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Teaching English in Switzerland

How to Move From Pipe Dream to Reality

On Lago Maggiore in Ticino, Switzerland
On Lago Maggiore in Ticino, Switzerland

If you have a very healthy bank balance, it is possible to get a permit for a lengthy stay in Switzerland. The rest of us have two or three options.

The easiest option is to fall in love and get married to a Swiss. Understandably, this might not be the most practical option and does seem a bit drastic if you are only planning on staying a year or so.

Many non-EU foreign nationals, including Americans, can stay in Switzerland without a permit for tourism or study for up to three months. After this you must leave Switzerland. You can re-enter after a month but only for a further three months - in total you cannot stay longer than six months in any one year. While in Switzerland, you have no right to work, and you cannot look for work. Working visas are available for more than three months but only employers can apply for them. The potential employee cannot enter Switzerland and take up work until the visa is granted. What this means then is that all the job hunting and the application process must be done back home.

This system works well enough for short or long-term IT specialists looking for work with large companies in Switzerland (by making use of an internet site like but doesn’t make it easy for teachers, especially when so much of our work is freelance or through word-of-mouth.

What you can do is check out some of the excellent online newsgroups such as Expats-in-Switzerland or websites such as ETAS (English Teaching Association in Switzerland) and keep an eye out for job postings. You can even announce your desire to move to Switzerland, describe your qualifications and your skills, and see if anyone based in Switzerland can help.

A word of warning: in some countries you may feel that you can get away without a visa. Don’t even think about this in Switzerland. This is a place where people know who you are and where you are. You might think you’ve been keeping a low profile but you'll feel pretty silly when the authorities knock on your door at 7 a.m. and escort you to the airport.

EU nationals have an easier time of it since The Free Movement of Persons regulations were enacted in 2002. Full details can be found on the excellent federal site "imes" (Federal Department of Foreign Affairs: Information regarding entry into Switzerland and residence). In brief an EU national can work for an initial three months without a permit (though you must register with the police), can actively look for work, and can even apply for an extension of another three months if he or she has yet to find a job. This is great news for freelance teachers.

Teaching English

Because of the strict regulations outlined above many expats got into TESOL after they arrived. They came here when their wife or husband got a job in Switzerland and never went home again; they fell in love and came here to marry a Swiss (as I did) or they arrived as a nurse, an engineer, a real estate consultant, or a language assistant, etc. and at some point changed their careers, picking up a permit to stay and a teaching qualification on the way.

Where Can I Teach?

Opportunities for teaching are much more readily available in private language schools, of which there are many in all major cities. Salaries are lower than in the state run schools and contracts can be vague or simply non-existent. In a city like Zurich you could be paid up to CHF 100 an hour (about $60) for a class. In some regions like Ticino however, you could be offered as little as $25 an hour. As you might expect there is a good demand for business English in the cities and a steady demand for general English. In addition many of the job ads are for "English for Kids" jobs. You can approach private schools directly with a copy of your resume, and remember to keep an eye on websites like the ETAS website and newsgroups where vacancies are often advertised.

Remember too that Switzerland is full of finishing schools and private boarding schools that often have teaching vacancies. Many of these also run summer courses and camps.

If you intend to live out your days in Switzerland, teaching in the state sector is a very smart idea: paid holidays, excellent salary, and a good pension. But, as you might imagine, it is extremely difficult to get into the state sector: vacancies are rare as nobody wants to leave and priority is given to Swiss teachers and Swiss qualifications. There are a large variety of state schools: vocational, professional, academic, technical - these vary from canton to canton, as does pretty much everything in Switzerland. Teaching requirements vary, too; in some there are a good number of native-speaker teachers, in others virtually none. Being known and being patient seem to be keys to success here, as does having qualifications that are acceptable in Switzerland. It could well be a long wait and it is really only possible to start the ball rolling once you are already in Switzerland, but it would be worth the wait.

Work Options in Switzerland

While not related to English language teaching, there are some agreements in place between Switzerland and about 30 countries — including the US, Australia, Canada and UK — called trainee agreements, which might be interesting to investigate. In general these agreements allow people up to the age of 30 to 35 to continue studying or vocational training in Switzerland for up to two years. (More information on the "imes" site.) There are also voluntary programs and short-term positions with summer camps — these mostly involve working with kids and can include English teaching.

Print Resources

Living and Working in Switzerland: A Survival Handbook by David Hampshire. A good book in terms of advice and making murky red tape clearer.

Why Switzerland? (3rd edition) by Jonathan Steinberg. Perceptive, and well-written for those who want to understand more about the country.

Websites The English Teachers Association of Switzerland. Events, resources, and those important job offers. Described as a one-stop shop for English speaking ex-pats in Switzerland. Full of advice, businesses, addresses. Probably more useful once you’ve arrived in Switzerland.

State Secretariat for Migration. A good resource for all questions pertaining to visas and regulations. Very easy to follow and with detailed information in four languages. An excellent but restricted newsgroup; good for practical job related advice, occasional vacancies, issues related to TESOL, events. A discussion forum and full of good advice about many practical issues from moving to Switzerland to finding peanut butter and maple syrup. From here you can find a large list of more specific newsgroups and online communities for Switzerland. Listing of private schools and colleges throughout Switzerland. List of those running summer courses and camps. Excellent TEFL training and job search facility with positions including Switzerland

Catherine Richards is a freelance writer, editor and English teacher living in Ticino, Switzerland. She lives and works surrounded by mountains, fresh air and the Italian language.

Related Topics
Teaching English Abroad
Living in Switzerland: Articles, Resources and Websites
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Living in Switzerland

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