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ZURICH

What are the best commuter towns if you work in Zurich?

If you live in Zurich, you could be paying a whole lot of money for not very much at all. Here are some great options not so far from the city.

What are the best commuter towns if you work in Zurich?
Zurich HBF. Von Ikiwaner - Selbst fotografiert, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Living in Zurich can be incredibly expensive. Apartments tend to be smaller and finding a place with a yard is almost impossible. 

Outside of the city centre, the average rent is the second-highest in Switzerland: from about 1,730 francs for a one-bedroom apartment to 2,800 francs for a three-bedroom one.

This average is however offset by other, smaller parts of the canton, with rents in the city itself averaging 3,000 francs and reaching as high as 6,000 francs per month. 

MAPS: The best commuter towns when working in Geneva

The towns can be seen here. Hover over each blue marking to see the town. Image: Google Maps

Fortunately, Zurich’s excellent public transport networks and good road infrastructure means that getting into the city isn’t too difficult if you live elsewhere (although Zurich’s traffic is a concern pretty much all day long). 

Commuting is common in Switzerland for the above reasons.

A study from 2010 argued that the entire country could be considered as one continuous metropolitan area, due in part to the prevalence of commuting. 

While we wouldn’t recommend commuting from Ticino or Geneva, commuting into Zurich – Switzerland’s largest city and most populous canton – from the surrounding regions is relatively popular, a popularity which has grown since the pandemic. 

The following map, put together by the Swiss government in 2014, shows commuting patterns all across Switzerland. 

It illustrates just how popular commuting to and from Zurich is. 

Swiss domestic commuting patterns. Image: Swiss Statistical Office, 2014.

Keep in mind that the following options are largely all based on renting rather than purchasing. 

As The Local Switzerland has reported previously, renting is far more common in Switzerland than elsewhere – particularly in larger cities. 

READ MORE: Why do so many Swiss prefer to rent rather than buy their own home?

If you are looking for the costs of purchasing a house, the following report breaks it down on the basis of cantons. 

Several cantons border Zurich and are options for commuting, including Zug, Schwyz, Schaffhausen, Thurgau, Argau and St Gallen. 

Property: In which Swiss cantons are homes the cheapest – and the most expensive?

Here are some of the best options for commuting into the city of Zurich from other places in the canton, other cantons and internationally. 

Winterthur 

One of the most popular options for commuting to Zurich is the city of Winterthur. 

With a population of more than 110,000, it is the sixth-largest city in Switzerland. 

Due to its size, it offers many of the same cultural options offered in Zurich, while getting by with English will be easier than in smaller villages. 

Winterthur is also served by international schooling options. 

Winterthur is 20 minutes from Zurich by train and is in the same canton, which means you’ll be subject to largely the same tax rules as if you lived in Zurich itself. 

While this might be more convenient, several cantons surrounding Zurich have reduced tax in order to encourage commuters to live there (with tax being determined on the basis of place of residence in Switzerland). 

READ MORE: How to decide where to live in Switzerland based on affordability

You can also buy the monthly train pass which gives you unlimited travel in the canton for around CHF250, an amount that is likely to be more expensive if you cross cantonal borders. 

The average monthly rent for a large, three-bedroom family apartment in Winterthur is around CHF3,000. This is high of course, but cheaper than what’s available in Zurich. 

Zug

Despite being a different canton, Zug – along with Winterthur – is considered to be part of the Zurich Metropolitan Area (ZMA). 

Located 30 minutes to the south of Zurich, the canton of Zug is a popular commuting option for a number of reasons. 

Besides the relative proximity, Zug’s favourable tax laws make it attractive for high income earners, while there are some top quality international schooling options. 

This favourable tax framework means more millionaires live in Zug than any other Swiss canton on a per capita basis, with one in 16 people in Zug a millionaire. Neighbouring Schwyz also has the same proportion of millionaires. 

READ MORE: Which Swiss canton has the most millionaires?

A consequence of this however is that rents are high – in fact, rents in Zug are among the highest in Switzerland, with properties relatively difficult to find. 

A one-bedroom rents for about 1,800 francs, while a three-bedroom one for 3,933 francs.

Therefore, while Zug might be close with good transit connections, there is a relative paradox whereby only the rich can save by moving to Zug. 

Schaffhausen

Located north of Zurich along the German border is the town of Schaffhausen, the capital of the canton of the same name.

