Expat life in Geneva: your guide to a successful relocation

Expat life in Geneva: your guide to a successful relocation

Switzerland regularly tops the list of the world’s most popular expat destinations.  Geneva is no exception. Home to nearly 190 nationalities, Geneva is truly an international city; a haven for expatriates from around the world who come to work for UN agencies, private banks, multinationals and the luxury watchmaking industry.

Geneva may be one of the most expensive cities in the world, but its unparalleled relaxed lifestyle, excellent quality of life and multiculturalism make it an irresistible attraction. Foyer Global Health has developed a short guide to help you prepare to drop anchor off the shores of Lake Geneva.

Life in Geneva: the pros, the cons

The advantages

  • Quality of life: an excellent living environment, modern and efficient infrastructure, quality health services, a rich cultural heritage, safety and … cleanliness everywhere!
  • Many job opportunities in a wide range of industries, including private banking, international organisations and international trade.
  • Very high salaries compared with the European average, allowing expatriates to live comfortably in Geneva. By moving to Switzerland, expatriates have the opportunity to increase their income by 50%, with an average annual salary over CHF 180,000.
  • Economic and political stability
  • Multiculturalism: Geneva is Switzerland’s most multicultural city.
  • Tax advantages that attract many foreign entrepreneurs and employees who choose to live in Switzerland (low tax rates for individuals and companies).

The disadvantages

  • The (very) high cost of living: along with Zurich, Geneva is one of the world’s most expensive cities!
  • The scarcity of affordable housing!
  • The climate: in winter, Geneva is covered in fog and snow for several months at a time.
  • Conservatism, reflected in the rigidity of its institutions and the opening hours of its shops !

Geneva versus Zurich

Geneva and Zurich both top the list of the world’s most expensive cities. However, Zurich has overtaken its French-speaking sister in the ranking of the most attractive cities for expatriates, coming sixteenth while Geneva is in thirtieth place. This is probably because Switzerland’s largest city is the country’s financial and economic centre, and offers more career opportunities than Geneva, with higher salaries and lower prices for accommodation.

The City of Calvin stands out from its German-speaking sister thanks to its multiculturalism. Geneva is Switzerland’s most cosmopolitan canton due to its.rich historical and cultural heritage. Both Geneva and Zurich are lakeside cities, offering an exceptional living environment and exceptional scenery.

Your choice may come down to language. While both cities are multilingual, Geneva is mainly French and Zurich, German and Zurichese, an Alemannic dialect that has been influenced by French and Italian.

zurich switzerland

Accommodation in Geneva

Finding an affordable place to live in Geneva is no easy task. Due to high population density, the Geneva rental market is under pressure resulting in exorbitant rental prices and fierce competition. Rent is one of the largest expenses for expatriates. The average rent for a two-room flat in the city centre is around CHF 1,600.

To find a place to rent, you can consult the websites of local estate agents (régies) and specialist property websites, or use the services of an estate agent, whom you’ll have to pay one month’s rent. Don’t forget to consult expat forums in Geneva or your professional network!

To complete your rental application, you’ll need to provide proof of income, a work contract, and a certificate from the debtors’ register. The deposit you have to pay (between one and three months’ rent) will be placed in a rental guarantee account in your name.

Although it is difficult to find accommodation in Geneva, there are nevertheless many sublease contracts (the tenant rents his home to a ‘subtenant’ with the owner’s consent), which helps to increase the number of properties on the market.

It is also possible to buy a property in Geneva, although the purchase price can be daunting (between CHF 1,095 and 2,689 per square metre). In fact, less than 20% of Geneva residents own their own home!

Useful links :





Realadvisor.ch (property ad aggregator)

Where will your home be?

In Geneva

For peace, quiet and greenery, head to Champel, a pretty residential neighbourhood a stone’s throw from the city centre; for a lively, friendly atmosphere, head to Eaux-Vives Cité, adjacent to the lake. North of the Right Bank, Pâquis-Sécheron is a dynamic, multicultural district, close to international organisations and the Cornavin train station. And if you want to live between the city and the countryside, try la Servette and Petit-Saconnex!

The most expensive accommodation in Geneva can be found in the very chic residential districts of Cologny, overlooking Lake Geneva, in the Old Town, Eaux-Vives and Champel. Cheaper accommodation can be found in Les Acacias, a district undergoing radical change, Les Charmilles and Saint-Jean.

For more information on Geneva’s neighbourhoods, click here: https://www.geneve.ch/faire-geneve/decouvrir-geneve-quartiers.

