- Hi, I am Janet Su, a Canadian CPA and a Ph.D. from Switzerland (still pursuing).
- I grew up in Toronto with Chinese immigrant parents. Since I had a natural passion for numbers, my parents literally forced me to become a CPA and I got my CPA by age 24.
- In 2016, I left Canada permanently to explore the world and work/live in different countries and I haven’t been back since (besides for vacations).
- It’s been almost 3.5 years since I no longer work as a CPA (but I still do my parents’ taxes every year!).
- I am currently doing my Ph.D. full-time. It is considered a job here so I earn some money from it (in fact more than what I was earning as a CPA in Canada!). On the side, I also make money from my investments, my blog, and another side project I’m working on.
- Here is my story.
Quit my High Paying Job and Moved to Switzerland
I was fortunate to grow up with a pretty frugal family. My parents had their own business and they managed to retire in their 40s.
(But that is not to say that the money was just handed to me). You can read more about my parents’ early retirement journey here.
I worked hard to get into university and to graduate with no debt. In fact, I received over $50,000 in scholarships for my Bachelor degree.
I also did internships while studying so I graduated with about $10,000 in savings at age 21. I then worked and got my CPA by 24.
In Chinese culture, girls are expected to live at home until they get married off. So I stayed at home (with my parents) and saved a lot of money in rent.
By age 25, I had about $100,000 saved up. I didn’t know what to do with that money so my parents made me invest it into a house.
I bought the house in 2015 and it’s appreciated quite a bit over the last few years (The Toronto real estate market has been really hot in the past few years).
Quitting my job the first time and travelling for a few months
I had immense pressures from my parents who wanted me to open my own accounting firm one day. It was totally something I DID NOT want to do. But I felt quite suffocated with all these demands made by my parents.
Finally, in 2014, I decided that enough was enough. I could no longer continue the same routine. So what next?
That year (2014) I quit my job and traveled the world for a few months with a friend who was also sick and tired of her job – I guess it’s a very trendy “millennial” thing to do. Anyhow, we traveled through North America, Europe, and Asia.
And after travelling for a few short months I ended up back in Canada!
Finding another job in Canada only to quit again
After returning to Canada, my parents didn’t let me live it down.
They kept talking about the months of salary that I forewent in order to “play and have fun.” They kept telling me to find a job ASAP.
I knew finding a job after quitting the first time would be no issue at all with my level of experience and my CPA background. Thankfully, I was able to find a job within 2 months of returning to Canada.
So to all of you, if you want to take a break for a few months or maybe year Go Ahead. Taking an off for a year or so to travel and explore or even to learn will not hurt your career much.
After a while, I started to fall back into the same routine again. I didn’t find meaning in my job, I was bored. I came into the office at 9 and counted down until 5 when I could leave again.
I was good at crunching numbers but it didn’t make me happy. I am also very hardworking and love working but I really didn’t enjoy that line of work. I was depressed at my job and I dreamt everyday of seeing the world and doing something different, something more impactful.
Deciding to study (Masters Degree) in a Foreign Country
Since I grew up with rich but very fugal parents I saved quite a lot and had enough money saved up so that I could quit and travel for years… but I didn’t want to do that.
I wanted to do something purposeful. So I decided to pursue higher education but in a foreign country.
Living in a foreign country would allow me to still discover new places, thus, giving the “travel” aspect.
On top of that, I wouldn’t have to feel like I’m “wasting my time doing nothing” since I am still learning and improving my credentials. I also love studying.
Doing a Masters in a foreign country just seemed like a win-win solution.
Quitting my Job to Move Abroad Permanently (Switzerland)
Quitting my job in 2016 for the second time was scary because I was actually leaving my comfort zone. Until this point in my life, I had spent my entire life in Canada. Now, I would be miles and miles away from home.
Also, I didn’t really know anyone in Switzerland besides the people I met while traveling the first time I came here. I was basically going to be on my own for many things.
On top of that, my parents thought it was a waste of time to my Masters. They said that I was already overqualified and that I didn’t need the Masters. That was partly true if I wanted to be an accountant for the rest of my life, which I didn’t.
