How to use a bus!

This may sound strange, but I have found that many new arrivals struggle to use the bus system until someone has shown them the basics. And yet many locals assume it is obvious.

Firstly, there are city buses and post buses. The main difference (aside from being yellow) is that the post buses leave the city and connect all of the region’s small villages and towns.  For this reason the post buses tend to only stop at the main stops.  The city buses don’t leave the limits of ‘Zone 10’ (St.Gallen city area).  If you buy a ticket for the city then it is valid on any bus, but if you leave Zone 10 on a post bus, you will need to pay extra.

Buying tickets
You can buy bus tickets in the following places:
– Ostwind office (little square building opposite main train station)
– At major bus stops from self-service machines e.g. Bahnhof, Marktplatz, Kantonspital
– On city buses (self service only)
– On post buses (from driver only)
– SBB website (pain in the neck though)
– SBB mobile app (pretty pointless for anything less than a train journey)

Easiest way to buy anything from a single journey to a month pass, is to hop on a city bus and use a self-service machine (see below). For annual passes you have to go to the Ostwind Office and you need to already have a Halb-tax.

There are normally two of these on each city bus and one takes coins and cards, the other coins and notes. If they are both out of order though, don’t expect the driver to help..! The important options here are:
– Einzelbillett Zone 10 – single ticket, valid for 1 hour, only one direction, but unlimited changes within the hour
– Tageskarte Zone 10 – day ticket, unlimited travel in city, costs about the same as 2.5 single tickets
– Mehrfahrtenkarte Zone 10 – Multi-journey ticket, includes 6 individual journeys, no expiry date, about 20% cheaper than buying 6 single tickets, same conditions as single ticket above. Before using this ticket though, you must stamp/validate it in the little red box on the bus or at the bus stop (see below)

Travelling without a ticket
Most buses have no conductor and ticket checks are random. I travel several times a day on city buses, and get checked only 3 or 4 times a year. Travelling without a ticket is wrong and unfair, and I absolutely don’t condone, but if you decide to take this calculated risk you should know that the fine is CHF 80 for no ticket, inspectors travel incognito and only announce themselves once the bus starts moving. Buses 1 & 4 (mainlines) and 5 to the university are most frequently checked.

If you have a valid ticket, but forgot to carry it, you will be given a receipt and you need to go to the Ostwind office, show the valid ticket, receipt and pay CHF 5 penalty. Plus you look really silly giving your excuse in front of all the other passengers…!

Late night buses
After about 00:30, city buses stop running until about 05:00. Between these times, there are still a limited number of post buses running but normal tickets are not valid. You will need to buy a new more expensive ticket. Also, there are police on each postbus to keep an eye on things – could be good or bad depending on your behaviour :-).

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German language schools

As long as you aren’t relying on German skills to get a job, then it is very easy to survive in St. Gallen without good German. However if you want to do more than just survive and are maybe looking to stay longterm then you should probably consider a language school.

There are to my knowledge 5 language schools offering adult courses and I have personally studied at 4 of them and know plenty about the 5th – unfortunately the 5th (AIDA) was only for women…. I have added in example costs for guidance only, so check their websites for up to date info

Klubschule Migros
Located in the Hauptbahnhof building, the Kluschule has probably the most reliable set of teachers and courses. This was the first place I went and didn’t appreciate the value of well trained and stable teachers until I tried a few other places and ended up coming full circle to Migros.
Cost: CHF 1000 for intensive 20 day course (60 hrs)

Benedict
Only a couple of minutes walk from the train station and fairly good reputation. They have a number of good teachers but the turnover is higher than Migros and atmosphere wasn’t very conducive to non-German speakers – ironic for somewhere teaching German!
Cost: CHF 1400 for intensive 20 day course (100 hrs)