Around Geneva…

It’s perfectly possible to work in Geneva and live in the surrounding towns at the same time. Many expats have no hesitation in moving to Versoix, another municipality in Geneva canton, or to Nyon and Gland, two fast-growing towns in the canton of Vaud that are easily accessible by train.

Crossing the border…

Many expats working in Geneva decide to settle across the French-Swiss border on the Haute-Savoie side (particularly in Gaillard or Annemasse) or on the Ain side (for example, Ferney-Voltaire, Gex or Saint-Genis-Pouilly) where they will find cheaper accommodation and benefit from a much lower cost of living than in Geneva.

Daily life in Geneva

The cost of living

Geneva is one of the most expensive cities in Europe and the world. In fact, everything is more expensive in Switzerland than in any other European country.. You will spend most on accommodation (you should expect to pay an average of CHF 1,600 to 1,700 for a one-bedroom flat in the city centre), food (meat, for example, is at least twice as expensive in Geneva as in France), and transport and leisure.

Getting around Geneva

You don’t necessarily need a car if you work and live in Geneva, because the city’s public transport network (the TPG – Transports publics genevois) is efficient and reliable. It’s very easy to get from one district to another by bus or tram, and you can take the train to travel throughout Switzerland and to border towns. Many Genevans use cycling as a mode of transportation, which is strongly encouraged by the City of Geneva.

The cosmopolitan city is also very well served by an international airport, which is easily accessible from the city centre. Numerous airlines have opened routes to many destinations from Geneva to Europe and around the world.

transportation geneva

Living with your family in Geneva

Geneva is a very pleasant city to live in as a family, offering an excellent quality of life and a wide range of activities all year round. What’s more, life here is much less stressful than in other major European cities such as Paris or London.

Raising a family in Geneva can, however, be somewhat expensive, especially for those expatriate families who wish to send their children to international schools.

Childcare for young children

Children up to the age of 4 (when they start school in Geneva) are cared for full-time or part-time (for at least two full days) in nurseries (public or private ‘crèches’), whose fees are linked to the parents’ income (around 11% of family income). Priority is given to children whose parents are working. It is also possible to use “day mothers”, people who look after between 1 and 5 children in their own homes.

More information can be found here: https://www.geneve.ch/demarches/demande-place-creche


Geneva’s state schools (from kindergarten to secondary education) offer an excellent free education to all children living in Switzerland. The educational curriculum is set at cantonal level. There are also several private schools in Geneva, including the International School of Geneva and the Collège du Léman, which offer an international curriculum in several languages. Tuition fees are high, at around CHF 37,000 a year.

Working in Geneva

As a hub of international finance, a world centre for commodities trading and one of the headquarters of the UN, Geneva attracts many expatriates because of the diverse and attractive career prospects it offers.

The international organisations sector (UN agencies, permanent missions and the International Committee of the Red Cross) recruits many international civil servants from around the world. On the Left Bank, private international banks and international trading companies offer many attractive positions. There are also many job opportunities in the ICT, health and services sectors.

Speaking at least one foreign language is essential for international companies, and it’s not uncommon for Swiss companies to ask for German or Italian (one of the four national languages).

To work in Switzerland, you need a work permit issued by the cantonal authorities; the type of permit depends on the length of your stay, your contract, your place of residence and your country of origin.

Employees in Geneva work between 42 and 50 hours a week, depending on the sector, and have at least four weeks’ holiday a year. There is no minimum wage, and salaries are set by the employer or by collective agreements. In 2024, the average gross monthly wage in Geneva will be CHF 6,788.

Self-employed workers who want to work as independent professionals with the protected status of an employee can consider umbrella payroll security options (‘portage salarial’) which are proving very popular in the Geneva labour market. Several companies based in Geneva, such as SPTS, offer this type of service.

Useful links for finding a job in Geneva :


Ville de Genève, section emploi



Healthcare in Geneva

The HUG (Hôpitaux universitaires Genève- Geneva University Hospital) is the epitome of Swiss medical excellence and is the country’s leading healthcare institution in a number of medical specialities such as neurology, cardiac surgery and obstetrics. It is also ranked 63rd in Newsweek’s list of the world’s best hospitals.

The Swiss healthcare system is considered to be one of the best in the world, but excellent service comes at a price. While basic health insurance (LAMal) is compulsory for all Swiss residents, expatriates are well advised to take out flexible, comprehensive and effective supplementary international health insurance.