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A Comprehensive Guide about Living in Geneva

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Life in Geneva

At a Glance:

  • Geneva has excellent transport links, with an international airport situated just four kilometers from the city center. There are also a number of high speed rail connections to many French cities.
  • In terms of public transportation within the city, a single tariff applies to the whole of the city area. Weekly, monthly, and annual tickets are available. Taxis and boats are also a common means of transportation, although the former tend to be fairly expensive.
  • You can import your car to Switzerland tax free for a maximum period of two years. If you are planning on driving on Swiss motorways you will need to purchase a vignette.
  • Geneva is a very eco-friendly city, so don’t be surprised if drivers switch off their engines when waiting at traffic lights and be prepared to become an expert at recycling.
  • The school system in Geneva is made up of four compulsory stages: kindergarten or nursery, cycle primaire, cycle moyen, and cycle d’orientation. At the age of 15, students move on to college, a vocational school, or a school for general education.

An International Hub

Living in Geneva can be considered a luxury in every sense of the word. While its quality of life is one of the best in Europe, the cost of living is particularly high, too. Switzerland is generally expensive for expats, but Geneva is pricey even by Swiss standards.

The high cost of living has not however discouraged expats from moving to the city — around 40 percent of all residents in Geneva do not have a Swiss passport, making Geneva one of the most international cities in the world. Many people work for one of the numerous international organizations headquartered in the city.

Geneva has an incredibly rich history and a historical outlook which has been present in the city’s culture for many centuries. Over the years a number of highly influential Swiss and foreign nationals have lived in Geneva, including Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Madame de Staël, and Jean Henri Dunant, to name but a few.

The city was also the birth place of Calvinism. Jean Calvin spent nearly 30 years of his life in Geneva, and founded the University of Geneva in 1559. It regularly ranks among the top universities in the world.

International Transport to and from Geneva

People living in Geneva benefit from very good transport links to the rest of Europe and the whole world. Geneva International Airport is situated just four kilometers from the city center and lies within easy reach. Trains run every twelve minutes at rush hours and every 20 minutes otherwise. A journey to the airport doesn’t take more than six minutes from Geneva’s city center.

The buses with the numbers 5, 10, 23, 28, and 57 serve the city center and depart from the airport check-in area every 8 to 15 minutes. In addition, there are various direct train and bus connections for those living in Geneva’s suburbs. Best of all, ticket machines at the airport dispense free public transport tickets valid for a journey lasting up to 80 minutes!

Both the city center and the airport are also served by the French rail network SNCF, so expats living in Geneva enjoy direct high-speed rail connections to major French cities such as Paris, Lyon, Marseilles, and Montpellier. Motorists have easy access to the motorways of both Switzerland and France. However, foreigners living in Geneva should be aware that both countries operate a motorway toll system.

Traveling through Geneva by Public Transportation

In 2017, more than 213 million passengers used the buses and trams of the Transports Publics Genevois. A system of trams has been in operation since the late 19th century and more than 100 years later, everyday life in Geneva is, to a large extent, dependent on a well-functioning public transport system.

A single tariff applies to all means of transport in the city of Geneva. You can buy daily, weekly, monthly, and annual tickets, as well as single fares. Please consult the website of theTransports Publics Genevois for detailed information on fares, routes, and timetables. A special scheme is available for companies, which enables them to offer annual tickets at reduced rates to all their employees living in Geneva.

Transportation in Geneva

Other Means of Transport

Other means of transport in Geneva include taxis and boats. The former can be difficult to catch on the street, so people tend to pre-book taxis when possible. This can be done online at the Céntrale téléphonique de taxis à Genève, or by phone under 022 33 141 33.

Apart from a small fee for luggage, there shouldn’t be any charges on top of the amount displayed on the taxi meter. VAT is included, and tips are not expected. Just for reference: A trip from the airport to the city center should cost between 35 and 45 CHF.

Ferries on Lake Geneva are operated by two companies: Mouettes Genevoises runs shuttle services across the end of the lake which reaches into the city, and the Compagnie Générale de Navigation sur le lac Léman offers boats to destinations further away.

Want to Drive Your Own Car?

Foreigners can import their car to Switzerland free of taxes and customs duties for a maximum period of two years. If you are staying for less than one year, you can drive your car in Geneva without declaring it as long as you have sufficient insurance cover.

Non-permanent foreign residents staying longer than a year must contact the customs office for a tax exemption, which can be granted for up to two years. If you have a used car that is imported solely for personal use, you may be permanently exempt from customs duties.

