Where Do Most Expats Live in Switzerland?

Before you move to Switzerland, you have to decide where to live. Each region is unique, and your experience will be drastically different if you move to a French-speaking part than if you make a German or Italian-speaking city your new home.  While there isn’t a single best place to live in Switzerland, certain areas are considered more expat-friendly than others.

The Best Place to Live in Switzerland

When deciding where to live in Switzerland, consider multiple factors:

  • Your work: Most work opportunities for expats are located in Zurich, Basel, and Geneva. If you’re coming to live in Switzerland and you don’t yet have a job, choose an area where there are many open positions in your field.
  • Your budget: Although several Swiss cities are hubs for expats, they are also very expensive. If your budget is limited, you might consider moving to a smaller commuter town first.
  • Your preferences: Some cities are renowned for their arts and culture, while others offer a thriving nightlife. Research and visit each potential location, so you can get a feel for whether you’ll be comfortable there.
  • Your language skills: If you already speak one of the national languages (German, French, or Italian), consider settling where it is spoken. Knowing the local language will make integration much easier.

Where Do Most Expats Live in Switzerland?

German-Speaking Switzerland

The majority of Switzerland is German-speaking. In these areas, the official language, used for written texts and in schools, is German. However, the spoken dialect, called Swiss German, is very different from standard German. This isn’t an issue in the larger cities such as Zurich, Basel, and Winterthur because there are plenty of other expats. Additionally, Swiss German speakers are typically fluent in English, especially the younger generations.


With a population of over 400,000, Zurich is Switzerland’s largest city. It’s considered the financial and tech hub of the country, and around one-third of the population are foreigners. This means that socialising is easy due to the many expat events. Zurich is a great city for people who love nature because it’s close to the Alps, and great hiking opportunities are only 30-60 minutes away. Additionally, locals frequently stroll along or sit by the lake during summer.

Because Zurich is so popular, housing is very expensive. However, salaries typically match the higher prices, so most locals have a good standard of living. Some people who work in the city live in the surrounding towns, where rents are cheaper.

Zurich: German-speaking financial and tech hub with around 140,000 expats.


Basel is a smaller city with a population of around 170,000. Many expats settle in Basel because several large pharmaceutical companies are based here. The city is considered the art and culture capital of Switzerland, with nearly 40 museums and several unique events such as the Basel Carnival and the Herbstmesse (autumn fair). Due to its small size, Basel is easy to navigate on foot, by bike, or with public transport. Many locals also find that the pace of life is slower than in Zurich.

Locals frequently swim in the river Rhine during the summer. Because Basel is located on the border of both Germany and France, it’s easy to take a day trip to a different country. Basel is about 9% less expensive than Zurich.

Basel: German-speaking art and culture capital in the north of Switzerland.


Winterthur is a great option for people who work in or around Zurich and want to save money, as this city is around 14% cheaper. The population is approximately 110,000, and the proportion of foreigners is somewhat lower than in other cities, at around 24%. It takes less than 30 minutes to get to Zurich, and commuting is easy by public transport. Although some locals spend much of their free time in Zurich, there is also plenty to do in Winterthur. The city has several museums, swimming pools, and annual festivals, such as Afro-Pfingsten and Albanifest.

Winterthur: smaller and more affordable German-speaking city in the canton of Zurich.

Canton Zug

The canton of Zug has the lowest tax rate in Switzerland, so it’s attractive for people with high incomes. However, housing is very expensive and hard to come by here, so you have to plan ahead if you want to settle in Canton Zug. The three largest towns, with populations between 31,000 and 17,000, are Zug, Baar, and Cham. Aside from low taxes, you can enjoy an international community, great nature, and excellent schools. Since there are almost 600 farms in the canton, markets selling local produce are common. If you like small-town living and exploring nature, one of the towns in Zug could be right for you.

Zug: a tax haven and scenic canton with several picturesque small towns.

French-Speaking Switzerland

The western part of Switzerland is French-speaking. Some people find it easier to settle in this area because there are very few differences between the language spoken here and in France. This means that newcomers don’t have to learn a dialect in addition to the official language. Many French-speaking cantons are also slightly more accepting of foreigners than German-speaking cantons, which tend to be more traditional.


Geneva has a population of around 200,000, and it is very international. Approximately 40% of residents are expats. This is mainly due to the many international companies that have headquarters or offices in this city. You won’t struggle to find like-minded people to spend time with; however, you have to be aware that Geneva is a transitory city. Many expats are only here for a few years. If you want to stay long-term, it’s important to learn French and meet locals.

Because Geneva is one of the most expensive cities in the world, a large proportion of the population is older. However, people of all ages can find plenty to do. There are countless restaurants, museums, outdoor activities, and historical buildings to explore. In the summer, many residents swim in one of the 29 bathing spots across the canton.

Geneva: French-speaking city near France. Home of several international organisations.


With over 140,000 residents, Lausanne in the canton of Vaud is a smaller French-speaking city. Like Geneva, it is home to a large number of foreigners. However, Lausanne has a more traditional “French-Swiss” feel. It is also located on the shore of Lake Geneva, so you can enjoy lakeside walks and swimming in the summer.

Most locals really enjoy living in Lausanne, which is considered one of the trendiest places in Switzerland. Unlike in many of the other cities, you’ll find plenty of nightlife. Lausanne also offers many opportunities to explore art, culture, and nature.

Lausanne: smaller French-speaking city with a great quality of life.

Italian-Speaking Switzerland

The canton of Ticino and the southern parts of the canton of Grisons (Graubünden) are mainly Italian-speaking. It is often said that this region combines the best of Italian and Swiss culture. Expats living there enjoy a great quality of life, excellent weather, and beautiful alpine scenery.


With around 65,000 inhabitants, Lugano is the biggest city in Ticino. It lies on Lake Lugano and near the Alps, so it is perfect for people who love outdoor activities. Additionally, the city offers many historic points of interest like churches and museums. Because Lugano is very close to Italy and benefits from an excellent rail network, locals can take weekend and even day trips abroad to Italy.

Lugano: attractive and historic city in Italian-speaking Switzerland.

Moving to an Area with Few Expats

If you’ve landed a job in a smaller town or are considering moving to a remote part of Switzerland that doesn’t have a big expat community, keep several things in mind. Firstly, you’ll need to make more of an effort to learn the local language since many residents might not speak English. Secondly, be aware that Swiss friendship circles are very close-knit. It might take you longer to make friends in areas with fewer expats. Don’t give up too soon because many Swiss people are very loyal friends. Check out local hobby clubs (Vereine), join your colleagues if they go for after-work drinks, and strike up a conversation with your neighbours. Don’t be afraid to take the initiative and suggest an outing first.

There isn’t a single best place to live in Switzerland. Rather, every area has its unique benefits, and it’s a matter of finding which city best fits your needs. Sign up for our newsletter to access our comprehensive “Living in Switzerland” Welcome Guide. You can also apply via our website if you’re looking for a new position in Switzerland. We look forward to matching you up with suitable opportunities.

Where Do Most Expats Live in Switzerland?