How Switzerland’s cross-border workers are growing in number

New figures from the Federal Statistics Office (FSO) show a small increase in the last three months in the number of cross-border employees from France, Italy, Germany, and Austria.

How Switzerland's cross-border workers are growing in number
Photo by AFP

In the last three months, 332,177 cross-border commuters have been employed in Switzerland, according to the FSO data published this week. 

That is 0.6 percent more than during January, February, and March 2020, and 2.9 percent more compared to the same period last year.

This is what the FSO numbers show:

Where do frontier workers come from?

Over half of all cross-border commuters came from France – 3.4 percent more than in June 2019.

Workers from Italy account for almost a quarter, their numbers having increased by 2.7 percent.

About a fifth come from Germany — 1.7 percent more than in the same period in 2019.

And Austrian commuters constitute by far the smallest group (2.5 percent), but have increased by 2.2 percent since last June.

Where do they work?

The region that welcomes the largest number of cross-border workers (125,064) is the area around Lake Geneva, which encompasses the cantons of Geneva and Vaud.

READ MORE: Why Switzerland’s cross-border workers living in France will have to spend less time working from home 

Northwestern Switzerland (70,721) is followed by Ticino (67,311). 

Only 27,742 cross-border commuters are employed in cantons of Fribourg, Neuchâtel, Jura and Bern.

In what industries are they employed?

About two-thirds work in the service / industry sector, and one-third in manufacturing, the FSO said.

Only a small number — 2,258 —  work in agriculture.

About two-thirds of the cross-border commuters are men, and a third women.

FSO noted that while some frontier employees may have lost their Swiss jobs during the Covid-19 pandemic, they have been included in the statistics if they still possess their cross-border G work permit.

Updated numbers will be published in the next quarterly report, encompassing July, August, and September 2020.

The State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) also published a report this week showing that, for the first time in decades, Switzerland put in place strict controls on immigration which led to a significant fall in migrants from January to June in 2020. 

But despite the decrease, a total of 58,730 people made the move to Switzerland in the first six months of 2020 – a higher figure than in 2019. 

There were two main reasons for the increase.

Firstly, pre-pandemic migration numbers from January and February were higher in 2020 than in 2019. 

The second reason was a decline in emigration – i.e. foreign residents leaving Switzerland – by 14.4 percent, due at least in part to the pandemic.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


MAPS: The best commuter towns if you work in Basel

Basel is one of Europe's best cities for finding work, which is perhaps why it's so expensive. One option is commuting. Here's what you need to know.

A quiet square in the centre of Basel, Switzerland
Commuting is a great way to save money in Basel. Here's what you need to know. Image by Birgit Böllinger from Pixabay

Basel is one of Switzerland’s economic powerhouse cities, which can be a blessing and a curse. 

A consequence of Basel’s strong job market and economic power is that the city has become an incredibly expensive place to live, with rents outstripping those of many other parts of the country. 

One option however is commuting. With Switzerland’s relatively small size and strong public transport infrastructure – not to mention roads and motorways – one option is to live in some of the cities and towns surrounding Basel and commute into the city for work. 

Colourful houses on a beautiful street in Basel

Colourful houses on a beautiful street in Basel. Image by Birgit Böllinger from Pixabay

Commuting from surrounding towns and villages is popular in Basel, with tens of thousands commuting from Switzerland, Germany and France daily. 

The impact of the pandemic – with businesses often encouraging their employees to work from home – has only served to encourage the popularity of moving away from the city. 

Besides lower rent or housing costs, living away from Basel also usually means you are able to have a bit more space and can enjoy the Swiss countryside, which is especially popular for families. 

From cross-border commuting to finding places to live in Switzerland, here are some of the best options when it comes to commuting to work in Basel. 

Don’t live in Basel? Here are our summaries on commuting in Zurich and Geneva. 

MAPS: The best commuter towns when working in Zurich

MAPS: The best commuter towns when working in Geneva

Commuting to Basel

Basel City is Switzerland’s smallest canton by square kilometres, which means that crossing cantonal borders is even more likely. 

Living in the neighbouring canton of Basel Country is a popular option, as is living further afield. 

One such option is Switzerland’s best-known commuter town – Olten – which is not only situated 30 minutes from Basel on a public transport hub, but is also the same distance from Zurich, Bern and several other important Swiss cities. 

Another option is cross-border commuting, with Basel sharing a border with France and Germany. 

An estimated 37,000 people cross the border to work in Basel every day from either of those two countries, making it one of Switzerland’s most popular cross-border worker hubs. 

The following map shows how popular commuting is as a whole in Switzerland, although as it’s been put together by the Swiss government, only Swiss locations have been included. 

As can be seen by the size of the circle, Basel is one of the major commuter locations. 

Major commuter locations in Switzerland

Major commuter locations in Switzerland. Image: Federal Office of Statistics.

