Receiving mail through Swiss Post
If someone is sending you a package, be sure to tell them to carefully estimate the value of the items in it. Depending on the types of items, there’s a small value that’s allowed to be imported (around CHF 65 for most categories) before you have to pay an import tax. I read a terrifying story of someone who received an old, used digital camera, but its value was placed as the original purchase price, which resulted in significant taxes.
You will not be able to receive mail until your name is on the mailbox at your apartment. Most Swiss apartments aren’t numbered, so you’re just receiving mail to the building address, and it all gets sorted out by matching the name on the envelope with the name on the mailbox. Once you move in, add a temporary name plate using a piece of paper to your box, and your regie will quickly mail you the permanent name plate, which will cost you around CHF 50 (it’ll come with a bill to pay within 30 days).
Know that there are two parts to your mailbox – one that locks, and one below it that does not. If the postman needs to deliver something that won’t fit through the lockable slot, but it will fit below it, that’s where they’ll put it. For any larger packages, they’ll try to deliver them to your door. If you aren’t home, they’ll leave a note in your box saying that you’ll need to retrieve the package from the post office. Take the note and your identification to your local post office, and they’ll get the package for you. You should be able to pick up a package for your spouse, but only if you have the same last name or another confirmation (such as your spouse’s name being on your carte de legitimation).
While Swiss trains are known for being extremely punctual, Swiss Post doesn’t have quite the same reputation. Does the Swiss Post tracking say your package will be delivered on Tuesday? There’s a good chance you won’t see it until Wednesday or Thursday.
If you create an account on the Swiss Post website, they’ll mail you a code to use to confirm that you live at that address. Once you’ve done that, you can schedule package deliveries when you aren’t at home, asking them to delay delivery or leave the package near the door or stairs, for example. They recently started charging a fee to have it scheduled for delivery to your door if you live on a “high floor,” whatever that means. You can also pay for after-hours delivery.
Sending mail through Swiss Post
When you arrive at the post office, you’ll need to get a number. Find the machine, press the button, and take your number. Watch the boards to see which window to go to when your number flashes. No need to show the number when you arrive at the window.
Hand your envelope or package to the cashier, and tell them how you’d like to ship it, such as Economy or Priority for international mail, or A Mail or B Mail for domestic. They’ll tell you how much, and then you slide the money over. You cannot pay with credit cards, but they will take a Swiss debit card.
Other Delivery Carriers
Well, good luck. Generally, when your mail is coming through another carrier, it seems like it goes through enhanced scrutiny of Swiss customs officials. They’re going to open the package at customs and verify that you’re only receiving what’s on the customs form and that nothing is prohibited or exceeds import limitations. They may also hold up your package for odd things – one of mine was held up for 3 days one time because they wanted to know my phone number before they released it. Of course, they had no way to contact me, so it just sat until the shipping company found a way to provide it to them.
Also, just be aware that packages sometimes change hands overseas. For example, someone may ship you a package using UPS, but it will arrive here via DHL, despite the fact that you’ll see UPS trucks and delivery people here. I’m sure it makes sense to someone.
Swisscom has some prepaid plans that aren’t bad, especially if you won’t be doing a lot of calling. If you can put up with the low limits for a while, generally after 3 months, they start harassing you to sign a 2-year contract at 50% off, which is an amazing deal. They have new contracts that give unlimited calling, data, and texts throughout Europe, and you can buy data packages for the rest of the world. You can make an appointment on Swisscom’s website to visit one of their locations to get started, which also allows you to specify that you want to conduct the appointment in English.
Note: If you sign a 2-year contract with Swisscom and you have to move elsewhere, they’ll let you break the contract with no penalty. Just show them a letter from your employer to get out of it.
When deciding if a pre-paid plan is right for you, consider the option of buying a Skype calling plan or minutes to do your Swiss calling. You may come out better that way. You can buy unlimited calling in Switzerland for CHF 7.49 per month, or you can also buy CHF 5.00 worth of credit, and you are charged between 3 and 24 cents per minute for calls.
Your U.S. phone number
Before you cut off your U.S. service, do know that you can port your cell number over to Google Voice for $20. It’ll take as long as 24 hours to process, but once it’s moved over, you’ll be able to receive text messages and calls/voicemails through Google Voice, ensuring you don’t lose any important communications when you cut off your service.
Google Voice only really supports U.S. clients, so you won’t get the full functionality from their app, though you will be able to send and receive text messages and check your voicemails. But you’ll only be able to make and receive calls through the website. Calls to and from the U.S. are free, though, as is the rest of the service once you have ported your number over.
Recently, there has been an issue with making calls inside of the Google Voice platform. If that ever happens, you can always make voice calls to a phone number using Google Hangouts instead.
