16 Best Places To Live In Switzerland As An Expat

Where to live in Switzerland - a detailed review of locations for families, professional expats, ski and nature enthusiasts.

Switzerland is known for its mesmerizing landscapes and high quality of life. There are many great places to live all around the country, each with different amenities, surrounding areas and of course overall way of life.

The following are the best cities and places to live that Switzerland offers, they are all unique in their own way and I hope that by the end of your read you will have more clarity on which location is the best for you.

1. Geneva

Located at the end of the largest lake in central Europe and in between two mountain ranges, Geneva is one of Switzerland’s biggest cities. It could be the perfect place for you if you love that typical cosmopolitan buzz and nature at the same time. However, if you come from London or New York, Geneva will feel like a small town to you.

Geneva is home to many international organizations and 40% of the population is made up of expats meaning that you won’t have any problems making friends.

Some of the best schools in the country are also in the Geneva area, many of the private ones offer all sorts of international curriculums.

Geneva is great for travelling, whether you want to stay in Switzerland or go international. The city is home to a big international airport which is only 10 minutes from the city centre by train making travelling by plane quite easy.

A lot of famous Swiss ski resorts are only a couple of hours away and the same goes for Italy. France can be 5 minutes away from your house depending on where you live. So yes, it goes without saying, Geneva is a very convenient place to live.

All these conveniences do make the city quite an expensive one to live in.

Renting a 3 bedroom apartment in the city centre costs approximately 4400 dollars per month (or 3570 pounds) and one in the outskirts of the city costs 3200 dollars (or 2600 pounds).

A studio apartment in the centre costs 2200 dollars (or 1790 pounds) and one in the surrounding areas costs 1800 dollars ( or 1460 pounds).

These numbers are of course approximate and different factors such as location influence these prices a lot.

Buying property in Geneva is of course also an option and on average the price per square meter in the centre is 14 500 dollars (or 11 780 pounds) and 11 000 dollars ( or 8930 pounds) in the outskirts. 

2. Bern

Bern is Switzerland’s “unofficial” capital and the official seat of the Federal Council.

The city is small, pretty, and centrally located which is very convenient. The presence of parliament, government and foreign embassies makes it a formidable power.

The centralized position is obviously a big plus: Geneva and Zurich are both a couple of hours away and so are the majority of Swiss ski resorts.

This city has grown over the last decades but it hasn’t lost its charm. It’s a great location for families, couples and even retirees.

However, I wouldn’t recommend it if you are after a professional career unless your company office is located in Bern. There aren’t many professional expats living here and international companies are rather scarce.

A one-bedroom apartment in the city centre costs around 1200 dollars (or 1000 pounds) and a three-bedroom one costs approximately 2300 dollars (or 1900 pounds).

Living in the outskirts is of course quieter and cheaper and maybe even perfect for you if you are a nature enthusiast but still appreciate a city being nearby.

A one-bedroom apartment usually comes up to about 900 dollars (or 750 pounds) a month and a three-bedroom one will run you up 1600 dollars (or 1300 pounds).

Buying property will cost you approximately 9600 dollars (or 8000 pounds) per square meter in the centre of the city or 6000 dollars (or 5000 pounds) in the surrounding areas.

3. Zurich

Even though Bern is the capital of Switzerland, Zurich is often regarded as the economic capital of the country.

Best places to live in Switzerland - Zurich
Zurich, the historic city center with Fraumunster Church, on the Limmat river.

It is home to the headquarters of many international financial corporations and has some of the best job opportunities. It is therefore great for families and professional expats: career opportunities are aplenty, nature around is stunning and all the amenities are at your doorstep.

It has a wide range of shops, a lot of schools and many different sources of entertainment close by.

Zurich international airport is also one of the main airports in the country and almost all long-distance international flights in and out of Switzerland go through there.

Rent can cost you quite a bit but high wages usually make up for those costs. A three-bedroom apartment in the centre of the city costs around 3800 dollars (or 3160 pounds) per month whereas that same three-bedroom apartment in the outskirts will cost you around 2700 dollars (or 2250 pounds).

