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Goodbye Switzerland, hello world!

Canada here we come! The Schönbächler family, who featured in the documentary series "Auf und davon" (Up and Away), is a relatively typical emigrant family SRF-SWI

Around 30,000 Swiss men, women and children wave goodbye to Switzerland every year. But who are they, and where do they go? The statistics reveal all, including the country to which 165 men – but not a single woman – recently moved.

This content was published on May 30, 2021 - 09:00

A yearning for adventure in far-off lands, a career opportunity, love: there are many reasons why Swiss people pack their bags and experience life – if only for a while – in another country. We delve into the data to get a fuller picture of the 10% of Swiss citizens who live abroad.

Most stay in Europe

Swiss emigrants are scattered across the globe. But some destinations are clearly more popular than others, as revealed by figures for 2019, the latest available.

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Many people move to neighbouring or nearby European countries: France, Germany, Britain and Italy are popular emigration destinations. While more and more Swiss are applying sun cream and heading for Spain and Portugal, Eastern Europe is generally avoided.

The Swiss also like to travel further afield across the Atlantic, above all to the United States and Canada. In South America, Brazil is the most popular place to set up a new home. Few Swiss emigrate to Africa. Southeast Asia is much more popular, for example Thailand.

Never too old

Further information revealed by the data includes the age of Swiss migrants, with those between 20 and 34 being particularly prone to wanderlust.

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Many people in this age group already have their first child, which could explain why there are so many small children leaving Switzerland. In addition, when children reach school-age or their teens, such adventures become more complicated.

However, the age distribution shows that it’s never too late to make a fresh start. In 2019 two women moved abroad who had turned 100.

Age also affects the choice of destination: the older you are, the more likely you are to be drawn to sunny Spain. Retirees are also more likely than younger Swiss to go to Thailand, Turkey and Serbia.

Men go to Thailand, women to Iceland

Between 2011 and 2019, 52.5% of the Swiss who left were male. In general, men and women choose similar destinations when moving abroad, but there are some striking exceptions.

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All 165 emigrants who moved to the Vatican between 2011 and 2019 were male. And no wonder: women can’t join the Swiss Guard, and the Catholic Church in general isn't exactly known for being an equal opportunity employer.

Many Swiss emigrated to Asia, particularly to Vietnam and Thailand, which were about twice as popular with men than with women. Saudi Arabia also appears more attractive for males – or less attractive for females.

However, some countries do appeal more to women, although the differences are less noticeable. Iceland and Chad topped this list.

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Covid effect

Swiss people don’t just leave Switzerland – every year many return home. For many years several thousand more Swiss left the country than came back. Possibly as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, 2020 was the first year in a long time that the net balance levelled out: just under 26,000 Swiss emigrated and a similar number of emigrants returned.

(Translated from German by Catherine Hickley; edited by Thomas Stephens)

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