Also, my mom kept emphasizing all the years of lost wages I’d give up by going back to school.
Despite their efforts to talk me out, I did not listen to my parents.
If the Masters didn’t work out, I could always go back to Canada and find a CPA job easily. I mean, I did that quite easily the first time. This should be no different.
I was set to leave and I had very little fears. I wrote a super in-depth article about my entire experience quitting my job, you can check it out here: Why I Quit my Job.
Also, I only received my study visa to Switzerland about a week before I was set to leave. Needless to say, I was stressing that this whole thing wouldn’t work out!! But I’m glad it did.
I packed 4 suitcases with me, and a snowboard. I am a huge snowboard junkie so I absolutely needed to bring it with me. I was able to bring 4 suitcases because my parents and brother came with me to Switzerland to help me move in.
My mom thought this whole thing was a scam and wanted to come and see for herself that this university existed. So my mom and brother came to Switzerland to settle me in.
Why I Chose Switzerland To do my Masters Degree
I first visited Switzerland in 2014 when I quit my job the first time. I fell in love with the country. I loved the mountains. I loved how clean everything was. I told myself “I am going to move here one day.”
In fact, before considering my Masters Degree I had applied for jobs in Switzerland but it was tough because Swiss companies do not like to sponsor non-Swiss or non-EU nationals. And the government has strict quotas on this.
It was virtually impossible to get a Swiss company to sponsor me without physically being in Switzerland. However, Switzerland never left my mind.
I kept thinking about Switzerland and trying to manifest it into my life.
When you want something really badly, your mind will actively try to find more connections to it. For me, I started noticing everything related to Switzerland wherever I went. I started meeting more Swiss people.
One thing led to another and I even had a Swiss boyfriend while still living in Toronto.
So then I talked to some friends who recommended that I do a Masters degree in Switzerland.
Masters Tuition Fees in Switzerland
I looked into the tuition fees and they were next to nothing only $1,000 a year. Only the cost of living is a bit high.
But all in all, the Masters degree, including the cost of living, would cost less than doing an equivalent degree in Canada.
On top of that, I received a scholarship that would cover the large majority of my living costs for two years.
How does one say no to that? I had won the jackpot!
So for a number of reasons as mentioned above I picked Switzerland to do my Masters Degree.
Living, Studying and Working in Switzerland as an Expat
I moved to Lausanne in Switzerland because that is where my university is located. And it is a very beautiful place. I love that it is quieter than the other “big cities” in Switzerland like Zurich or Geneva.
I thought that it would be pretty easy to adjust to life in Switzerland given that it was a westernized country.
However, soon after arriving, I realized that the way things work around here is completely different from back home. To give a few examples:
- The shops close very early: On weekdays, they close at 6. And on Sundays, everything is closed. I actually got here on a Sunday and all the grocery stores were closed. I had nothing to eat that day and just went to bed hungry! I definitely learned my lesson and I always make sure to be fully stocked on Saturday since shops will be closed on Sunday.
- Swiss people are amazing but a bit more reserved than Canadians. They don’t really make small talk with strangers. I found this hard to adjust to because I’m used to the warmth and friendliness of Canadians.
- Also, since I am Asian, I also tend to stick out a lot. And it makes me uncomfortable because people are always watching me.
- Lastly, I really do miss the food from Toronto. In Toronto, you can get every sort of ethnic cuisine imaginable.
Learning the local language helps
- Learn German if you’re targeting jobs in the Swiss-German part and learn French if you’re more focused on the Swiss-French region.
- There’s also a Swiss Italian region but far fewer jobs there.
Cost of Living in Switzerland as an Expat on a Study Visa
Another high barrier to moving to Switzerland is probably the cost of living.
Switzerland is one of the most expensive countries to live in. So unless you already have a job lined up and the company is paying for your relocation expenses, you will need to have a fair amount of money saved up.
When I first moved to Switzerland, I expected a monthly spending of around $1,600.
However, I ended up having to pay a lot more for unexpected costs – such as costs to issue a living permit and transportation costs, furniture costs, etc. Those expenses easily added up to another additional $1,000.
