Basel

Moving to Basel?

Connect with fellow expats in Basel
Join exciting events and groups
Get information in our Basel guides
Exchange tips about expat life in Basel

Moving to Basel

Expats moving to Basel, will find that the city and its surrounding region is 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.
Picturesque Basel is one of the most beautiful cities on the Upper Rhine.

At a Glance:

  • The Greater Basel Area is known as the tri-national Euro district of Basel region. Basel city itself has a population of many different nationalities.
  • Residents of Basel benefit from a very high quality of life, while facing a high cost of living. Some expats might choose to live in France or Germany and commute to work in Basel, in order to avoid the high cost of living while benefiting from generous Swiss salaries.
  • In terms of gaining a work permit, EU/EFTA nationals are unlikely to face any problems. As for third country nationals, the likelihood of obtaining a work permit will depend on the quotas set by the federal and cantonal government.
  • There are 19 different districts, or quartiere, of Basel. It is a good idea to do some research as to which district will suit you the best. Each one has its own benefits and drawbacks.

A Tri-National Region

Basel is 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. In fact, the border between the three countries runs right through the River Rhine and divides a small-town street between Germany and Switzerland! For this reason, 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 Lörrach, and the nearby cities of Wehr and Bad Saeckingen belong to the district as well.

In contrast to other urban groupings, the Greater Basel Area has a fairly rural feel. Although it's a large area, it is home to around just under 900,000 residents, about 60% of whom live in Switzerland. With almost 200,000 inhabitants, Basel itself is the largest city in the region by far. Many people travel to the city for work every day: tens of thousands of employees even cross the Swiss-German or Swiss-French border as part of their daily commute to the office.

Switzerland, Germany, or France?

Some expats prefer living outside Switzerland to moving to Basel itself. This because it means they are able to avoid the high cost of living whilst benefiting from a generous Swiss salary. If you, too, are having second thoughts about living in Basel itself, please refer to our expat guides on 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 expat life as visa regulations, residence permits, public healthcare, education, and foreign vs. national driving licenses.

An Outstanding Quality of Life

If you do decide to move to Basel, the high cost of living is the only thing which might spoil your stay. Until the 1980s, Basel used to have a distinct character as an industrial town; however, its contemporary economy mostly centers around the chemical sector, the life sciences, finance and insurance, transport and logistics, as well as 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 is recognized for its high quality of life, among locals and expats moving to Basel alike. The local quality of living is easily comparable to other top 10 locations in the annual Mercer survey, e.g. to the Swiss expatriate magnet Geneva.

A Diverse Population

It is hardly surprising that such a desirable destination has attracted plenty of people to Basel. About one third of the city's residents are not Swiss nationals. There are sizable communities of expats from Germany, Italy, Turkey, Spain, Portugal, France, as well as Eastern Europe. All in all, foreign residents from more than 190 different countries have settled in Basel.

Although various languages are spoken in the Basel area, due to its international population, the official language is German. Even if you have taken some (standard) German classes in preparation for your move to Basel, you will probably need some time 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 speak at least a little English and are usually very proficient, as the language 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