If you decide to buy property, however, prices are normally around 17 000 dollars (or 14 100 pounds) per square meter in the city centre and 10 400 dollars (or 8650 pounds) in the outskirts.

4. Winterthur

Winterthur is a small city located near Zurich. Thanks to its location it is very popular with expats. I would particularly recommend living in Winterthur if you have a job in Zurich but living in a big (by Swiss standards) cosmopolitan environment is just not your thing.

It is definitely a big plus that you will have a very short commute to Zurich and that the city is also surrounded by a lot of nature.

Culturally, Winterthur is quite rich, there are many museums, art galleries and even festivals that are held throughout the year.

Another advantage of living here is that housing and accommodation are also generally cheaper and sometimes even a bit more available.

5. St. Gallen

St. Gallen is one of the few cities on this list that is not located on the banks of a lake. But we wouldn’t be in Switzerland if there weren’t one close by.

Lake Constance is only a short drive away and boat tours on it are simply magnificent.

St. Gallen is a fairy tale town of cobbled streets, Rococo cathedrals and turrets surrounded by green rolling hills and forests.

It is known as a cultural centre as it is home to numerous art exhibitions, museums and expositions. It also has a world-renowned university.

It had a unique character and charm, and with the long history of crafts and folklore tales, St Gallen attracts artistically minded people looking for a quieter lifestyle closer to nature and historic roots.

Just like Winterthur, many expats decide to live in St.Gallen and work in Zurich because accommodation is definitely cheaper here.

6. Lucerne

Just 45 minutes away from Zurich there is the city of Lucerne. It is probably one of the most centralized cities in the country and travel links are excellent.

Best places to live in Switzerland - Lucerne
The Old Town in Lucerne, Switzerland

Every couple of minutes, numerous trains depart from the station going to all parts of the country and some will take you to France, Germany, Italy or Austria.

It is in the middle of the Swiss Alps and just like almost any other good old Swiss city it is also located on the shores of a lake. The lake of the four cantons or lake Lucerne as the people from the city like to call it offers a huge range of water sports and leisure activities.

The job market here isn’t as big as in Geneva or Zurich. I would call Lucerne a good place to retire especially if you don’t want to completely disconnect from city life.

Lucerne isn’t an extremely hectic city but it does have quite a few good shops, restaurants, museums and exhibitions.

The city centre is also very walkable and quite charming.

Renting a three-bedroom apartment in the city centre or the outskirts will cost you around 2200 dollars (or 1800 pounds) on average which is pretty normal for Switzerland.

On the other hand, if you wish to buy an apartment or a house instead of renting it will cost you around 8000 dollars (or 6650 pounds) per square meter in the outskirts or around 10 500 dollars (or 8700 pounds) in the heart of the city.

7. Interlaken

Moving South around 70km you will find Interlaken. It is quite a bit smaller than Lucerne and definitely not busy but if you want to live in Switzerland because of its stunning nature then you definitely should consider Interlaken.

As the name suggests it is located between two beautiful lakes, but that is not all.

It is surrounded by gorgeous mountains which have the most stunning hiking trails in the summer and glorious pistes in the winter.

Interlaken is a great place for anyone who loves nature and not looking for employment such as retirees and remote workers. The town is touristy though and even popular among the Swiss that is why rent and the overall cost of living can be a little bit on the high side.

8. Lugano

The city of Lugano is the biggest Italian-speaking city in Switzerland located… yes…on the shores of a beautiful lake.

With the lake and mountains as a backdrop, Lugano is a great city to live in if you enjoy nature being just a short drive away. You will have all sorts of outdoor activities on your doorstep, whether it is mountain biking, trekking or even parachuting, – the surrounding areas really have it all.

Some might think that Lugano is similar to Geneva but the atmosphere is totally different: it’s not that crowded and the overall vibe resembles more of a charming village than a big city.