One further advantage of living in either France or Germany can be lower costs of living – particularly regarding rents and groceries etc – although if you pay tax in either of these countries, it is likely to be higher. 

Finally, Swiss workplaces are relatively supportive of commuting and cross-border working, at least in part because they have no choice. This means that work and social events are often organised in a fashion which takes commuters into account. 

READ MORE: Can I rent my apartment on Airbnb in Basel and what are the rules?

One thing to keep in mind – and which is a continual gripe of many Local readers – is traffic in Basel, which has been rated by readers as everything from “shocking” to “terrible”.

Basel remains a small, picturesque city with a central old town but it has experienced dramatic economic growth, meaning that it can struggle in peak times. Therefore, when picking a location, have public transport in mind. 

St Louis 

Not just a fun sign to take a picture of for homesick Americans, St Louis is a popular commuter town located in France. 

Located just eight minutes from Basel, St Louis has a population of around 20,000 – many of whom work in Basel and cross the border daily. 

The close proximity and the high proportion of cross-border workers means there are around 50 trains per day from St Louis to Basel, with the same number going back. 

Standard apartments in St Louis will cost anywhere from €700 to €1,500 per month, with more space and rooms for your buck than in Basel. 

Unlike some of the Swiss towns mentioned above however, St Louis does not have an English or international school. There are however some private options in relative close proximity. 

As a slight extra bonus, it must be a nice feeling to know you can scream “Hellooooo St Louis!” when you get home from work in the evening, every evening, although be aware that this joke has a tendency to get old. 


Around an hour from Basel is the French village of Colmar, located in the Alsace region of France. There are also a handful of faster train services which take around 45 minutes.

There are approximately 60 trains going to and from Basel each day. 

Besides being close to St Louis, Colmar is incredibly beautiful and peaceful, with its thatched timber houses giving it the nickname Little Venice. 

It’s a little bigger than St Louis, with roughly 70,000 residents. A consequence of that is a better gastronomical scene which showcases the best of French cooking, along with additional cultural options. 

Colmar offers some incredibly cost effective options for rentals, with dozens of three-room apartments under €1,000 per month. 

Like St Louis, there is currently no international school option in Colmar, so you may have to send your kids to international schools in Basel unless you want to put them in private schooling in France. 

The beautiful French village of Colmar is less than an hour from Basel

The beautiful French village of Colmar is less than an hour from Basel. Image by Ben Kerckx from Pixabay


Right on the Swiss border is the German town of Lörrach, which is an obvious favourite for Basel commuters. An estimated 21,000 people commute from the region of Lörrach to Switzerland daily, 5,200 who come from the town itself. 

While around a quarter of Lörrach residents commute to Switzerland for work, this rises to 36 percent in Inzlingen

Travelling from Lörrach to Basel takes around 20 minutes via car (traffic pending), 30 minutes via public transport or 35 minutes if you decide to cycle. 

While taxes are higher in Germany, residents of Lörrach and the surrounds report better child care services, easier access to schools and cheaper supermarkets, restaurants etc. 

Renting is also cheaper, with apartments averaging between €900 to €1,500 per month. 

One thing to keep in mind however is that some municipalities in the region have taken action against cross-border commuters due to fear of rising rents, putting in place restrictions on who can live there. 

Many of these are in practice difficult to enforce, but it’s worth keeping in mind before you move. 


While cross-border commuting is incredibly popular in Basel, there are also several options in Switzerland worth considering. 

Liesthal, located in the neighbouring canton of Basel Country, is ten minutes from Basel on the fast train. 

Rents in Liesthal are much cheaper than Basel, although it is still Switzerland so rents – and other costs of living – are likely to be much higher than in Germany or France. 

Prices for studios and one-room apartments are around the CHF1,000 mark, while a three-bedroom place will set you back 1,600CHF per month. 

A study done way back in 2000 showed that around one third of Liesthal residents commuted outside the town for work, although note that this was done 20 years ago and there is no specific indication of how many of those people went to Basel. 


No discussion of commuting in Switzerland would be complete without a mention of Olten, Switzerland’s true commuter city. 

Olten is located within half an hour of Zurich, Bern, Basel and Luzern. As a central rail hub and with rents far lower than each of those cities, it has cemented itself as Switzerland’s true commuter town.

The town’s official Twitter biography boasts of “friendly and uncomplicated residents” living in a city which is “often undervalued” as a place to live and work. 

A sign which says “clever commuters live in Olten”. Image: Olten City

The town brags that 80 percent of Switzerland is less than an hour away. 

Rents in Olten are roughly the same as the Swiss average, or around CHF1,330 for a two-to-three bedroom apartment, much cheaper than in Basel.

Although the figures are a decade old, around one third of the workers who live in the canton commute to work.

Olten’s status as a true commuter location is so established that we’ve written an entire article focused on it. Click the following link to find out more.

Everything you need to know about Olten: Switzerland’s commuter city