The canton has around 80,000 inhabitants, half of which live in the main town.

Schaffhausen itself has beautiful renaissance architecture and a quaint old town where cars are prohibited. As a consequence, it is incredibly peaceful compared to the hustle and bustle of Zurich.

While taxation is a little higher in Schaffhausen than in Zurich, this is more than offset by the lower rents, which average from 900 francs for the small flats to to just over 2,000 for larger ones

Commuting from the town of Schaffhausen to Zurich will take roughly 40 minutes via train, while there are also a number of good connections to Germany and other parts of Switzerland.

Frauenfeld

A little further afield – although only 45 minutes via train – is the town of Frauenfeld, which is the capital of the canton of Thurgau. 

Frauenfeld is a little smaller than some of the other cities on this list, with around 25,000 inhabitants, which makes it a peaceful option and a good choice for families. 

Frauenfeld authorities have sought to capitalise on the town’s proximity to Zurich by building a number of new developments in recent years, most of which are tailored towards couples and families. 

EXPLAINED: Why are major Swiss cities so expensive?

As a result the supply of apartments has increased, with a three-room apartment in Frauenfeld costing around 1,500 francs.

This is around a half of the cost in Zurich. 

The average monthly rent of an apartment in the canton of Thurgau is 1,213 francs meaning that you can find something even cheaper outside Frauenfeld. 

The tax burden is also relatively low in Thurgau, although not as low as that in Zug and Schwyz. 

Olten

Located 30 minutes away from Zurich in the canton of Solothurn, Olten is perhaps Switzerland’s truest incarnation of a commuter town. 

Starting out as a sleepy village – and still embodying many of those qualities – Olten has grown in popularity over time due to its fortunate location. 

Not only is Olten 30 minutes from Zurich via train, it’s also 30 minutes from Bern, Basel and Luzern, meaning it is perfectly situated to access Switzerland’s economically strong towns. 

Rents in Olten are roughly the same as the Swiss average, or around 1,450 for a two-to-three bedroom apartment, much cheaper than in Zurich. 

Although the figures are a decade old, around one third of the workers who live in the canton commute to work. 

Konstanz (Germany)

Living in Germany and commuting to Zurich is not as difficult or time consuming as it may sounds. 

The towns and villages on the German side of the border are popular with commuters to Switzerland, with Konstanz one of the most popular. 

In 2019, an estimated 325,000 people crossed the border into Switzerland every day to work – 177,000 from France, 76,000 from Italy and 60,000 from Germany.

Cross-border commuters are so important to the Swiss economy that a special exemption was drawn up to allow them to cross the border during the heights of the first wave of the Covid pandemic in 2020. 

READ MORE: How Switzerland avoided a coronavirus ‘catastrophe’ by protecting cross-border workers

The trip from Konstanz to Zurich is just over an hour by car, although traffic and parking in Zurich can be problematic and expensive. 

If your work does not offer you a parking space, one is likely to cost upwards of 160 per month around Zurich, or around 300 francs per month in the city centre. 

Another option is taking the train or doing a combination of both. 

Konstanz to Zurich via train will take between 75 and 90, with many deciding to board the train in the neighbouring Swiss village of Kreuzlingen.

Being a cross-border worker will require you to get a G-Permit – the type of residence permit for cross-border commuters. 

READ MORE: An essential guide to Swiss work permits

Rent in Konstanz is cheaper than in Switzerland, although it is a fair bit more expensive than the German average due to its proximity to the Swiss border. 

For a two-to-three bedroom apartment in Konstanz which is the German average of 92 square metres, you can expect to pay €1,279 (1383 francs)

One further thing to keep in mind is that while almost everything is cheaper in Germany including rent, groceries, clothes and of course beer, tax tends to be much higher in Germany. 

Some consider this higher tax rate to be worth it considering the additional social support families receive in Germany, whereas others find it excessive. 

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Honourable mentions 

There are several other areas which are worth considering if any of the towns and cities from above do not tickle your fancy. 

Rapperswill is relatively close to Zurich and is a little cheaper than the city centre. A three-bedroom apartment will be roughly 1,500 to 2,000 francs. 

Aarau is also considered part of the ZMA and is served by international schooling options. It is along the river and while it might be quieter than Zurich, it offers many of the same cultural and entertainment options. 

