The downsides of Geneva you should be aware of before moving there
There is no doubt Switzerland’s most international city and canton offers many perks for the nearly half a million people who call Geneva home. But there are also some drawbacks to living in the beautiful city on the shores of Lac Léman.
Nobody can deny that, overall, Geneva, is a great place to live. It is picturesque and lively, with interesting historic landmarks, diverse neighbourhoods, and a good public transportation system (but then again, you can say these things about all Swiss cities).
Another plus is that if you come from another country, you will never feel out of place in Geneva, as 40 percent of the local population are foreigners.
And for the internationally minded, Geneva lies right on the border with France — though some people see this as a huge negative (see below).
But despite its attractiveness and an almost mystical aura of luxury, there are also some downsides to living here. Here are six to be aware of.
Don't live in Geneva? Here are the downsides of living in Zurich you should be aware of.
Cost of living
Geneva is notoriously pricey, regularly ranking (along with Zurich) among the most expensive cities in the world.
You need very deep pockets to live here: in terms of rents, “Geneva is well above the Swiss average and positions itself even ahead of other expensive cities such as Zurich”, according to public broadcaster SRF, which based its report on data from the Federal Statistical Office.
High rents have a lot to do with Geneva’s geography.
The canton is nestled in the southwest corner of the country, where it is wedged between France and Lake Geneva. Therefore, the land for new constructions is limited, while the demand is growing steadily.
Traffic in Geneva can, literally and figuratively, drive you crazy.
The canton's territory is relatively small and compact, but in terms of road congestion and bottlenecks, it has the worst record of all Swiss cities.
According to TomTom GPS data, Geneva drivers lose 69 hours each year sitting in traffic jams.
But road congestion is not the only problem in Geneva — the canton’s drivers are among the worst in the whole of Switzerland, according to a survey by AXA Insurance company.
It shows that they have between 120 and 140 percent more accidents than other cantons — a statistic Genevans naturally blame on French drivers.
Only one canton is ahead of Geneva for the number of car accidents: Ticino (whose drivers no doubt assign the blame to Italians).
While Geneva is generally safe and violent offences are rare, the city ranks as most dangerous in Switzerland.
Here too, fingers are pointed at the canton’s French neighbours, who are blamed for all the petty crimes committed on Geneva’s territory.
Generally speaking however, Switzerland is an incredibly safe place to live and Geneva ranks among the world's safest cities.
Hustle and bustle
The bulk of people who are present in Geneva during the day come here to work either from nearby Vaud or from nearby France — the latter being convenient scapegoats for everything that is out of whack in Geneva.
Figures from Geneva’s statistical office (OCSTAT) indicate that well over 26,000 people commute to work in the city from Vaud, and over 90,000 from the French regions of Haute-Savoie and Ain.
A 2016 federal study found that Geneva has the highest amount of nighttime traffic noise in the entire country, with 60 percent of the population having their sleep disturbed.
To sum up, with traffic jams, congestion, bad drivers and the French, Geneva may not be everyone’s idea of a paradise.
No space, no space at all
In the same official 2016 study comparing Swiss cities had a surprising revelation about Geneva - the overall lack of privacy or personal space.
The city at the end of Lac Léman has the fewest number of people living in individual houses, as opposed to apartment blocks, and the largest number of homes comprising more than one person per room, found the study.
“Houses often offer a larger living area per person and a garden,” it said.
“Having enough room in a residence is important to preserve private life and to create a comfortable living environment. Overpopulation can lead to health problems or create problems for children at school.”
I'm so lonely, it's just me only
A consequence of living in a town with a large number of international residents is a regular turnover of residents - which can lead to loneliness and feelings of isolation.
Swiss citizenship ranks among the hardest to get which often means people come to Switzerland on a temporary basis, even if that temporary basis is two decades.
In Geneva, where almost half of the residents are foreign, this is a particular problem.
Loneliness is a common theme in Switzerland in general, with academic journal articles written on the phenomenon.
Local readers often tell us they struggle with loneliness in Switzerland, such as in this 2019 article.
“The majority of Swiss are insular. They keep friends from childhood forever, don't like change, and believe that their way of life is superior to most”, said one reader.
One further respondent, Magc, said that this could make Switzerland an isolated and lonely place to live in.
“The Swiss tend to stick to other Swiss people and don't like to include outsiders into their circles… As an expat from Canada, I don't look foreign, but as soon as Swiss people speak to me in Swiss German, they hear my broken German and see that I can't fully understand what they are saying and tend to not go further to communicate,” she said.
“It’s a lonely country to live in.”