It’s All Coming Together II

So much paperwork, so little patience…

Late, again. Because I’m pants, but enough of my grovelling and (kind of) blaming the internet – hey, it’s really slow here, guys, and drops out randomly!

Anyway, after what feels like far too long, I have finally managed to find some sort of order in my life. Kids, be warned, you too will have the joy of all this admin when you grow up and leave home. Somehow they’re the kind of things you don’t really think about until you don’t have them and really need them. I’m talking about bank accounts, rent, insurance, permits, transport and mobile phones. Yes, they’re incredibly boring, but it’s such a relief when you have them! But because of them, I have photocopied the same bits of paperwork far too much…

For me, the biggest two were a bank account and the residence permit. Even if you’re an EU citizen, you still need to have a residence permit if you’re staying in Switzerland for more than three months. And without a bank account, trust me when I say it gets expensive. Each time you withdraw money (from a UK account whilst in Switzerland) there’s not only the exchange rate but also a charge which the bank makes. And some UK banks won’t let you take money out of your account in a foreign country for an extended period of time (unless you pre-warn them).

Anyway, for the residence permit, I don’t think I have ever needed to accumulate & fill out so many bits of paper. There’s the official application form from the Office Cantonal de la Population (the migration office), then there’s the attestation from UNIGE as proof that I am a student, then I need proof of residence, a copy of my passport and some passport photos (I have seen far too much of my own face in passport photos, and you know they’re never flattering). But that’s all finally sent off and now out of my hands, so now we wait. Albeit nervously, if it doesn’t come through in time, then I’ll be staying in this country illegally, which is not an issue I want to deal with!

As for bank accounts, it’s a case of “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone”. I’ve already talked about the extra charges and stuff, but without a Swiss bank account, there are some things you simply cannot do here. For example, buy food, pay my rent, travel around, take out insurance and get a SIM card. But now I have one, so all is well with the world! Although it was surprisingly quick… As long as I had proof of identity and proof that I was allowed to be here, I could just set it up, and within a week, they’d sent me all my stuff and it was all finished. Swiss efficiency, folks.

One of the many BCGE branches.
One of the many BCGE (Banque Cantonale de Genève – Geneva Canton Bank) branches.

But, like I said, now I have finally been able to buy a Swiss SIM card, so it’ll eventually be cheaper to text/call people here (I say eventually because silly Ceri forgot to unlock her phone before she came here, so the SIM card won’t work yet). And I can pay my rent and insurance, which is pretty vital too, I’m sure you’ll agree.

On another note, culture clash moment – the way you pay for things is actually quite different. In the UK, everything revolved around credit and debit cards, for example: card machines, contactless (eek), direct debit, online transfers, standing orders. But here, everything seems more cash-based. I already know it’s more common to pay with cash in restaurants and things, but I also use giro quite a lot. A giro slip is a bit like a cheque but in reverse (as in it’s the recipient who fills it in with the amount of money and stuff), and you need to take it to the post office in person to pay it in. So my rent and my insurance are both paid for using giros.

Second culture clash moment – using cash points. For a start, they’ve got a different name in Switzerland (un bancomat – a sort of French-ification of the German der Bankautomat – as opposed to un distributeur automatique), and you can only take money out free-of-charge from cash machines operated by your bank. That means, for example, I can take money out from a BCGE ATM no problem, but if I take money out of, say, a PostFinance one, they charge me for the amount I take out. Apparently, though, this used to be the way of things in the UK, even though it isn’t any longer. Although I’m still getting used to thinking ahead to get around it (not that it’s difficult to find bancomats that belong to BGCE, but I did get caught out once by trying to pay in the post office (la Poste) by card, but they wouldn’t accept it because it wasn’t a PostFinance card, so I had to go all the way out and back again to get cash out, which I was charged for because it was a PostFinance bancomat).

Sassy post lady is sassy. One genius invention from la Poste: ready-stamped envelopes.
Sassy post lady is sassy. One genius invention from la Poste: ready-stamped envelopes.

Anyway, hopefully that was kind of informative. Although I’d quite happily never see another application form again!

Until next time!

A bientôt,

Ceri

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