Four great Swiss cities to live in apart from Geneva and Zurich

Switzerland’s two largest cities are the traditional expatriate hubs, and they are also the most expensive ones. But there are also other Swiss towns with lots to offer the international community.

Four great Swiss cities to live in apart from Geneva and Zurich
Lugano is a great city for international community. Photo by AFP

The information for all four cities will be relevant to foreign nationals. Keep in mind though that some statistics date back to 2018 or 2019, but are the latest published. This is especially important regarding the employment figures, as joblessness has increased during the Covid-19 pandemic.


One of the advantages of this historic city in the northwest of Switzerland is its geographical position at the border of both Germany and France. This means that the town is ‘opened’ to the world in the literal sense of the word — because of its location on the river Rhine, Basel boasts Switzerland’s only merchant port.

As the centre of Switzerland’s pharma industry with companies such as Novartis and Roche headquartered here, the city has long attracted foreign nationals to its shores.

On the arts and culture front, Basel has 40 world-class museums, which is a lot for a city of just over 200,000 people.

Photo by AFP

Last but certainly not least, there is Basel’s Old Town. With its winding cobblestone streets and historic architecture, it is one of the best preserved and prettiest in Europe.

Useful information:

Foreign nationals: 36.4 percent.

Unemployment rate: 3 percent

Average net monthly salary: 5,280 francs

Average rent (based on size), 3 bedrooms: 2,520 francs / month

Public transportation: bus, tram

Nearest international airport: Basel EuroAIrport for short and medium-haul international flights; Zurich airport for intercontinental flights, about 100 km by train or motorway.


Located near the linguistic border between French and German-speaking Switzerland, the capital city has a very picturesque medieval city centre recognised by UNESCO as a Cultural World Heritage Site.

Despite its relatively small size (144,000 residents), Bern also possesses one of the longest shopping promenades in Europe.

Photo by AFP

Why is this city great for expats? One of the reasons is that its central location and political status means  residents can take advantage of the frequent and reliable public transportation to other major Swiss cities.

Useful information:

Foreign nationals: 16.3 percent

Unemployment rate: 1.8 percent 

Average net monthly salary: 5,490 francs

Average rent (based on size), 3 bedrooms: 2,485 francs

Public transportation: bus, tram

Nearest international airport: Zurich, about 130 km by train or motorway


The picturesque Vaud capital offers a lot to the international resident.

In 2019, it was been named the ‘best small city in the world’ in Monocle magazine’s Small Cities Index, which ranked the best 25 small towns with a population under 200,000. 

Lausanne topped the chart for its public transport network, global outlook, diverse population, natural setting, and other factors.

It also has one of the world’s top universities, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL), as well as the world-famous Swiss Hospitality Management School.

It is a very cosmopolitan city and several multinational companies are based either in Lausanne itself or its surrounding areas.

Among them are Philip Morris International, Tetra, Owens-Illinois, Huawei Technologies, and — just 20 km away in Vevey — Nestlé.

From the health prospective, Lausanne is the location of Switzerland’s largest university hospital, CHUV. 

Lausanne’s location at the shore of Lake Geneva also offers an easy and convenient access to France — the city of Evian can be reached by ferry in half an hour.

Useful information:

Foreign nationals: 43.2 percent

Unemployment rate: no figure available for Lausanne; 3 percent in Vaud.

Average net monthly salary: 5,375 francs

Average rent (based on size), 3 bedrooms: 2,930 francs a month

Public transportation: bus

Nearest international airport: Geneva, about 50 km by train or motorway


Switzerland’s most southern town, Lugano in canton Ticino, is great not only for its laid-back lifestyle and Mediterranean climate, but also for its access to northern Italy — an hour’s train ride to Milan, for instance, or a quick 45-minute boat ride to Lake Como.

Photo by Cristian Musolino on Unsplash

According to the relocation site InterNations, Lugano “is not only an excellent testament to the very high standard of life enjoyed by most of the population across Switzerland; it is also the home of the largest Italian-speaking community outside of Italy. As a result, life in Lugano means getting to experience a mix of two different cultures.

Useful information:

Foreign nationals: 38.5 percent

Unemployment rate: no figure available for Lugano, but 3.4 percent in Ticino

Average net monthly salary: 4,596 francs

Average rent (based on size), 3 bedrooms: 2,187 francs a month

Public transportation: bus

Nearest international airport: Milan, about 75 km by train or motorway

As a comparison, the average monthly salary in Geneva is 5,870 francs net, and a rent for a 3-bedroom flat is 3,505 a month.

In Zurich, the average month wage is 6,535 francs after taxes, and a monthly rent for a 3-bedroom flat is 3,540.

For all the cities, we have listed the rent for a 3-bedroom flat in the centre; smaller apartments away from the city centre will be significantly cheaper. 

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Is Basel the best Swiss city for foreigners and Geneva the worst?

Switzerland’s cities usually nab top rankings in international quality of living studies. But in a new survey, only one Swiss town made it to the top 10. Here’s why.

