9 June 2023
I have been fortunate enough to twice get the opportunity to intern at Google Switzerland (I am as a matter of fact midway through the second of those internships at the time of writing this). Until my first internship here, I had never set foot in Switzerland before and, to be honest, didn’t know all that much about the country (beyond a reputation for chocolate, expensive watches, and supposedly shady banks). In this post I aim to recount some of the things I have learnt and give some hopefully useful advice for those about to begin an internship in Switzerland for the first time.
This article focuses specifically on the Switzerland part of the title “Interning at Google Switzerland” - there is already plenty of information floating around online about Google’s culture, best practices, internship advice, etc. It is my aim in this article primarily to give practical advice and suggestions for those coming to Switzerland from abroad, rather than convey too much of anything Google-specific.
Disclaimer: this is all based on my personal situation and experience so not everything will be correct or applicable to you. Visas, immigration, and residency permits for example will likely be something to think about if you’re coming from outside the EU or are interning for longer than 90 days - I entered Switzerland on an EU passport and my internship was less than 90 days so I can’t really give any useful advice there.
For my first internship, I made a mistake when it came to housing - I searched pretty much exclusively on Airbnb. I knew that a normal rental contract of course wouldn’t be feasible given that I was to only be in the country for three months, so I assumed Airbnb would be a sensible place to look for something shorter term.
There are certainly fine places on Airbnb but the problem is that, even by Zurich’s standards, there are few of them and they are massively overpriced. In hindsight, this is probably pretty obvious given that Airbnb is a platform primarily for holidaying but, for whatever reason, at that time I didn’t think to look elsewhere.
For my second internship, I decided to do a bit more research. I ended up staying at the cheapest studio apartment offered by Vision Apartments. This was also absolutely not cheap (though an improvement over Airbnb), but I really valued having a completely private living space over somewhere cheaper but with a shared kitchen and/or bathroom.
For those who are happy with a shared kitchen/bathroom, there is the option of staying in university accommodation or in flatshares. I did not really research this so can’t offer any helpful advice there unfortunately.
In terms of location, I would personally recommend Altstetten and Oerlikon (obviously there are plenty of other good areas - these are just two areas I stayed in and liked). They’re both a little bit outside of Zurich proper but remain inside the central public transport zone with Zurich HB less than 10 minutes away by train.
I would suggest avoiding anywhere too close to Langstrasse - it can be a little bit scary over that way later in the evening/night.
Setting up a bank account was surprisingly straightforward. In order to be paid in CHF I needed a Swiss bank account, so my first challenge upon arriving in Switzerland was setting one up. I was based out of the office at Europaallee which has a UBS branch just across the street so that seemed like the most natural place to start. In my mind, setting up a bank account as a non-resident sounded like something that would be time-consuming and painfully bureaucratic but, with my passport and a copy of my work contract in hand, I thought I’d try my luck.
Clearly I wasn’t the first to think as much as the UBS teller told me I was just one of the many Google interns who had come to her that week alone.
I showed her my passport and work contract, answered a few basic questions, and soon enough I had my own account. I received the account details immediately, while my debit card came in the post about a week later. Overall, it was much easier than I had feared it might be!
Of course, you don’t have to go with UBS - there are plenty of other choices. UBS have been pretty decent in my experience so far though. They have a lot of branches in Zurich, no fees if you qualify for a ‘young person’ account, and their mobile app is decent enough - I can’t really complain.
If, like me, you are in Switzerland for just 90 days or less then you’re not legally required to get Swiss health insurance. Still, it can’t hurt to do so, plus Google will reimburse the cost (up to 300 CHF per month).
There are many different providers but I went with Swisscare as they offer plans specifically for students and interns living in Switzerland temporarily (you won’t accidentally get locked into some long contract like you could otherwise).
Signing up was pretty simple - all I had to do was enter some basic personal information. They emailed me the first invoice which I paid by scanning the provided QR code with the UBS app. Fortunately, I have not needed to make a claim so I don’t know if that is as straightforward as the sign-up process (knowing insurance companies, probably not). Still, it’s nice to know I’m covered should anything happen.
Transport in Switzerland is, simply put, pretty amazing. Trains, trams, and buses run very regularly, on time, and can get you pretty much anywhere you want within the country. The service isn’t cheap (is anything in Switzerland?) but it is very reliable and convenient.
I would suggest downloading the SBB Mobile app as it tends to be more up to date than Google Maps when it comes to delays, cancellations, and reschedulings.
Google offers reimbursement of a ZVV NetworkPass (unlimited, free transport within the central Zurich zone) which is stored on the SwissPass (a credit card-like piece of plastic on which actual transport passes and tickets are digitally stored). Both of these can be got quite easily by visiting the central ticket office in Zurich main station. Once you receive a SwissPass, travel cards can be bought and renewed inside the ZVV app (which is obviously more convenient than hanging around in the Zurich station ticket office).
If you plan to be out later in the evening, then I would recommend checking the public transport schedule in advance. Services in Switzerland don’t tend to operate as late as they do in other countries and taxis are incredibly expensive.
Working at Google somewhat isolated me from ‘real’ Swiss culture (instead, most of my time was spent immersed in that universal SWE-type culture of Patagonia clothing and speaking in acronyms). Still, there were a few interesting things I picked up on.
Firstly, in Switzerland, Sunday is generally reserved for either relaxing at home or for outdoor activities (especially hiking). Basically all shops and businesses are shut on Sundays, with the only exception generally being any supermarkets in a city’s main station. This was initially a bit of a shock, but I actually eventually grew to quite like the quiet of Sundays here.
Another thing to note is how fond the Swiss are for rules and strict adherence to those rules. This can be seen in a number of areas including recycling, crossing the street, and making too much noise. I haven’t really had any issues here but it’s something to be aware of regardless.
There are a few things that need to be done before leaving the country after the conclusion of your internship. Firstly, you probably want to exchange your CHF for the currency used in your home country. For this I used Wise as they offered the best rates at the time, though I would suggest checking a few different exchange services as many companies change their fees and rates regularly.
You should also check with your bank whether you’re allowed to keep your account open after leaving (most likely not) as well as cancel any health insurance or rental contracts. If you have a residency permit then you likely need to inform the local authorities of your departure too.
Beyond that, you should just be able to hop on a flight or train and return back home. I hope you have/will enjoy your time here and that this post was/will be of some use to you!