I went to Switzerland with about $1,000 in cash. I had another ~$5,000 in my Canadian account for emergency funds.
It took me 6 months before I found a part-time job, so I was glad that I had this emergency money to cover my monthly living expenses
Currently, I spend about $2,000 a month but I live fairly frugally in a tiny apartment.
For a larger family, I would think they would spend at least $5,000-10,000 a month.
Working in Switzerland on a study visa
If you want to move to Switzerland…I would recommend that you do as much RESEARCH as possible.
The Swiss visa requirements vary depending on your country of origin. So make sure you figure out what your requirements are!
Finding a job (with a student visa) was quite easy, given my credentials. And the companies didn’t have to go through the laborious process of sponsoring me since I had the right to work under the student visa during summer holidays.
So I did not have a job before moving to Switzerland but after 6 months, I was allowed to start working part-time on my student visa.
So while doing my Masters Degree I worked as a Teaching Assistant and the extra income was good.
In the summer, I found a summer internship in Zurich. It was a nice way to see the Swiss-German part of the country since I live in the Swiss-French part.
Finding my Current Job and Pursuing a Ph.D.
Two years went by so fast and I finished my Masters degree and I realized I wanted to stay in Switzerland longer.
I first tried to look for jobs in Switzerland but had very little luck. Not many companies wanted to sponsor a non-EU national.
I also realized that I preferred having the freedom and I did not want to be “stuck” in a corporate job again.
That’s when I decided to do a Ph.D. instead.
Doing a Ph.D. in Switzerland seemed like the perfect option for me because I love studying, I love learning, and I love research. I love doing something creative.
So currently I am doing a Ph.D. and it is considered a full-time job (amazing, right!). I just finished my first year and it has been rewarding so far.
My Ph.D. should take me a few more years and after that, who knows what I will do next! I hope to be done in the next 2 years. Usually, it takes somewhere between 3-5 years to complete.
The pay from the Ph.D. covers all my costs of living. It is quite generous. The pay is more than most professors make in other countries.
In fact, if we consider the currency exchange, then I am earning more in Canadian dollars than I was earning back home as a CPA. I also pay less taxes here.
What To Consider When Moving Abroad and Living as an Expat
1. Know Your WHY
I picked Switzerland to do my Masters Degree for a number of reasons as mentioned above.
So before deciding on a country know why you want to live there.
2. Researching before moving to a new country
I DID NOT really do any research before moving to Switzerland.
I worked up until 2 weeks before I left. And then I took two weeks travelling with my family as a final “goodbye.”
I knew two people in Toronto who studied at the same university in Switzerland that I would be attending. They told me a few things about the city, the way things worked in Switzerland, etc.
Since I’d already visited Switzerland before, I had a bit of an idea of what to expect.
I did very little planning for my move abroad and would not recommend you to do the same. Looking back, I should have probably done more planning.
The only thing I really did some research on was the visa process. I knew that it would be cumbersome to get a student visa and I had to apply months in advance. I waited over 4 months to get my visa.
3. See what works for you and Take various factors into consideration
- Doing a Masters degree in Switzerland and getting a student visa was a good option for me.
- I am single with no dependents. I am still relatively young. However, this may not be the best option for you.
- Make sure to think this over before making the decision that could change your life!
- There are many options when considering a move abroad and there is no one perfect solution. It depends on your circumstances. For some, pursuing more schooling is a great option.
- A student visa is much easier to get than a work visa. However, make sure that the degree is something that will be useful for you. Sometimes, you may have to do a “prepatory” year if they do not recognize your credentials from home.
- For others, finding a job is better. Consider your dependents and what their needs are as well. How often do you plan to visit home? Do you have time/money for that? These are all things to take into consideration.
4. Know Your Work Permits and Employment-Based Visas
The visa I applied for was a student visa. You have to prove that you have enough money to sustain yourself (so bank statements as proof). You also had to write a letter that you will leave Switzerland as soon as you’re done your degree. I found this a bit strange.
So before considering any country, you have to take into account the visas and employment permits. Here are a few points about visas in Switzerland:
- As a non-European (that is from third states), then it is very difficult to get a work permit/visa for Switzerland.
