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Living in Basel

A comprehensive guide about living well in Basel

Expats living in Basel enjoy numerous amenities and an above-average quality of life. They profit from cultural and outdoor activities, as well as a great infrastructure for all areas of daily life. The InterNations GO! guide to Basel introduces leisure, healthcare, schools, and local transportation in the region.

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Life in Basel

At a Glance:

  • Basel is a city of arts and culture. With over 30 museums and a number of different musical ensembles, the city has a lot to offer in terms of history, art, and classical music.
  • The city also has numerous bars, restaurants, and clubs. If you want to truly experience Basel as a local, try taking part in the annual Rheinschwimmen or take the opportunity to enjoy the Basler Fasnacht.
  • In Basel, as in the rest of Switzerland, you have to fund your own health insurance. No insurance can refuse you a basic healthcare plan, however, if you want more comprehensive cover, you can be declined based on pre-existing conditions.
  • Basel has a number of different healthcare facilities providing numerous services, from the Notfallapotheke, and hospitals specializing in a variety of fields, to the international patient service at Basel’s University Hospital.
  • Education in Basel is compulsory for children from the age of four to 15: children attend two years of Kindergarten, six years of primary school, and three years of secondary school.

An Excellent Quality of Life

If you plan on living in Basel as an expat, you have much to look forward to. As in other Swiss cities, the residents enjoy a high quality of life. In the 2017 Mercer study, Basel was ranked in the top ten cities in the world for quality of life. Based on factors such as crime, political stability, personal freedom, public services, education, and housing, residents in the city have a lot to be happy about.

Switzerland is actually one of the safest places worldwide, and Basel is no exception. However, matches of the popular soccer club FC Basel may lead to much reported cases of hooliganism. This should not detract from the fact that Basel is generally peaceful and pleasant. Although the city is a less well-known tourist destination than Lucerne or Lugano, there is a lot to enjoy in terms of leisure and culture. The only downside that comes with the high quality of life in Basel  is the property prices.

The City of Arts and Culture

Once you have had the chance to recover from your journey and settle into your new accommodation, take the time to explore your new home. The Basel tourist office organizes English-language walking tours around the picturesque old town, with its narrow, cobbled lanes. Highlights include the medieval cathedral, where the humanist Erasmus of Rotterdam lies buried, or the Renaissance-style town hall.

Art lovers and history buffs living in Basel have over 30 museums to choose from. They range from collections devoted to classical antiquity and Basel’s Roman origins to exhibitions of modern and contemporary art. The Foundation Beyeler houses works from Miro, Monet, and Picasso, to name but a few. The building itself was designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano.

If you prefer the performing arts, you’re in luck — ensembles like the Basel Symphony Orchestra and the Basel Chamber Orchestra uphold the city’s strong tradition of classical music. However, the city’s music scene also caters to more specific interests. Concerts by the Basel Bach Choir or regular performances of medieval and renaissance music are only two examples of the variety Basel has to offer.

The Theater Basel does not only put German-language plays on stage, but its repertoire includes opera and dance as well. If you are a fan of light entertainment, the Musical Theater Basel might be your place to go. Moreover, there are several cinemas that show films in English, French, or other languages (often with German and/or French subtitles).

There’s More: Nightlife and Cuisine

Of course, Basel has more than “just” art and culture to offer. If you’re on the lookout for the local and alternative nightlife, take a stroll down the streets of Klein-Basel, where you’ll find many bars, pubs, and live music clubs. Other night life scenes in the city include Steinvorstadt street, which is home to a number of restaurants and cinemas, or the areas around Barfüsserplatz and Klosterberg, which are great for bar hopping.

During the day, you can treat yourself to some chocolates or cakes at the Confiserie Braendli, or hunt for some tasty souvenirs at the Laeckerei Huus. This pastry company offers delicacies like the typical Basler Laeckerli (spice biscuits) or Rahmtaefeli (fudge).

If your budget allows for it, you might want to try some of Switzerland’s haute cuisine. The restaurant Stucki Bruderholz prides itself on 18 points in the Gault-Millau guide and two Michelin stars. Of course, the restaurant’s prestige and world renowned reputation comes at a price, don’t seem too shocked when the bill arrives — a main course alone is likely to cost over 60 CHF. So let’s hope that you have a very generous expat salary!

Want to Go Outside?

After sampling all that Swiss cuisine has to offer, you’ll need to burn off some of the calories you have acquired. On hot summer days, you could imitate the famous Rheinschwimmen, an event held once a year in August, where the city comes together to swim and relax by the river. However, this is not entirely risk-free. Experienced swimmers living in Basel know that you should always enquire about current conditions (e.g. entry and exit points, strong currents, water temperature, and other hazards). Its best to be on the safe side and just bathe in the sun and cool your feet in the Rhine.

