costs are prohibitive (7 pounds a pint?).
  • Shopping - I don't shop much to be fair, but I understand that others do so I'll give you a simple example. I was really pleased to be invited to play a game of tennis a few weeks ago but of course I had no equipment here. A cheap tracksuit cost approx 150 CHF (100 GBP), the cheapest training shoes I could find were approx 220 CHF (150 GBP) and a racquet was simply beyond my reach. In the UK I quite like to cook a roast dinner at the weekend but I can't afford to here and instead find myself cruising the aisles for sale items.

I'm sure it's better socially for those that are fluent in French and it's better financially if you don't have a family to support in the UK but most of the IT contractors in the American bank I work for are in roughly the same position as myself.

Mike
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Old 29.01.2011, 14:45
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Re: My opinion on IT contracting in Geneva

Maybe you'd like to stick around and reply to the constant stream of new folk who come on here asking questions about their planned move to paradise and get a bit upset when we try to explain the problems of housing, language, cost of living, health insurance.
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Old 29.01.2011, 14:56
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Re: My opinion on IT contracting in Geneva

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Well, I've been working out here in Geneva as an IT contractor for almost 6 months now and thought it was time to air my opinion.

First the positive: it's all quite pretty with the lake and the mountains, there's no crime to speak of and, if you have the money, you can ski at the weekends in winter.

Now the negative:
  • The money sounded quite good and I was hoping to save a fair bit however after taxes, agent fees, compulsory pension, compulsory health care, food, my UK mortgage (not excessive) and a couple of flights back each month I end up with pretty much nothing!
  • The language. Geneva bills itself as an international town but, put simply, you're screwed if you don't speak French. Shops, transport, everything is French. What I don't understand is why people would hire an English speaker to work in an office where French is spoken 99% of the day.
  • Apartments in Geneva are at a premium - there are simply too many people here for the housing on offer. If you intend to bring your family over then expect to be searching for around 4 months for a suitable place. Even sharing a flat isn't easy - expect about 2 months of searching. Most people then want a number of months rent upfront but of course your work won't tell you your contract has been extended until the week before it's due. Be prepared to live in a soulless dormitory town on the French border.
  • Health - best to just not get ill as most health cover won't pay everything. My colleague caught the flu and had to take some days of work but he needed a note from a doctor to say he'd been ill - this cost him over 200 CHF (140 GBP).
  • Social life is poor. Most socialising seems to centre around the home and the various bars are quite uninviting. There are a few more western orientated bars but the costs are prohibitive (7 pounds a pint?).
  • Shopping - I don't shop much to be fair, but I understand that others do so I'll give you a simple example. I was really pleased to be invited to play a game of tennis a few weeks ago but of course I had no equipment here. A cheap tracksuit cost approx 150 CHF (100 GBP), the cheapest training shoes I could find were approx 220 CHF (150 GBP) and a racquet was simply beyond my reach. In the UK I quite like to cook a roast dinner at the weekend but I can't afford to here and instead find myself cruising the aisles for sale items.

I'm sure it's better socially for those that are fluent in French and it's better financially if you don't have a family to support in the UK but most of the IT contractors in the American bank I work for are in roughly the same position as myself.

Mike
If you think it's bad now, consider how much your eyes would be watering if the exchange rate was still hovering round 2.3/2.4, instead of the current 1.5/1.6
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Old 29.01.2011, 15:18
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Re: My opinion on IT contracting in Geneva

I suppose I could become a moderator of disillusionment. I was also going to put in a section about EasyJet but figured I might come across as a bit of a complainer
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Old 29.01.2011, 15:19
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Re: My opinion on IT contracting in Geneva

Been there, done that, still here and managing to survive but it is not easy.

Money, well the slime balls off agents just pull the "low tax" in order to catch interest and fail to explain the real costs of living here.

At the end of the day it depends if you are here just to work and make some money for a short time and then go back to the UK and continue life there or whether you want to settle in Geneva.

I know how bad it can be, I was stuck in a hotel for my first three months and only saw my family once in that time, the low point was my young children on the phone crying as they missed me.

Our intention was to move permanently here and I saw my job disappear in front of my eyes just after I moved my family here at my own expense. Guess a tribe of Bob's have a better life at my expense but that is life, profit before people.

More than three years on I would say were are still learning more and more things about life here but we would not change it.

Yes, it can be tough here and it is hard work to make it work for you.

There is a lot of expenses you can claim through the agency which if they are doing there job properly should make the financial reward better for you.

Do you intend to stay longer?

