If you are reading this article that means that you are probably interested in relocating to Switzerland.
But which cities in Switzerland are the best places to live and relocate to?
In this article I will do a deep dive into which Swiss cities are the most appealing to expats.
The cities are presented in no particular order but we will look at factors like quality of life, job prospects, language and cost of living to help you make an informed decision about which city might be the most appealing to you.
And if you prefer to watch a video version of this article check out this video below.
I will start this list by covering the “capital” of Switzerland, Bern.
The reason why I put “capital” in quotation marks, is that Switzerland technically doesn’t have a capital city; however, Bern has acted as the de facto capital of the country since 1848 as it houses the Federal Parliament and government offices.
With a population of around 140,000 people, Bern is less than half the size of bigger cities on this list like Zurich.
However, despite its relatively small size many Expats working for their country’s Embassy or for one of the many medical technology manufacturing and supply companies based in Bern have chosen to make the city their home.
Another industry that has attracted expats to Bern is the telecom and technology sector with big companies like Swisscom, T-Systems, Huawei and Ebay all having their EMEA headquarters in Bern.
In addition Bern also has a relatively large energy sector which employs more than 15,000 people as well as having many jobs in the design and consulting sectors.
Another good thing about living in Bern is that it probably has the lowest rental prices of any city on this list with a one bedroom apartment costing about 1,100 CHF ($1,180/€1,000) per month and the average three bedroom apartment costing about 2,100 CHF ($2,250/€1,930) per month.
If you want a more detailed breakdown of how much it costs to live in Switzerland check out this article I wrote on the cost of living in Switzerland.
Another city worth considering in the German speaking part of the country is Basel.
With a population of just under 200,000 people, Basel is the third largest city in Switzerland.
Basel is located in the northwest part of Switzerland and is near both the French and German borders. In fact, the German and French cities of Freiburg and Strasbourg are so close that the nearest airport, Europort, actually serves as the airport for Basel, Strasbourg and Freiburg.
Basel has attracted expats from over 150 different countries and has a large expat community that makes up about a third of the city’s local population.
Basel’s close proximity to the French and German borders means that a lot of expats choose to live in France or Germany while working in Basel in order to take advantage of the high Swiss salaries while at the same time reducing their living expenses.
If you are looking to live in the city itself, a one bedroom apartment will normally cost about 1,200 CHF ($1,300/€1,100) per month while a three bedroom apartment will typically set you back around 2,300 CHF ($2,500/€2,120) per month.
In terms of job opportunities Basel is an excellent option for those working in the pharmaceutical industry with big multinational pharma companies like Novaritis and La Roche-Posay being headquartered in the city.
While Bern is known for being a more quiet city, Basel is best known for being an artsy one, having around 30 museums located throughout the city.
Zurich is another German language city and is arguably the most well known city in Switzerland.
Zurich is generally considered as the economic capital of the country which is a result of the high number of large banks which are based there as well as other multinational corporations which have chosen to set up shop in Zurich.
These companies have drawn a lot of expats to Zurich with about a third of the population of the city being made up of foriegn nationals.
Zurich is often regarded as one of the top cities for expats due to scoring highly on factors like having a low crime rate, offering high salaries and having excellent schools. However it also ranks near the top in the world in terms of cost of living for expats.
While the quality of life in Zurich is high some expats in Zurich have said that they find it difficult to find housing in some of the more desirable areas of the city. In terms of the cost of housing a one bedroom apartment in the city will normally cost around 1,700 CHF ($3,220/€2,750) per month while a three bed would cost around 3,250 CHF ($3,500/€2,990) per month.
Moving onto the most well known French speaking city in Switzerland, let’s look at some of the reasons you might want to live in Geneva.
For one, Geneva’s location on the beautiful Lake Geneva means that you have easy access to a variety of water activities which allow you to soak up the beautiful views that the city has on offer.
One of the best things about Geneva is that it has a very multicultural vibe which is in large part the result of hosting a large number of international organizations in the city including CERN, the International Labor Organization, Red Cross, World Health Organization and World Trade Organization.
