Living In Geneva As An Expat – The Essential Guide

Discover why so many expats choose to live in Geneva, Switzerland and whether it's the right city for you to call home.

Living in Geneva offers a very versatile lifestyle because the city has so much to offer. Located at the end of the ‘’Lac Léman’’or ‘’Lac de Genève’’ (Geneva lake) as the locals like to call it, Geneva is a very picturesque city. It is also home to many international organizations and global companies including the United Nations. This makes the city very attractive for expats.

Living in Geneva can truly be a great experience. This guide will help you figure out if Geneva is the right city for you and help prepare for your move if you decide to go and live in Geneva.

Is Geneva a nice place to live?

Geneva is definitely a great place to call home, and here is why.

It has spectacular nature all around it and can honestly be great for people of any age.

There are many great schools and activities for children such as various parks, sports centres, cinemas, malls and of course the lake which adds so much to the city. It is obviously great to cool off during the summer but there are so many other activities that can be done and it even slightly improves the air quality of the city.

The city has a lot of expats due to the many international organizations and businesses that have their headquarters in Geneva, so finding friends and building a social circle won’t be too hard.

The city can also be great for retirees as it is not so busy as other famous international cities. It is a bit more serene and certainly has and is surrounded by more nature. However, it can be expensive so it may not be just the right place to move to if you don’t work anymore. 

Is Geneva German or French?

Geneva is the biggest city in Romandy, the French-speaking part of Switzerland. So French is the most popular language here. However, many locals speak at least one other language, and a lot of residents both foreign and local speak English.

The cost of living in Geneva

The city has an excellent quality of life, but living here will cost you dearly.

It is estimated that you need at least $1500 ( or £1210) per month per person to live an ok life in Geneva, excluding rent, of course.

A chunk of that will go to health insurance (I will talk more about this later in the guide) as it is not provided for free by the state. Basic plans cost around $400 (or £325) per month.

A monthly transportation pass for the city costs $72 or £58.

A meal at a normally-priced restaurant costs around $25 dollars or £20 per person and a cinema ticket is around $20 dollars or £16 pounds.

Housing costs

So far, so good, but here comes the major expense – housing.

Renting a 3-bedroom apartment in the city centre costs approximately $4400 per month, and one in the outskirts of the city costs around $3200

A smaller one-bedroom apartment in the centre costs $2200 dollars or £1790 and one in the outskirts costs around $1800 dollars.

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

Buying property in Geneva is also an option. The average price per square meter in the centre is $14 500 dollars or $ 11 000 dollars if you are willing to move to the surrounding areas.

Overall, with the rental and property prices, the cost of living in Geneva is pretty high and sometimes even a bit more than in cities such as Paris, London or New York but high wages and the lifestyle do make up for them.

Why is it so expensive to live in Geneva?

I am sure that by now one of the only things stopping you from packing your bags tomorrow and moving to Geneva is the cost of living here, and you are probably asking yourself the same question that everybody else is asking: why is it so expensive to live in Geneva?

Part of the answer is simply because of the city’s location. Switzerland as a whole has always been and will probably always be expensive however Geneva does have other add-ons that make it so pricey.

The safety, efficiency and cleanliness of the city play a part in its expense but so does the natural beauty of the city itself and the surrounding areas. 

Plus it’s hugely in demand with international businesses and influential organisations which drives the prices up.

Just remember that even though the price tag on everything is high, salaries in Geneva are generally higher than in other international cities, but the lifestyle is quite often much more desirable.

Where to live in Geneva?

Geneva has many great neighborhoods each offering a slightly different ambience and facilities. The following list contains some of Geneva’s best neighbourhoods and a couple of personal favorites.

Champel is a fantastic area because it has tons of green areas and great housing. There are also nice little restaurants and shops. The area is very well connected to other parts of the city.

La Vieille Ville de Genève which translates to Geneva’s old town is located at the very heart of the city and is only a short walk from the lake. There are plenty of shops and fun things to do here.

The most famous shopping street in the city is also located here, it is called Rue de Rive and it has a lot of well-known and affordable brands. However, If you are looking to do some more luxurious shopping then you should definitely check out Rue du Rhône which is basically parallel to Rue de Rive.

This area is literally the heart of the city, so the housing is a little expensive but the views and convenience of living here should not be overlooked.

Cologny is definitely considered the most luxurious part of the city. It is situated on the ‘rive gauche and has beautiful homes overlooking the lake.

It is the most expensive part of the city but it does have some great facilities such as a spa and a golf club.

Petit-Saconnex and Grand-Saconnex are both great neighbourhoods. They are not directly on the lake but still pretty close.

Some famous international organizations such as the UN are located here so living here would definitely reduce your commute by a lot if you work in one of them.

Eaux-Vives is a neighbourhood that is right on the lake. It has the famous ‘Parc La Grange’ which is great for afternoon picnics and peaceful walks.

Even more famous than the Parc La Grange is the Jet d’Eau, the famous 40m high fountain that has become a staple for the city.

This municipality has so much more to offer than just famous attractions. It has great housing, lake access and charming shops and restaurants. It even has a train station. 

