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Expats living in Switzerland have ‘worst social life'

Expats living in Switzerland have ‘worst social life'
Switzerland Tourism

The survey assessed the lives of expats and categorised their experience into three sections: economics, experience and family.

Despite Switzerland taking the top spot last year, the overall score for the Alpine Nation was number 10.

One reason for the considerable drop in ranking has been put to the difficulties expat face integrating with locals and make friends, even though they enjoy high economic benefits and a safe environment to raise a family.

“Over four in five (83 percent) expats in Switzerland believe their job security is better or just as good as in their home country and 77 percent are confident in the Swiss economy,” said the survey report.

Nearly a third of expats in Switzerland (29 percent) earn over $200,000 a year, second only to expats in Hong Kong, added the report.

However Switzerland fell down in the other two categories, ranking 26th for experience and 25th for family.

Despite scoring highly in the criteria of quality of life, safety and health, the country fared badly when it came to making friends, scraping into 38th place, one from bottom.

It also ranked poorly in integration (35th) and culture (34th).

“Only 35 percent have found it easy to form friendships in the country and 43 percent have found it easy to integrate with the local people and culture (compared with 61 percent of expats globally),” said the report.

Are you an expat living in a Swiss city? What do you think, do you agree that Switzerland can be challenging for expats to integrate into ? Sign in and add your comments in the box below.

Time Out has plenty of ways for you to get out, have fun and discover some of the best things to do in a Swiss city -  from Zurich to Geneva, check out our city pages for our tips on nightlife, culture, barsrestaurants and more.

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Comments

16 comments
Brendan M
Brendan M

It is not just about expats having the ‘worst social life,' I find that compared to neighboring France, the food produce is pretty average at best, as are the restaurants. Having lived in Annecy, where even the most 'average' restaurant meal is twice as good as what I find in Geneva, at half the price, I wonder why both expats and locals accept such mediocrity. Similarly with groceries; why are fruit and vegetables in Geneva supermarkets so expensive and of borderline quality? Switzerland is amazing, as are the Swiss, so if they could improve the quality of the restaurants in Geneva, and the quality and competitiveness of their food produce, then Geneva would definitely take a giant leap in the rankings. 

Meissoun G
Meissoun G

Here's my view on this, as a native Swiss person. First of all I feel there is a difference betweeen "immigrants" and "expats". I'd call the first ones people who come here to work "normal" jobs. They are the ones that I get to meet regularly and I also have several of them among my friends. I don't know if I know a single person that identifies as "expat"? They seem a distant kind of people to me. Maybe it's a different kind of mentality.
The Italian hairdresser, the Sri Lankan cook, the German waitress, they HAVE to integrate and communicate with Swiss people all the time, so it's easier for them.
On my way to work I pass by the Google offices and I see those people in their Google restaurant, going to the Google gym, having a garden party in the Google backyard etc. No wonder they don't meet other people than those at work!
My suggestion: Take up a hobby that gets you out of the house and in contact with others. For example, I meet a lot of foreigners who live in Switzerland when I go to dance tango. 
When I moved to Zurich from a small town in eastern Switzerland, I was warned that I would have a hard time making friends as well (see, we even have an image problem among ourselves!) - but I went out, took a language course, joined dance classes etc. and met tons of people.
Not everybody will instantly be your friend, but in time you will find people that you can connect with. 
By the way: regarding being invited to other people's homes: I personally don't see it as a way of measuring friendship. I find it much more interesting to meet people outside and do stuff together than sit around a table. But then that's just me.

Annika M
Annika M

Expat life is what you make of it. If you want local friends you need to adapt and try to blend in. Waiting for the Swiss to become different will be a long, frustrating wait. Expats face this problem wherever they go, but some cultures are more easy to negotiate than others. I wrote about this in my novel 'The Disobedient Wife', where a diplomat's wife only starts to feel more at home when she manages to break out of the (often negative) expat bubble.  At Payot Rive Gauche there is an event for the book next week : https://www.payot.ch/en/other-bookstores/upcoming-events/event_payot/come_and_meet__annika_milisic_stanley-2698-2716

Carolyn H
Carolyn H

I have been living and working in Switzerland for 17 years now and speak French, German, and Italian fluently. I am also about to become a citizen. I do know a number of Swiss people with whom I am quite friendly, but almost never do they ask me to join in when it comes to dinner parties or anything else. They seem to be content to socialize with the people they grew up with and are also so focused on their families that they have no time for anyone else. I think things might be different in more sophisticated places where there is a higher number of single people such as Zurich or Geneva (I live in Ticino). But on the whole, the Swiss strike me as a smug, insular people who just aren't that interested in getting to know people who come from elsewhere. Obviously there are exceptions, and I am happy to know some of those. If it were not for the people I work with (fellow ex-pats), I would have no social life at all here--that's not the way I want it, but that's the way it is, sadly. I also lived in Italy and have loads of Italian friends, so I don't think the problem is with me. 

SJ C
SJ C

I've been in Switzerland on and off for over 17 years and now live in the French part of Switzerland.  I speak fluent french and still find it incredibly hard to integrate.  I have tried to socialise with locals, but the Swiss mentality differs so much from other countries I have lived in and I just never seem to be able to make lasting friendships with the locals.  As Sarah D said, I don't think I have ever felt so lonely.

