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Verdict: The downsides of Zurich you should be aware of before moving

Switzerland’s economic engine. Superb public transport. Perhaps the safest and cleanest metropolis in Europe. It can appear that Zurich has it all. But there are of course some downsides. Here's what our Zurich-based readers told us.

Is Zurich a gilded cage? Photo by Rico Reutimann on Unsplash
Is Zurich a gilded cage? Photo by Rico Reutimann on Unsplash

Zurich city is home to more than 400,000 people – or around 1.5 million when the entire canton is taken into account. 

Around one third of the residents are foreigners, which is higher than the 25 percent figure for Switzerland as a whole. 

As Switzerland’s economic engine, Zurich is responsible for roughly a fifth of the country’s GDP and is the base for dozens of well known domestic and international companies. 

The Zurich job market is strong – perhaps the strongest in Switzerland, particularly for international workers. 

REVEALED: Which Swiss cities offer the best quality of life?

Wages are also strong as a result, with salaries in various industries among the most competitive in the country. 

However, there are of course some downsides to be aware of. In early July, we reached out to our readers to get the lowdown on some of the biggest downsides of living in Zurich. 

This is what they told us.

Don’t live in Zurich? We’ve already done the same for Geneva.

READ MORE: The downsides of Geneva you should be aware of before moving there

Cost of living is particularly hard to bear – but not enough to make me leave

In total, 88 readers got back to us to tell us how they felt about living in Zurich – and in particular what were the major downsides. 

Somewhat expectedly, the cost of living was the major concern of those who took the time to respond. 

Almost half of the respondents said cost of living was the major downside of living in Switzerland’s largest city. 

Just under a quarter told us that difficult making friends was their major concern, while one in ten said the major issue was traffic. 

Six respondents – around 7 percent of the total – told us that a lack of space was the major downside. 

Finally, 11.4 percent of respondents ticked the ‘other’ box before going on to elaborate that finding a flat, the rudeness of the locals, and other issues like language were the major downsides. 

We also had a large number of respondents to our other multiple choice question: i.e. are the downsides enough to make you leave. 

And while people were ready to point out what Zurich was doing wrong, a large majority – just under 80 percent – told us they weren’t being pushed out the exit door. 

Eight out of ten respondents said it was still worth living in Zurich

Just under 15 percent said they were on the way out, while seven percent told us they had already left. 

We also asked readers to give us specific info about the nature of the downsides. Here’s what they said. 

Accommodation

One major struggle is finding rental accommodation in Zurich, which continues to get more difficult. 

Even for people with higher salaries, Zurich’s popularity – and the popularity of renting as opposed to buying – means that there is a significant amount of competition for apartments in the city and its surrounds. 

READ MORE: Why do so many Swiss prefer to rent rather than buy their own home?

Renting a three or four-room apartment can cost you upwards of CHF4,000, which is going to represent a fair chunk of your salary. 

One reader complained that “a normal size flat costs twice a full-month salary of another country”, which sounds about right based on the above figures. 

Another hurdle are the documents required for the tenant selection process, which can be difficult to obtain – particularly for people from elsewhere. 

One reader, Patata, said “finding a flat/bedroom is a nightmare”. 

Cost of living

From Aargau to Zug, Switzerland is expensive – but the costs of living are particularly high in Zurich. Zurich continually tops lists of most expensive cities in the world and ranks alongside Geneva as Switzerland’s priciest. 

While the high wages in Zurich – school teachers earn upwards of CHF80,000 per year and cleaners can earn more than CHF30 per hour – offsets this somewhat, but overall you’ll be guaranteed to spend plenty if you want to maintain even a basic quality of life in Zurich. 

Ben, who has lived in Zurich for four years, said prices were artificially inflated by the number of incredibly wealthy people in the city. 

“I think that the fact that there are so many wealthy people means that prices increase to levels that, while easily affordable to the extremely wealthy and affluent populations, are not to the average resident.”

Cost of living: How to save on groceries in Switzerland

Conservative, closed minded and reserved

One thing we heard from our readers – particularly our Latin American or Mediterranean readers – is how reserved the culture can be in Zurich. 

While we will reduce the temptation to double down on our inner Besserwisser and remind you that the culture is much more open in Zurich than pretty much anywhere else in the country, we do understand that Zurich can be a lot more conservative than other international cities like Berlin, London, New York or Madrid. 

Switzerland itself trends relatively conservative – same-sex marriage was only legalised in summer 2022 – and Zurich attitudes are a symptom of that, although as we said the attitudes are much more open than pretty much anywhere else. 

Peter told us the close-minded nature of the locals was enough to make him give up on making friends. 

