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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’

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For members


‘Pleasantly constant’: Why Switzerland ranks as the ‘world’s best country’ — again

For the sixth time, Switzerland wins the coveted title of the world’s top country in an international ranking. Why does the nation make it to the no.1 spot —time after time?

'Pleasantly constant': Why Switzerland ranks as the 'world’s best country' — again

It’s official: Switzerland has been ranked ahead of 87 other countries analysed by the US News & World Report for its 2023 ranking, which was released on Wednesday morning. 

It is the sixth time that Switzerland tops the rankings, which measure a country’s global performance based on 73 categories. They include entrepreneurship; quality of life; adaptability and progress; social purpose; and other attributes listed here

What exactly makes Switzerland the best in the world?

The country “snags the top spot for business-friendliness and education, “and ranks in the top 10 for quality of life, social purpose and cultural influence,” according to study authors. “Among attributes, it was considered No.1 for being economically stable, safe and least corrupt.”

“And while people may not see it as the sexiest place, they would like to live there.”

One of Switzerland’s top qualities, the study showed, is ‘consistency.’

Unlike the political and economic volatility of many other countries, “there is something pleasantly constant about Switzerland,” the survey found.

It is true that change of any kind is slow to come here.

Part of the reason for this sluggishness is cultural: the Swiss don’t like spontaneity (unless it’s planned) or doing anything on a whim. 

They believe that rushing things and making hasty decisions will have disastrous results, which is why they prefer to take a cautious — even if painstakingly slow — path.

As a general rule, the Swiss have a penchant not only for planning, but for pre-planning as well. They like to thoroughly examine each aspect of a proposed change and look at it from all possible angles.

Another reason (besides the cultural one mentioned above) contributes to Switzerland’s notorious slowness in decision-making — the country’s political system.

Due to Switzerland’s decentralised form of government, the Federal Council must consult with cantons before a decision can be made at the national level.

That, as you can imagine, could take a while as each of the 26 cantons may drag their individual feet, and there could be no consensus among them.

READ ALSO : Why are things so slow to change in Switzerland? 

While some may see this ‘consistency’ as a negative, the US News & World Report considers it to be a definite plus.

How did Switzerland rank in major categories?

‘Open for business’

In this category, the country is in the first place (100 points out of 100).

Simply, this means  the country  is ‘business friendly’ because the government has created a good environment for businesses to thrive. 

“Switzerland has low unemployment, a skilled labour force and one of the highest gross domestic products per capita in the world,” the report relates. 

‘Educated population’

Here, too, Switzerland excels (100 points, first place).

Switzerland not only has an excellent and accessible education system, but according to Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), well over 80 percent of the country’s population have an upper secondary education or above.

This proportion is higher than the OECD average of 75 percent.

READ ALSO: How can foreigners get into a Swiss university?

‘Quality of life’

Here, Switzerland also got a high score ( 96.7), which places it in the fourth place.

This particular category, which includes essentials such as broad access to food, housing, quality education, healthcare, and employment, also comprises “intangibles such as job security, political stability, individual freedom and environmental quality.”

This is not exactly a surprise, as Switzerland often ranks highly in this category in other international surveys as well. 

In which categories does Switzerland rate poorly?


Switzerland’s score here is 26, which lands it in the 20th place.

But this is actually good news, if you consider criteria for this category:

“The world’s most powerful countries also are the ones that consistently dominate news headlines, preoccupy policymakers and shape global economic patterns. Their foreign policies and military budgets are tracked religiously.”

Needless to say, Switzerland has no interest in wielding global power.

Besides (unintentionally) invading neighbouring Liechtenstein on three occasions, Switzerland is not at all power-hungry.

This is not only because it is neutral, but also because its politics is based on peaceful coexistence.

(The number 1 spot in this category was snagged, not surprisingly, by the United States).


This too is not a major surprise, since the sub-category here is ‘dynamic’, for which Switzerland was given a low score of 29.1.

The country did a bit better in the ‘distinctive’ and ‘unique’ sub-category, with scores of 43.5 and 42.1, respectively.

Overall, Switzerland is in the 26th place.

You can see details of each category here.

What is the Swiss reaction to the report?

Overwhelmingly positive, of course.

“What people love about us is our reliability and our predictability,” said Jacques Pitteloud, the Swiss ambassador to the U.S.

“With us, you know what you get, which is rare nowadays,” Alexandre Edelmann, head of Presence Switzerland, a government agency that promotes the country abroad, pointed out.