For members


Five small Swiss towns that attract lots of foreign nationals

When we think of the most international cities in Switzerland, Zurich, Geneva, and Basel jump to mind. But there are also smaller towns which many foreigners call home.

Five small Swiss towns that attract lots of foreign nationals
Leysin is small but nevertheless very international. Photo by Nathanaël Desmeules on Unsplash

Many foreigners choose to settle in Switzerland’s large urban centres where most job opportunities are.

That is why Zurich, Geneva, Basel, and Lausanne all have a high proportion of foreign residents — a number of large multinational companies are located in, or around, these major cities.

READ MORE: Where do Switzerland’s foreigners all live?

However, that doesn’t mean foreigners don’t also settle in smaller towns in Switzerland.

These five small communities (with a total population of less than 40,000 people) are popular among the international community as well.

Nyon (Vaud)

Some 40 percent of the just over 22,000 residents of this quaint township located along the shores of Lake Geneva are foreigners.

Among the perks of living in this historic town is its easy access to Geneva (by train or motorway), as well as stunning views over the rooftops all the way to the Alps from its 500-year fortress.

A view of Nyon. Photo by Armand Khoury on Unsplash

Zug (Zug)

The town of just over 30,000 people counts many foreigners among its residents — nearly 35 percent.

The same is also true of even smaller communities in the canton: in Baar, nearly 25 percent of residents are foreign nationals out of the total population of about 25,000.

In yet another tiny town, Cham, (just over 16,000), foreigners make up about 26 percent of inhabitants. 

The attraction of Zug’s municipalities is not only their scenic, almost rural setting, but also many employment opportunities, as well as very low taxes.

READ MORE: Why does the canton of Zug have Switzerland’s lowest taxes?

Schaffhausen (Schaffhausen)

Just over a quarter — 26 percent — of the city’s population of 37,000 people are foreigners.

The main attraction of this city in the very north of Switzerland, which is not normally considered ‘international’, may be lower average rents than in its far more expensive neighbour, Zurich, as well as its proximity to Germany, where common consumer goods are much cheaper.

A view over Schaffhausen. Photo by Anthony Gomez on Unsplash

Vevey (Vaud)

Located toward the eastern end of Lake Geneva, this town of almost 20,000 inhabitants counts quite a few foreigners among its residents:  over 42 percent.

The main reason (other than its quaintness) why this town has attracted so many internationals is that Swiss food giant, Nestlé, is headquartered there, so many people not only live in this area, but also work there.

But not all foreigners choose it for this reason: the community’s most famous resident, Charlie Chaplin, moved to Vevey in 1952 and remained there until his death in 1977.

Leysin (Vaud)

This Alpine resort is probably a surprising choice as an international hub.

Nevertheless, well over half (55.4 percent) of its 4,000 residents are foreign

Great skiing is just part of Leysin’s appeal.

The mountain village is also home to American boarding school attended by about 340 students, which may explain why English is almost the second-language in this French-speaking community.

Have we missed any Swiss communities where a large number of foreigners live? Please let us know and we will add them to the list.

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For members


What makes Switzerland’s Alpine pasture season worthy of global recognition?

Switzerland's Alpine pasture season has been included in UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. But what makes it so special?

What makes Switzerland’s Alpine pasture season worthy of global recognition?

Why are Swiss Alpine pastures in the news?

On Wednesday, UNESCO announced it had inscribed 45 elements on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity during its annual session held in Kasane (Republic of Botswana).

The list comprises cultural “practices and expressions [that] help demonstrate the diversity of this heritage and raise awareness about its importance.” 

Among this year’s new elements were two Swiss entries, one of which is the country’s popular Alpine pasture season.

What is Switzerland’s Alpine pasture season?

As an exemplary tradition of the Swiss mountain areas, the Alpine pasture season combines traditional skills, customs and rituals related to Alpine farming in Switzerland.

The Alpine pasture season takes place from around May to October in Switzerland when various cattle, sheep and goats are relocated to high-altitude pastures (between 600 metres and 2900 metres) to graze on fresh forage and herbs that thrive in the summer months.

The Alpine farmers, or Alpacists, then look after the livestock and their surroundings, produce different dairy products, and even invite visitors to observe the animals and farming practices.

“The practice contributes to the preservation of natural landscapes and creates economic and social ties between the local populations and the Alpine farmers. It has given rise to the knowledge and skills needed to maintain the sites, as well as to a variety of social and religious practices such as rituals, prayers and blessings, traditional clothing, livestock competitions and local festivities,” UNESCO writes.

Some of these practices also include “traditional clothing, livestock competitions and local festivals” like the Alpine cattle ascent (inalpe) and the Alpine cattle descent (désalpe) where – depending on the region – the most beautiful cow of the herd is crowned.

Festivals to celebrate the herd animals heading to their summer pastures play a vital role for farmers and locals as they highlight craft practices that are otherwise rarely observed in Switzerland.

“The knowledge, skills, and customs of the Alpine pasture season, including farming and cheesemaking, are often transmitted informally, within families and their seasonal employees or among members of Alpine societies and cooperatives. They are also transmitted through regional training centres, cultural events and tourism,” UNESCO says.

READ MORE: Why are cows so important in Switzerland?

UNESCO also recognises Swiss irrigation technology

Switzerland’s cattle weren’t the only ones to join UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity this year.

Its centuries-old irrigation technology from Bern and Lucerne also made the cut.

The multinational agricultural technology was proposed for inclusion on the UNESCO list by Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Austria, Switzerland and Germany, zentralplus reported.

According to UNESCO, traditional irrigation involves temporarily digging small ditches and channels to distribute water from as springs, rivers, streams, and glaciers to meadows.

This sustainable form of water supply, which serves to cultivate dry areas, also has a positive effect on biodiversity.

In Switzerland, this technology is celebrated with various social gatherings and other festivities to mark the start and ending of the water season.

UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity also includes six other Swiss entries.

These include the Craftsmanship of mechanical watchmaking and art mechanics (2020), the Holy Week processions in Mendrisio (2019), Alpinism (2019), the Avalanche risk management (2018), Art of dry stone walling, knowledge and techniques (2018), the Basel Carnival (2017), and the Winegrowers’ Festival in Vevey (2016).

Since 2020, the craft techniques and customary practices of cathedral workshops, or Bauhütten, in Europe, know-how, transmission, development of knowledge and innovation – which include Switzerland – also joined UNESCO’s Register of Good Safeguarding Practices and falls within the agency’s Intangible Cultural Heritage.

READ MORE: The 13 world heritage sites in Switzerland you need to see