Welcome to the Canton of Bern. Useful information for new residents.

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1 Welcome to the Canton of Bern. Useful information for new residents. Gesundheits- und Fürsorgedirektion des Kantons Bern Sozialamt Fachstelle für Integration

2 Dear New Resident Welcome to Bern, an attractive and diverse canton. We are pleased that you have decided to come and live here. Canton Bern is made up of several urban centres and a large rural area. On 1st January 2008 there were 962,982 people living in the canton, of whom 12.45% were of foreign nationality. The majority of the Bernese population lives in the towns of Bern, Biel, Burgdorf and Thun. Bern is a bilingual canton, German and French being the official languages. There are also several bilingual municipalities, but towns and villages usually have just one official language either French or German. We would like you to feel comfortable and settle quickly into the place you have chosen to live. Integration is always a two-way process, which requires efforts on your part as well as the understanding of the local people. This brochure gives you an overview of the services on offer to help you start your new life in Canton Bern. Please make use of them! Many municipalities also offer their own integration services. Please contact your local council directly for further information. 2

3 Contents 1. Residency / Family Reunification 5 2. German, French and Integration Courses / Advice on Immigration / Integration 8 3. Employment Accommodation Raising and Caring for Children / Education Health / Social Security Taxation Getting Around 22 3

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5 1. Residency / Family Reunification Where can I get information about my residence permit (permanent or temporary)? You must renew your residence permit regularly. Your rights and obligations depend on the type of permit you have been given (L, B, C, G, N, F). How far in advance do you have to renew your permit? What rights and obligations do you have as a foreigner in Switzerland? How can you change your residency status from temporary to permanent? What must you do if you want to apply for Swiss citizenship? You can get the answers to these questions from the Canton Bern Immigration Service (Migrationsdienst des Kantons Bern) and if you live in Bern, Biel or Thun, from the municipal population services (Einwohnerdienste). Migrationsdienst des Kantons Bern (Canton Bern Immigration Service) Eigerstrasse 73, 3011 Bern Tel (Mon Fri am and pm) Fax (> Amt für Migration und Personenstand > Migrationsdienst des Kantons Bern) (in German and French only) City of Bern: Einwohnerdienste, Migration und Fremdenpolizei (Population Services, Immigration and Alien Police) Predigergasse 5, 3000 Bern 7 Tel (Mon Fri am and 2 4 pm) (> Einwohnerdienste) (in German only) Biel: Bevölkerung (Dienststelle Ausländerinnen und Ausländer) (Population (Office for Foreigners)) Neuengasse 28, Postfach 1520, 2501 Biel Tel Fax (>Verwaltung / Online Services > Behördenwegweiser > Sicherheitsdirektion > Abteilung öffentliche Sicherheit und Bevölkerung > Bevölkerung) (in German and French only) Thun: Einwohnerdienste der Stadt Thun (Thun Population Services) Hofstettenstrasse 14, Postfach 145, 3602 Thun Tel Fax (> Einwohnerdienste) (in German only) 5

6 I would like my family to join me in Switzerland. What steps should I take and who can give me advice? Information and all the necessary forms about family reunification can be obtained from the Population Services in Bern, Biel and Thun or from the Canton Bern Immigration Services (addresses on page 5). There are several other advisory centres which can give you help, such as: frabina Advisory Centre for Women and Mixed Nationality Couples Laupenstrasse 2, 3008 Bern Tel and the Kompetenzzentren Integration (Competence Centres for Integration) of Canton Bern. City of Bern: ISA Information Centre for Foreigners Affairs Bollwerk 39, 3011 Bern Tel In 2010 ISA merged with BAFFAM Advisory Centre for Women and Families with an Immigrant Background and continues to provide these services as well. Burgdorf: Kompetenzzentrum Integration (Competence Centre for Integration) Bahnhof Steinhof, Bernstrasse 65, 3400 Burgdorf Tel Langenthal: interunido Thunstettenstrasse 40, 4900 Langenthal Tel Biel: MULTIMONDO Kompetenzzentrum Integration (Competence Centre for Integration) Oberer Quai 22, 2503 Biel/Bienne Tel Thun: KIO Kompetenzzentrum Integration (Competence Centre for Integration) Schubertstrasse 10, 3600 Thun Tel