A two-to-three bedroom apartment in Aarau will cost you around 1,900 francs on average. 

Schwyz is further afield but has many parallels with Zug when it comes to tax rates – with the consequence being that one in 16 residents are millionaires (with Zug, the equal highest percentage in Switzerland)

In particular, the Schwyz towns of Wollerau and Feusisberg offer beautiful views and relatively quick commuting, although rents are high – rivalling those in Zurich itself – due to the high incomes in the canton. 

Over the border in Germany, Waldshut is around 60 minutes to Zurich via train – a little less than Konstanz. Rent is cheaper than in Konstanz – and cheaper than much of Switzerland – with a two-to-three-bedroom apartment setting you back €892 per month, based on regional averages

Have we missed anything? Do you have an inside scoop on commuting to Zurich – or any other city – that you’d like to share with us? Let us know: [email protected]

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For members

WORKING IN SWITZERLAND

Six ways working in Switzerland is better than in the US

Sometimes it is difficult to compare different systems because much of the context is missing. But when looking at employment conditions in Switzerland and the United States from a purely factual perspective, some conclusions can be drawn.

Six ways working in Switzerland is better than in the US

In terms on politics, social system, demographics, and economy, Switzerland and America are, both literally and figuratively,  worlds apart.

But if you are a US citizen who is moving to Switzerland for professional reasons (and lucky enough to be granted a work permit as a third country national), then you may want to know how the Swiss employment system compares with the American one.

Let’s look at general differences — that is, laws and practices applicable to the working population as a whole, and not just relating to the most fortunate employees like top-level executives, who typically have more benefits than the rank-and-file workers.

Wages

Much depends on your professional level, of course, but generally speaking, on average employees in Switzerland earn more than their US counterparts.

An average annual income in Switzerland is about 80,000 francs, while in the US it amounts to $59,428 (53,000 francs).

You may argue that cost of living is lower in the United States, so the money goes further there. This is true in a general sense, but on the other hand, taxes are lower in Switzerland.

Workers in Switzerland have more statuary protections

Swiss law grants certain rights to its employees, which the US legislation doesn’t.

For instance, Swiss workers are entitled to at least four weeks’ of paid vacation time per year.  

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about annual leave in Switzerland

In the US, on the other hand, there is no statutory minimum paid vacation. Instead, this is left up to the employers’ discretion.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), about one–third of private industry workers received 10 to 14 days of paid vacation after one year of service. After 10 years of service, 33 percent of private industry workers received between 15 and 19 days of paid vacation.

‘Sick days’

Swiss employment law only mandates that employers offer basic paid sick leave: generally, three weeks in your first year in the job, rising with each additional year to around four months max, depending on the canton.

However, many Swiss employers take out insurance that covers a more generous sick pay deal.

In the US, on the other hand, no law guarantees workers a single paid day off, and many aren’t even entitled to unpaid time.

According to BLS, only 77 percent of the private sector workforce has paid sick time. This means that almost one in four workers do not have even a single paid sick day. 

Work-life balance

This phrase is used to describe a division of time between work and leisure activities. This means the ability to successfully combine work, family commitments, and personal life .

Here too, Switzerland (and Europe in general) has a definite edge.

The Better Life Index by the Organisaton for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), found that  “in Switzerland, full-time workers devote a similar amount of their day on average to personal care (eating, sleeping, etc.) and leisure (socialising with friends and family, hobbies, games, computer and television use, etc.) as the OECD average of 15 hours.”  

 In the US, on the other hand, employees devote “less than the OECD average of 15 hours” to their non-work related activities.

Health insurance

Most US residents who are employed get their health insurance through their company.

In Switzerland, on the other hand, individuals are responsible for purchasing their own policies from one of the dozens of insurance providers.

It is difficult to say which approach is better; however, not having one’s health insurance tied to (and dependent on) a specific employer means that a person won’t be left without a coverage if he or she loses their job — even more so, considering how expensive medical care is in the United States.

READ ALSO: How does Switzerland’s healthcare system compare with the US? 

Unemployment benefits

If you have worked — and paid into the Swiss social security system — for 12 months in the past two years, you are entitled to 260 days (approximately 37 weeks) worth of unemployment allowance.

In the case that you had been employed for at least 18 months, you will collect for 400 days.

Workers in most US states, on the other hand, are eligible for only 26 weeks of unemployment allowances.

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