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Moving to Basel

Expats moving to Basel settle in a unique area influenced by three different countries. Our guide on the city of Basel introduces the tri-national Euro district and its people, the required visas and permits for Switzerland, and Basel's residential areas. Make the idyllic Upper Rhine your new home!
Picturesque Basel is one of the most beautiful cities on the Upper Rhine.

A Tri-National Region

Moving to Basel will take you to Switzerland's third-largest city and smallest canton. It has a somewhat peculiar position in the far northwest corner of the country. Although Basel joined the Swiss Confederation as early as 1501, the region has always been strongly influenced by its location on the Swiss border.

Today, the Greater Basel Area is known as the tri-national Euro-district of Basel (TEB). The term draws attention to Basel's significance as the spot where France, Germany, and Switzerland meet. Indeed, the border sometimes runs right through the River Rhine or divides a small-town street! Thus, municipal and regional administrations often cooperate across the district, regardless of nationality.

The TEB district stretches from the canton of Basel City (Basel-Stadt) and the Basel countryside in the Jura Mountains (Basel-Landschaft) to some parts of Aargau (the Fricktal) and a tiny corner of Solothurn. Across the Swiss border, the French Pays de Saint-Louis, the German county (Landkreis) of Loerrach, and the nearby cities of Wehr and Bad Saeckingen belong to the district as well.

In contrast to other urban agglomerations, the Greater Basel Area has a fairly rural flair. Although it's a large area, it houses "merely" 900,000 residents, about 60% of whom live in Switzerland. With fewer than 175,000 inhabitants, Basel itself is the largest city by far. Lots of people commute there for work every day. Tens of thousands of employees even cross the Swiss-German or Swiss-French border on their daily way to the office.

Switzerland, Germany, or France?

Some expats prefer living outside Switzerland to moving to Basel itself. In this way, they enjoy the advantages of moving to Basel, but avoid its major drawback. They benefit from Switzerland's generous salaries while paying a lower cost of living. If you, too, have second thoughts about settling in Basel, please refer to our expat guides to France and Germany.

If you reside on German or French territory, much of the information in this guide will unfortunately not apply to you. This is especially the case for such aspects of expatriate life as visa regulations, residence permits, public healthcare, education, and foreign vs. national driving licenses.

An Outstanding Quality of Life

In case you have decided upon moving to Basel after all, the high local prices are the only thing to spoil your stay. Until the 1980s, Basel used to have a distinct character as an industrial town; however, its contemporary economy mostly focuses on the chemical sector, the life sciences, finance and insurance, transport and logistics, commerce and wholesale trade. Several of Basel's 19 neighborhoods (Quartiere) provide plenty of green space to their residents, and the picturesque countryside is never far away.

Despite its smallish size and rural environment, Basel has an excellent infrastructure, e.g. in terms of medical services, education, and transport. Please see our guide to living in Basel for more information.

For all these reasons, the city gets praised for its quality of life, among locals and expats moving to Basel alike. The local quality of living is easily comparable to the top 10 locations in the annual Mercer survey, e.g. to the Swiss expatriate magnet Geneva.

People from All Over the World with Different Languages

It is hardly surprising that such a desirable destination has attracted plenty of people moving to Basel. About one third of the city's 174,800 residents are not Swiss nationals. There are sizable communities of expats and immigrants from Germany, Italy, Turkey, Spain, Portugal, France, and the former member states of Yugoslavia. All in all, foreign residents from circa 150 different countries have settled in Basel.

Although various languages are thus spoken in the Basel area, the official language is German. Even if you have taken some (standard) German classes in preparation for moving to Basel, you may have to get used to the Basel dialect. Locals use a variety of Swiss German, the so-called Baaseldytsch, and many are proud of their regional identity.

If they find something cute, they don't call it niedlich, but gnufflig, and if you're invited to brunch, you won't be asked to join the Fruehstueck, but to come zmoeoergele with your hosts. Confused? Never fear! Lots of people in Basel have some proficiency in English, which is taught from primary school onwards. Due to the proximity to Alsace and the Suisse romande, French is often understood as well.


You can find out even more about the languages spoken in Switzerland in our article on the country'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."

Global Expat Guide