HDS
Not a bad choice, but a little off the beaten track. The school is near St.Fiden train station close to numbers 9 and 3 buses not not close enough to any to be convenient. Felt like there were too many people on government benefits studying there so motivation levels weren’t so high.
Cost: CHF 1680 for semi-intensive 10 week course (112 hrs)

InLingua
Again a good location, a couple of minutes from the main station. InLingua has gone through a number of changes including of ownership and has had a high turnover in teaching staff. Ironically, I thought the teaching material was the best of the schools I went to and I had a good teacher at the beginning. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t stable and reliable. Since I went, there has been another change of ownership and the website certainly looks nicer….
Cost: CHF 1580 for intensive 6 week course (90 hours)

Aida
This school is a few minutes from the city centre near the main UBS and Credit Suisse and is exclusively for women.  It actually has a really good reputation for the education and price, but I just couldn’t get in ;-), so I am taking someone else’s word on its quality! Classes are specifically organised to fit around school times and school holidays.
Cost: CHF 990 for 1 semester, Aug to Jan (roughly 20 weeks) 2 hrs per day,days a week (120 hrs)

Private Teachers
If you are interested in having private individual lessons, most schools offer individual lessons for about CHF 80-100/hr.  If you find a qualified teacher independent of a school then the going rate is from about CHF 60-90 per hour. I’m not going to recommend anyone in particular though as it is an individual choice and depends on who you feel comfortable with.

Good luck with your studies!

Olma

Officially the biggest event in the St.Gallen Calendar – Olma! Now don’t get your hopes up too much, it still just a glorified farmer’s market, but there are some moments of fun to be had.

Firstly the location. There is permanent exhibition space just East of the city centre just past the Radisson, but the actual event is normally for about 2 weeks towards the end of October.

This year the festivities are from the 11-21 October and while there is a whole website and an Olma flyer unfortunately it is all in German (or French) (as is their Facebook page) so you can guess that this is designed for the locals and not overseas tourists. Still plenty of fun to be had for a day.  Here’s a few highlights:

1) Pig racing (!)
I know, sounds fascinating doesn’t it! And it is what it is – pigs running in a circle with numbers on their backs.  A good laugh for the adults and fun for the kids!

2) Sausages galor (Olma Bratwurst to be precise)
Pay attention to people who get free vouchers through the post. There are lots of these vouchers floating around in the run up to the event.  Someone always seems to have spares.

I borrowed the image from their website 😉 didn’t really get this close…

3) Beer and Appenzeller
There is a whole hall full of booths selling the full range of the region’s alcohol.  Personally I  can’t stand the Appenzeller spirit but the beer makes up for it.  Only drawback is that this hall tends to be busiest and it can be tough just trying to push your way through to a bar.  Lucky that there are so many bars really…

4) Free food
While most of booths are selling food and there is a proper restaurant, head over to the tasting hall.  You will get hold of plenty of freebies to supplement that bratwurst you just had. Excellent chance to test all of those local cheeses before you buy them in the coop 🙂

5) Farm animals
Now whether this is really an attraction or not, I leave up to you. All I will say is that there are some seriously huge bulls. The parading horses were a little tedious, but then I’m not a farmer.

There are a lot of halls (take a look at the Olma flyer before you go) but many of them are missable unless you are interested in farm or building equipment.

School System

Someone at the Stadt had a very clever idea: draw a simple diagram explaining the structure of schooling in the city.  This wasn’t available when I first arrived, but makes it all look so simple!

So, before they change their mind and remove, I’ve nicked it:

 

It is available here with all of the associated links.

For anyone thinking that their children might go to university, either here or overseas, you should absolutely avoid the ‘Real’ schools and aim to get them into the Gymnasium at all costs 🙂

Any questions on the different elements, let me know.

Salaries in St.Gallen

Now that you know how much it will cost to survive in St.Gallen (roughly!), you probably need to know how much you need to earn and how much you can ask for.