7 These organisations can also answer any questions you may have regarding residency permits. You can find more information about residency regulations and family reunification in Canton Bern on the following website: (some pages in English) I have come to Switzerland through marriage. What do I need to know? If you get married in Switzerland or live in Switzerland as a married person, you are subject to Swiss marriage law. In Switzerland men and women have equal rights in the eyes of the law outside of marriage, too. This means that both husband and wife have the same rights and obligations and should make decisions together regarding all aspects of their married life. Violence in marriage is an offence for which a person can be prosecuted ex officio that is to say, the perpetrator must be officially prosecuted, even against the will of the victim. A fact sheet in 15 languages on the main rights and obligations under Swiss law can be found at: (> Themen > Gesellschaft > Zivilstand > Merkblätter) (follow German links) Do you have any questions about marriage law in Switzerland, or about your status as a foreigner gained through marriage to a Swiss person or to a person with residency rights in Switzerland? Or would you like general information about mixed nationality marriage or partnerships between persons with an immigrant background? Our advisory services will be happy to help you (addresses on page 6). You can find more information at: (some pages in English) Information on a range of topics relating to mixed nationality marriage can be found at: 7

8 2. German, French and Integration Courses / Advice on Immigration / Integration Where can I learn German or French? German is the main language spoken in Canton Bern, and in some regions French is spoken. High German (standard German) is spoken in schools in the German-speaking areas, but dialect Swiss German is spoken in everyday situations. In order to be able to settle well into daily life and the world of work, you need to understand and speak the language you hear spoken around you. This will help you to make contact with Swiss people and find work more easily. In Canton Bern there are many language courses on offer. Some teach you the language you need for specific everyday situations. General information about living in Switzerland is often the subject of these courses, which are also known as integration courses. During these courses professional childcare is sometimes available. A list of the institutions offering language and integration courses in Canton Bern can be found at: (> Informationen zum Weiterbildungsangebot > Zielgruppen Migrantinnen und Migranten > Bildungsanbieter im Bereich Migration) or (some pages in English) Erziehungsdirektion des Kantons Bern, Abteilung Weiterbildung (Canton Bern Education Ministry, Further Education Department) Kasernenstrasse 27 / Postfach, 3000 Bern 22 Tel Fax (in German and French only) You can find out about all German courses offered in the City of Bern at: deutschkurse (in German only) You can get an overview of the range of courses run by the Competence Centre for Integration in your area (see addresses on page 6). Some of them also run their own language and integration courses. I have some general questions about living in Switzerland or would like to know more about certain topics. Where can go to I ask? The Competence Centres for Integration and frabina (see addresses on page 6) are always a good place to ask. Perhaps you have a specific question, about language, marriage, partnership and family, domestic violence, school and work, financial, legal or health issues? Or perhaps about dealing with the authorities, immigration, discrimination, racism or an issue relating to old age? The advisory centres should be able to put you in touch with the right specialist organisations. You can see a list of all the advisory centres and what s on offer in the immigration and integration domain at: (some pages in English) Intercultural interpreters help people from different cultures to communicate as well as possible. They take into account the social and cultural background of those involved in discussion, often helping out in situations involving the health, educational and social services. If you have 8

9 need of this professional service, please contact comprendi?, the agency for qualified intercultural interpreters and translators in Canton Bern. Comprendi? Länggassstrasse 23, Postfach 623, 3000 Bern 9 Tel Fax (in German only) Where can I get help if I am the victim of discrimination and racism? There are two agencies you can contact in Canton Bern if you experience discrimination or racism. Bern (city) and Burgdorf region: gggfon gemeinsam gegen Gewalt und Rassismus (Fighting violence and racism together) Information and advisory centre for violence and racism Tel (in German only) National: Eidgenössische Kommission gegen Rassismus EKR (Federal Commission against Racism) Schwanengasse 2, 3003 Bern Tel Fax You will find further information about advisory services, events, courses etc. on fighting discrimination and racism at: (some pages in English) The website of the Federal Service for the Fight against Racism (Eidgenössische Fachstelle für Rassismusbekämpfung) also contains a lot of useful information brochures and legal advice, an electronic address book with addresses of relevant advisory centres and how to get financial support for anti-racism and human rights projects: Biel region: Drop-in centre against racism MULTIMONDO Kompetenzzentrum Integration (Competence Centre for Integration) Oberes Quai 22, 2503 Biel Tel (in German and French only) 9

