First Steps 2 – Electric Boogaloo: Visa, Residence Permit, Health Insurance, Bank Account
Part of the initial Mobility application to ETH includes the processing of a Visa Authorization form, which the Swiss Consulate needs to issue your official student visa. However, the fee for this authorization form wasn’t required until you get to ETH Zurich. It’s payable at the school, so don’t forget to pay this; supposedly many students do.
Residence Permit is listed in the ETH Zurich pre-trip documents package as obtainable after a certain number of weeks in Zurich. Try to beat the rush by getting your student documents as soon as possible from ETH. Importantly, the city will want your Matriculation paperwork that comes in this document package. Then, find your local city office and they can process the permit as long as you have everything exactly as described in the permit requirements list. Passport sized photos are used for a number of ID cards during your stay (off the top of my head, residence permit, transit pass, Erasmus Student Network card, International Driver’s License) and you can get them done at many automated photo booths around the city. Don’t be afraid to get the strip of 4 or 5 photos, as you’ll definitely make use of them.
Fun fact: In 2018, Zurich still had two operational automated dark-room photo booths that performed the same functions electromechanically as the modern digital ones — super cool to operate as aspiring mechanical engineers. I met the gentleman responsible for refilling the exposing chemicals and had a lovely chat. Try to find them on Google Maps if they’re still around!
Non-EU students pay a higher fee for the Residence Permit so make sure to bring a couple hundred Francs or set up a local bank account quickly.
Speaking of bank accounts, make sure to open one as soon as possible (if you require it). Some banks have been known to deny students if they are staying for less than 3-4 months. Single semester exchanges just barely satisfy this requirement! You’ll end up saving a bit of money going this route as the accounts are typically free for students and you avoid the fees that local Canadian credit and debit cards typically charge for usage in foreign currencies. Reward programs exist too that netted me about 100 francs by the end of my exchange. In addition, reputable, online services exist to transfer currencies between your CAD and Swiss accounts without having to go to pricy local currency places. Some of these services even have bright green international debit cards you can use to get cash from nearly any European ATM. Look for these 😉
UZH, a sister university to ETH, offers an intensive German class that occurs before the start of semester and has limited seating. The language center or “Sprachenzentrum” will post the start and registration dates fairly early. I’d recommend doing the intensive course if you can; not only is it better timing as you’ll have a beginner’s grasp of German before school starts, but you’ll remember more of it since you’re immersed full time for two weeks. Semester courses only happen once or twice a week, with teachers reporting most students forget more of the beginning material by the middle or end of the semester.
Note: This will seem obvious to some, but dates are listed as DD.MM.YYYY which may be different than you’re used to; double check registration time zones and dates! People were still booking incorrect train tickets and accommodations halfway through semester because of these minor differences.
The intensive German class is also a great way to meet people outside of whichever residence you’re in. The class is typically other exchange students and you spend every day with them, so you’ll have plenty of opportunity to connect with people for alpine trips and other adventures before the semester really gets going. The teachers included a surprise session on tips and tricks around Switzerland. There were quite a few useful reminders in there, including various student discounts to take advantage of outside campus, travel discounts, and services such as bike and car shares that I wouldn’t have known about otherwise. My class ended with a day trip to the local zoo and final “apero” with the teachers. Apero is another great opportunity to meet local and international students alike; don’t be afraid to exchange contact info after a short exchange. Sprachenzentrum supports all ETH and UZH programs so you may not get another chance!