“Trying to get to know anyone seems like a wasted endeavour. It’s a vicious circle of people not caring enough to keep building a friendship, then getting jaded so you don’t bother anymore. There’s little spontaneity with Swiss people. You have to arrange to meet up over a week in advance. That’s not common elsewhere in my experience.”

Many respondents told us they were lonely in Zurich. Photo by Angel Barnes on Unsplash

Many respondents told us they were lonely in Zurich. Photo by Angel Barnes on Unsplash

Hard to make friends

One of the most common bits of feedback we get at The Local about Switzerland is how difficult it is to make friends. 

This can be a little easier in larger cities such as Zurich, although by and large you’ll be making friends with fellow foreigners.

A study looking at which cantons were the friendliest ranked Zurich slightly less friendly than the national average, but better than several other cantons including Geneva.  

One reader told us the “unfriendly, insular, bitter, stuck up locals” were enough force a departure from Zurich after four years. 

Noah agreed, saying it was not only hard to make friends with locals, but also with expats. 

“People are closed, hard to make new friends and have deep conversations (not just with locals, most expats are weird too)”.

The Swiss who grow up in Zurich often have their own friend circles and don’t mix too much with the city’s internationals. 

Part of this is because of the high turnover of foreign residents, with many locals not wanting to have a revolving door of friendships. 

One reader, Ato – who has been in Switzerland for 5.5 years – recognised this. 

“Due to the transient nature of many people living here, friendships sometimes seem to not be worth investing in. The Swiss themselves have seen this and generally stay away from foreigners knowing that many of them will leave.”

No friends and sky-high costs: The downsides of Switzerland

Zurich drives me crazy

For arrivals from the United States, Australia or other countries with a car culture, it can be a surprise to see how few Zurich residents commute with a car – and how few actually own a car at all. 

The canton’s great but expensive public transport networks mean that most travel within the canton itself is relatively simple, with cars only making sense when travelling further afield. 

This can however be a disadvantage for people who are particularly attached to their cars or others with children or mobility issues. 

Those who do own a car however complain about the city’s traffic, which can get jammed at peak times. 

As Zurich is several centuries old, the city’s infrastructure was not designed around the car – which means that pedestrians and public transport users can be prioritised when it comes to new investment and urban planning. 

The result is that drivers can sit for upwards of two hours in traffic a day, while commuters and cyclists barely notice a thing. 

Mint told us Zurich’s crowded streets and difficult traffic reminded her of her hometown of Bangkok. 

Pro tip: if you want to save money, time and stay in shape, get a bicycle – although even that can be tough in Zurich. 

One reader said Zurich suffers from “Poor cycling infrastructure (and by cycling infrastructure I mean physically separated bike paths, not just painted lanes)”. 

Traffic was identified by Local readers as a major issue if living in Zurich. Photo by Sergei Zhukov on Unsplash

Traffic was identified by Local readers as a major issue if living in Zurich. Photo by Sergei Zhukov on Unsplash

Sundays

Several respondents told us that a major disadvantage of living in Zurich was that very little is open on Sundays. 

From supermarkets to fashion stores, if you want to go shopping on a Sunday, you’re likely to be disappointed. 

However, this is standard across Switzerland – and in fact Zurich gives you your best shot of Sunday trading, as many villages throughout the rest of the country will resemble ghost towns on Sunday. 

Therefore, while this may be a downside for many of you, it won’t get any better should you head elsewhere in the Confoederatio Helvetica. 

Why is everything in Switzerland closed on Sundays – and what can you do instead?

A lack of space

Just under seven percent of our respondents said a lack of space was a major issue in Switzerland, which was especially problematic when it came to housing. 

JC told us “buying a house is expensive and limited due to land availability”, which is perhaps why the popularity of commuting is so high. 

MAPS: The best commuter towns for working in Zurich

Language

While Zurich is by all means an international city, the official language is Swiss German.

Swiss German is a largely spoken language which can be difficult to master, even for native German speakers. 

Nicholas told us this effectively meant foreigners had to learn two languages. 

“Having to learn both High German for formal communications and Swiss German for social interactions. Almost nobody is able to accomplish this.”

When it comes to learning Swiss German, living in Zurich however is very much a double-edged sword. On the positive side of the sword, you can definitely get by with English in much of the city and the greater canton itself. 

SH told us foreigners had little hope without learning German. 

“Extremely reserved and don’t care much if you don’t speak German. They help you if you need but they don’t let it go beyond.”

On the negative side (of the same sword), this means that you are unlikely to be put in situations where you have to speak it – and as a result years can go by without any significant improvement. 

READ MORE: Nine fun Swiss German words without an English translation

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How to keep safe and avoid problems when hiking in the Swiss Alps

Switzerland is a perfect place to go hiking with its thousands of marked trails. However, hundreds of people get into accidents while trekking every year, and some die. Here is what you need to know to be safe.

