Emil on working in Switzerland: “Don’t think about a euro anymore”

Driving through Switzerland: That will change from August 1st

More than 380,000 people in Europe cross the EU border twice a day to work in Switzerland. And that is obviously worth it for them in two ways: cross-border commuters generally earn around 40 percent more than in Germany and, according to reports from commuters, the working conditions are also better than in Germany.

According to “Salary Reporter”, the average income in Switzerland is even around 70 percent higher than in Germany. This dynamic, together with a wage level that was on average about 75 percent higher than in Germany in 2020, is attracting more and more commuters to Switzerland.

The number of cross-border commuters is increasing, especially from Germany, France, Italy and Austria. According to a report by “Spiegel”, the number of cross-border commuters from Germany to Switzerland has almost doubled in the last 20 years – and the trend is still rising. According to “Spiegel” information, around 18 percent of employees in Basel are already cross-border commuters. They work in various industries such as manufacturing, construction, law and education.

German works in Switzerland: “Financially it’s great, I earn twice as much as my mother”

One of them is Marc Milohnic, vocational trainer for nursing staff at the University Hospital Basel. He suddenly received a 20 percent wage increase, not because of negotiations or a promotion, but because of the Swiss National Bank’s decision in January 2015 to abolish the minimum exchange rate for the Swiss franc. In addition, Milohnic earns his salary in Swiss francs and pays almost all expenses in euros, according to Der Spiegel.

35-year-old Laura is also a cross-border commuter and commutes by car between a district town behind Freiburg and her workplace in a psychiatric clinic in Basel. “Financially it’s great, I earn twice as much as my mother, who also works as a nurse in an emergency room in Germany,” she tells Der Spiegel.

3000 gross for three days a week: “Ever since I’ve been working in Switzerland, I’ve indulged in luxury”

The third commuter, Emil, has been working as a cross-border commuter in a massage studio in Basel for nine months and commutes in from Freiburg. He reports to the “Spiegel” that he earns almost 3,000 euros gross, although he only works three days a week. His life has changed fundamentally: “Since I’ve been working in Switzerland, I’ve indulged in luxury and don’t think about a single euro I spend.”

“I wouldn’t work in this job in Germany, the conditions are too bad”

Working in Switzerland is not only worthwhile financially. Three commuters reported to the “Spiegel” that the working conditions and the appreciation of work in Switzerland are better. Commuter Laura explains: “I wouldn’t work in this job in Germany, the conditions are too bad”.

Nevertheless, it should be noted that although the pay is high, the general price level in Switzerland is around 40 percent higher than in Germany. This leads to commuters returning to their home countries in the evening, where life is cheaper.

The history of cross-border commuters is deeply rooted, explains Tobias Straumann, Professor of Modern History and Economic History at the University of Zurich, to the “Spiegel”. Switzerland’s highly specialized and productive export industry combined with the strong Swiss franc influenced the overall wage level.

Complex bureaucracy and German shortage of skilled workers

But there are also challenges. The bureaucracy to regulate taxes, pensions, social security and child benefits for cross-border commuters can be complicated. Some cross-border commuters told the “Spiegel” that they needed professional help for their tax returns.

Switzerland’s attraction to skilled workers would also have had a negative impact on German communities near the border, which are struggling with shortages of skilled workers in areas such as education, health and innovation. Shopping tourism by Swiss people in Germany has also led to tensions, especially among restaurateurs and retailers in Switzerland.

Despite these challenges, the system seems to work for cross-border commuters: working in Switzerland, living in their home country – for many, the perfect separation of work and private life. Crossing the border would raise wages and thus lower their prices in Germany, according to the commuters in an interview with “Spiegel”.

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