Salary negotiations in Switzerland are notoriously difficult for foreigners particularly those moving from overseas.  Swiss job adverts rarely show salary and potential employees are often expected to state their salary requirement either before or during the interview.  This can be advantageous if you know what the going rate is and how much to push it.  But more likely, you will either ask for too much and have to climb down (or miss out entirely) or ask for too little and miss out on a few thousand that would have made your life a lot easier.

CHF 50-60,000 – Lowest level entry salary for junior admin position
CHF 60-70,000 – Semi-skilled technical or office position with at least a couple of years experience, probably with BA degree
CHF 70-90,000 – Office administrator, possibly managing 1-2 juniors, several years experience, possibly specific technical skills required
CHF 90-120,000 – at least 5 years relevant experience, team lead/office head position
CHF 120,000+ – at least 8 years relevant experience, mid- to senior management, probably holding Masters or equivalent, or with 10+ years relevant technical/specialist skills

This is a rough guide that will vary between industry and company, so don’t hold me to it….

Cost of living in St.Gallen

If you are considering moving to St.Gallen, this is probably one of the two most important things you are going to search for.  The second is salary levels in St.Gallen and they go hand in hand when you have to decide whether the famously high salaries of Switzerland will afford the infamously high living costs.

Trouble is that as you have probably found, almost all of the info you have found online is either a national average or it is focused on life in either Geneva or Zurich area.  Salaries in St.Gallen are lower than in either of these areas but thankfully so is the cost of living.  There is also a large disparity across the country.

Housing
Single person: CHF350/mth is just about the bottom end of the scale for a single room studio apartment, but don’t expect any luxury. Reasonable studios and 1/2 room apartments go from about CHF 500 to 800 with the upper end being CHF 1200. For students, you may want to consider joining into a group of 3-4 people and for CHF 400 each you could get a very nice shared apartment with all the mod-cons. These prices are for unfurnished places as there are very few furnished options. Add about CHF 2-300 per month on for furnished apartments, but it may just be cheaper to pop to IKEA when you arrive.

Couple: Starting a about CHF550 for rock bottom 2 person studio apartment, but reasonable quality would be between CHF 700 to 900.  Bear in mind that many landlords won’t rent to you if they think that the apartment is too small for the number of people. So don’t think you can squeeze a family of 4 into a 1 room apartment to save money. The immigration office will also regret family visas if they think that your accommodation is too small.

Family (3-4 people): You need to start looking at apartments marked 3 rooms (zimmer) or upwards. The cheapest I have seen is about CHF 800/mth but if you have a child you should think of the area and basic hygene standards and start budgeting for CHF 1100 upwards.  Nice 4 room apartments start at around CHF 1500 up to CHF 2000 depending on the area.

And if you budget is above this then you probably don’t need my advice 🙂

Transport:
City bus: CHF 67/mth or about CHF 650 for the year gives you unlimited city wide (zone 10) travel on any transport.  You need a 1/2 price card (halbtax) to buy the 12 month version though.

Parking: Bluezone (roadside around the city) costs CHF 106/mth but don’t forget that you need to budget for parking at your apartment. This is rarely included and can cost anything from CHF 50-200/mth depending on the part of the city.  Landlords rarely include the parking for free but often have it as an extra rental cost.

Food:
The actual cost of food is pretty standard around Switzerland if you shop at the Coop or Migros. The big difference is when eating out. A cheap hot meal will cost about CHF 15-20,  an average restaurant will be CHF 30 and a nice place will CHF 50.  The one Japanese restaurant can get up to about CHF 80-100 per person though unless you plan to leave hungry 🙂

Generic costs
In case you don’t want to do your research else where, this is the amount I budgeted monthly for one working adult for some of the other generic costs:
– Groceries CHF 500
– Health insurance CHF 250
– Health costs CHF 100
– Mobile phone CHF 50
– Facilities (TV, phone, internet, water, etc.) CHF 400
– Miscellaneous CHF 1000 (trust me, this part disappears quickest of all in Switzerland)