Monday, October 31, 2016

You Don't Have to Go Home, But You Can't Stay Here. A Brief Survival Guide to Getting Out of Switzerland.

I will never be mature enough not to laugh at this.
So three years ago we managed to get through the massive mountain of red tape getting into Switzerland.  That's not even mentioning the paperwork that was done by the HR department at PSI to get Nick set up for employment.  It's no joke - there is a form to fill out EVERY SINGLE STEP OF THE WAY.

Surely leaving was going to be easier, right?  Not a chance.  I was surprised at how hard it was to get out given how happy the border guards at the airport always looked when I was leaving Switzerland and how they consistently put us through the ringer when we were coming back in from vacation.  ***On a side note, the Swiss border guards are so much more polite about it than those in the UK, where they treat everyone like they are secretly trying to get in to slap the Queen and steal all of the scones for the rest of eternity.  

The reality is that it feels like there is at least six-times as much paperwork to fill out when you leave.  Much of this is because cancelling services or leases can't be done online in most cases.  Registered letter is usually the way to go.   Plus, having lived in the land where paper is still king, I am now tied to this box of paperwork.  Some until I reach Swiss retirement age.  

So here is my crash-course for anyone that might be leaving the land of cheese and chocolate anytime soon.  By "soon" I mean, as soon as you know you are leaving, you'd better get started:

1.  Check your employment contract to see how much notice you must give before leaving your job.  Even if the reason that you are leaving is because your employment is ending, which was our case.  

Because I was still in my first year of employment with my school, I ONLY had to give 1 month notice, but it is considered common courtesy in most positions to give at least 3 months notice, which is what I did. Nick, even though his project wasn't continuing and it was at the choice of his employer, still had to formally resign 6 months in advance.   This makes the standard 2-week notice in the USA seem like taking a random sick-day and just deciding to say "Screw it!  I'm out."

2.   Check your rental lease.  There are pretty standard move-out dates within cantons in which, if you have given your landlord 3 months written notice (and no, an email doesn't usually work), you are free and clear to leave your apartment.  These dates vary, but there is usually a date in the spring and one in the fall.  If you are moving outside one of these designated dates stipulated in your lease, you are responsible for finding a person to take over the apartment or you may have to pay the rent up until one of these dates.  We were in the latter category of people.

If you read the previous post about our troubles with the bar below our apartment, you know exactly why this made me panic at first.  Who was going to want to live above a bar?  Especially a bar where random drunk-os tend to wander upstairs looking for the bathroom, let themselves in, stare at you as you are sleeping on the couch, and then argue with you about the toilet while you scream at them to get out of what is clearly not the toilet!

Fingers-crossed, we posted the apartment and told everyone we knew about it.  I was shocked at the interest, despite it having 6.5' tall ceilings that only hobbits can enjoy.  Note: most Swiss people are not of hobbit height and I saw one gentleman try to get into our bathtub to test the shower height, all 5'6" of it.  Needless to say, he would have had to shower on his knees.  Plus, we were showing it to potential renters during EuroCup games being blasted from the evil booze den south of us.  But because it was centrally-located and cheap for the Altstadt, it was quickly snatched up.

3 and 4 and 5.  Cancel everything you ever signed up for and de-register from your Gemeinde.  Why are all of these steps lumped together?  Because this is where deep breathing into a paper bag comes in handy.  There is a certain art to patiently juggling this paperwork.  The first step involves telling the Gemeinde that you need to deregister.  For Baden, we tried to complete this step as soon as possible, but we were told to wait until we were about a month away from our move out date.  The cancellation period for many services is about 3 months, but many services require proof that you are leaving the country in the form of the official letter issued by the Gemeinde.  See where that got confusing?  I need the letter 3 months before I can get the letter.  Then this letter needs to be sent with a letter explaining that you are cancelling services; some of which accept this in English...others in one of the 4 national languages.  It's always nice to have those Swiss friends around to take a look at what your sending to make sure it makes sense!

One of the final steps to getting the golden Gemeinde letter is a stop off at the tax office.  I have often mentioned that much of Switzerland seems to be based on the honor system.  I find this not only refreshing, but also really really amazing that it works.  At the tax office, the gentleman simply asked us if we had paid our taxes.  We replied that yes, our taxes are taken out "at source" because we had B1 visas.  He smiled and stated that that was wonderful, stamped our paperwork, and wished us a good trip home.  That was it.  He didn't look anything up in the system, didn't ask for the mountain of paper proof I had lugged along.  Just asked.  

6 Get rid of your shit.  Yes, we tried to live a very minimal lifestyle.  So minimal that friends and family who came to visit were often scared that we were either 1) extremely poor 2) had lost our minds or 3) had become engineering geniuses with the multiple uses that we had developed for what would otherwise be considered trash.  Despite all that effort, one still has a way of collecting, and some of the items we had picked up on our travels were treasured keepsakes.

My advice?  If you can replace it where you are going, do it.  Having priced out the costs of moving furniture and boxes overseas, it was astronomical.  Within Europe, it is a bit more reasonable, but there was no way I was going to pay 10,000 CHF to move my 6,000 CHF IKEA furniture.  Nope, nope, nope.

So how do you get rid of what's left over?  Ricardo (Switzerland's version of Craigslist) is one option that we had some success with.  Working the network within your workplace is another great place to get rid of household stuffs - new people move to Switzerland everyday and it can be great to just hand off the lot to someone just learning the ropes.  There are a number of non-profit organizations (such as CARITAS) that help people in need that will often take items, albeit rarely IKEA furniture since it doesn't tend to withstand being taken apart and back together very well.  


7 Throw your own going away party.  The going away apero is always bittersweet.  In the USA, co-workers will often throw the party for the leaving person, but in Switzerland, this is reversed.  Provide a little food and drink and a little more drink and tell everyone just how much you love them.  

8 Have your apartment cleaned and prepare for the handover to the new renter.   I can not recommend getting a professional cleaner enough.  Ask around for recommendations and  you can get a decent price since the market for this is fairly competitive (we paid a flat 600CHF for a full move-out clean and removal of anything we had left).  Everyone's got "a guy".  Feel free to message me and I'll give you my guy's info.  He's great.

9 Eat as much of your favorite cheese and chocolate trying to convince yourself that you never want to eat it again.  Whitefang it.  Seriously, I thought we were going to give ourselves gout.

10 Get your ass to the airport. Throw in a few prayers to the airport deities that your bulging suitcases make weight despite the fact that you have stuffed every nook and cranny with chocolate, cow bells, and schnapps.  You can buy more underwear wherever you're going...make room for the chocolate.

Deep breaths, you'll make it just fine.

If you need a really comprehensive list of what to do, it doesn't really get better than comparis.ch.  Really great information for moving to Switzerland as well as from canton to canton.