- Non-EU/EFTA nationals must get work authorization with their residence permit. Foreign workers are subject to quotas in Switzerland, meaning only a certain number are distributed every year.
- It is quite difficult to get a visa to work in Switzerland without already having a job lined up. There’s a rule that you cannot hire a non-EU national if there is someone more qualified in the EU. That means that companies have to prove that they searched in all of the EU and that YOU are the most qualified. This is very difficult to do and most companies just don’t bother with it.
- So you will have to be a specialist in your field. First, you have to get employment, that to with an employer who will agree to go through all the hassle.
5. Research living costs
- I would recommend you research the cost of living in the country you plan to move to.
- A great site that I used is Numbeo, which also allows you compare the cost of living between two countries.
6. Start saving money
- I know most accountants for risk-averse (like I am)! So, you would probably feel quite “secure” with some financial assets to back you up. I recommend that you save up some money before you decide leave your home.
- Perhaps apply for jobs already while you’re still in your home country and wait to get relocated. I wasn’t as patient and I wanted to take matters into my own hands, so I just went without a job.
- I’d recommend to go with at least 3-6 months worth of savings to get you through the rough parts of settling in and not finding a job immediately. The more money you have, the better.
7. Have a Plan B
- Having a plan B is a great way to give you some “peace of mind.”
- Always consider the worst-case scenario and whether you can handle it. In most cases, it’s not so bad and you can easily move back home if things don’t work out.
- My plan B was basically to go home and find a CPA job again. I’m glad I didn’t have to resort to it!
8. Face your Fears
- My greatest fear of moving to a new country was failure.
- I was scared that I wouldn’t like it, that I would want to move back home. Thankfully, that didn’t happen. Quite the opposite actually. I want to spend the rest of my life here.
Quitting my job and moving abroad to a totally new country is definitely a life-changing experience.
I would not be the same person if I had stayed in Canada all my life. I am a lot more independent now. I feel like the sky is the limit and nothing can stop me. I am more fearless.
I gained a lot more confidence after living abroad. I realized that I am great at connecting with people. I make friends wherever I go. And I am talking about deep connections.
The journey has been fun, challenging, and very rewarding.
I’m an avid traveler and living abroad allows me to easily move around in Europe. I’ve seen most of Europe now, which would probably not have been possible if I just stayed in Canada.
Maybe, who knows, I might change my mind again. I’m quite fickle. But for now, I am extremely content with living in Europe.
I think once I finish my Ph.D. I will probably want to relocate somewhere else again. Perhaps to Asia because I’ve never lived there before and I’d think it would be a cool experience. I also love Asian food.
My Best Advice to you is:
Learn to Act
- My best piece of advice is to just do it. If there is any yearning whatsoever, you need to pursue it. Don’t wait for an opportunity to present itself, it doesn’t often work out that way.
- You have to actively work on making it happen! The best time is now.
- The longer you wait, the harder it will become. We all know life happens.
Explore when you are young
- I was lucky because when I left, I was young. I was mobile. I had spare cash and healthy parents. In short, I had no dependents.
- I couldn’t possibly have done it if I had had dependents or aging parents who needed me to take care of them.
- Life gets more complicated as we get older so make the best of it, now!
Start a Blog
- If I could start over, I would have started my blog earlier. I started my blog after living in Switzerland for 1.5 years This was when I was just finishing up my Masters degree and not really sure what I would do next.
- Most of the questions I receive on my blog are related to things that happened when I first moved here. I wish I had documented them in greater detail back when they were happening!
- I was also surprised to find such a strong community who is interested in learning about my expat life!
- My blog has truly connected me with people around the world (including you guys). My only regret was not starting a blog sooner!
- I would recommend anyone to start a blog, CPA or not.
- There are so many niches and an audience for everyone.
Now It’s Your Turn…
Have you considered moving to Switzerland or any other country?
Or are you already studying/ living as an expat?
I would love to connect with you in the comments.
I offer coaching through my blog as well. I offer advice on how to better handle finances and how to figure out your dream life (which includes, for example, moving to another country).