10 3. Employment I would like to work in Canton Bern. How should I go about it? If you are in possession of a valid foreigner s permit upon which berechtigt zur Erwerbstätigkeit (permitted to work) does NOT appear, then report to the population office (Einwohnerkontrolle) of your local authority before you start work. Also report to this office if you change employer. If you do not have a valid foreigner s permit or have a tourist visa, you are not permitted to work. Information about getting a job and current wage and working conditions can be obtained from the following two offices: beco Berner Wirtschaft (Bernese Economy) Ausländische Erwerbstätige (Foreign Employees) Laupenstrasse 22, 3011 Bern Tel Fax (in German and French only) How do I go about looking for work? Job advertisements can be found in daily newspapers, regional or local advertisers (Anzeiger) and on the Internet (e.g. You can also submit your CV to the range of temporary employment agencies in your region. These agencies help people looking for both temporary and permanent employment. You should also tell all your friends, acquaintances, relatives and neighbours that you are looking for a job. Jobs can often be found via someone you might know. Some organisations offer special services for non-swiss people such as mentoring programmes, projects to help you find work more easily and continuing professional development. An overview of what s on offer can be found at: (some pages in English) Migrationsdienst des Kantons Bern (Canton Bern Immigration Service) Eigerstrasse 73, 3011 Bern Tel Fax (in German only) You can find more centres which give advice on getting a work permit at: (some pages in English) 10

11 Where can I get help in looking for work? You can get advice from the regional job centres (Regionale Arbeitsvermittlungszentren, RAV). There are 19 of these centres in Canton Bern; you can find a list of them at: (in German and French only) TriiO is an organisation where you can get personal advice about work and unemployment (by appointment). It also provides free access to job sections in newspapers, the Internet and computers. You can also get help in writing and putting together a job application. TRiiO Spitalgasse 33, 3011 Bern Tel Fax (some pages in English) Will my foreign diploma be recognised in Switzerland? Not all foreign diplomas are recognised in Switzerland. If you have questions about your qualifications, please contact: Bundesamt für Berufsbildung und Technologie (BBT) (Federal Office for Professional Education and Technology) Kontaktstelle Diplomanerkennung (Information Centre for the Recognition of Diplomas) Effingerstrasse 27, 3003 Bern Tel Fax I would like to retrain. Where can I get ideas? You can get advice about further training and professional development from Canton Bern s Centre for Professional Development, Study and Career Advice (BIZ, Berufs-, Studien- und Laufbahnberatung des Kantons Bern). This service can also help you to get a clearer idea of your interests and skills. Simply contact your local BIZ centre. You can get further information and contact details at: (in German and French only) 11

12 4. Accommodation I am looking for an apartment. How can I go about it? Accommodation adverts can also be found in daily newspapers, local advertising papers and on the Internet (e.g. or You will find an overview of search engines to help you find accommodation, tips on moving house and registering in your new area, and a list of some of the leisure activities on offer at: (in German and French only) Wohnen im Kanton Bern (Living in the Canton of Bern) Münsterplatz 3, 3011 Bern Tel (in German and French only) A list of useful links and an information sheet in eleven languages explaining the most important rules and rights of tenants in Switzerland can be found at: (> Dokumentation > Publikationen > Infoblatt Wohnen) (in German, French and Italian only) Where can I get information about tenancy law? A good place to ask is the kantonaler Mietverband - cantonal tenants association, which offers members free legal advice and other services relating to rented housing issues. Membership costs CHF per year. Mietverband Kanton Bern (Canton Bern Tenants Association) Monbijoustrasse 61, 3007 Bern Postal address: Postfach, 3000 Bern 23 Tel Fax 031 / The list of links on the Federal Office for Housing website mentioned above also includes advisory centres for issues on rented housing. Bundesamt für Wohnungswesen BWO (Federal Office for Housing) Storchengasse 6, 2540 Grenchen Tel.: (in German, French and Italian only) 12

13 5. Raising and caring for children / Education I recently had a child and have some questions about how to care for my infant. Where can I ask? The parents advisory service (Mütter- und Väterberatung) offers free advice to all parents, giving them extra support and confidence in their role as parents. Parents questions vary depending on the age of their child, and the parents advisory service can give support for all stages of a young child s development, from birth through to kindergarten. There are advice centres in almost all council areas in Canton Bern. You can find addresses and where to go at: (in German and French only) How does the school system in Canton Bern operate? Four and five-year-olds visit kindergarten for one or two years. Each child has the right to go to kindergarten for at least a year. Although it is not compulsory, almost all children go to kindergarten, which is free of charge. Kindergarten prepares children for compulsory schooling, which lasts nine years. Again, schooling and school materials (books, paper etc.) are free. Children who reach the age of six before the 1st May start primary school on 1st August of that year. You can find information about school and kindergarten in a range of languages at: (in German and French only) Erziehungsdirektion des Kantons Bern (Canton Bern Ministry of Education) Sulgeneckstrasse 70, 3005 Bern Tel Fax (in German and French only) There are a range of things young people can do once they have finished compulsory schooling. The best place to go for information about opportunites at upper secondary level is the Centre for Professional Development, Study and Career Advice (BIZ, Berufs-, Studien- und Laufbahnberatung des Kantons Bern) (www.erz.be.ch/berufsberatung) (in German and French only). Depending on their interests and abilities, school leavers can either do a vocational apprenticeship, an apprenticeship plus the vocational maturity examination, or continue their schooling at maturity school (Gymnasium), specialised middle school (Fachmittelschule) or commercial school (Handelsmittelschule). Switzerland has an education system with two components: a vocational apprenticeship involves a practical part in a company or business and a theoretical part in a vocational school. An apprentice may also choose to take the vocational maturity examination, which enables young people to go on to study at a university of applied science or take certain degree courses at cantonal universities. This means that doing an apprenticeship can be equal in status to attending maturity school (Gymnasium), and often leads to greater career opportunities. 13

