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Travel In Zurich, Switzerland

Cars, Watches, Banks, And Chocolate—Comparing Two Safe Havens

You can find anything you might be looking for in Zurich, Switzerland. The question is whether you can afford to buy it.

Even if we weren’t coming from Panama City, prices in Zurich would be a shock. A friend from France warned me in advance of our trip. “Be careful,” he wrote. “A Big Mac costs close to US$20 in Zurich these days!”

We don’t happen to be in the market for a McDonald’s meal, but we do have to eat. As I said, you can find any kind of food you might be hungry for in this posh Swiss city, but, seeing the cost, you might lose your appetite. Our first afternoon in the city, we had a pleasant lunch of pizzas and salads in a modest restaurant with outdoor seating in its courtyard. We drank only water. The bill for the five of us came to about US$150.

As we’ve gotten to know Zurich a little better, we’ve realized we got off easy with that first meal. The simple Continental breakfast in our hotel is 16.50 Swiss francs per person, and 40 to 50 Swiss francs per head for lunch isn’t unusual.

One restaurant’s menu, which we perused before deciding against entering for a meal, included sancocho. This is a Panamanian specialty that we enjoy regularly in Panama City. In Panama, sancocho is often included as part of a típico Executive Lunch menu, which often starts with this traditional soup and then follow with a plate of, say, chicken and rice.

We eat that lunch at least a couple of times a week, in different Panama City restaurants, paying maybe US$7 or US$8 apiece for the meal.

In the Zurich restaurant where we saw sancocho listed as a starter, the price tag was 25 Swiss francs.

Just for the soup.

What are we doing in Zurich in the first place? We, along with our 22-year-old daughter Kaitlin, our 11-year-old son Jackson, and our daughter’s boyfriend Harry, are on vacation. Last weekend, following our conference in Panama, the five of us flew from Panama City to Zurich, rented a car, and set off for a two-and-a-half-week do-it-ourselves tour of the Continent.

The trip was planned entirely by our children. Lief and I are along for the ride. And to pay.

Seventeen days in a rental car touring Europe with our children… A friend in Panama remarked that it sounds like the script for a Chevy Chase movie.

In most of the cities where we’ll be staying overnight, Kaitlin and Jack had trouble finding hotels that fit within the budget parameters Lief had set for them. Our first hotel, in Zurich, is a simple three-star establishment where the single desk clerk is friendly and helpful, the bathrooms are clean, and the beds are comfortable. It’s fine…until we remember that, for this humble standard, we’re paying 240 Swiss francs per night per room.

We compare this with our favorite hotel in Medellin, Colombia, where we also stayed recently. Medellin’s Park 10 is a five-star affair where the fully appointed suites boast large bathtubs, fluffy robes, and many other niceties. A night in the Park 10’s best suite can cost as little as US$150, depending on the season.

But Medellin isn’t Zurich.

Neither is Panama City, though, between these two destinations–Panama and Switzerland–I’d like to draw some comparisons. For both are safe havens, places to organize your financial life in an effort to escape the current global financial chaos.

Everywhere we look in Zurich, we’re reminded of the money in this city. Cars, watches, and banks. That’s what you find in Zurich. (And chocolate, Jackson points out.) We’re enjoying this chance to mingle and mix among what I imagine must be some of the world’s wealthiest people, folks who aren’t shocked to spend US$50 per head for an everyday lunch. Folks who shop with their children, as we’ve been observing, at Hermes and Jimmy Choo the way we shop with ours at Gap and Nine West.

It’s hard to imagine a more pleasant environment than the one on offer in Zurich. The skies are blue and sunny, and the temperatures, even now, at the height of summer, are comfortable. The old town is charming and historic. The entire city is remarkably clean and well-kept. People are friendly and polite. No one honks his car horn or pushes his car in front of yours as you’re driving through town (two things that drive us crazy in Panama City). Everyone is carefully dressed, even when running out to the corner grocery store for a container of milk.

This would be a lovely place to live. But who could afford to live here? Not us.

Even if we could afford to live here, we couldn’t bank here. We’re Americans. Swiss banks don’t want us as customers. I don’t blame them. We Americans come with a lot of banking baggage these days.

The unfortunate reality is that, increasingly, no banks want us. That’s an exaggeration, but, increasingly, less so. At least one bank in Panama has recently taken the position that it won’t accept any new American clients. And another bank we know in Panama City has been unceremoniously dropping its existing American clients.

It’s still very possible to open a bank account, either an operating account or an account with a private bank where you might park capital, in Panama. But if you think you might ever need or want a Panama bank account and don’t already have one, I suggest you work much sooner rather than later to get one in place. Windows of opportunity are beginning to close.

And, again, this isn’t a Switzerland or a Panama thing. This is a global banking thing, a challenge that I predict, before too long, Americans are going to face everywhere in the world.

On the other hand, as we spent a few days discussing in detail with attendees at our Live & Invest in Panama Conference in Panama City last week, Panama does continue to offer safe haven, opportunities for organizing your financial affairs beyond U.S. borders and for investing in hard and productive assets in an economy positioned to continue to boom for some years to come.

And, in Panama, you can afford to pursue these opportunities.

Kathleen Peddicord

P.S. As you read this, we’re on our way from Zurich to Salzburg. As much as we enjoyed our days in Zurich, Lief is delighted to be leaving the land of the Swiss franc behind. We’re encouraged already. The hotel where we’ll be staying in Salzburg charges but 7 euro per person for its breakfast!

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