Zurich is world’s second best city for expats: report

Zurich has once again rated highly in an international study of the best cities for expats to live in.

Zurich is world's second best city for expats: report
Photo: Russ Bowling

Switzerland’s largest city placed second in Mercer’s 2016 Quality of Life survey, after Austrian capital Vienna took the top spot and Geneva came eighth.

The study examined social and economic conditions, health, education, housing and the environment, and is used by big companies to assess where they should locate themselves and how much they should pay expatriate workers.

The survey identified safety as a key consideration for companies sending expatriates abroad, “both because it raises concerns about the expat’s personal safety and because it has a significant impact on the cost of global compensation programmes,” Mercer said in a press release.

Switzerland is known as a safe country, which the Mercer report confirmed by placing Zurich and Swiss capital Bern joint second for safety along with Finnish capital Helsinki, behind Luxemburg in first place.  

Last year Switzerland was judged the safest city in the world by New York-based research website ValuePenguin.

The report drew attention to Switzerland’s low reported violent crime rate – seven per 100,000 people – and its compulsory health insurance system.

British expat Chris Southwell, a former professional snowboarder who last year set up personal concierge service for expats Allow Me near Zurich, agrees that safety is a big asset of the city.

“You don’t feel threatened walking around at night, which I think is really nice for families, to have that security,” he tells The Local.

“When you feel safe you can relax and really enjoy life more.”

This safe environment is generated because of the Swiss mentality, he says.

“How they care for each other, how they have been brought up. You see it when the kids go to school, they walk along on their own. From a young age they have been brought up in that way.”

Southwell, who has lived in Switzerland for many years, also praises Zurich’s quality of life and abundance of activities.

“Within an hour’s drive you’ve got mountains for skiing and hiking, to spend great weekends away. You’ve got the lake which is very clean and you can swim in it.”

“It’s got a great transport network, everything works on time.”

Of course Zurich has its downsides, one being the high cost of living. But that’s balanced out by higher earnings and lower taxation, notes Southwell.

“The price of living is higher, but we’ve got lower tax and other financial benefits like that, so it creates a better economic environment for you to grow yourself personally,” he says.

The only downside to living in Zurich is the Swiss propensity to be a stickler for the rules, he says.

“It’s very law abiding. You can have a barbecue or something and you have to make sure you tell all your neighbours and even invite them. There’ve been cases where the neighbours have gone to bed at ten pm and then called the police to complain about the noise.

“You’ve got to know the laws and obey the laws. But as long as you stay on the right side it’s a very nice place to live.”

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Why have Swiss cities become ‘more liveable’ during the pandemic?

While European cities have fallen in the liveability rankings, those in Switzerland have climbed. Why?

Why have Swiss cities become 'more liveable' during the pandemic?
Zurich is among the most 'livabke' cities in the world. Photo by

Switzerland’s largest municipalities, Zurich and Geneva, are the only European cities ranked in the top 10 best places to live.

Zurich and Geneva placed in the seventh and eighth place, respectively, in the Global Liveability Index 2021 released on Thursday by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU)

The study surveyed 140 cities around the world based on 30 factors in five broad categories: stability (25 percent), health care (20 percent), culture and environment (25 percent), education (10 percent), and infrastructure (20 percent).

The two Swiss cities got the highest score, 100, in the healthcare category, 96.4 in infrastructure and 95 in stability. They fared slightly less well in culture and environment (85.9 for Zurich and 84.5 for Geneva) and in education (83.3).

Interestingly, while in 2018 and 2019 Vienna topped the charts, this year the Austrian capital slipped into the 12th place, while Zurich and Geneva climbed up to the top 10 from the 11th and 14th place previously.

Why have Zurich and Geneva done better than other European cities?

They are higher in the rankings “largely because the Swiss lockdown was less stringent than in most of Europe”, Ana Nicholls, the EIU’s Industry Director told The Local.

“Restrictions in these cities began to be lifted on March 1st, opening up sports, cultural and leisure facilities, especially for under-18s, as well as allowing small private outdoor events”, she added.  

READ MORE: Cost of living: The most – and least – expensive cantons in Switzerland

Vienna and other European cities like Frankfurt, Hamburg and Dusseldorf have fallen down the rankings “largely due to the course of the pandemic and the timing of our survey”, Nicholls  said.

“We conducted the research between February 22nd March 21st  this year, when Europe was battling a new wave of coronavirus cases and many cities were in lockdown. As a result, the index for “Culture and the environment” fell, because many museums, shops and restaurants were shut. Healthcare systems also came under strain as they dealt with Covid cases”, she noted.

Overall, cities in New Zealand, Australia and Japan got the highest scores in the survey.

Auckland ranks in the first place, followed by Osaka (2), Adelaide (3), Wellington (4) , Tokyo (5), Perth (6), Melbourne (9) and Brisbane (10).

It is not the first time that Swiss cities rank high in international studies. Zurich, Geneva and Basel often rate among the world’s 10 best cities in terms of quality of life.