If so I can probably offer quite a bit of advice over a cup of tea!
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Old 29.01.2011, 18:12
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Re: My opinion on IT contracting in Geneva

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I suppose I could become a moderator of disillusionment. I was also going to put in a section about EasyJet but figured I might come across as a bit of a complainer
Maybe Newbies who only complain annoy us a bit at first. However, you can do your reputation a lot of good if you also tell us how you coped. Buying perishables in shops towards evening when the goods are marked down because they have to be sold or removed from the shelves is one thing which is mentioned on here. Have you found places to go or things to do which don't cost the earth? Did you make any friends (other than work colleagues)? How did you cope without the language? It could make interesting reading.
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Old 29.01.2011, 18:31
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Re: My opinion on IT contracting in Geneva

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  • Shopping - I don't shop much to be fair, but I understand that others do so I'll give you a simple example. I was really pleased to be invited to play a game of tennis a few weeks ago but of course I had no equipment here. A cheap tracksuit cost approx 150 CHF (100 GBP), the cheapest training shoes I could find were approx 220 CHF (150 GBP) and a racquet was simply beyond my reach. In the UK I quite like to cook a roast dinner at the weekend but I can't afford to here and instead find myself cruising the aisles for sale items.
Is it not possible for you to hop over into France and take advantage of the weak euro? Only 1.30CHF for a Euro, was 1.47 a year ago. I mean, agreed, the price of a joint of beef in CH is crazy, but it's cheaper in France isn't it?

Useful post though!
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Old 29.01.2011, 18:58
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Re: My opinion on IT contracting in Geneva

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...[*]Health - best to just not get ill as most health cover won't pay everything. My colleague caught the flu and had to take some days of work but he needed a note from a doctor to say he'd been ill - this cost him over 200 CHF (140 GBP)...
The excess and premiums on health insurance is more than offset by the lower social contributions, as compared with what you'd pay in the UK. Even if you do get sick, and have maxed out your excess. (The most I'll pay in a year, including premiums is around 7000CHF. Couple that with the social deductions and compare and contrast with UK EENIC and ERNIC)

But contracting in Geneva does sound pretty crap. You're not the first I've heard complain about it in these terms.

I suspect that some agencies are screwing over UK contractors. It seems that a contractor who'd expect, say, £300 a day in the UK, is being offered 550CHF, which looks good - £70 a day more coupled with lower taxes! But the same contract a few years ago would have been paying 700CHF. In those days the agent might adding 100CHF on top of that to charge the client.

What's the betting that the client is still paying 800CHF a day? And the agency is now making CHF250 a day off the contract?
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Old 29.01.2011, 19:41
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Re: My opinion on IT contracting in Geneva

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Do you intend to stay longer?

If so I can probably offer quite a bit of advice over a cup of tea!
My contract ends shortly and I won't be renewing for the above reasons. It's very kind of you to offer advise though and I'd certainly take you up on it if anything can be done retroactively.

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Maybe Newbies who only complain annoy us a bit at first. However, you can do your reputation a lot of good if you also tell us how you coped. Buying perishables in shops towards evening when the goods are marked down because they have to be sold or removed from the shelves is one thing which is mentioned on here. Have you found places to go or things to do which don't cost the earth? Did you make any friends (other than work colleagues)? How did you cope without the language? It could make interesting reading.
I'll admit my forum reputation isn't really a big concern to me and the post was more to offer a few home truths for those considering contracting here in Geneva. I coped by simply living like a monk for 6 months. I cycle everywhere which is quite enjoyable and also saves the tram fare. The local Coop (supermarket) do a rose wine which is far from great but only costs around 3 CHF/ltr and I drink that while reading books on my Kindle - I've read approx 50 books in the past 6 months and I'd hate to say how much wine I've drunk. I did enjoy playing backgammon at a local club on Thursday nights but had to give that up in order to register for skiing with the Geneva Ski club - you can go skiing for the day for around 70 CHF. In the summer I used to play chess in the Park d' Bastions which was quite enjoyable. If I was here longer then I'd go paragliding off the Saleve but I have no idea of the cost here.

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Is it not possible for you to hop over into France and take advantage of the weak euro? Only 1.30CHF for a Euro, was 1.47 a year ago. I mean, agreed, the price of a joint of beef in CH is crazy, but it's cheaper in France isn't it?

Useful post though!
To do this I'd really need a car or scooter - more expense. I used to live in a dormitory town on the French border and goods were cheaper there but I'd loose another 90 mins each day commuting and the place was utterly soulless after 7:30pm - the only places open were restaurants and sex shops - even the bars were closed - I found the place a bit depressing.
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Old 29.01.2011, 19:48
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Re: My opinion on IT contracting in Geneva

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I'll admit my forum reputation isn't really a big concern to me and the post was more to offer a few home truths for those considering contracting here in Geneva.
I didn't mean my comment about reputation to be taken all too seriously, but it is simply more help if you say, as you have now done, what you did about it.

It is, of course, sometimes a good idea to get folk on your side - you might want to sell something when you leave. You might be grateful for some advice about the things you shouldn't forget when you go. I bet I'm not the only EFer who has a quick check on what a person has previously written on here before deciding how much effort I am prepared to put into helping them.
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Old 29.01.2011, 20:31
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Re: My opinion on IT contracting in Geneva

When do you leave Geneva?