Getting Ready to Drive

Driving in Geneva is free and easy. However, in order to use the Swiss motorway system, it is imperative that you purchase an annual permit, the so-called vignette. A vignette is available at all border checkpoints, gas stations, garages, and post offices for the price of 40 CHF.

To avoid queues at border checkpoints, you can buy a vignette before entering Switzerland from most national automobile associations and in some cases online.

In addition, the vignette must be correctly affixed to your car’s windscreen, otherwise you might incur a fine. It is always valid for the current calendar year, no matter when it is bought. Therefore, even if you purchase the 2018 vignette in November 2018, it is only valid until January of the following year, i.e. 31 January 2019.

A Green City — Care for the Environment

Geneva, like the rest of Switzerland, is a very environmentally conscious place. Swiss drivers tend to switch off their motors when waiting at traffic lights or in traffic jams. There is a “bonus and malus” system with vehicle tax calculated on the basis of your car’s CO2 emissions.

Cycling is strongly encouraged by the Geneva City Council. You can obtain a free cycling map of Geneva and environs at the Espace Ville de Genève (Pont de la Machine, 1204 Genève). Please note that, if you intend to use your bike regularly in Switzerland, you should have liability insurance cover in case of an accident.

A lot of Geneva’s electricity is produced locally, and the rest is imported from renewable sources. Citizens of Geneva are expected to recycle their household waste whenever possible. You should do so by taking glass, paper, aluminum, and plastic to public recycling sites. They can be found in every neighborhood. Communities may also charge for waste collection which serves as an additional incentive for green living.

Education in Geneva

Primary School — Cycle Primaire et Cycle Moyen

Swiss state schools provide excellent and free education to all children legally residing in Switzerland. There is no nation-wide curriculum, so all questions with regard to schools and educations are decided by the individual cantonal authorities.

Compulsory education starts with kindergarten or nursery schools for children aged four. Primary education is divided into two cycles of four years each (cycle primaire and cycle moyen). Subjects taught include French, German, mathematics, geography, history, music, sports, as well as information and communication technologies.

Secondary School — Cycle d’Orientation

Secondary school starts with ninth grade. It is divided into a compulsory stage and a period of further education. The first stage is called cycle d’orientation and caters to pupils aged 12 to 15.

Following this, children who wish to remain in school can choose one of three options which best suits their talents. Students can attend, Collège, for instance, which prepares them for university. While a formation professionnelle, on the other hand, takes place at vocational schools, and, after four years, allows students access to further vocational training at highly specialized centers. Finally, the écoles de culture générale lets pupils pursue four years of general further education.

Introduction Classes and Language Courses

So-called classes d’accueil are available for children who are new to Switzerland, both in primary schools and at the first stage of secondary school. Every year, hundreds of pupils attend these classes which are offered in addition to the normal curriculum. The object of these classes d’accueil is to teach a basic knowledge of the French language to foreign students and ensure they meet a general standard of education.

For more information on the classes d’accueil, please contact the Bureau d’accueil de l’enseignement primaire or the Direction générale du cycle d’orientation, respectively.

In consultation with the Direction générale de l’enseignement primaire, some foreign consulates also offer courses de langue et culture d’origine in primary schools. These classes are supposed to encourage children to pursue the language and culture of their home country, in order to develop a sense of duel identity and belonging.

Enrollment for Expat Children

Enrollment for primary school begins in March while school usually starts in late August. Parents must enroll their children at a school within their community, preferably the one closest to their domicile. The child’s identity card, or passport, plus resident permit must be produced at enrolment.

In order to enroll your child into stage I of secondary school, please contact the Direction générale du cycle d’orientation from the January of the year your child is supposed to start school. In most instances, foreign children need to pass a test to determine their academic level before they can be admitted.

International or Private School: Which One Is Better?

The education offered at Swiss private schools is not necessarily better than at state schools. Private schools in the Geneva area are also under the control of the Département de l'instruction publique, de la formation et de la jeunesse This department offers a search function with detailed information on registered establishments on its website.

For obvious reasons, many expats chose to send their children to an international school. They ease the transition from one country to another, especially if your job takes you and your family to different countries all around the world. Most international schools offer a bilingual or multilingual education as well as internationally recognized programs such as the International Baccalaureate.

Geneva happens to have the oldest international school in the world — the International School of Geneva was founded in 1924 and has been growing steadily ever since. Teaching takes place at three different campuses in and around the city. Another renowned international school in Geneva is the Collège du Léman.

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