All in all there are just over 40 international institutions which are based in Geneva. In total, these international organizations employ more than 30,000 of the city’s 200,000 residents.
Around 40% of the city’s residents are foreign nationals and this number jumps to just over 60% if you include foreign born naturalized Swiss citizens in these figures as well.
While Geneva is slightly cheaper than Zurich it is still one of the most expensive places to live in Switzerland.
A one bedroom apartment in Geneva will set you back about 1,700 CHF ($1,820/€1,550) per month while a three bedroom apartment can typically be found for around 3,200 CHF ($3,430/€2,930) per month.
Another city that should not be overlooked in the French speaking part of the country is the city of Lausanne.
Lausanne is located about an hour from Geneva and is known for being a student city with the University of Lausanne, École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne) and the highly regarded École hôtelière de Lausanne being located in the city.
With a population of around 140,000 people, Lausanne is the fourth largest city in the country.
Despite not being that big it still hosts the headquarters of several large multinational corporations including the tobacco company Philip Morris International, Salesforce and Logitech; and Nestle is headquartered just 15 minutes outside of the city center in nearby Vevey.
Lausanne is also the home of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) which is responsible for organizing the Summer and Winter Olympics games.
Like the other cities on this list, Lausanne is very popular with expats, with foriegn nationals making up about 40% of the population.
So whether you are an academic researcher working at one of the Universities or someone who is interested in working at one of the large multinational corporations based in the city, there should be plenty of job opportunities worth considering in Lausanne.
If you are looking for an alternative experience to the more quintessentially Swiss cities listed in this article you might want to consider the largest Italian speaking city in Switzerland which is the city of Lugano.
Lugano is located at the southern tip of Switzerland and is only about an hour away from Milan.
Lugano’s location and heavy Italian influences make it quite a bit different from other Swiss cities.
For example, it generally has a warmer climate than other parts of Switzerland with summer temperatures averaging about 27 degrees celsius. The heavy Italian influence can be found in a number of areas of daily life including the cuisine, architecture and even the style of driving.
Many expats are drawn to Lugano due to the strong services industry which makes up nearly 90% of the city’s local employment and includes industries like tourism and banking.
About 15,000 people work in the banking sector making Lugano the third largest financial center in Switzerland.
Those who are worried about the high cost of living in Switzerland will be happy to know that a one bedroom apartment can typically be found for about 1,100 CHF ($1,200/€1,00) per month while a three bedroom apartment would set you back about 2,200 CHF ($2,350/€2,000) per month.
I will finish off this article by briefly touching upon some other Swiss cities that are worth your consideration.
The first one being the city of Winterthur which is located about 30 minutes outside of Zurich. Winterthur is quite a small city with a population of around 110,000 people however it is still quite popular with expats, with foreign nationals making up 24% of the local population. Due to its close proximity to Zurich airport Winterthur is very well connected to hundreds of destinations around the world.
The next city worth considering is Lucerne which is known for its beautiful medieval architecture as well as its location next to the even more beautiful Lake Lucerne. Lucerne is the biggest city in Central Switzerland and has a population of just over 80,000 people. It is also popular amongst expats with foreign nationals making up a quarter of the local population. Lucerne is particularly attractive for entrepreneurs as it is generally regarded as the most business friendly canton in all of Switzerland boasting the lowest corporate tax rate in Switzerland.
The last city worth considering is St. Gallen which is best known for the University of St. Gallen which is often regarded as one of the best business schools in the world. St. Gallen is quite popular amongst expats with 31% of the city’s 76.000 inhabitants being foreign nationals.
That sums up my list of the best places to live in Switzerland for expats.
This is by no means a comprehensive list as Switzerland is quite unique in that you often find yourself moving to smaller cities which you might never have heard of, since many of them have still managed to attract large corporations due to their favorable tax regime.
Hopefully this gave you a better idea of where you might want to settle when moving to Switzerland. However, if you need more convincing why not check out this article I wrote on 11 reasons why you should move to Switzerland.
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