Known as the world’s diplomatic centre, Geneva’s breathtaking natural beauty, relaxed lifestyle, and seemingly endless professional opportunities have lured many an expat. But like any destination, there are some downsides to life in one of Europe’s cosmopolitan yet tranquil cities.
Below is our list of pros and cons of moving to Geneva.
Lifestyle in Geneva
+ PRO: Spectacular natural scenery
Nestled between the Swiss Alps and Lake Geneva, Geneva is a wonderland for nature-loving expats. Thanks to the variety in the natural landscape, there is plenty to see and do throughout the seasons. Winter is generally reserved for skiing, while the summer belongs to swimming, sailing and wakeboarding at Lake Geneva.
+ PRO: An abundance of green spaces
With more than 60 public parks across the city, Geneva offers expats and their families boundless space to picnic or simply enjoy some time in the great outdoors.
+ PRO: Easy to explore the rest of Western Europe
Owing to Geneva's central location, the city makes for an excellent base from which to explore Western Europe. France is a mere ten-minute drive away, while Italy and Germany are a train ride away.
- CON: Eating out is expensive
Gourmands will certainly feel at home in the Swiss cheese and chocolate capital. Geneva boasts more than 1,000 restaurants, but enjoying the world-class cuisine costs a pretty penny.
Cost of living in Geneva
- CON: Exorbitant cost of living
Mercer's 2023 cost of living survey ranks Geneva as the fourth most expensive city to live in out of the 227 cities surveyed. Everything from rent, utilities, food, transport, leisure activities and health insurance is more costly than almost anywhere else in the world. That said, the quality of life in the city is generally magnificent.
Accommodation in Geneva
+ PRO: Excellent standard of accommodation
Accommodation in Geneva is largely well-maintained and of a high standard. Some luxury apartment blocks even have sought-after amenities such as pools and gyms for residents to enjoy.
- CON: Housing supply shortage & competitive market
Housing in Geneva is in extremely short supply, making rent eye-wateringly expensive and competition for homes notoriously fierce. To add to the challenge, landlords typically conduct comprehensive credit checks and carefully review applications before choosing a tenant.
- CON: Most accommodation is unfurnished
Accommodation in Geneva is typically unfurnished, adding to the steep rental costs as expats have to buy furniture and appliances as well. Utilities and services such as rubbish disposal are frequently not included in the rent, further adding to the cost.
Working in Geneva
+ PRO: Robust job market
As an internationally recognised diplomatic and financial centre, Geneva offers plenty of job opportunities for qualified expats. The Swiss city is home to a plethora of multinational corporations and several organisations such as the UN, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
+ PRO: High salaries
Switzerland introduced the world’s highest government-mandated minimum wage in 2020. Expats living in Europe’s second most expensive city can expect lucrative salaries that outpace the high cost of living, making for exceptional quality of life.
+ PRO: Work-life balance is a priority
Despite a formal and merit-based work culture, Geneva offers an outstanding work-life balance. The Swiss work to live rather than live to work, and expats will find there is plenty of time to enjoy the exciting lifestyle options in Geneva.
- CON: Knowledge of French is useful
Although English is spoken in business circles, the Swiss love working with people they know and building trust first. Though not essential, the ability to speak French will go a long way in the relationship-building process.
Getting around in Geneva
+ PRO: Comprehensive and reliable public transport
Public transport in Geneva provides access to every corner of the city. The buses, trams and mouettes are usually clean, reliable and efficient. Taxis are also available, but they need to be pre-booked.
+ PRO: Cycling and walking are encouraged
Geneva is a compact city with a largely pedestrianised centre that makes walking around a breeze. The city also provides well-equipped cycling infrastructure and a free bike-sharing programme.
Education and schools in Geneva
+ PRO: Fantastic selection of schools
Thanks to the large expat population, Geneva has plenty of good quality and multilingual education options. Public schools in Geneva are free and offer instruction in French, German and English at different stages of children's education. There are also private schools that offer various curricula, but these often have a religious affiliation. Most expats in Geneva on a short-term assignment prefer English-speaking international schools, allowing their children to continue in their home country's curriculum. The fees for these and private schools are, however, quite hefty.
- CON: Fierce competition for international school placements
Perhaps the only downside to the vibrant expat population in Geneva is the fierce competition for space in English-speaking international schools. Expat parents should ensure they apply as early as possible to secure a place for their children.
►For an overview of life in Geneva, have a look at Moving to Geneva
"I like that it is a small city, which feels cozy, and that it is so close to the lake and the mountains. As far as quality of life, I think that it is slightly higher than where I’m from simply because the salaries are so much higher. It makes things like travel much easier. I think, too, that people here stop and enjoy life more – either by going for a hike or taking hours to have a meal with friends."
Read our interview with American expat Melissa to learn more about life in Geneva.
Are you an expat living in Geneva?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Geneva. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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