14 Information on the range of educational opportunities can be found at: (> berufsbildung oder > mittelschule) (in German and French only) At you will find an information sheet in five languages on transferring to maturity school (Gymnasium) in Bern from a school abroad. Each year the Verein für fremdsprachige Eltern und Bildung (Association for Parents speaking a Foreign Language and for Education) holds information evenings in fifteen languages on the education system in Canton Bern. Verein für fremdsprachige Eltern und Bildung (Association for Parents speaking a Foreign Language and for Education) Tel Fax How do I register my child for school? You can register your child at your local council or directly with the local school authorities. What should I do if there are problems at school? Talk to the teachers. You may also like to get in touch with the cantonal Child Guidance Clinic (Erziehungsberatung des Kantons Bern). Addresses, telephone numbers and where to find the thirteen different regional clinics can be found at: (in German and French only) Some local councils also employ social workers for schools who can give advice to children and young people experiencing social or personal problems. Teachers will also help to recognise and deal with social problems which may prevent children from doing well at school. You can find out more from your local school. I need childcare for my children. What should I do? In Canton Bern there is a range of childcare opportunities. You can find more information about costs and help in finding a suitable childcare place at: (> Familie > Kindertagesstätten und Tageseltern) (in German and French only) 14

15 Gesundheits- und Fürsorgedirektion des Kantons Bern Sozialamt (Canton Bern Department of Health and Social Services) Rathausgasse 1, 3011 Bern Tel Fax Some schools also operate as day schools. Depending on demand in the local council area, these schools may provide care for your children before school, in the lunch hour and / or after school. This care facility is usually provided by the school itself and takes place on the school premises. Daycare costs are calculated according to income, wealth and size of the family or according to the cantonal rate. An overview of the local councils in Canton Bern which operate as day schools can be found, along with further information, at: (> Kindergarten und Volksschule > Tagesschulen) (in German and French only) How can I go about getting further training? You can search for opportunities in your field of interest in the practical database at: (in German, French and Italian only) You can also arrange a careers advice appointment at your local Centre for Professional Development, Study and Career Advice (BIZ, Berufs-, Studien- und Laufbahnberatung), which will help you to get an idea of all the continuing professional development opportunities available. You will find the contact details of the regional BIZ at: (in German, French and Italian only) Many organisations also run training courses particularly for people from an immigrant background. You can find out about the courses on offer at: (some pages in English) Those living in the city of Bern should please contact: Zentrale Vermittlung für Kita-Plätze in der Stadt Bern (Central Agency for Childcare Places in the City of Bern) Postfach 6862, 3001 Bern Tel Fax (> Leben in Bern > Persönliches und Familie > Familie, Erziehung und Kinderbetreuung) (in German only) 15

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17 6. Health / Social Security I am ill. Which doctor should I go to? You can choose to which doctor you would like to go. However, some health insurers restrict this choice to certain doctors only. In the telephone directory you will find the addresses of all the doctors in your area. If you want to find a doctor with specific language skills, specialist area or in a particular region, you can go to: (in German, French and Italian only) It is best to look for a GP or General Practitioner (Hausarzt, Hausärztin) who you feel you can have confidence in. If you are ill, you should first contact your GP, who may visit you at home and who can be contacted during the night or at the weekend. If necessary, your GP will refer you to a specialist in a private practice or at a hospital. You should only go to the Accident and Emergency department of a hospital in a life-threatening situation. In the city of Bern, you can also contact CITY NOTFALL in the case of a medical emergency. CITY NOTFALL AG (open daily 7 am 10 pm) Bubenbergplatz 10, 3011 Bern Tel Fax (in German only) I would like to know more about the Swiss health system or some other particular topic. Where can I find out more? Do you have a specific question about nutrition and exercise, your child s health, love and sexuality? Or perhaps you have a general question about health services in Switzerland. You can download or order brochures in various languages free of charge at: (in German, French and Italian only) How do I choose a health insurer? Health insurance is compulsory in Switzerland. A person who comes to live in Switzerland has to take out basic health insurance within three months. You can find further information at: (in German and French only) You can order a free information leaflet about compulsory health insurance in Switzerland at: (Thema Krankenversicherung) There is a wide range of health insurance companies. You can decide for yourself which one you would like to take out insurance with. All health insurance companies are required to give you basic coverage. This means that visits to the doctor and to the hospital in Canton Bern are paid for by the insurance. However, there is an excess, i.e. you must pay part of the doctor s or hospital bill yourself. 17

