What You Need to Know When You’re Moving to Basel
- Andrey Vasilyev
I was able to connect with other expats in Zurich who enjoy cycling as much as I do and organize weekly rides.
Relocating to Basel
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 Relocation 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.
Visas and Permits for Basel, Switzerland
Short-Term Stays in Switzerland
Finding the right visa as well as work and/or residence permit depends on three main factors: the duration of your stay, your reason for moving, and your nationality.
The required paperwork is easiest to handle for brief stays that don’t involve any gainful employment. If you come to Basel for job interviews, business negotiations, or a preliminary visit, you’ll fall into this category. For such trips (which last no longer than 90 days), you need the following:
- valid travel document
- financial resources for your entire stay (or a host acting as your guarantor)
- travel insurance worth at least 30,000 CHF
Depending on your citizenship, you may also need a visa for Switzerland. Please check this list of visa requirements. If you are exempt from visa regulations, your passport will be enough. All other people must apply for a Schengen visa at the nearest Swiss representation. It allows them to travel within the Schengen area for three months.
Moving to Basel for Work
If you would like to start a new job in Basel, things are slightly more complicated. Your nationality has a major impact on the entry requirements.
EU 25 and EFTA Nationals
Citizens of EU/EFTA member states (except for Bulgaria and Romania) never require a visa. If they want to work in Switzerland for less than three months (e.g. as part of a project), they do not need a work permit (Arbeitsbewilligung), either. However, they must register online as a foreign employee.
If they’d like to work in Basel for over 90 days, they still need a work and residence permit from the local immigration office (Migrationsamt). If you are a citizen of an EU member state and want to work in Basel for one to five years, you need to apply for a permit. Although the Swiss attempted to impose a quota system for the number of work permits available for EU/EFTA citizens, this was deemed unlawful under the “Agreement on the Free Movement of People” signed by Switzerland in 2002. As a result EU/EFTA nationals, have little trouble gaining a work permit, although in regions with high unemployment Swiss jobseekers are by law given priority.
EU 2 Nationals
It’s more difficult for expats from Bulgaria and Romania to start working in Basel. While they do not need a visa, either, their future employer always has to apply for a work permit at Basel’s labor office (Amt fuer Wirtschaft und Arbeit). In 2017 the Swiss government imposed temporary restrictions on the number of long-term permits available for EU 2 nationals for a 12 month period. Also, their application depends on a thorough review of working conditions and potential Swiss candidates for the same job.
If you are an expat from a EU/EFTA member state and your job contract is valid for more than 12 months, you generally receive a work permit valid for five years. After that period, you can renew it for another five years. However, if you have been unemployed for over a year at the time of renewal, the permit will be renewed fortwelve months only.
Third-country nationals (those not from an EU/EFTA member state) have to undergo a lengthy procedure before they can begin to work in Basel. Once they have a confirmed job offer, their employer must apply for a work permit on their behalf.
First, the company contacts the canton’s labor office (Amt fuer Wirtschaft und Arbeit). Then, if they approve of the application, they forward a recommendation to the Federal Migration Office. The latter checks the application again. If it’s successful, they get in touch with the local labor office, as well as the migration office in question. The migration office sends the work/residence permit to the Swiss mission, where the expat has lodged their visa application. As soon as you have your permit and visa, you can move to Basel.
Unfortunately, the permits are subject to quota regulations. Any of the offices mentioned above may refuse to issue one. However, short-term work permits and intra-company transfers are seldom refused.
If you want your family to join you, talk to your Swiss representation and the Basel migration office about specific requirements. Generally, third-country nationals must prove that they have sufficient financial resources, adequate accommodation, and childcare options.
If you are planning to live across the border, but work in Basel, you still need a Swiss work permit (Grenzgaengerbewilligung). It allows you to travel between the two countries and to take up gainful employment in Switzerland. You must simply return to your country of residence once a week.
You can read more on acquiring a permit in our article on
Even if you have your visa and permit(s), you need to face some more red tape. Collect your alien ID (Auslaenderausweis) at the migration office and acquire a residence certificate as soon as possible. The residence certificate isn’t the same as your residence permit. It’s an official proof of residence that Swiss nationals also obtain when they move house. It’s available at the local registry office (Einwohneramt).
