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The best – and worst – cities for expats in Switzerland

Zug and Basel have ranked in the top ten in the world for expat living, but the low ranking of other prominent Swiss cities shows the country gets mixed reviews from internationals.

The best - and worst - cities for expats in Switzerland
Photo: Depositphotos

Zug and Basel have roared up the charts in the latest list of global cities for the best expat living, finishing eighth and tenth respectively from over 80 cities and towns surveyed. 

Quality of life was the major factor, along with safety, public transport and a lack of pollution. 

The other Swiss cities to feature however ranked comparatively poorly, with Lausanne (36th), Bern (38th), Zurich (41st) and Lugano (53rd) – followed by the poorly performing Geneva in 69th. 

Although all of the Swiss cities in the survey ranked in the top 20 for quality of life, those who found themselves further down the list had been ranked poorly for ability to integrate and potential for making new friends. 

In Zurich and Bern, for instance, more than 50 percent of those surveyed said they found it difficult to make new friends. 

'It's a lonely country to live in': What you think about life in Switzerland

Comparing the findings to the list from last year shows that Swiss cities are rising up the ranks.

In the 2018 edition, no cities in Switzerland made the top 20, with Basel and Zug coming in 22nd and 23rd respectively. Lausanne (44th), Geneva (56th) and Zurich (57th) were also included on the 2018 list. 

Zug and Basel rise up the ranks

Although some respondents indicated that it was also difficult to make friends in Zug and Basel, the high ranking of these cities in all other major categories pushed them towards the top of the list. 

In Zug, for instance, not one respondent indicated dissatisfaction with public transport, while work-life balance and the economy were also rated as among the best in the world. 

As noted by the authors: “Zug is not only the highest-rated city in Switzerland, but it also offers the world’s best quality of life”. 

Image: Depositphotos

“Expats even rank Zug first in the world for the state of the local economy (91% happy vs. 66% globally).”

Basel ranked highly on affordability of housing and overall quality of life. 

As noted in the report: “Basel ranks 10th out of 82 cities in the Expat City Ranking, with expats rating the quality of life very highly (6th).” 

“They are particularly happy with their personal safety (93% vs. 81% globally), the local transportation system (98% vs. 70% globally), and the quality of the environment (93% vs. 71% globally)” 

The 2019 study

The study, completed by Internations, took into account 82 different cities across the world, interviewing 20,000 people from 178 countries with 187 nationalities.

Internations, a networking organisation for expats across the globe, publishes the list annually. 

The study takes into account a variety of factors, including Quality of Urban Living, Getting Settled, Urban Work Life Balance, Finance and Housing, Cost of Living and Happiness. 

Image: Internations

According to a statement from the authors, each factor has even weighting in the final outcome. 

“Participants were asked to rate more than 25 different aspects of urban life abroad on a scale of one to seven. The rating process emphasised the respondents’ personal satisfaction with these aspects and considered both emotional topics as well as more factual aspects with equal weight.”

The minimum requirement for a city to be included in the list was 50 participants in order to ensure a wide range of respondents had the chance to have their say. 

The good

Other than the two Swiss cities to feature in the top ten, the best cities as ranked by expats come primarily from Europe and Asia. 

Four Asian cities – Taipei, Kuala Lumpur, Ho Chi Minh City and Singapore – make up the top four, with Montreal ranking fifth. 

Lisbon (sixth), Barcelona (seventh) and The Hague (ninth) join Zug and Basel in the top ten. 

…the bad and the ugly

Aside from Switzerland featuring prominently at the pointy end of the rankings, the list was also notable for which cities ranked the worst in the world among expats. 

While Kuwait City had the unlucky honour of being ranked in the 82nd and last place on the list, some other cosmopolitan metropolises – many known for attracting workers from all over the world – were also among the worst of the worst. 

Image: Internations

Second last on the list was Rome, with expats in the Italian capital criticising the city’s poor security situation, job prospects, political instability and high cost of living. 

Another Italian city, Milan, ranked 80th on the list, with cost of living, work-life balance and political instability major factors. 

Rounding out the bottom ten was Lagos (79th), Paris (78th), San Francisco (77th), Los Angeles (76th), Lima (75th), New York City (74th) and Yangon (73rd). 

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Five things to consider when organising childcare in Switzerland

Switzerland's childcare costs are among the world's highest, although there are some ways to save. Originally from the United States but now raising children in Zug, writer Ashley Franzen takes you through some of the most important things you need to consider when finding childcare in Switzerland.

Five things to consider when organising childcare in Switzerland

Switzerland has a peculiar dichotomy when it comes to childcare. Although many parents both work full-time, Switzerland has traditionally been hands off when it comes to childcare support for families with children under five, leading to some of the highest childcare costs in the world. 

