No matter where you move, the rest of the country is usually just a quick drive away. But while Switzerland may be a small country, it still offers a multitude of popular expat destinations. From buzzing cities to picturesque ski slopes, we have listed the best places in Switzerland.
At a Glance:
Despite its size, Switzerland boasts some of the most popular expat destinations in the world.
Zurich and Geneva are the biggest and also most expensive expat hubs in the country.
Ticino is also a popular canton due to its proximity to Italy and its Mediterranean flair.
Winter sport enthusiasts will find the best and longest ski slopes in Lucerne.
Switzerland, although it is a rather small country, offers a little something for every expat. Whether you are a city kid or a country girl/boy, whether you like the mountains or the proximity to Mediterranean countries, you can find the place that is just right for you in Switzerland.
A Small Expat Hub in the Middle of Europe
Even though Switzerland only has a population of eight million and occupies just 41,000 km2, the country is divided into 26 cantons and has four official languages. It has the Alps in the south and the Jura Mountains in the northwest, but not all cantons and areas lend themselves to skiing or rock climbing. That being said, commutes are surprisingly short and a weekend get-away to your favorite ski slopes is easy to organize.
Switzerland shares borders with five other European countries: Italy, France, Austria, Germany, and Liechtenstein. However, before you think about all the places you can go from there, let us introduce you to the top destinations in Switzerland.
Switzerland’s Most Popular Cities
Although Switzerland has many great corners to live in, expats are often drawn to a few specific cities, the country’s most popular expat destinations.
This city is Switzerland’s main business destination, a true powerhouse and home to many international companies operating in the banking, art and media sector. Unsurprisingly, the cost of living is rather high and available housing is rare, particularly in the city center.
On the upside, the city and capital of the region with the same name combines nightlife with cultural highlights and a beautiful historic old town. It offers an abundance of museums, art galleries, restaurants, clubs, and bars. Families and older expats tend to prefer living a bit outside of the city, though, where it is quieter und you can find more green spaces.
Of course, you are never far from the lake or the ski slopes and hiking trails if you rather enjoy spending a relaxed day outdoors. In that case, you should also visit the Rhine Falls, the biggest waterfall in Europe, which is only 45 minutes away from Zurich.
Geneva, often referred to as the “world’s smallest metropolis”, is home to the European seat of the UNO and the International Red Cross headquarters, among many other international institutions, and boasts a much more multicultural atmosphere than Zurich. It is located in the French part of the country and its main attraction is the Jet d’Eau, a water fountain on the Lake Geneva with a water jet that reaches 140 meters into the air.
Culturally and professionally, Geneva has a lot to offer to expats. However, it is also one of the most expensive cities in Switzerland, mostly due to the high number of diplomats and politicians working there and the fact that the city is such a popular destination for expats and tourists alike. On the upside, connections to the rest of Europe, and the entire world in fact, are very good and the best ski resorts are easy to reach.
Are you looking for the stereotypical picture of little cabins with red geraniums in their window boxes? Bern is the best city to find this typical Swiss experience. Although Bern is rather picturesque compared to Zurich and Geneva, as the country’s de facto capital, it is also an important destination in Switzerland. Located between the French and the German part of the country, it offers both access to the plateaus in the west and the mountains in the east.
All important political decisions are made in this city. Beyond that, however, Bern is the perfect place for those looking for a quieter existence, who would prefer a small-town feel to the urban brawl. This also means that a lot is within walking distance and you don’t necessarily need to plan in a long commute every day.
With about 100,000 inhabitants, Winterthur is the sixth largest city in Switzerland. It is located in the canton Zurich and is mainly popular as an education and culture hub, not least of all thanks to its 16 museums. Compared to the more obvious expats destinations, Winterthur is still a well-kept secret with much lower rental prices than Zurich or Bern, for instance. This does not mean that you will be the only expat, of course. With 25% of the country’s population being foreigners, you’ll be in good company.
Winterthur itself has retained a small-town charm. Nestled between green hills, the city offers a beautiful historic old town as well as a busy nightlife. If the center is too busy for your taste, you can always retreat to the town’s quieter surroundings or visit the Rhine Falls, a mere 20-minute drive away.
Lausanne and Basel
Lausanne is particularly popular with families with younger children. It is located along Lake Geneva, close to the mountains but smaller and quieter than Geneva, with a more approachable housing market. Another upside is that it is rather safe and has a very low crime rate. Lausanne is also a university town and offers a multicultural, relaxed feel with a high quality of life.
Basel is a university town and is often considered Switzerland’s cultural capital. Still, Basel is a rather small and cozy town, located in Switzerland’s northwest. Due to its location on the German and French border, there is a lot of industry and trade between these countries. Moreover, the Rhine not only offers great opportunities to relax and take walks along its shores but also plays a big role in import and export which attracts a lot of expats. That being said, the city is also worth a visit for its beautiful old town and its many museums.
Other Favorite Cantons
Aside from the main cities, there are different regions in Switzerland with smaller towns and a good quality of life. Although they may not offer the buzzing nightlife you expected, they are worth checking out.
The Italian-speaking region of Ticino is popular for its great weather and proximity to Italy. Indeed, Ticino embodies a bit of an Italian flair with piazzas and palm trees, even though the Alps are not far off. This is also where you’ll find Lago Maggiore and Lugano, another popular expat destination.
Lugano is considered the capital of the Italian-speaking part of the country. Due to the snowy winters and the hot summers, the town is also a favorite tourist destination. If you decide to settle down here, you can enjoy the Ticinese wine and atmosphere or just steal away to Milan which is just an hour away.
The canton of St. Gallen is rather small and its main economic sectors are agriculture, tourism, and pharmaceuticals. Its capital by the same name particularly attracts investors and the University of St. Gallen is a reason for many academics and students to move to the canton. Although it only has a population of about 500,000 inhabitants, almost 21% of them are foreigners. This means that expats moving to this northeastern part of Switzerland will be in good company.
In the north, the Canton borders on Lake Constance which it shares with Germany. Thus, it is not surprising that German is the official language in St. Gallen and that a large percentage of the expats you will meet there are, in fact, German.
The region of Lucerne is located in Central Switzerland and not far from the Schöllenen Bridge that allows you to travel from north to south across the Gotthard range. If you want to explore this new home of yours, it is thus likely that you will pass through Lucerne, at the very least. Of course, the gateway to the Alps has even more to offer.
Winter sport enthusiasts will find 500 km of ski slopes, 8 km of sledging tracks, and 40 km of cross-country ski tracks right at their door step. For those who prefer a warmer climate, the town of Lucerne, the capital of the canton, as well as destinations at the foot of the Rigi are particularly balmy destinations in spring and fall due to the warm foehn wind.
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