Moving to Geneva?

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Moving to Geneva

Moving to Geneva, Switzerland’s most global city, is an exciting experience for most expats. Our InterNations Guide, will help you find essential information on visas, residence permits, and accommodation, as well as other important advice for your relocation to Geneva.
Lake Geneva, also referred to as Lac Léman, is Geneva's main attraction.

At a Glance:

  • Situated on the Swiss-French border, Geneva has a high quality of life as well as a high cost of living. Surrounded by the Alps and Lake Geneva, there are a number of outdoor activities to enjoy in the area.
  • As an EU/EFTA national you do not need a visa to enter Switzerland. However, if you intend on staying in the country for longer than 90 days, you will need to obtain a residence permit.
  • A number of countries have signed deals with Switzerland, meaning that some third-state nationals do not need a visa to enter Switzerland. For those non-EU nationals, whose country has not signed a visa agreement with Switzerland, they will need to apply for a Schengen Visa or a type D visa for long term stays.
  • Everyone who intends to stay in Switzerland for longer than three months must obtain a residence permit. There are a number of different permits available. It is harder for third-state nationals to obtain a permit.  
  • Living in Geneva is particularly expensive, so most people including expats tend to rent property rather than buy. Many people also choose to live in nearby French towns and commute to the city for work.

High Cost of Living Meets High Quality of Life

Most expats moving to Geneva work either in the finance sector or for one of the many international organizations and agencies with headquarters in the city. As the capital of Switzerland’s French-speaking regions, la Suisse romande, Geneva has close ties to France, both geographically and culturally.

In fact, many people coming to Geneva for work end up living in one of the small French towns across the border rather than in the city itself. This is mainly due to the extremely high cost of living, which few expats will be able, or willing to put up with. In 2017, Mercer ranked Geneva as the seventh most expensive city in the world. Within Europe, only Zurich has a higher cost of living.

However, according to Mercer, the city is among the top ten expat destinations worldwide when it comes to quality of life, making up for the high cost of living. For most expats, moving to Geneva turns out to be a positive experience overall.

The City for Outdoor Lovers

For lovers of outdoor activities, Geneva is ideally situated. Surrounded by the Alps and the Jura, the city has plenty of skiing resorts within close reach to accommodate any winter sports enthusiasts.

The region has even more in store during the summer months. The mountains are ideal for hiking, and Lake Geneva provides great opportunities for swimming, sailing, or enjoying the sunshine. All in all, local residents benefit from a pleasant climate with warm summers and relatively mild winters.

The Geneva Metropolitan Area

Expats moving to Geneva might not be aware that the city’s metropolitan area, also referred to as the Métropole lémaniqueto, does not only cover the canton of Geneva and partly the canton of Vaud. It also stretches across the border to include some areas in the French départements of Haute-Savoie and Ain.

The official language is, of course, French. However, expats moving to Geneva might be relieved to know that English is widely spoken due to the many international organizations in city.

Want to Enter Geneva as an EU Citizen?

In 2002 the Agreement of the Free Movement of Persons came into effect. It allows EU nationals the right to live and work in Switzerland without any formal restrictions. They do not need a visa to enter Switzerland.

However, there remain some restrictions on Bulgarian, Romanian, and Croatian nationals in terms of work and residence permits available to them.

Entering with a Schengen Visa

In 2008 Switzerland joined the Schengen area. The Schengen area includes all EU countries (with the exception of the UK, and Ireland) plus Norway and Iceland. For stays of up to three months, a Schengen visa is accepted by the Swiss authorities. However, while a Schengen visa covers short-term business trips, it does not allow you to take up paid employment in Switzerland.

If your main destination is Switzerland, you should apply for a Schengen visa at the Swiss Embassy or Consulate in your country of residence. However, if most of the three months will be spent in another Schengen country, your visa should be issued by the authorities of that country.

Everyone whose nationality does not exempt them from visa regulations must apply for a national (type D) visa if their intended period of stay exceeds three months. A long-term visa is usually granted only together with a work permit. Application forms for all types of visa can be downloaded from the website of the Swiss Embassy or Consulate in your country.

Learn more about different types of visas and Swiss visa regulations from our guide on Visa and Administration in Switzerland.


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