Where do most new expats move to in Switzerland?

Where do most new expats move to in Switzerland?

New data released by the Federal Statistical Office (FSO) and collated by Iazi has revealed where expats choose to move to in Switzerland. After a year that saw the population break the 9 million barrier for the first time, the government found that major cities and areas of the mountains were the top picks for new arrivals.

Population of Switzerland rises fastest in Europe

The FSO noted that no other country in Europe has seen its population rise faster in the last 20 years than Switzerland. Between 2004 and today, the number of residents has grown by 20 percent, with immigration being the main driver of population growth by far.

German citizens and other EU nationals have been the most common nationalities to arrive in Switzerland in the last few years. This is perhaps little surprise, given the free movement of people policies between the EU and Switzerland make it far easier for Europeans to apply for a residence permit

Zurich, Basel and Geneva are top expat destinations

To see where these new expats choose to live, Iazi brought together the latest data from the FSO. They found that between 2018 and 2022, Zurich welcomed the highest number of new arrivals with 7.000 net registrations. The Swiss metropolis was followed by Geneva with 5.300 and Basel with 2.500.

Today, 1,6 percent of the Zurich population, 1 percent of Genevans and 1,3 percent of Bebbis arrived in the country in the last five years. Speaking to the Tages-Anzeiger, Iazi expert Simon Hurst explained that the three cities are “internationally known” and the headquarters of many international companies, meaning most expats start out living in or near them for their jobs.

However, in terms of share of population, communities in the mountains have seen the most rapid growth. For instance, Visp, Canton Valais, saw its population grow by 552 people between 2018 and 2022, meaning 1,9 percent of the population only arrived a few years ago. Other major areas in Valais, the Bernese Oberland, Graubünden, Canton Zurich and Vaud have also seen high rates of migration in the last few years.

Are new expats responsible for the Swiss housing crisis?

While expats are often cited as one of the solutions to the ongoing worker shortages, fears regarding the number of new arrivals have been used in the political arena, most notably (and effectively) by the anti-immigration Swiss People’s Party in the latest federal elections. Chief among the concerns is a belief that expats drive up the cost of renting a house or apartment in the most high-demand areas.

Speaking to the Tages-Anzeiger, economics professor at the University of Fribourg Volker Grossmann suggested that this could well be the case. In his broad study on the topic, he found that “a net immigration of foreigners of 1 percent in relation to the original population leads to price increases of 2,2 percent for new rentals.”

Expats and price rises: a complicated relationship

However, Grossmann warned “against using the migration movements ideologically as an argument against immigration”, especially considering that it is unclear what impact fewer migrants would have on the Swiss housing market. He added that Swiss citizens also cause the high demand for housing in cities and that measures designed to address economic inequality would better solve the housing crisis than anti-immigration laws. 

Other economists question whether expats contributing to the economy and the housing shortage is more of a “chicken or egg issue” - i.e. is it possible to reap the economic benefits of migration without putting pressure on the housing market? Indeed, Simon Hurst concluded that the housing shortages in the major cities are likely more a consequence of economic success than the fault of expats. 

Thumb image credit: Kraft_Stoff /

Jan de Boer


Jan de Boer

Editor for Switzerland at IamExpat Media. Jan studied History at the University of York and Broadcast Journalism at the University of Sheffield. Though born in York, Jan has lived most...

Read more



Leave a comment

Jascha Kegelban 15:56 | 15 January 2024

Perhaps Swiss peoples party need to invest in basic seminar on Economics and how prices of things form. I hear the same populist complains in NYC, about life becoming unfordable for many. We all have to do cost benefit analysis often without realizing we re doing it.