Bellevue is a charming little area just outside the city. There are many parks and green spaces here and the residents have access to the lake. There’s a train station here which makes it easy to travel to the centre of the city.

Versoix is another great option if you prefer living on the outskirts. It is a bit further from Geneva than Bellevue but the famous Swiss trains connect both in just under 10 minutes. It is a charming town that has a sports centre, a couple of schools and even a nice port.

Overall, both the city and the Geneva canton have a lot of great areas and the ones listed above are just some of them. With so many municipalities making up this canton, you will find the one that is just the right fit for you.

The pros and cons of living in Geneva

The pros of living in Geneva

  • It’s a safe city, crime rates are much lower than in other major international cities
  • A very wide range of high-paying jobs, especially for expats
  • The overall quality of life is extremely high 
  • Lots of green spaces all over the city allowing all sorts of leisure activities
  • Geneva is located on the biggest freshwater lake in Central Europe giving a lot of the municipalities lake access and offering great cool-off possibilities on a hot summer day.
  • The city is surrounded by two mountain ranges, the Jura and the Alpes. They are both only a 1-2h drive away making weekend mountain trips very accessible
  • The city is very clean
  • It is estimated that around 40% of the city’s population is made up of expats, this means that even if you don’t speak the language or have a hard time mingling with the locals, making friends will not be that hard.

The cons of living in Geneva

  • The general cost of living is high 
  • Like the rest of the country, almost all the shops are closed on Sundays
  • Rentals can be hard to find and are often expensive
  • Traffic jams are pretty common in the most frequented parts of the city 
  • The parking on the streets is often occupied, and parking garages are expensive
  • Making friends with the locals can be difficult
  • Swiss bureaucracy can be an absolute nightmare

Public transport and getting around in Geneva

Public transportation is extremely efficient in Geneva. There is a dense network of trams and buses throughout the whole city.

Lake Geneva with the stunning walks and public spaces.
Lake Geneva with stunning walks and public spaces.

They allow you to go to all corners of the city quickly and efficiently. Trams do usually get you faster from point A to point B because they have designated lanes and don’t have to deal with traffic, however, they are a bit more crowded.

Public transport is easy to navigate as there are public transport maps in all trams and buses.

The scenic city is also a very pleasant one to walk through. You can walk across the city in less than thirty minutes.

Other than the conventional transportation methods such as buses, trams, cars, bikes and even walking that exist in every city, there is another way to get around in Geneva that isn’t so conventional.

The locals call them mouettes genevoises and they are small boats that act like buses. They are even included in the public transportation network so if you have a monthly/yearly pass you can use them without buying an extra ticket.

They are perfect for getting across the lake fast and efficiently whilst providing a great view. I recommend checking the mouettes out just for fun, going back and forth can be just as nice because of the great view the trips provide.   

With the public transport in Geneva being efficient and convenient, having a car is not a must if you live and work in the centre of the city. You can get around just fine.

If you do decide to purchase a car beware of the traffic during rush hour and of the expensive parking.

Having a car is also great if you like to take occasional weekend trips to the mountains, as getting to most mountain towns by only relying on public transportation can be a bit complicated.

This is especially true for towns that are quite high up, basically most ski towns. So if you are an avid skier, having a car could be useful.

The city also has a couple of train stations with ‘gare Cornavin being the main one which allows you to travel to many other places in Switzerland even if you decide to not buy a car.

All in all, you don’t have to worry when it comes to getting around in Geneva, the public transportation system will not let you down.

Healthcare facilities in Geneva

Having healthcare insurance in Switzerland is mandatory and the costs are based on your geographic location, so living in Geneva you could end up with a pretty hefty bill. The canton, however, does have subsidies and discounts for children.

Geneva - the view of the city from the Cathedral.
Geneva – the view of the city from the Cathedral.

You can choose either a local private health cover provider or an international health insurance provider. To make sure you get the best value for money, compare international health insurance options from various providers to find the best deal. 

The city itself has around 10 hospitals and another 40 outpatient clinics. All the facilities are usually pretty efficient and the doctors and medical staff are knowledgeable and speak English, so communicating your needs and pains to your doctor shouldn’t be a problem.

The city also has numerous pharmacies that are usually open Mondays to Saturdays from 8:30 AM to 6 PM, with a couple being open 24/7. Just remember that the emergency number for the ambulances in Switzerland is 144.

Schools in Geneva

There are many public schools all over the city for children of any age but they may not be the best choice for your kids if they don’t speak French. This is especially the case if your child is in high school where starting from their very first year (so normally around 14 years old) each year children take exams which have an impact on their ‘maturité suisse’ – the swiss high school diploma.

Fortunately, there is a wide range of international schools in Geneva. International schools are a popular choice for expats as most offer International curriculums such as the International Baccalaureate.

A couple of schools offer the French Baccalaureate, so you have a good choice here regarding your children’s education.

Final thoughts on living in Geneva

Living in Geneva is truly a unique experience simply because the city is like no other. There aren’t any other famous international cities that are home to the headquarters of so many global organizations whilst also being situated on the largest lake in central Europe and in between two mountain ranges. Its many wow factors will certainly end up charming you!

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