How to keep safe and avoid problems when hiking in the Swiss Alps

The Swiss mountains are one of the country’s most notable and most visited sites. There are activities to enjoy during all seasons and hiking the Swiss Alps is something that people of all ages enjoy in the winter or summer months.

However, mountain rescuers are called every year to help people in emergencies. Last year, there were 1,525 cases of hikers in distress – a number higher than in any other type of sport. In 2021, there were only 500 emergency calls from skiers and 342 made by mountain bikers.

READ ALSO: Why getting rescued in the Swiss Alps could cost you thousands

Bruno Hasler, who is responsible for mountain emergency statistics at the Swiss Alpine Club SAC, says that many people overestimate themselves and that is dangerous. “The hikers need to be better informed. The authorities must inform people as well as possible about the dangers of mountain hiking”, he told public broadcaster SRF.

What are the main recommendations when hiking?

The first recommendation is to make a realistic self-assessment. Mountain hiking is an endurance sport and people planning on doing a trek should avoid time pressure and choose their trails and times well.

In that sense, it is essential to make careful route planning and evaluate the length, altitude, difficulty and current conditions (including weather forecast) of the trek. Thunderstorms, snow, wind and cold significantly increase the risk of accidents.

Don’t forget to plan alternative routes and keep emergency rescue numbers on hand (REGA 1414 and the european emergency number 112).

READ ALSO : Should you buy supplemental health insurance in Switzerland?

Take practical equipment for your hiking conditions and the proper footwear too. In a backpack, take as little as possible but as much as necessary, aiming to keep it light but full of valuable things such as sun protection, a first aid kit, rescue blanket, water and a mobile phone.

The most common cause of accidents is falling because of slipping or tripping, so be sure to walk on marked paths (reducing the risk of getting lost) and keep a sure foot and safe pace.

Don’t forget to take regular breaks not only for eating and drinking (necessary to maintain performance and concentration) but also to enjoy the landscape.

Be responsible for the children in the group, treks that require long-lasting concentration are not suitable for children and in passages with risk of falling, and one adult can only look after one child, according to the Swiss Alpine Club. Small groups are the best for hiking because they ensure mutual assistance and flexibility at the same time.

Rega on a rescue mission in the Swiss Alps. Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

The PACE checklist

The so-called PACE checklist helps hikers keep track of the most important things. PACE means plan, assess, consider, and evaluate, Swiss Alpine Club SAC says.

READ ALSO: Five beautiful Swiss villages located near Alpine lakes

Plan your route and duration and give yourself extra time and alternatives. Inform someone else about your trip. Assess if the hike is suitable for you, and do not undertake challenging trips yourself. Consider if you have what you need for the walk, like sturdy hiking shoes, protection against harsh weather and food and water supplies.

Finally, evaluate while hiking. See if you are too tired, keep eating, drinking and resting regularly and pay attention to the time you need and any changes in the weather. Do not leave the marked trail and turn back in time if necessary.

What to do in case of an accident?

If there are accidents during your hike, you should first provide life-saving help to anyone seriously injured and then call emergency services. Do not leave the wounded alone and do not put yourself at risk.

Mark the accident area clearly and give signals. The international emergency call sign consists of giving a sign (such as a flashing light or waving a cloth) six times a minute and then repeating it after one minute.

READ ALSO: Rega: What you need to know about Switzerland’s air rescue service

For helicopters, holding both your arms up (making a V shape) signals that you need help, while keeping one arm up and another down (forming a diagonal line with your arms) means you do not need help.

If you see animals, keep your distance and do not disturb them. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

What do I do if I see animals on my hike?

It’s common to find animals while hiking in the Swiss alps, especially cows in the pastures. A cow will protect their calves, so keep your distance. Do not touch the animals, and keep dogs on a leash.

Slowly and carefully move around at a distance and continue your trek.

You may occasionally find herds that dogs protect. It’s possible to inform yourself online in advance to find out where these herds are and avoid them. Still, remember that packs and their guardian dogs should be disturbed as little as possible. So stay calm and keep your distance – avoid any brisk movements.

If you are hiking with your dog, put it on a leash and slowly and calmly detour around the livestock.

If a guard dog barks and runs in your direction, try to stay calm and give the dog time to assess the situation. Stay far from the herd, don’t run or make sudden movements. You can use a stick to keep the dog at a distance by stretching them out, but don’t raise it or wave it around.

Once the dogs have accepted your presence and stopped barking, continue at a slow pace on your way.

Don’t forget: the Swiss rescue number is 1414 or you can also reach them using the European emergency number 112.

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