Mountains, grassy green hills and a lake in Switzerland.
Photo: Ricardo Gomez Angel

Switzerland has “great quality of life at a considerable cost”, according to expats

Written by
Time Out editors

If you’re an expat in Switzerland there’s a good chance you love the country’s natural environment and its transport system, but aren’t so hyped about the cost of healthcare and how difficult it is to make friends. Those are some of the discoveries from the latest Expat Insider survey.

Published annually by ‘global expat network InterNations’, the survey aims to find out what life is like for people living and working abroad in countries across the world. The 2021 edition was, of course, vastly influenced by the Covid-19 global pandemic, and the survey addressed this head-on by exploring expat life during a “global health emergency”. Over 12,000 expats responded to the 2021 survey.

Switzerland’s overall ranking was a rather ho-hum 30th out of 59, but digging deeper into the individual categories reveals much more. Here are some of the top findings: Switzerland’s strongest performance was hitting 9th place in the Quality of Life index, considerably boosted by a whopping 99% of expats being happy with the country’s natural environment (compared to 84% globally).

Switzerland also performed impressively in ‘travel and transportation’ (2nd place) and ‘safety and security’ (6th place), while its ‘peacefulness’ (95% of respondents were satisfied with this compared to 80% globally) and political stability (91% vs. 64% globally) were also positives.

It was also ranked as a good country in which to work abroad, with 85% of respondents feeling positive about the local economy, compared to 62% globally.

Things didn’t go so well in the Cost of Living index. Here, Switzerland landed a woeful 58th place out of 59 (Hong Kong took the bottom spot), with the cost of healthcare proving particularly frustrating for many. That probably won’t be a shock to many/any expats, but what’s perhaps a little more surprising (or perhaps not) is its dismal showing in the Ease of Settling in index (52nd out of 59 overall), where it ranked near the bottom of the table for categories including ‘feeling at home’, ‘finding friends’ and ‘friendliness’.

The survey text notes that “more than half the respondents in Switzerland (52%) are mostly friends with other expats – a strikingly high share compared to the global average (32%)”.

It should also be remembered that – as the survey consistently points out – all results for every country may have been significantly influenced by the pandemic and “should not be directly compared to previous years”, where Switzerland has usually (but not always) performed better: in 2017 the country was ranked 27 out of 65 overall, in 2018 it was 44 out of 68, in 2019 it placed 38 out of 64, and in 2020 the overall ranking was 26 out of 58.

This may seem to jar with news from earlier this year that Switzerland was ranked as the third happiest country in the world, but then it makes last year’s finding that Zurich was one of the world’s top three most expensive cities seem even more believable.

So, what lessons can be taken from Expat Insider 2021? There’s a lot to digest, but one useful piece of advice may be that if you’re fuming about just how darned expensive Switzerland can be, get out into the countryside and find your own little piece of nature to appreciate, for free.

You’ll find plenty of nature-driven trips and outdoor activities in our list of the best things to do in Switzerland this spring.

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