There are still plenty of shops, restaurants and cultural forums throughout the city.

The cost of accommodation isn’t too bad for Switzerland with a three-bedroom apartment, both in the city centre and outside costing around 2300 dollars (or 1900 pounds) a month.

The cost per square meter in the city centre is approximately 13 500 dollars (or 11 200 pounds) and in the outskirts, it is around 6000 dollars (or 5000 pounds).

9. Basel

Basel is Switzerland’s only major city to be on the border of both France and Germany. This comes with numerous advantages.

The official language is German but most people in the city are bilingual if not trilingual (if you include English) which greatly facilitates communication at times.

Due to its location, Basel has also become a very popular place for various concerts, festivals and events which really enrich the cultural experience of the city.

The job market is also dynamic and overall the city has been highly praised by expats for its safety and high quality of life.

Basel is well connected to the rest of Switzerland and even has a small airport.

Rent prices are pretty similar to Lugano but the price difference between the city centre and the surrounding areas for buying property isn’t so drastic. It is usually somewhere between 8000 to 10 000 dollars (or between 6650 to 8300 pounds) per square meter.

10. Zug

A study done a couple of years ago by a prominent Swiss magazine on the best places to live in the country by ranking every municipality with over 2000 residents put Zug in the top three.

Best places to live in Switzerland - Zug
Zug’s renowned sunset

Like a lot of Switzerland’s big cities, it is also located on a lake, Lake Zug in this case. Expats speak very highly of this city because even though it is quite small population-wise, it doesn’t lack amenities. There are quite a few shops, restaurants and entertainment opportunities in the city and its surrounding areas.

The job market is also pretty good and there are quite a few English-speaking jobs.

The cost of rent is pretty high though, a one-bedroom apartment in the heart of the city costs 2000 dollars (or 1660 pounds) per month and a three-bedroom one can cost double.

Prices do drop by around 700 to 1000 dollars (or 580 to 830 pounds) for apartments in the outskirts. Buying is of course also an option but just like rent, it is pretty pricey. Prices are usually around 18 000 dollars (or 15 000 pounds) per square meter in the centre of town or 12 800 dollars (or 10 600 pounds)

11. Lausanne

Lausanne has it all: the lake, the buzzing international job market, the universities, the amenities and the vibe.

Situated on the shores of Lake Geneva it’s a popular destination for expats and international students.

Even though it is a pretty small city with 140 000 inhabitants the city astonishingly has a metro system, it is the smallest city in the world to have one and the only one in Switzerland.

The metro system was definitely a great investment and if you move here your legs will thank it every day. This is because the city was built on a hill so numerous daily walks up the hill can become a bit tedious.

The only thing worse than having to walk up the incline is to have to cycle up it. Many have also called it the worst city for cyclists and I  would really advise you to leave your bike at home.

Another big plus is that the city is only an hour’s drive away from Geneva which among other things is home to a big international airport.

Lausanne has a charming centre with shops, restaurants and cinemas.

Like all cities in Switzerland, Lausanne is surrounded by breathtaking nature, even the UNESCO Lavaux vineyard terraces are only a short drive away.

Renting a three-bedroom apartment in the city centre costs around 3200 dollars (or 2660 pounds) a month and a one-bedroom one costs approximately 1500 dollars (or 1250 pounds).

If you decide that living outside the city is more your thing you will probably end up paying around 3000 dollars (or 2500 pounds) for a three-bedroom accommodation or 1300 dollars (or 1080 pounds) for a one-bedroom one.

Buying property in Lausanne is pretty costly though, the cost per square meter in the city centre is almost 19 000 dollars (or 15 800 pounds) per square meter on average and 13 200 dollars (or 11 000 pounds) in the outskirts.

12. Montreux

Montreux is only a short drive or train ride away from Lausanne but it is smaller and therefore quite a bit calmer.

This means that if you are a nature enthusiast but still like the presence of a big city nearby Montreux could be for you.

