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GENEVA

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.

Geneva. It can be a lonely place (while being far busier than this. Photo by Will Truettner on Unsplash
Geneva. It can be a lonely place (while being far busier than this. Photo by Will Truettner on Unsplash

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.

READ MORE: Is Geneva the worst place to live in Switzerland?

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. 

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.

READ MORE: Why is Geneva’s rent the highest in Switzerland?

Traffic!

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.

READ MORE: Bottlenecks and delays: Which Swiss cities have the worst traffic?

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).

READ MORE: MAPS: Which Swiss canton has the worst drivers?

Safety

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. 

Safety in Switzerland: Which areas do Zurich residents avoid at night?

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.

READ MORE: MAPS: The best commuter towns when working in Geneva

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. 

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

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.”

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QUALITY OF LIFE

Why are Geneva and Zurich high among world’s ‘most liveable’ cities?

Zurich and Geneva have been ranked once again in the top 10 best cities to live in but not everything is so rosy about life in Switzerland's two big cities.

Why are Geneva and Zurich high among world’s ‘most liveable’ cities?

Switzerland is the only country in Europe to have two entries in the top 10 in the new Global Liveability Index: Zurich is in the third place and Geneva in the sixth.

The study, carried out by the Economist Intelligence Unit rates living conditions in 172 cities based on more than 30 factors. These are grouped into five categories: stability, health care, culture and environment, education and infrastructure. 

Both cities score high across all categories, with highest marks given for heath care (100), followed by infrastructure (96.4), and stability (95).

The difference, though minimal, between the two cities, lies in the culture and environment category, were Zurich scored 96.3 and Geneva 94.9.

The lowest score both got, 91.7, is for education, which is surprising, as Zurich’s Federal Polytechnic Institute (ETH) has been named the best university in continental Europe for several years running, including in 2022.

READ MORE: Swiss universities still highly ranked but slip in ratings

The overall result, however, is not exactly a surprise, because the two cities (and sometimes also Basel, Bern, and Lausanne) frequently rank in the Top 10 places to live in the world.

Paradoxically, Switzerland’s two largest cities also routinely take top spots as the most expensive places to live in. For instance, both were ranked among the costliest for international residents in a survey published on June 14th.

So the obvious question is, how can two most expensive cities also be among most ‘liveable’?

At least part of the answer may lie in different criteria used to measure the quality of life versus costs.

The concept of quality of life defined by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which was also adapted in Switzerland, includes categories such as  health, education, environmental quality, personal security, civic engagement, and work-life balance.

Swiss cities (and Switzerland in general) scores high in all these categories, which explains the overall top rankings.

The cost of living, on the other hand, is determined by calculating prices of goods and services that are essential parts of individual or household spending.

These prices are totalled and averaged, and indexes are created to help compare costs of living in different locations.

As prices for basic necessities such as housing, health insurance, food, and public transportation, are much higher in Switzerland than in most of Europe, the country always ranks among the most expensive in the world.

However, as The Local explained in a recent article, in order to get a more accurate assessment of the cost of living, prices should be looked at in the context of purchasing power parity (PPP) — that is, the financial ability of a person or a household to buy products and services with their wages.

An in depth analysis by a digital employment platform Glassdoor concluded that in Switzerland (along with Denmark, and Germany) the average city-based worker can afford to buy 60 percent or more goods and services with his or her salary than residents of New York.

READ MORE : EXPLAINED: Why Switzerland’s cost of living isn’t as high as you think

And there’s more to the equation…

Most, if not all, participants in the global quality / standard of living indexes are international residents in each surveyed country — people who are typically high earners and have sufficient income to live well. That skews the results somewhat.

For instance, the Quality of Living Ranking conducted annually by asset management firm Mercer, bases its findings on responses by expatriate employees — people who work in high-level, well-paid executive positions — rather than those in lower-level jobs, like in retail or restaurant sector.

 READ MORE: What is the average salary for (almost) every job in Switzerland?
 
 

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