Expat adventures

  04.08.2022 Expat Adventure

Expats are flexible creatures. It’s an essential life skill for adapting to different locales, customs and languages. You quickly learn that every country has its pluses and minuses. Brilliant housing, but hideous traffic. Great weather, but high rents. Incredible landscape, but terrible access.

However, one aspect of expat life that is almost universally loathed is dealing with ‘the authorities’: anything from registering your residence to organising permits, getting visa stamps or enrolling children at local schools. A daunting, impersonal and stressful experience at the best of times, these days made worse by sloppy and over-the-top technology systems.

Technology complicates
Forms, information requests and document submissions are all moving online. It’s becoming hard, if not impossible, to learn the status of your relocation application. Timescales are hazy and opaque. Want to speak with a human being? You may as well request a meeting with the man on the moon. Life is becoming inflexible and impersonal. It’s not a good direction of travel.

When we lived in America, it took, quite literally, months for our visas to get renewed, but at least there was someone we could speak with about it. Our eldest son recently moved country and experienced a veritable communications black hole. He applied with masses of time to spare but was left twiddling his thumbs for immigration documentation until the eleventh hour, despite a supposedly “streamlined online experience”.

Easy and personal
All of which makes the local Saanenland administration stand out for all the right reasons. They are efficient, friendly, transparent and straight forward. They even treat you like a human being.

Yes, there are websites containing reference information that you need to read. And it helps if you can understand the local language. But the most important stuff is handled by post, on the phone and through in-person visits at the cantonal office in Saanen.

Consider, for instance, the Swiss permit renewal process. You receive a form through the post. You fill it in and send it back with any supporting documentation. After a short delay, you receive another letter inviting you to collect your permit from the office. No appointment needed – drop by anytime (as long as it’s not at lunch). All done without any fuss or complicated online form filling.

Working with the team in Saanen is simple. You interact with real people. You can put faces to names. The staff are easy to contact. They even provide direct dial telephone numbers. There’s no sitting on hold for hours on end listening to Dua Lipa sing her hit from three years ago on permanent loop.

Simple is best
I realise the Saanenland is not a metropolis. There are fewer foreigners here than in a city. Not so many applications to process. Less volume all around. But I could list a dozen similarly sized organisations which have conversely taken a “sledgehammer to crack a nut” approach to deploying way too much technology.

So hurrah for “the authorities” in Saanen. Hurrah for the lack of “optimised online processes”, phone queues and ‘no-reply’ email addresses. Hurrah for the people in the office at Schönriedstrasse who do all the work. Their efforts are largely unsung. They undoubtedly deal with the same problems and questions day in, day out. But they are helpful, professional, friendly and patient.

Another reason to “come up, slow down” in the Saanenland.


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