by Reginald Smith

It takes a dedicated person to pick up and move around the world for family, but that is exactly what Carolyn Moncel did.  In 2002, just having given birth two weeks earlier, she moved to Paris with her French husband in order to be closer to his family. It would be a permanent move abroad. Originally hailing from Chicago, she had not even traveled overseas before until she first met her new in-laws in 1997. In her own words, it was a “terrifying yet liberating experience.” In addition, like many expats she was permanently changed as a result, “I thought that I was an adult before I left the United States, but living abroad really made me grow up because everything I knew about anything came into question…I know exactly who I am now, what I am made of and what I can do if I really want to.”

One thing that helped Carolyn in her move is her since of entrepreneurship. She had started a new business in the US while pregnant with her second child and was able to carry it abroad and tweak its focus to her customer’s needs. Her first business,  Motion Temps LLC, was a virtual assistance firm and while abroad it has transformed into bilingual web content creation and project management. Fortunately, the transition was relatively seamless because she found her first project in France before even arriving in Paris! Given finding a firm to sponsor European Union (EU) work visas is notoriously difficult, this gave her options many others do not have.

In 2007, they moved with her husband’s job to Lausanne, Switzerland. Despite being in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, she found many changes refreshing yet others challenging. For example, Swiss people are much more amicable in trying to understand someone who speaks poor French. “When I lived in Paris, it was very disheartening for me at first because I didn’t speak French very well, and the average French person tends to ignore you as a result.  Whereas here in Switzerland, the people seem to be a bit more patient and understand that most people come from some other land.” Despite English being spoken by a relatively large number of people, she still emphasizes her knowledge of French, though imperfect, is a tremendous help. In any case, if she ever has problems, besides her husband, her daughters are bilingual speaking both English and French.

Carolyn with cousins in Lausanne, photo right the ferry from Lausanne to Evian

On the other hand, work and good residences can be very difficult to find in Switzerland. The difficulty finding work was alleviated by her business. Finding a residence was extremely problematic. Both of their jobs were based in Geneva but being one of the world’s most expensive cities, the apartments they looked at were either too small or too expensive. They decided instead to try cheaper Lausanne and used an important piece of advice from a friend: “She told me to include a photo of my children with my rental inquiry because generally, owners with larger apartments prefer to give priority to families rather than single people or couples.  Well, it worked in my case!  We found a beautiful apartment overlooking the Evian Mountains and the Lac Léman as a result.”

As they settled down, everything began to fall into place. Her children found a good local school to attend where they would be immersed in the language and culture, she began to meet friends through the local expat networks and her children’s school, and began writing fiction on down times between business projects. They have also adopted many local customs and created their own for their multicultural family. They celebrate three Independence days:  July 4(US); July 14 (France) and August 1 (Switzerland).  All involve barbecue!   Also, “in America, my family used to eat Chinese takeout on Christmas Eve before heading out to Midnight Mass and serve the big meal on Christmas Day.  Now, we do the reverse instead.”

Photo left Montreux, right Ouchy at night

The best part about being abroad, however, has been the chance  to see the world through other people’s eyes.  “When you grow up in a country as large and diverse as the United States, you tend to think that the U.S. is the entire world unfortunately.  Living abroad has given me a chance to meet people from some of the most obscure places.  Here in Switzerland the chances of meeting people from countries barely known to you are quite high and you learn so much and realize that there are just as many similarities as there are differences.”

Read more about Black Expats in Switzerland in this month’s Black in the Day article, or better yet, visit yourself!


Living & Spending in Lausanne

Monthly rent:

Prices vary among cantons. For example, the prices are much more expensive in Geneva and Zurich because finding an available flat in general is extremely difficult. Therefore, a two-bedroom flat in Geneva could cost around 2,800 CHF per month. On average in Lausanne the price would be around 2,300 CHF per month.

Cost for meals:

Again prices vary among cantons but on average in Lausanne, a meal at lunchtime could cost around 15 CHF per person. The price for dinner starts at 40 CHF per person.

Transportation costs:

Most residents take public transportation because it’s efficient and parking in most major cities is a nightmare. The price for a bus or metro trip starts at 2 CHF, but most people take a monthly pass. We regularly crisscross Switzerland—sometimes on a daily basis. Therefore, most residents often take a SBB/CFF train pass instead, which starts at 160 CHF per year for a half-price pass and or roughly 300 CHF per month for an all inclusive full-price pass, which covers buses, trams, trains and even ferry boats. Children up to age 16 and traveling with their parents can obtain an all inclusive annual pass for 25 CHF. With this pass they can travel around Switzerland with their parents for free. If you’re visiting Switzerland for a few days and want to say money while traveling, simply ask to purchase a pass either at the train station ticket office or tourist office.

Compared to your home country are most things cheap/same/expensive?

Yes, rent and food costs much more here in Switzerland than in the United States.

Recommended monthly living budget:

Roughly 4,000 CHF to 5,000 CHF per month.

How modern are basic amenities/infrastructure?

The infrastructure is quite modern. I did appreciate the fact that the flats already had basic amenities. When I first moved to France, I was shocked to discover that kitchens were completely bare! There were no cabinets, shelves, or basic appliances (refrigerator, stove, oven, etc.). For example in Geneva and Lausanne, you want to make sure that the rental agreement states “cuisine agencée, which means that the kitchen is fully equipped.

Any legal hurdles all foreigners have to face to live there?

The largest legal hurdle is in obtaining a work permit. If you are coming from an EU country, it’s a bit easier to secure a work and residency Permit B. After that, the next easiest group include expats coming from the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Also, one must secure private health insurance, which is really expensive and is not paid by the employer.

Olympic Museum located in Lausanne, Switzerland
Photo credits: All photos courtesy of Carolyn Moncel

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