As best as I can tell, insurance typically works the same here for most expats. Your plan covers almost nothing at 100%, but it covers nearly everything at about 80%. So if you’re doing a dental checkup, you’ll be expected to pay the full bill when you leave. You’ll then submit the bill to your insurance company or employer, and they will reimburse you for 80% of the total cost. As long as you don’t have significant medical issues, it’s all fairly reasonable.
There are many dentists in Geneva that speak English, so just be sure to find one that does, and you’re set. When you make an appointment, you’ll need to request appointments for both a checkup and a cleaning, and they may very well happen at different times/days. They’ll set a return schedule for you, likely suggesting that you come back every 9 to 12 months.
On my first cleaning, my hygienist was super friendly. She and I discussed our travels throughout Europe, and I left with a big smile on my face – until I got home and looked at my bill. The cleaning was calculated in 8-minute increments, which included her preparation before getting me, taking a phone call during my cleaning, all of our travel conversations, and rounding up at the end. It was still rather inexpensive with the insurance reimbursement, but I no longer view her as so friendly. (Note: Not all offices will bill by time for cleanings.)
I don’t have much advice to give related to healthcare in Geneva, but I do want to pass on one tip: if you can go to an urgent care facility, rather than the hospital, do that. If you go to the emergency room, you may have a very long wait.
There’s actually an app that tells you how long the wait is for HUG (Hôpitaux universitaires de Genève). Learn more here.
Important Phone Numbers
Be sure to save these emergency numbers in your phone:
- Police – 117
- Fire – 118
- Ambulance – 144
- In case of suspected poisoning – 145
- SOS Médecins – 022 748 49 50 – 24/7/365 access to a doctor by phone or house call
- Roadside assistance – 140
Joining a gym
There are so many gyms in the Geneva area, but picking out the best for you is really about deciding on the price you want to pay, the amenities you need, and the location. Here are the ones with the most locations:
- NonStop Gym – open 24/7, providing access via your membership card.
- Activ Fitness – generally offers only 1-year contracts, but during the summer, they offer a June 1 through August 31 contract for CHF 150. Hours are good, and they provide free child care on weekday mornings.
There are several other companies with only one or two locations, and they generally have super nice amenities, though they cost as much as CHF 2200 per year.
Many of the gyms have a sauna or steam room included in your membership. Some are separated by gender, but others are combined and may have a women-only and men-only day during the week.
Pay attention to the rules of your gym as you may be expected to bring your gym shoes to the gym and change into them. Also, you’ll generally need to bring your own towels (one for use during your workout and another for showering), though you can usually pay to use one of their towels – not a deposit, just a payment for the use of it.
Just FYI – not all gyms have air conditioning. Just imagine what it’s like when a gym full of people are exercising during the 40 degree summer heat.
I only have a recommendation for men’s haircuts, but I strongly suggest visiting the awesomely named Men’s Club for Good Times in Eaux-Vives. Ruslan, the owner, and his staff are super friendly and cater to a lot of Americans in Geneva (read: they speak great English!). Making an appointment through their website is super easy, and they’ll greet you when you arrive with your choice of liquor to sip or some water. Just a haircut is CHF 45.
If you’re in need of someone to do basic handiwork, painting, or provide electrical services, I highly recommend Williams Services. I had them replace a broken light fixture, install some lights, and drill some holes. The pricing was fair, and they did great work. And they speak English!
(And yes, most walls in Geneva are really hard, and you can’t just nail something into them. You’ll have to drill a hole, which you’ll also have to fill before moving out, so do it sparingly.)
Like nearly everything else, dry cleaning is going to cost a bit more here than what you’re used to. Regular dry cleaning on a suit, for example, is going to cost CHF 26 with Pressing 5àsec, which is the only service I’ve used so far.
5àsec has an app, my5àsec, which you can use to schedule pickup and delivery of your clothes.
American Passport Renewal
If you need to get your U.S. passport renewed while in Geneva, you’ll need to plan ahead. The whole process can take about a month, during which time you will not have a passport. The amount of time is due to their processing: the forms get sent to the embassy in Bern and then to Washington, DC. Your new passport is shipped back to Bern, and then mailed directly to you. (However, in our experience, we received the new passport in six business days, which was incredible!)
Fill out the form online and then take your required documents and photographs (see below), as well as your credit card, to the U.S. Consular Agency (located in Eaux-Vives, and NOT the same place as the U.S. mission) at your appointment time. The process is incredibly expedient – it took me less than 10 minutes.
You can send a friend or family member to submit the paperwork on your behalf by completing this form.
Passport, CDL, and Visa Photos
If you need photos for a passport renewal, your carte de legitimation, or a visa, you’ll find photo booths around the city.
For CHF 10, you can get five photos cropped for Swiss or European Union identification cards, visas, or other needs. For the same price, you get four photos for passports or visas for the United States and India.
Photo booths, like the pictured on the right by Pronto Phot can be found throughout the city, including this one located downstairs at Gare Cornavin. One is located just below Coffee & Friends, and two more are located near the restrooms in the train station.