There are a lot of expenses you can claim and the agency should be doing this for you but again a lot are lazy, so yes, worth fighting for in my opinion.
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Old 29.01.2011, 20:41
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Re: My opinion on IT contracting in Geneva

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But contracting in Geneva does sound pretty crap. You're not the first I've heard complain about it in these terms.

I suspect that some agencies are screwing over UK contractors. It seems that a contractor who'd expect, say, £300 a day in the UK, is being offered 550CHF, which looks good - £70 a day more coupled with lower taxes! But the same contract a few years ago would have been paying 700CHF. In those days the agent might adding 100CHF on top of that to charge the client.

What's the betting that the client is still paying 800CHF a day? And the agency is now making CHF250 a day off the contract?
There's a huge difference between contracting and permanent work in Switzerland but this post was specifically about contracting in Geneva. I didn't really want to get into figures but sufficient to say I'm on considerably more than any number you mention and, even though I live like a monk, I'm still having issues saving any money. I should also point out I'm supporting my family back in the UK as well as myself. If I was ill (contractors don't get paid when they're ill) or I took a holiday then there's a strong likelihood I'd make a loss over a given month. This was definitely not the impression I was given by my agent before I arrived!

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I didn't mean my comment about reputation to be taken all too seriously
No offence taken
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Old 29.01.2011, 20:51
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Re: My opinion on IT contracting in Geneva

So basically the morals of the story are:

- Foreign contractors who don't know the market are willing to take lower salaries because they think in their home currency terms it's a lot of money.

- Remember to research the market where you are moving to. The first thing you read about Geneva is the fact there is a housing shortage/crisis.

- It's expensive to support two households.

- Contractors should never get ill or take holidays as they don't get paid when they are sick or on holiday.

- Don't believe everything you are told by people with vested interests.
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Old 29.01.2011, 21:06
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Re: My opinion on IT contracting in Geneva

You've probably summed it up reasonably well but, to be fair, there's no real way of getting an objective view unless there are posts like this one pointing out the pitfalls. Hence my post.
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Old 29.01.2011, 21:23
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Re: My opinion on IT contracting in Geneva

I been a (SAP) contractor in CH for 6 years now, before then a permie here for 3 years, and before then a contractor in the UK, so I've some experience.

I am aware that there are some agencies with very dodgy practices. Sorry it hasn't worked out for you.
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Old 29.01.2011, 21:24
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Re: My opinion on IT contracting in Geneva

To be fair, your circumstance is different from many in that you are managing two households, which must be a significant expense. Perhaps others may not have this additional requirement and therefore the financial issues you highlight may not be so challenging for others not in a similar circumstance. Without knowing details (and no need to go into that, that is your business) it is difficult for others to make a judgement.

Having no knowledge of life in Geneva your opinion on being english speaking only in a primarily french speaking zone is of value. It can be challenging dealing with government bodies etc without the language.

Last edited by AnAustralian; 29.01.2011 at 21:35.
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Old 29.01.2011, 21:35
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Re: My opinion on IT contracting in Geneva

Hi Mike,

re: the high cost of buying things, i try to offset this by making lists of things that I know I can pick up in the UK before each trip. I've saved quite a bit by holding off buying clothes and other such stuff for when i visit the UK every couple of months.

Kash.
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Old 29.01.2011, 23:13
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Re: My opinion on IT contracting in Geneva

I can't comment on the other points made, but concerning the money thing... no office, but unless you're making a lot less than the general +/- CHF 800 that IT contracting does nowadays (= no support role), or having a big family to feed, I think you're doing something wrong. Furthermore, I call taking "a couple of flights back each month" quite a luxury.
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Old 31.01.2011, 09:14
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Re: My opinion on IT contracting in Geneva

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I can't comment on the other points made, but concerning the money thing... no office, but unless you're making a lot less than the general +/- CHF 800 that IT contracting does nowadays (= no support role), or having a big family to feed, I think you're doing something wrong. Furthermore, I call taking "a couple of flights back each month" quite a luxury.
I kind of agree with you here, except for the flights back.

I used to do the commute the other way - Basel to Birmingham. Of course, neither city is as expensive as Geneva, but there were no cheap flights - just Swiss. I went out Monday, came home Friday. I shared an apartment with three other contractors, so the costs there were lower. On the other hand, I've been on contracts where I've stayed in hotels, at my own (company's) expense. I've never had a loss making contract. Quite the contrary.
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Old 31.01.2011, 12:52
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Re: My opinion on IT contracting in Geneva

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If you think it's bad now, consider how much your eyes would be watering if the exchange rate was still hovering round 2.3/2.4, instead of the current 1.5/1.6
Is that the chicken or the egg?

When exchange rate was hovering round 2.3/2.4 then contractor rates were higher.

Now new contractors convert offers received into their home currency at the current rate (as someone already posted) & think the Swiss offer is good - but as the OP now understands it is the buying power of the offer that is important - not it's equivalent value in home currency.
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