Here are some useful addresses in Basel:
Migrationsamt Basel Stadt (Migration Office)
061 267 70 70
Amt fuer Wirtschaft und Arbeit (Labor Office)
061 267 87 87
Einwohneramt (Registry Office)
061 267 70 60
Expat Housing in Basel
To Rent or Not to Rent
Most people living in Basel rent rather than buy their accommodation. Renting is very common among both expats and Swiss nationals. Property in Basel is rather expensive, and some foreign nationals face an additional obstacle when they intend to purchase real estate. They need to apply for special permission first, particularly if they intend to purchase a second home in Switzerland.
Basel’s Popular Districts
The city of Basel is Switzerland’s third biggest city with lots of housing options in the 19 neighborhoods (quartiere). Depending on the size of your household, your budget, and personal preferences, you can focus your search on selected districts. The Altstadt (historical town center) and St Alban/Gellert provide exclusive accommodation and beautiful mansions to those who can afford it. St Alban and Gellert also offer plenty of green spaces for those looking for a near-idyllic atmosphere in the middle of town. However, watch out when house hunting in the eastern part of this neighborhood. The nearby ring road may spoil the peace and quiet in some places.
If green and quiet matches your taste, you have yet more areas to explore. Bachletten, Bruderholz, and Hirzbrunnen all fit this description. Bachletten does not only feature upscale villas, but lots of post-war family housing as well. Bruderholz, Basel’s southernmost district, is a favorite recreational area among locals, due to its village-like character. It’s a bit isolated and lacking in infrastructure, though. If you decide to move here, you should definitely get a car. In case that you don’t mind leaving Basel’s city limits behind, the nearby town of Riehen is a good choice. However, it is quite an affluent community, and property prices may reflect this.
What to do if you rather prefer living in a busier neighborhood? Then you might narrow your housing search down to districts such as Matthaeus, Vorstaedte, and Clara. The populous Matthaeus neighborhood offers lots of small apartments, which singles and expat couples might be interested in, and more upscale accommodation near the River Rhine. The Clara district is mainly a bustling shopping district, where many international hotels and Basel’s conference center are located. Near the Claramatte (a public park), you’ll find recently built accommodation as well.
Things to Watch Out For
Even living in cozy Basel may have its disadvantages. For example, the Clara district has been the topic of local controversies over the past few years. The Claramatte park underwent a thorough redesign in the early 2000s, and its large playground is a favorite meeting point for families. Unfortunately, the park has also attracted people from Basel’s drug scene, so that residents have complained about junkies, dealers, and prostitutes in the area.
As you can see, there are streets and neighborhoods you might prefer to avoid for various reasons. Lower St Johann, Kleinhueningen, Klybeck, and Rosental are the industrialized parts of town. Furthermore, St Johann houses the cargo train station, the abattoir, and the waste disposal plant, none of which you’d like to live to next door to. The same probably applies to the sewage treatment plant, which is located in Kleinhueningen.
In the districts of Breite, Gundeldingen, and Iselin, there is rather heavy traffic on several major thoroughfares. Housing near the City Ring Road, as well as in Klybeckstrasse and Feldbergstrasse, is less than popular for the same reason. So, when you go house hunting in Basel, you might want to cross these specific areas off your list.
Rental Housing in Basel
Apartments in Basel are usually let unfurnished, although they may come with a built-in kitchen (pay attention to the word Einbaukueche or the abbreviation EBK in the ads). A separate bathroom with toilet, shower stall and/or bathtub is standard, but the quality of the tiling and plumbing may vary, especially in older lodgings. Depending on the individual apartment, you can either install your washing machine in the bathroom, or there may be shared laundromats in the basement.
Single rooms and studio flats cost between 1,100 CHF and 1,600 CHF a month, whereas you have to pay 1,700-3,500 CHF for three- to five-bedroom apartments. However, at the higher end of the scale, you’ll find mostly luxury flats or fully furnished accommodation. When you go through the classified ads, make sure to check if the rental costs refer to the Bruttomiete or Warmmiete. This sum already includes various service charges called Nebenkosten (e.g. utility fees, waste disposal, facility maintenance, etc.).
The following online resources may come in handy when you are looking for your new home in Basel:
Connect with like-minded expatriates
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Our Global Partners
- 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.