For older kids there is before and after-school care that is offered by the canton, but for younger kids who haven’t quite started kindergarten, it can pose problems for parents who are in need of reliable care, particularly those who don’t have grandparents to rely on. 

According to the Swiss Federal Council, “Grandparents as well as daycare centres and extra-school care facilities are the most frequently used forms of childcare, with each category accounting for a third of provision for children aged 0 to 12 years. 81 percent of families in large cities turned to extra-family care for their children compared with 66 percent of families in rural areas. Parents’ satisfaction with the care facilities is high, but there is still unmet demand.” 

What alternative childcare options do I have in Switzerland?

There are various childcare and nursery options for babies and toddlers up through young children aged five or six. Each canton offers childcare, though often there are lengthy waitlists for available spots.

READ ALSO: ‘A developing country’: Why do so few Swiss children attend childcare?

An alternative might be a private or bilingual daycare, but the costs for these are even higher than the locally-run childcares, and sometimes have longer waitlists.

Get on a list early as it’s important to get the ball rolling on paperwork, especially as a foreigner in Switzerland. 

An alternate option is to find the equivalent of a Tagesmütter, or a carer who opens up their home to taking care of up to four children at a time, when there is space available.

The costs remain about the same, but it can be easier to get placement for childcare with an in-their-own-home carer.

Some families opt to hire a nanny, but it may not be possible financially for all families. As for bringing an Au Pair to join the family, there are specific rules and regulations in Switzerland surrounding pay, number of hours they can work (about half of which you would need to be present for), and language rules– the main one being they cannot speak the same language as the family. Additionally, language classes are stipulated for the duration of their stay. 

Suffice it to say, that there are quite a few hurdles to overcome and in order to make sure your family is supported with reliable childcare to meet your needs.

Below are five things to consider as you plan out and organise childcare in Switzerland.

Children play with educational tools. (Photo by Thomas SAMSON / AFP)

1. Compare the options

Childcare in Switzerland is top notch, albeit expensive, so make sure you take the time to figure out where you want to enrol your child.

Some of the best programs are actually run as not-for-profit organisations, such as KiBiz in Zug.

READ ALSO: What alternative childcare options do I have in Zurich?

Most daycares offer a pedagogically strong curriculum and having them at a local daycare gives your child the opportunity to learn the local language. 

2. Decide on someone to name as your emergency contact

This can be a bit harder if you don’t have family or friends nearby, but double check with a colleague or someone that you trust in the case of an emergency or illness.

Finding a colleague that is willing to help by picking up the kids when they were sick when both parents find themselves out of town can be incredibly helpful. 

READ MORE: How much does it cost to raise a child in Switzerland?

3. See if you qualify for subsidies

According to the OECD, Switzerland has the highest cost for childcare among wealthy countries. Cantons are in the process of trying to increase the amount of money they’re able to allocate for assisting families with the costs.

If your household income is under a certain amount (it varies by canton), then it might be possible to have some of the costs of your family’s childcare covered. 

4. Consider having a babysitter or two on hand that you can call

As a foreign parent in Switzerland, sometimes it makes sense to have someone extra to call on for help with childcare coverage– even if you don’t think you’ll need anyone.

Meetings get moved, appointments need to be rescheduled, and sometimes there’s the odd school workday, where kids do not attend classes.

READ MORE: How to save money on childcare in Switzerland

In situations like these, having someone to reach out to, who can help provide coverage (and perhaps even the occasionally date night) helps provide a safety net for parents that might not have any backup to call at the spur of the moment. 

5. Be open for and prepared to have a hurdle or two, be it language or logistics

Many of the institutions around the country, particularly for younger kids are really good at filling in the parents on what the kids have done during the day, what they’ve eaten, how they’ve acted. The seemingly hardest part is actually filing the paperwork and piecing together care, particularly if you don’t speak the local language.

Wendy Noller is originally from Australia, and now lives in Luzern with her husband, and their two children, aged five and seven.

When they were getting signed up for Kita, she expresses that there were quite a few hurdles to consider.

READ ALSO: How different is raising kids in Switzerland compared to the United States?

Initially they received a letter from Canton Luzern stating that there weren’t enough places for their daughter. “We had heard negative reviews from other expats, but learned that there really are a lot of myths around childcare– that it’s not good quality, or there aren’t enough places. My husband and I work 100 percent and [when registering the kids], found the local authority to be both very helpful and responsive.”

She adds that she would call or email every couple days after receiving the letter to express that they both worked full-time and were really interested in their daughter integrating.

In the end, just a couple days before school started, they were told there was a place available for her. 

While their situation had a happy ending, sometimes other backup plans need to be put in place. Organising childcare in Switzerland is doable and having a fellow foreigner who has gone through it before to help share their experience or how to go about it can make a difference in how easy or how difficult it feels.