The French arrive in Switzerland by droves
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Le Matin Dimanche October 5, 2003
Ian Hamel

"Today, a single person who does not make more than 25,000 francs a year can legally come live in Switzerland. Bilateral agreements have brought about an influx of independent wage earners ", notes François Micheloud.

Today there are more people from France in Switzerland that there are in all of Francophone Africa. Switzerland does not only attract rich retirees, hip artists and champion athletes. Nowadays, Mr. Joe Average is leaving Paris or Grenoble for the cantons of Vaud and Geneva.

Don’t ask Christine Berger economic reasons were what brought her to Switzerland. She may laugh in your face. This former teacher who took early retirement at 59 simply made a lifelong dream come true—to live in this peaceful and mountainous country. “Like all French public servants, I’m not made of gold. But, I didn’t have any problem getting settled in Switzerland,” explains this Frenchwoman from Dijon. And even though she doesn’t speak German, she moved to Bad Ragaz in Saint-Gall canton—just like Heidi’s aunt. “I live simply. I make the most out of life and I take my dog for walks,” says Christine Berger. A few years ago this kind of living arrangement would have been impossible. Switzerland only had eyes for rich foreigners and other stars: businessmen, famous actors, and tennis players. You couldn’t get a residency permit without having a well-padded bank account.

“Today, a single person who does not make more than 25,000 francs a year can legally come live in Switzerland. Bilateral agreements have brought about an influx of independent wage earners,” states François Micheloud. It’s his job to deliver a turnkey Switzerland. His company, which is located across the street from the Lausanne-Palace, looks after everything from residency permits and housing to enrolling children in private schools. And the requests are pouring in.

Patricia Kaas—the exception
Although free movement of people between Switzerland and the European Union has been going on for a decade, it is now very easy for someone from France or Germany to pack their bags and settle in Vevey or Nyon. Christine Berger is really the exception. Hardly anyone other than the French singer Patricia Kaas prefers Lake Zurich to Lake Geneva (but she is originally from Forbach, in German-speaking Lorraine). Due to the language, the large majority of people from France, such as Charles Aznavour, Jean-Claude Killy, Isabelle Adjani and Maurice Béjart, choose to live in the French-speaking region of Switzerland.

Between 150,000 to 160,000 people from France
Rémi Chadel, a 37-year-old management consultant, left France to put down roots in the Lausanne region. Why did he make this choice? “The word ‘Switzerland’ always portrays a very strong brand image abroad,” explains the Frenchman, married to an Irishwoman who lived in Germany and the United States for many years. “I’m impressed by the buoyant economy. In French-speaking Switzerland there are many multinational companies as well as smaller companies that are particularly competitive.”

As a result, Switzerland is attracting more and more people from France as well as from other large countries such as the United States, Germany and Great Britain! In 2002, there were officially 118,000 people from France living in the Swiss Confederation, as compared to 87,000 living in Germany, 101,000 in all of Black Africa. The rapidly increasing number of new registrations for Geneva, Vaud, and Valais amounted to 84,500 as of September 1, 2003, which makes the French consulate in Geneva one of the most important in the world! Consulate General François Laumonier points out that “it is not mandatory to register.” Therefore, it wouldn’t be out of line to imagine that 150,000 to 160,000 “Frenchies” now live alongside their Swiss cousins. And not only because of the tax advantages. “French people place importance on security, the environment, and respecting people’s private lives,” adds François Laumonier.

 “For the dependability and the quality”
For the last decade, Laurence Bergen, originally from France, and her Belgian husband Dirk have worked in the metal packaging industry. They left Paris to come to Vaud canton in order to launch a fairly avant-garde concept: metal packaging condoms.

“We first thought that we would set up shop in Italy. But, we quickly decided on Switzerland because it is considered to be a serious country. People trust it: its very name means quality,” explains Laurence Bergen, the head of BLD—a company that should end up hiring five or six people.

Waiting for approval and authorization always takes a long time when the product is condoms, particularly those being marketed to young people. During the waiting period, the couple has begun another, very different, activity—selling high-end boats that are up to 15 meters long. A view over the lake can give people ideas. Upon return from the exhibition at Cannes, Laurence and Dirk Bergen decided to represent two builders—one from Norway, and another from Italy.

 “I can’t stand fondue”
Following in the footsteps of Charles Aznavour, Marie Laforêt and Alain Delon, television host Fabrice also made Switzerland as his choice destination for what we would call a well-earned retirement. For a long time he played the role of a teacher in charge of a “class” of happy jokers on France 3. He and his wife, Michèle attended the official opening of the Montreux Casino at the end of September.

Like many other well-known people from France, Fabrice chose to live in Vaud canton instead of Geneva, the City of Calvin. In fact, after spending many years in the pollution and traffic jams of the Paris region, the young retirees (Fabrice is 61) prefer Vaud canton’s small towns and countryside. After spending a year in the Swiss Confederation, the television host knows the local slang, but still can’t stomach fondue. To make up for it, he certainly doesn’t turn up his nose at trying local wines.

“The first piece of advice I would give to people from France who want to move abroad is to pick a country they would enjoy living in,” recommends Patrick Michaud, a Parisian lawyer who specializes in turnkey relocations to Switzerland.

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