Basel is Switzerland’s best city for international workers. Photo by Nadine Marfurt on Unsplash
Basel is Switzerland’s best city for international workers. Photo by Nadine Marfurt on Unsplash

Basel is ranked in the 9th place out of 57 cities surveyed in the new Expat City Ranking 2021.

Carried out by InterNations, the annual survey rates cities around the world in terms of advantages they offer to foreign nationals who move there for professional reasons.

READ MORE: The best commuter towns if you work in Basel

The survey, which polled 12,420 people for its 2021 edition, ranks cities based on criteria such as Quality of Urban Living, Getting Settled, Urban Work Life, Finance & Housing, and Local Cost of Living, along with their sub-categories.

Of the four Swiss cities analysed in the study — Geneva, Zurich, Basel, and Lausanne — only Basel was highly rated, and is one of only three European cities ranked in the top 10 (the others are Prague, in 7th place, and Madrid in 10th).

This is why

A popular destination for international employees because of its pharmaceutical industry, including giants like Roche and Novartis, Basel ranked well across all categories.

For instance, it is in the 1st place for its public transportation network, in a 2nd position in terms of Quality of Urban Living, and in 3rd for Safety & Politics.

All expats in Basel (100 percent) are satisfied with public transportation, versus 69 percent globally. The public transportation system is excellent”, one respondent said.

Nearly all participants (97 percent) feel safe there, against 84 percent globally. The city also performs well in the Urban Work Life Index (6th), particularly for the state of the local economy, which is in the 1st place and the working hours (8th); additionally,  75 percent are happy with their working hours, compared to 66 percent globally.

More than four in five expats (84 percent) find their disposable household income enough or more than enough to cover their expenses (versus 77 percent globally), and 77 percent are satisfied with their financial situation (against 64 globally).

Where Basel is doing less well is in the  Finance & Housing Index (34th place), though it still ranks ahead of other Swiss cities: Zurich (37th), Lausanne (39th), and Geneva (53rd).

But the city ranks 48th in the Local Cost of Living Index: 69 percent of foreigners living there are dissatisfied with the cost of living, more than double the global average (34 percent).

The Getting Settled Index (39th) is another of Basel’s weak points. Internationals struggle with getting used to the local culture: more than one in four respondents (26 percent) state that they find this difficult — this figure is 18 percent 1globally.

It is worth mentioning that in the 2020 InterNations survey, Basel ranked in the 24th place, so it progressed impressively this year.

What about Geneva?

Switzerland’s most “international” city due to the presence of a number of United Nations agencies and multinational companies, places near the bottom of the ranking, in the 47th place.

“It has the worst results among the Swiss cities included in the report and is the only one that does not rank in the global top 10 of the Quality of Urban Living Index”, InterNations said.

Similar to the other Swiss cities, Geneva ranks among the top 10 for political stability (1st) and in the bottom 10 for the affordability of healthcare (56th). However, it lags behind for all other factors, with expats particularly dissatisfied with the local leisure options (23 percent versus 14 percent globally).

“Interestingly, the comparably low quality of life does not make Geneva any easier to afford: on the contrary, it is the worst-ranking city worldwide in the Local Cost of Living Index (57th) and by far the worst-rated Swiss city in the Finance & Housing Index (53rd)”, the report noted.

It added that “while Geneva comes 26th in the Finance Subcategory, it ranks 55th in the Housing Subcategory, only ahead of Dublin (56th) and Munich (57th). Expats find housing in Geneva unaffordable (87 percent  vs. 39 percent globally) and hard to find (63 percent vs. 23 percent globally).”

READ MORE: Why is Geneva’s rent the highest in Switzerland?

Geneva has a fairly average performance in the Urban Work Life Index (28th) but receives worse results in the Getting Settled Index (43rd). It ends up in the bottom 10 of the Feeling Welcome (52nd), Local Friendliness (50th), and Friends & Socializing (48th) subcategories.

“It is certainly not easy to integrate into the local culture and community,” said one respondent. In fact, 35 percent find the locals generally unfriendly, against 16 percent globally).

The difficulty is making friends in Switzerland is a well-known phenomenon among the international community.

READ MORE: ‘Suspicious of the unknown’: Is it difficult to make friends in Switzerland?

Maybe this is also why they find it hard to get used to the local culture (32 percent versus  18 percent globally) and do not feel at home — 33 percent compared to 19 percent  globally).

Zurich and Lausanne

The two other Swiss cities with a high proportion of international residents fall between the “best” and the “worst”, with Lausanne in the 21st place and Zurich in the 34th.

“All of them rank among the bottom 10 worldwide for the local cost living but among the top 10 for the local quality of life— except for Geneva, which lands in 21st place.”, the survey noted.

This InterNations chart shows how the four the cities are doing in each category. Please click here for a larger version of the chart. 

Image: Internations

You can find out more about each of the four cities from these links. 

READ MORE: Ten things Zurich residents take for granted

Zurich versus Geneva: Six big differences between Switzerland’s two biggest cities

Swiss town ranked the ‘world’s best small city’