Doug D
Doug D

I agree with the previous comment by  M H.  In my 25 years in Switzerland having seen hundreds of expats come and go, the biggest obstacle to integration in the local community and making local friends, is their own reluctance to get out of the (English-speaking) expat bubble. The great tendency is for them to socialise amongst themselves and in the vast majority of instances there is a huge reluctance to make an effort to learn the local language and by this I mean German - nobody expects an expat to learn a local Swiss-German dialect.  I was on the board of an international school that served mainly expats on local assignment, and was delighted to hear at one point the Parents' Association making an effort to integrate into the local community by way of informal language lessons during regularly scheduled coffee mornings that were opened to locals. My delight turned to dismay when I learned that the coffee mornings were to help the locals learn English, rather than the expats to learn some German. Unfortunately at least in my experience this is typical of the expat mentality.


A few expats who made an effort, integrated through their kids' sporting activities when the kids participated in local hockey and football leagues.  Those who got out of the bubble made plenty of friends and had a completely different experience.

M H
M H

I highly disagree... I lived in Switzerland for four years, and without even learning the native language fluently I made many friends, more than I had back home. I found that many people spoke English and were extremely welcoming and excited to meet and learn about someone from another culture. However, I noticed that most of the expats I worked/went to school with had the mentality that locals were cold and close minded, and didn't even bother to try to integrate out of an expat bubble. Many of my fellow expats complained that the locals wanted nothing to do with them, but really it would only take a bit of effort to reach out - the locals aren't going to jump out at you and demand your friendship! At first I felt a bit awkward, going to a bar alone and trying to meet people, but years later I can say many of my best friends are Swiss, and they are some of the most open minded, kind and fun people I've ever met! 

Julian I
Julian I

An anecdote: in the 90s, whilst living in the St. Gallerische Rheintal, I was one of only a couple of native English speakers at the company. I had been in Switzerland for 5 years already and had made friends at the local riding stables, so never really experienced what followed first hand. In the coffee room, one of the other native English speakers (let's call him Nigel) was on his break. It was a few days before 1st August. One of the "pompous" Swiss guys (let's call him Ernst) came in and asked Nigel what plans he had for 1st August - he had none. So Ernst went on to relate to him the plans he had for the weekend with another 5 guys: sailing on the lake (Nigel liked sailing), cycling up to Appenzell (Nigel was a keen mountain biker), ending with a grill up in the mountains in a hut they had booked (Nigel liked the mountains), etc. It took him about 10 minutes to finish this, by which time both had finished their coffees. With that, Ernst washed up his cup and turned to Nigel, saying "Well, I hope you find something to do!", and left.

Jack L
Jack L

This is so true. I have been living 3 years in Basel. I have only handful of Swiss "friends". Most of the friends are other expats. At first Swiss people may seem like a friendly guys, but the truth is sad. All they think is that how great nation Switzerland is. They have zero tolerance for "different" people. They are horribly narrow minded, stiff and so full of theirself. The best thing in Switzerland is the possibility to go away from the country easily (great places to visit in Germany, France, Austria and Italy). Of course, there's also nice people in Switzerland, but I simply can't get along with most of them. I do admit it takes to for tango so part of the reason is myself.

Anyways, I am looking another destinations in near future. What you guys what is the dream destination for expat?

Pilar E
Pilar E

Singapore but only if you have $$$$$

ayse y
ayse y

Have been living in Zurich for 6 years but agree that social life and friendship do have zero value here. People are too individualistic and think that they have power which definitely comes from money. They think they are enough for themselves, do not need anybody around, can get whatever they want despite the fact that they are not a celebrity nor millionaire, simply making much more money than they normally would anywhere else in the world. This bubble confidence makes people see themselves like 'something powerful' yet driven by money, not values and the whole 'social life' suck here.

Sarah D
Sarah D

Absolutely true.I've lived all over the world,&have never been as lonely as I am here,&my kids feel the same,although we're all bilingual,outgoing and friendly. After 13 years here,I've had enough,there's so much more to life than your salary!

Guillaume K
Guillaume K

I've lived in Geneva for 5 years. I traveled quite a lot in my life, my husband is American and my job is international. i met very nice Swiss guys at work, but never had the chance to meet a single soul outside of work. Swiss are not party going, nor open to discussions with stangers. Your social life is extremely limited, and daily joy lessened. I moved back in my native land this year, no regret.

Julian I
Julian I

There is a tremendous hurdle to cross when trying to meet Swiss outside of organised events, such as sports clubs or hobby clubs. Even the Swiss themselves find it difficult to make new friends: it can take years before you get invited to their home. If you invite them to your home, they may decline (giving some excuse) because they would then feel obliged to reciprocate. Some get around this by inviting you to some neutral location, such as going on a walk or to a restaurant, but not to their home. Having kids in school offers an opening, as the kids will be invited around (or just go without being invited) to their friends' homes.

Daniel W
Daniel W

The Swiss mentality is not a very open one in general, and many Swiss don't speak English (the main language amongst expats). And to learn German or even Swiss German is not an easy task as well. This combination makes it harder to interact with the Swiss, but I found that once you overcome this hurdle, the Swiss are genuine and loyal.