Working in Basel?

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Working in Basel

Situated in the Upper Rhine Valley, Basel and the surrounding region rely on sectors such as transportation, shipping, finance, insurance, and the life sciences to maintain a strong economy. Here are some tips for job hunting, the region’s economy, working conditions, and social security.

At a Glance:

  • Key sectors in Basel include the life sciences and innovative sectors. Many global companies specializing in everything from pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, to agribusiness and medical and nanotechnology, are located in the and around the city.
  • The service industry plays an important part in Basel’s economy, with the transportation and shipping industry, creative industries, and the financial sector acting as vital contributors to the prosperity of the region.
  • The local unemployment rate in Basel stands at around 4.0 percent, which is slightly above the national average.
  • Swiss employees benefit from some of the highest salaries in the world. In Basel the local average gross salary is around 9,600 CHF.
  • The social security system in made up of three pillars. Employees and Employers contribute to first two pillars (old age pension and survivors benefit, and an occupational benefits scheme). The third pillar includes a private pension fund.

The Two Key Sectors

Historically, Basel flourished due to its ideal location on the Upper Rhine, the river connecting Switzerland to the North Sea. Working in Basel’s port area was an excellent opportunity for merchants as well as owners of river barges. After the Industrial Revolution, large areas of Basel became home to numerous factories and plenty of manufacturing companies.

Today, Basel’s economy still owes a considerable part of its prosperity to both, logistics and manufacturing, which remain important sectors for the city. Basel is, however, best known as a major location for the chemical and pharmaceutical industries. The life sciences employ a great number of people in Basel, including many expats.

The National Economy — High-Tech and Knowledge-Based

The city of Basel is a characteristic example of the Swiss economy in general. It is a modern market economy with low unemployment figures and well-qualified job candidates. While agriculture plays only a minor role in Basel’s economy, the high-tech knowledge-based manufacturing sectors and a booming service industry are key to the city’s prosperity.

However, the strong local currency, the country’s export orientation, and its close links to the eurozone can pose certain risks, particularly when the eurozone is weak. This risk affects Basel potentially even more than other areas of Switzerland, given its position as a tri-national metropolitan area. Nonetheless, the area has a fairly diversified economy. Expatriates interested in working in Basel outside a foreign assignment may very well land a job in one of the following key economic sectors.

The Life Sciences — The Essentials

As mentioned above, the life sciences are an essential industry for Basel. The Basel area forms the center of a larger cluster of companies known as the “Bio Valley” which stretches across the Upper Rhine Valley, from the canton of Basel-Landschaft to the city of Strasbourg. Within the life-sciences sector, the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries are the biggest players.

Basel houses the headquarters of global companies like Novartis or Roche, which are household names in the business. Roche, for instance, employs about 10,000 people in Basel’s metropolitan areas alone. The German company Beiersdorf produces brands such as Nivea or Eucerin in Basel, while Weleda, famous for its organic cosmetics line, is based in the city.

The life sciences also include industries like agribusiness and medical technology. Companies based in Basel produce a wide range of products as diverse as pesticides, seedlings, Cochlear implants for the hearing-impaired, and dental equipment. However, the sector doesn’t consist solely of big business: Basel’s life science cluster represents small and medium enterprises, as well as start-up companies.

Innovative Sectors

Beyond the life sciences, Basel is home to other innovative industries. It features a number of ICT enterprises, both smaller, local companies, and the Swiss branches of multi-nationals like Adobe Systems.

In addition to information and communication technologies, microtechnology, clean tech for the development of environmentally friendly, energy-efficient production methods, and nanotechnology play a significant role in Basel’s high-tech market. They often profit from Basel’s reputation as a university town. For example, the University of Basel founded the Swiss Nanoscience Institute as a base for application-oriented research.

The Service Industry

As far as the tertiary sector is concerned, the transportation and shipping industry remains a vital segment of the economy in the Greater Basel Area. While the Rhine is no longer the most convenient connection to other European regions, the city’s cargo ports handle a large proportion of Switzerland’s import and export goods.

Finance and insurance make a significant contribution to Basel’s economy. Although the city’s financial sector is by no means comparable to Zurich’s, Basel is among Switzerland’s secondary centers for banking and insurance providers, with companies such as UBS and Helvetia Versicherungen establishing headquarters in the city.

Moreover, while Basel is not a prominent travel destination in comparison to Geneva or Lugano, the city does still benefit from the tourism industry. Basel hosts a variety of trade fairs, e.g. for contemporary art or for jewelry and watch-making, and has acquired some importance as a destination for business travel.

Lastly, the creative industries add to Basel’s economic profile, especially design and architecture. Many major artists, designers, architects, and gallerist work in Basel. Large companies in the creative field with headquarters in the city include the likes of Fossil, Herzog & de Meuron, and Vitra. The annual art fair, ArtBasel, and the watch and jewelry fair Baselworld, are also held in the city and are internationally renowned.

You can also discover more about the economy in Switzerland with our article on Swiss banking.


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