Most expats moving to Geneva work either in the finance sector or for one of the many international organizations and agencies headquartered there. As the capital of Switzerland’s French-speaking parts, la Suisse romande, this city 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 quite a few expats won’t be able (or willing) to put up with. In 2014, Mercer ranked Geneva as the sixth most expensive city in the world. Within Europe, only Zurich has a higher cost of living than that expats moving to Geneva will face.
However, residents of Geneva can expect something in return for their money. Also according to Mercer, the city is among the top ten expat destinations worldwide when it comes to quality of life. For most foreigners, moving to Geneva turns out to be an overall positive experience.
Geographically speaking, most expats moving to Geneva have no reason to complain. It is ideally situated for lovers of any outdoor activity you can think of. Surrounded by the Alps and the Jura, the city has plenty of skiing resorts within close reach to accommodate winter sports enthusiasts from Geneva.
The region has even more in store if you should be moving to Geneva during the summer. 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 an agreeable climate with warm summers and relatively mild winters.
Expats moving to Geneva might not be aware that the city’s metropolitan area 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, expatriates moving to Geneva might be relieved to know that English is widely spoken due to the many international organizations in town.
In 2001, moving to Geneva to take up employment was made easy for EU/EFTA citizens. In that year, Switzerland signed a number of bilateral treaties with the EU. One of them was the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons. It came into effect in June 2002 for nationals of the EU-17, plus Cyprus and Malta.
However, Bulgarian and Romanian nationals are denied full access to the Swiss labor market until 2016. Moreover, in April 2012, Switzerland also introduced an annual quota for employees from the so-called EU-8 member states. This applies to job-seekers from the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia.
2008 saw the inclusion of Switzerland in the Schengen area. The Schengen area includes all EU countries plus Norway and Iceland. For stays of up to three months, a Schengen visa is now 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.
We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete.