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Which Swiss cities should expats move to in 2020?

Seven Swiss cities feature in the Expat City Ranking 2019External link by InterNations. They all come in the top 20 in the world for quality of life, receiving mostly high marks for safety, local transportation and the environment. 

However, expats in Switzerland struggle to get settled, with Zurich and Bern even ranking among the world’s worst cities in this regard. While the local cost of living is rated negatively across the board, the performance of the Swiss cities varies more in the Finance & Housing and Urban Work Life indices. 

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So where are the best destinations in the world for expats, according to the 2019 survey, which looked at 82 cities? Taipei came first, followed by Kuala Lumpur, Ho Chi Minh City, Singapore and Montreal. At the other end of the table are Paris, Lagos, Milan, Rome and Kuwait City (82nd). 

Here’s a look at what the survey said about the seven Swiss cities – Zug, Basel, Lausanne, Bern, Zurich, Lugano and Geneva – and where they came on the list.

 8. Zug

Café in Zug
A restaurant in the centre of Zug. which expats say offers the best quality of life in the world Keystone

Zug is not only the highest-rated city in Switzerland, but it also offers the world’s best quality of life. In fact, not one respondent in Zug is dissatisfied with the local transportation (vs. 19% negative answers globally), the quality of the environment (vs. 17% globally) or their personal safety (vs. 9% globally). Expats even rank Zug first in the world for the state of the local economy (91% happy vs. 66% globally). However, the city ranks a mediocre 44th out of 82 for job security. 

While Zug manages to rank ahead of other Swiss cities, expats still struggle to settle in. The city places 58th in the Getting Settled Index, with 35% of respondents saying that they find it hard to get used to the local culture (vs. 20% globally), making it Zug’s worst-rated area. In fact, 31% of expats feel that people are unfriendly towards foreign residents (vs. 19% globally). 

10. Basel

A tram in Basel
Expats appreciate the public transport in Basel Ammann

Expats in Basel rate the quality of life very highly (6th). They are particularly happy with their personal safety (93% vs. 81% globally), the local transportation system (98% vs. 70% globally) and the quality of the environment (93% vs. 71% globally). 

However, following the trend across all Swiss cities, expats find it difficult to get settled (62nd). Basel comes 71st in the Feeling Welcome subcategory. Additionally, the city ranks 63rd in both the Local Friendliness and Friends & Socializing subcategories. 

Out of all the Swiss cities surveyed, Basel ranks best in both the Finance & Housing Index (14th) and the Local Cost of Living Index (43rd) – 78% of expats are satisfied with their financial situation (vs. 57% globally). 

36. Lausanne

The cathedral in Lausanne
Paths, like house prices, are steep in Lausanne Keystone

Lausanne puts in a mediocre performance across most areas of the Expat City Ranking 2019, aside from the Quality of Urban Living Index (14th). Expats are particularly happy with the quality of the environment (94% happy vs. 71% globally), ranking Lausanne sixth in this regard. A further positive is that 94% are happy with their personal safety (vs. 81% globally). 

However, Lausanne ranks only 53rd in the Getting Settled Index, and it is among the ten worst cities in the world for the Friends & Socializing subcategory (77th). What’s more, Lausanne is also one of the most difficult cities for expats to find housing in (73rd), with more than double the global average considering this hard (66% vs. 32% globally). Housing is not only difficult to find; it is also expensive, as 60% of expats struggle to afford a place to live (vs. 44% globally). 

38. Bern

Swimming in the Aare
The quality of urban living in Bern, for example swimming past parliament, is rated very highly Keystone

The Swiss capital is rated one of the world’s best cities for the quality of urban living (7th) but one of the worst for getting settled (79th). Similar to many other Swiss cities, expats are very much satisfied with the quality of the environment (97% positive results vs. 71% globally), their personal safety (93% vs. 81% globally) and the local transportation (97% vs. 70% globally). 

When it comes to the Getting Settled Index, Bern is the lowest-ranking Swiss city (79th), and on a global scale only Copenhagen (80th), Paris (81st), and Kuwait City (82nd) do worse. Close to three in five expats (58%) find it hard to make new friends in Bern (vs. 35% globally). This may contribute to the share of 37% who are unhappy with their social life in Bern (vs. 27% globally). 

Expats show mixed feelings in the Urban Work Life Index (44th). On the one hand, 71% are happy with their job security (vs. 59% globally), and 89% rate the state of the economy positively (vs. 66% globally), placing the city sixth overall in the Job Security subcategory. On the other hand, only 58% are satisfied with their job in general (vs. 64% globally), and 37% feel there is a lack of career opportunities (vs. 27% globally), resulting in a low 75th place in the Job & Career subcategory. 

41. Zurich

Tourists in front Grossmünster
At least the views are free in Zurich Keystone

Zurich confirms its reputation of being an expensive place to live: the city ranks 68th in the Local Cost of Living Index and 61st in the Finance & Housing Index. In fact, Geneva is the only Swiss city that ranks even worse for both. More than half the expats in Zurich (51%) say it is hard for expats to find housing there (vs. 32% globally), and 62% consider accommodation unaffordable (vs. 44% globally). 

Zurich ranks 4th worldwide for the quality of life, beaten only by and Taipei (3rd), Tokyo (2nd) and Zug (1st). Expats in Zurich, for example, feel very safe (95% vs. 81% globally) and are happy with the quality of the environment (92% positive ratings vs. 71% globally). 

However, Zurich continues to be a tough place to be when it comes to getting settled (73rd). Over a third (35%) are unhappy with their social life (vs. 27% globally). This might be because more than half (52%) find it hard to make new friends (vs. 35% globally), and it does not help that 36% of expats in Zurich describe the attitude towards foreign residents as generally unfriendly (vs. 19% globally). 

53. Lugano

Having a picnic by the lake in Lugano
La dolce vita in Lugano Keystone

Lugano seems to be a safe and stable city for expats, coming 3rd in the Safety & Politics subcategory, beaten only by Singapore (2nd) and Zug (1st). In fact, 97% of expats feel safe in Lugano (vs. 81% globally), with 73% rating their personal safety as very good. 

However, the same cannot be said when it comes to job security: 31% rate this factor negatively (vs. 21% globally), placing the city 74th worldwide. Close to a quarter (24%) also rate the local economy negatively (vs. 15% globally). In fact, Lugano ranks 58th for the latter, which is by far the worst among all Swiss cities featured in the ranking. In addition, almost a third of expats (31%) are generally unhappy with their jobs (vs. 19% globally), and 55% give Lugano a negative rating when it comes to local career opportunities (vs. 27% globally). 

69. Geneva

A lizard sculpture in central Geneva
Housing in Geneva is not only considered unaffordable but also hard to find Keystone

Geneva is the worst-rated Swiss city in the Expat City Ranking. While all Swiss cities are considered expensive, Geneva is the only one that ranks among the ten worst destinations in the world in the Finance & Housing as well as Local Cost of Living Indices (75th for both). More than seven in ten expats (71%) are unhappy with the local cost of living, which is nearly twice the global average (38%). What’s more, housing is not only considered unaffordable (78% negative ratings vs. 44% globally), but it is also hard to find (70% vs. 32% globally). 

Expats also struggle to settle into life in Geneva (70th). Together with Zurich (76th), Lausanne (77th), and Bern (78th), Geneva, at rank 79, is one of the world’s worst cities in the Friends & Socializing subcategory. In fact, 42% of expats are unhappy with their social life (vs. 27% globally), ahead of only Kuwait City (82nd) and Stockholm (81st). 

On the bright side, expats enjoy the high quality of life that Geneva offers (16th). They find the city safe (90% vs. 81% globally), enjoy the quality of the environment (89% vs. 71% globally) and are happy with the local transportation (91% vs. 70% globally) – 60% even give Geneva the best possible rating for this factor (vs. 36% globally).

The Expat City Ranking is based on the annual Expat Insider survey by InterNationsExternal link. With more than 20,000 respondents in 2019, it is one of the most extensive surveys about living and working abroad. 

In 2019, 82 cities around the globe are analysed in the survey, offering in-depth information about five areas of expat life: Quality of Urban Living, Getting Settled, Urban Work Life, Finance & Housing, and Local Cost of Living. Taken together, the first four areas make up the Expat City Ranking, which shows the best and worst cities to move to in 2020.  


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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR