Expensive and unfriendly: What do expats think about life in Swiss cities?

Expensive and unfriendly: What do expats think about life in Swiss cities?

The Expat City Ranking for 2021 has revealed some of the best and worst cities around the world for expats to live, work and raise a family. Despite Basel breaking into the top 10, other large cities in Switzerland did not do so well due to their high cost of living and relative unfriendliness.

Basel is the best city in Switzerland for expats

The ranking by InterNations is based on a survey done by over 12.000 expats, covering 174 nationalities across 57 cities around the world. The respondents were asked to rank their experience of living abroad using several categories: Quality of Urban Living, Getting Settled, Urban Work-Life, Finance & Housing and Local Cost of Living. Taking an average of all these categories, the survey revealed the best and worst places for expats to live around the globe.

Basel was the main winner among Swiss cities, with InterNations naming it as home to “the best working life for expats in Switzerland.” The report praised the city for its public transport, with 100 percent of those surveyed being satisfied with the system. The city on two borders also scored highly for security, showing the effectiveness of the emergency services.

The report found that Basel also does well when it comes to expat jobs, as it ranked sixth overall in the "Urban Work-Life Index." As it is the home of large international companies like Roche and Novartis, the city took first place globally for its economy and eighth for working hours.

The report found two areas of improvement, which were also the main weaknesses in other Swiss cities. Housing, mainly its cost, was the main detractor, followed by the ability to gain social connections in the community.

Lausanne is beautiful but too expensive

The next highest-ranked city in Switzerland came in 21st place. Lausanne was rated highly for its “Urban Living.” On the banks of Lake Geneva and in a skybox of mountains and forests, it is no surprise 91 percent of residents feel happy with where they live. Like other Swiss cities on the list, Lausanne scored highly for jobs and salaries. Most notably, Lausanne was ranked as one of the easiest places in Switzerland to get settled in, although only came 25th in the category overall.

Lausanne was marked down for how much it costs to live in and around the city. The cost of healthcare and the cost of renting a house or apartment remained some of the worst aspects of the city. Alongside costs such as food and entertainment, the price remains one of the key inhibitors for Lausanne’s success as an expat destination.

Zurich is seen as unfriendly towards expats

The largest city in Switzerland, Zurich, did even worse than Lausanne, coming in 34th on the list, between Santiago de Chile and Munich. The report said Zurich had “mixed results,” with the area ranking highly in quality of life, but poorly in the cost of living and housing.

Zurich also had the lowest ranking of any city in Switzerland in a specific category. As part of their report, InterNations found expats in the city did not feel welcome and found it hard to make friends, with some finding the locals unfriendly to expats. 25 percent of people said they found it hard to make new friends, with 37 percent being unhappy with their social life.

Geneva ranked as the worst city for expats to live in Switzerland

Lowest on the list for Switzerland and ranked between Hong Kong and New York, Geneva did not fare well in the expat survey. Unlike other towns in Switzerland, Geneva did not make the top 10 in any category. Among the city's failings were a low quality of life and a high cost of living.

Geneva continued the trend of being unfriendly toward expats, ranking in the bottom 10 for "Friendliness and Getting Settled." Its best attribute was quality of life, but was only good enough for 21st in the global ranking.

Top 10 best expat cities in the world

The Expat City Ranking 2021 covers 57 cities around the world. According to the study, Istanbul, Johannesburg, Milan and Rome were the worst cities for expats. The top 10 for 2021 were:

  • 1. Kuala Lumpur
  • 2. Malaga
  • 3. Dubai
  • 4. Sydney
  • 5. Singapore
  • 6. Ho Chi Minh City
  • 7. Prague
  • 8. Mexico City
  • 9. Basel
  • 10. Madrid

For the full report, including a detailed breakdown of the scores, visit the InterNations website.

Jan de Boer


Jan de Boer

Jan studied in York and Sheffield in the UK, obtaining a master's in broadcast journalism and a bachelor's in history. He has worked as a radio DJ, TV presenter, and...

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