18 Dentist s bills are not covered by basic health insurance. You can compare health insurance companies to find out which is cheapest for you at: You will find further information on the different health insurers services and premiums at: If you are on a low income you are entitled to a premium reduction. This means that the Confederation (state) and the canton in which you live pay part of your insurance premium. How much you are entitled to is usually automatically calculated on the basis of your tax return. People in possession of a B, L, N or F residency permit have to apply to the Office for Social Insurance and Foundation Supervision (Amt für Sozialversicherung und Stiftungsaufsicht) for a premium reduction. This office can give you further information and the necessary forms. Amt für Sozialversicherung und Stiftungsaufsicht (ASVS) (Office for Social Insurance and Foundation Supervision) Abteilung Prämienverbilligung und Obligatorium (Department for Premium Reductions and Mandatory Insurance) Forelstrasse 1, 3072 Ostermundigen Tel. info (Hotline): Fax What is AHV / IV? The Alters- und Hinterlassenenversicherung (AHV) (Old Age and Survivors Insurance) and Invalidenversicherung (IV) (incapacity benefit) are compulsory in Switzerland. The AHV is the state pension. Women receive an old age pension when they reach the age of 64, men when they are 65. IV (incapacity benefit) ensures that people who are unable to work either completely or partially following an accident or due to health problems receive the basic minimum to live. People aged 20 and above must pay AHV and IV contributions. These are automatically deducted from your salary if you are employed. If you are not employed or are selfemployed, you have to pay the contributions directly into the AHV/IV fund. Ausgleichskasse des Kantons Bern (Canton Bern Pension and Benefits Fund) Chutzenstrasse 10, 3007 Bern Tel Fax Further informationen on AHV/IV and all relevant forms can be found at: (in German, French and Italian) 18

19 What other insurance should I have, even if it is not compulsory? It is worth having insurance for the following things. Almost everyone in Switzerland does. Accident insurance: If you work, you are insured for accidents via your employer. If you work for more than eight hours per week for the same employer, you are also insured by the employer for accidents which do not occur at work. If you are not employed or work fewer than eight hours a week, you can take out accident insurance with your health insurer. Personal liability: If you do some form of damage to someone or their belongings, you are responsible. That means that you have to pay for it. If you have personal liability insurance you do not have to pay out huge amounts of money in such cases. By paying just a small premium, you can be covered for very large claims. You can find out more about personal liability insurance at: Household insurance: Household insurance pays for damage to your home and belongings caused by fire, water, natural disasters (e.g. storm or flooding), theft and glass breakages. If you rent a flat, you are usually required to take out household insurance. This is often available in a package with personal liability insurance. You can find out more about household insurance and premiums at: 19

20 7. Taxation Taxes are used by the state to finance all the important tasks for the good of all the people living in the country for instance education, social services, health and transport. How do I pay tax in Canton Bern? If neither you nor your spouse has residency permit C, taxes are deducted directly from your salary (Quellensteuer - taxation at source). People with a residency permit, Swiss people and their non-swiss spouses have to complete and submit a tax return each year. If you have questions about paying tax, please ask your employer or the cantonal tax office. On the tax office s website you will find lots of useful tips and information. Steuerverwaltung des Kantons Bern (Canton Bern Tax Office) Brünnenstrasse 66, 3018 Bern-Bümpliz Postal address: Postfach 8334, 3001 Bern Tel Fax (in German only) Do I have to pay fees for radio and television? You have to pay for radio and television in Switzerland. Fees must be paid to an organisation called Billag AG. You have to register with Billag if you have a television or radio or have a device on which you can receive a radio or tele vision programme (e.g. computer or mobile phone). Each household has to pay these fees. Billag AG, schweizerische Erhebungsstelle für Radio- und Fernsehgebühren Contact Center Postfach, 1701 Freiburg Tel Fax (in German, French and Italian only) 20

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