Insurance in Switzerland, is difficult enough to understand for anyone born and brought up in Switzerland. For English speaking residents it is, at best, a frequent topic of discussion at expat dinner parties; for others it’s an expensive minefield.
To give an example of how easy it is to make false assumptions, consider the case of the man getting bitten by a tick and becoming ill as a result.
Most people, particularly foreigners not familiar with the peculiarities of health insurance here, would assume that the company with which you had taken out your health insurance would meet the claim.
This turns out not to be true, the health insurer would turn you towards your accident insurer stating that the tick bite was an accident which caused the illness. Your Swiss Accident insurance meets the claim if the illness was the result of a sudden, external event. It pays therefore to have adequate accident insurance in Switzerland which actually turns out to be good value compared to the health insurance here and can be asked to meet more claims than you might at first assume.
Other potential areas of confusion arise in the areas of car and travel insurance where overlaps and gaps can easily occur. Fully comprehensive car insurance may meet your claim if anything is stolen from inside your car, (if you included this option). It is unlikely that any travel insurance taken out in Switzerland would meet such a claim.
For families, the coverage for accident insurance for Switzerland and abroad will usually be organized by the employer whereas health insurance issues will need to be organized privately even though it is obligatory for anyone resident in the country.
The Swiss, are one of the most insured of all people on the planet, partly because of their conservative nature but also because the system of insurance in the country is, to many, complex and opaque. For most individuals, this is brought home to them when it’s necessary to make a claim for the first time. It is not unusual for the English speaking foreigner to assume that he or she is covered for a particular event, only to discover later that there are some unusual exclusions in the policy. The natural reaction is to plug the gap so that this won’t happen again. The effect can be to have overlapping coverage which can get expensive.
The role of the agent.
Although internet comparison sites exist and are gathering momentum, insurance arrangements are usually conducted face to face with a trusted agent. This is the traditional way in which insurance in Switzerland is conducted. The main benefit to a local resident is a tailoring of coverage to suit his/her personal needs. For many expats however, the real benefit of a good personal relationship with their agent becomes apparent when a claim needs to be filed.
Pleasantly surprising aspects of insurance in Switzerland.
A really good find for native English speakers is an agent who will take the time to listen and also complete the claim form for you. Your contribution at the end of the discussion and question and answer session is, to sign the form. This saves you an enormous amount of time and frustration having to complete the form in one of the Swiss languages and the risk of having a sub-optimal end result. Most good agents will do this for their client, though the challenge for the expatriate is to find a local insurance agent who is fully conversant in ” insurance” English.
The Downside, when getting insured as an English speaker .
You might think that since Switzerland has a reputation of being a wealthy cosmopolitan country centered in Europe with four national languages that it would be easy to find a local insurance agent with a good knowledge of English. Unfortunately this is more difficult than it first appears. Whilst many people, insurance workers included, speak English well, in a recreational setting, it is not necessarily true that they have an in-depth knowledge of English in an insurance setting with the ability to accurately translate insurance terms and the vocabulary of the industry. Most agents only have experience of insurance in Switzerland with no experience of the industry in another country.
For most large national insurance organizations, their insurance business is concentrated on the main three national languages, German, French and Italian. The English language is simply not seen as part of their core business and therefore there is little training of staff to cater to the minority of English language speakers.
Even more surprisingly to English speaking arrivals is the lack of documentation produced in English by the big insurance companies, it simply isn’t possible in many cases to receive brochures, handbooks and contracts in English. Not only are staff not trained to actively market to the English segment, there is little or no investment in producing written materials. Perhaps this will change in the future, with insurance in Switzerland becoming more competitive but don’t expect much in the next couple of years.
Naturally, an English speaking agent is a real asset when determining your insurance needs on arrival if your German, French or Italian isn’t up to scratch when reading these documents.
Remember, when seeking to establish your insurance needs here, you should not settle for anything less than a reputable local agent who is also a fluent English speaker and even then, preferably one who has also been an expat at some point in their career. These people do exist though tend to be thin on the ground in even the largest of national insurance companies. Planning your insurance, while resident in Switzerland, is worth the effort and is a much more pleasant experience and easier on the pocket if you get your choice of agent right.