Just like Lausanne, it is also on the shores of lake Geneva and beautiful hills surround the city.

It could really be the perfect place for you if you are perhaps a retiree or just enjoy a little more serenity without being completely isolated. The overall cost of living is also a bit lower than in Lausanne.

13. La Chaux-de-Fonds

Do you think chocolate, cheese and watches when someone mentions Switzerland? Well, in la Chaux-de-Fonds it’s all about watchmaking.

The place is very important for the Swiss watchmaking tradition. The headquarters of many major Swiss watch companies such as Breitling, Tissot and Omega are there, the city is even home to a very famous watchmaking museum.

The population is rather small though and the city is not that well-known. So there aren’t a lot of expats living here, and high-paying jobs that aren’t linked to watches are rather scarce.

La Chaux-de-Fonds is also located in the middle of the Jura mountain range meaning that it doesn’t have the best travel links and entertainment possibilities, especially for youngsters.

However, the nature around it is really beautiful and it is at your doorstep. Rent and property are a little bit cheaper than in other Swiss cities since it is rather small and not very well known.

14. Sion and Valais

The canton of Valais is almost entirely covered by the Swiss Alps, there are tons of famous Swiss ski resorts there and the mountains are no less entertaining in the summer than they are in the winter.

Sion is the capital and the largest city of the canton. It has all the amenities you need for. comfortable day-to-day living, and a decent variety of shops and restaurants.

If you are a professional skier interested in living in Switzerland then Valais is definitely the place to go.

Rental prices vary from ski town to ski town but many people chose to live in Sion and go to the ski resorts for the day because that is cheaper.

Prices in Sion are usually around 1200 dollars (or 1000 pounds) for a one-bedroom apartment and 1900 dollars (or 1600 pounds) for a three-bedroom one.

Unless you work in the winter or summer sport/tourism industry then job offers aren’t very good in Valais and the overall lifestyle is quieter and more serene than in other parts of the country. It’s a perfect location for a ski enthusiast.

15. Zermatt 

Zermatt is perhaps the most famous ski town in Valais, the towering Matterhorn is visible from almost any part of the city.

It is definitely a very luxurious and exclusive place to live in and many affluent people chose to make it their holiday or even weekend getaway destination.

The town itself and the mountains around it are astounding though, the city is also car-free which increases the quality of the air even further. This means that the only way to get there is by train but they are very frequent and of course extremely punctual.

Rent and property prices are very high there though, even by Swiss standards.

16. Verbier

Another great and a little less exclusive skiing resort that I would like to highlight is Verbier.

The town has a great charm to it but it is the kilometres and kilometres of pistes that are very easily accessible that have drawn many people to Verbier. It is also great if you do any type of winter or summer mountain sport professionally because the training possibilities are awesome.

Verbier does get a bit emptier in the summer though but the town has been organizing more and more festivals in the last couple of years that have started to attract people even in the summertime.

I would not make Verbier your permanent residence if you have a family because school wise it is not great and there aren’t many high-paying jobs.

If you can afford it though it is a great place to spend your holidays or a weekend especially if you live in Geneva. A lot of people decide to rent apartments for the season, they are a bit pricey in the winter but the cost really does come down in the summer.

The best places to live in Switzerland – summary

Each city listed above is unique in its own way and I hope that by now you have a bit more clarity on what is waiting for you in each one. They all have two things in common though: the quality of life is extremely high and they will enchant you into falling in love with every part of your life in Switzerland. 

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Celine Arison

Céline Arison currently lives in Italy but is originally from France and the US. She has always loved to travel and explore new places all around the world and then write about them. She has been to places like Germany, Switzerland, the UK, Costa Rica, Dubai, Singapore and many more but Italy will always be her favorite. When she is not traveling or writing she enjoys reading and spending time with her family or even learning languages. She speaks English, French, German and Italian. We hope you will enjoy the articles and find them useful!
Contact: celinearison@gmail.com

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