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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. 

Colmar

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

Lörrach

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. 

Liesthal

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. 

Olten

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

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OFFBEAT

Is Switzerland’s male-only mandatory military service ‘discriminatory’?

Under Swiss law, all men must serve at least one year in compulsory national service. But is this discriminatory?

Swiss military members walk across a road carrying guns
A new lawsuit seeks to challenge Switzerland's male-only military service requirement. Is this discriminatory? FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

All men aged between the ages of 18 and 30 are required to complete compulsory military service in Switzerland. 

A lawsuit which worked its way through the Swiss courts has now ended up in the European Court of Human Rights, where the judges will decide if Switzerland’s male-only conscription requirement violates anti-discrimination rules. 

Switzerland’s NZZ newspaper wrote on Monday the case has “explosive potential” and has “what it takes to cause a tremor” to a policy which was first laid out in Switzerland’s 1848 and 1874 Federal Constitutions. 

What is Switzerland’s compulsory military service? 

Article 59 of the Federal Constitution of Switzerland says “Every man with Swiss citizenship is liable for military service. Alternative civilian service shall be provided for by law.”

Recruits must generally do 18 weeks of boot camp (longer in some cases). 

They are then required to spend several weeks in the army every year until they have completed a minimum 245 days of service.

Military service is compulsory for Swiss men aged 18 and over. Women can chose to do military service but this is rare.

What about national rather than military service? 

Introduced in 1996, this is an alternative to the army, originally intended for those who objected to military service on moral grounds. 

READ MORE: The Swiss army’s growing problem with civilian service

Service is longer there than in the army, from the age of 20 to 40. 

This must be for 340 days in total, longer than the military service requirement. 

What about foreigners and dual nationals? 

Once you become a Swiss citizen and are between the ages of 18 and 30, you can expect to be conscripted. 

READ MORE: Do naturalised Swiss citizens have to do military service?

In general, having another citizenship in addition to the Swiss one is not going to exempt you from military service in Switzerland.

However, there is one exception: the obligation to serve will be waved, provided you can show that you have fulfilled your military duties in your other home country.

If you are a Swiss (naturalised or not) who lives abroad, you are not required to serve in the military in Switzerland, though you can voluntarily enlist. 

How do Swiss people feel about military and national service? 

Generally, the obligation is viewed relatively positively, both by the general public and by those who take part in compulsory service. 

While several other European countries have gotten rid of mandatory service, a 2013 referendum which attempted to abolish conscription was rejected by 73 percent of Swiss voters. 

What is the court case and what does it say? 

Martin D. Küng, the lawyer from the Swiss canton of Bern who has driven the case through the courts, has a personal interest in its success. 

He was found unfit for service but is still required to pay an annual bill to the Swiss government, which was 1662CHF for the last year he was required to pay it. 

While the 36-year-old no longer has to pay the amount – the obligation only lasts between the ages of 18 and 30 – Küng is bring the case on principle. 

So far, Küng has had little success in the Swiss courts, with his appeal rejected by the cantonal administrative court and later by the Swiss Federal Supreme Court. 

Previous Supreme Court cases, when hearing objections to men-only military service, said that women are less suitable for conscription due to “physiological and biological differences”.

In Küng’s case, the judges avoided this justification, saying instead that the matter was a constitutional issue. 

‘No objective reason why only men have to do military service’

He has now appealed the decision to the European level. 

While men have previously tried and failed when taking their case to the Supreme Court, no Swiss man has ever brought the matter to the European Court of Human Rights. 

Küng told the NZZ that he considered the rule to be unjust and said the Supreme Court’s decision is based on political considerations. 

“I would have expected the Federal Supreme Court to have the courage to clearly state the obvious in my case and not to decide on political grounds,” Küng said. 

“There is no objective reason why only men have to do military service or pay replacement taxes. On average, women may not be as physically productive as men, but that is not a criterion for excluding them from compulsory military service. 

There are quite a few men who cannot keep up with women in terms of stamina. Gender is simply the wrong demarcation criterion for deciding on compulsory service. If so, then one would have to focus on physical performance.”

Is it likely to pass? 

Küng is optimistic that the Strasbourg court will find in his favour, pointing to a successful appeal by a German man who complained about a fire brigade tax, which was only imposed on men. 

“This question has not yet been conclusively answered by the court” Küng said. 

The impact of a decision in his favour could be considerable, with European law technically taking precedence over Swiss law.

It would set Switzerland on a collision course with the bloc, particularly given the popularity of the conscription provision. 

Küng clarified that political outcomes and repercussions don’t concern him. 

“My only concern is for a court to determine that the current regulation is legally wrong.”

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