Moving to Zurich?

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Moving to Zurich

There are plenty of reasons for moving to Zurich! Switzerland’s largest city attracts numerous expats due to its booming economy and high quality of life. Our guide to Zurich introduces you to the Greater Zurich Area, Swiss visas and permits, and housing for expatriates.

The Pros and Cons

Moving to Zurich brings you to one of the northernmost regions in eastern Switzerland, not far from the German border. Zurich is situated in a very scenic area, with plenty of rivers and lakes (the largest being Lake Zurich, of course) and in convenient proximity to the Swiss Alps. Even if they are no winter sport fanatics, there are lots of reasons why expats keep moving to Zurich in droves: the canton is Switzerland’s economically strongest region. Expatriates often find employment in banking and insurance, business services, research and development, or the tourism industry.

Moving to Zurich allows you to enjoy an extremely high quality of life. In the Mercer 2014 and 2015 surveys on quality of life, Zurich ranked second out of more than 220 expat destinations worldwide. Unfortunately, just like mouth-watering chocolates and precision watches, this sort of quality made in Switzerland comes at a price as Zurich is rather costly. According to Mercer’s latest study, Zurich is also the fifth most expensive city around the globe. The Economist Intelligence Unit rated Zurich as the fourth priciest destination. Nonetheless, moving to Zurich seems to remain attractive enough, as proven by a glance at the city’s and region’s population figures.

City, Canton, Metropolitan Area

With over 390,000 inhabitants, Zurich is the largest city in Switzerland, although it’s not the Swiss capital. (This function has fallen to picturesque Bern) The town by the River Limmat forms the center of Switzerland’s most populous canton (1.41 million inhabitants in 2012) and the heart of an even larger, densely populated metropolitan area, with over two million residents. Thus moving to Zurich does not always mean that you are going to settle in the city of Zurich itself.

The historical core is indeed located in the charming old town by the riverside. However, this is but one of Zurich’s 34 neighborhoods (Quartiere), which are combined in 12 boroughs (Kreise). Beyond the city limits, moving to Zurich could as well mean living in one of the canton’s other 11 districts (Bezirke) and commuting to the office. After all, over 200,000 employees travel to work in Zurich every day! Or you might simply live and work in a neighboring city, such as Zug or Winterthur.

The Greater Zurich Area extends its influence even beyond the canton to some corners of Aargau (especially Baden-Brugg), St Gallen with its university town, Schaffhausen at the German border, Schwyz, and Thurgau, which are considered part of the Zurich metropolitan area, too. No matter where exactly your move takes you, though, you will probably run into a compatriot there.

Multicultural Zurich: You’ll Find It All

In the canton of Zurich, you’ll find people from various countries. Nearly one quarter of the population is foreign-born. In Zurich itself, you might notice that this percentage is even higher in the city: about 31% of all Zurich residents do not have the Swiss nationality. Considering the area’s excellent economic performance and its location close to Germany, it’s hardly surprising that lots of Germans decide upon moving to Zurich. There are also sizable communities of expatriates and immigrants from Italy, Portugal, Spain, Austria, France, the UK, other EU countries, Turkey, the states of former Yugoslavia, etc.

When relocating to Zurich, you have chosen to move to the so-called Deutschschweiz, i.e. the German-speaking part of Switzerland. Although the federal institutions of Switzerland have four official languages (French, German, Italian, and Romansh), this is not necessarily the case on the regional level. Thus, the only official language in the Zurich area is Standard German. The Swiss population also speaks a local variety of Schwyzerdütsch (Swiss German).

However, don’t worry too much about the language barrier. Most Swiss residents have good English skills, and many do speak two of the official languages, sometimes more. The most common languages among the expat population moving to Zurich are French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Turkish, and several Southeast European languages, such as Serbian. Moreover, 17% of all Zurich residents regularly use English in the workplace.

Before you move to Zurich, you have to cut through the red tape, though — Switzerland’s immigration requirements. The first thing to find out is whether you need a visa and/or a work and residence permit (called Bewilligung in Swiss legal jargon).

You can find out more about the languages spoken in Switzerland in our in-depth article on Switzerland’s Language Diversity.


We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete. 

Andrey Vasilyev

"I was able to connect with other expats in Zurich who enjoy cycling as much as I do and organize weekly rides."

Elin Gustavson

"At the first InterNations event that I attended, I met my wonderful partner. We now live together in a flat next to the Limmat."

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