As an alternative to swimming, a hiking trip in the nearby Jura Mountains is a great option. Situated less than an hour from Basel, the region boasts nature reserves, opportunities for mountain-biking, kayaking, and canoeing, as well as the beautiful Three Lakes area — perfect for any outdoor enthusiasts.

Last but certainly not least, all expats living in Basel should seize the opportunity and watch the Basler Fasnacht. Not to be confused with boisterous Mardi Gras or the carnival of Cologne, this historical carnival celebration is a custom to remember. The festival begins at 4:00 on the Monday following Ash Wednesday and continues until the early hours of the following Thursday. Festivities involve parades of fifers and drummers dressed in traditional costumes and masks, as well as singing and lots of celebrating.

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Healthcare in the Basel Area

The Swiss Healthcare System

Everyone residing in Switzerland for longer than three months has to take out medical insurance, usually from a Swiss insurance provider. There are some exceptions to this legal obligation, e.g. for foreign students who attend a Swiss university. However, these cases probably won’t apply to expats living and working in Basel. You thus have to decide upon a healthcare plan for you and your family within three months of arrival. Note that each family member has to be insured individually.

In Switzerland, everyone pays insurance premiums from their own pocket. In addition to these monthly contributions, you make a standardized co-payment of at least 300 CHF every year (so-called Franchise). Furthermore, you have to pay 10% of the cost for all treatments, diagnostic exams, and prescription drugs, up to an annual amount of 700 CHF. How much you require for your monthly healthcare contributions depends on two factors: your insurance provider and the kind of policy you choose.

Types of Medical Insurance: Which Fits You Best?

Every resident of Switzerland has a basic healthcare plan. No insurance company may refuse you this kind of insurance policy, no matter which pre-existing conditions you have. Basic medical insurance covers most standard treatments, both at the doctor’s and at public hospitals in your canton. You can always choose your hospital freely. However, a basic plan might not cover all costs for stays at non-local hospitals, unless your choice of clinic was medically necessary.

Most people in Switzerland take out supplementary insurance if they can afford it. In this case, insurance providers will insist on a health check. They can exclude treatment for certain illnesses or refuse you on medical grounds. Insurance premiums also differ according to the age and gender of the patient. Top-up insurance plans reimburse the costs for dental care, glasses, additional medication, or some privileges at hospitals (e.g. treatment by the clinic’s leading physician).

Local Emergency Numbers

Hopefully, you will stay happy and healthy during your expat life in Basel. However, in case of a medical emergency, here are some phone numbers that everybody should know:

  • 112 (general emergencies)
  • 117 (police)
  • 118 (fire department)
  • 144 (ambulance)
  • 061 261 1515 (emergency service for doctors, dentists, and pharmacies)
  • 0900 99 33 99 (emergency service for veterinarians)

There is also an after-hours pharmacy in central Basel, close to the University Hospital. The Notfallapotheke Basel is open between 17:00 and 08:00 from Monday to Friday, from 16:00 onwards on Saturday, and 24/7 on Sunday and all public holidays.

The Best Medical Services

Quality standards in Basel’s medical facilities are good to excellent. The cantons Basel-Stadt and Basel-Landschaft provide a variety of services. Local clinics specialize, for example, in geriatric medicine, dentistry, orthopedy, psychiatry, physical therapy and restorative heath, as well as palliative care. The most important general hospitals and walk-in clinics in the Basel area include:

As you can see from the websites linked above, the main language in Basel’s hospitals is German. However, doctors usually have decent English skills, and some will be able to speak French, too. If you feel worried about the language barrier, you should ask for a referral to Basel’s University Hospital. It features an international patient service. As far as finding a physician is concerned, you can search for family doctors and specialists via the multi-lingual website doctor.ch.

Education in Basel

The Education System

Education in Switzerland has a (well-deserved) and good reputation of long standing. However, it’s important to know that there is no nationwide school system. Instead, the various cantons are in charge of local education.

In Basel, children start their mandatory education around the age of four, when they have to attend kindergarten. Working parents often send their younger kids to daycare centers (Tagesbetreuung or Tagesheim), but this decision is up to each family. Two years of kindergarten are, however, legally required. They serve as a preparation for primary school. Both primary and secondary schools in Basel have undergone reforms in the past few years.

Following changes to the school system in Basel, children born after 31 April, 2002, will be following a slightly different academic path to those who came before them. Instead of just four years of primary education, children now attend primary school for six years, from the ages of six to twelve.

Afterwards, all students attend the same kind of comprehensive secondary school for three years. However, pupils are streamed into different levels of schooling according to their academic track record. There remains the possibility of moving between these different levels. After attending compulsory secondary school until the age of 15, pupils are separated into three different schools. The best students will attend a Gymnasium for three years afterwards, providing the opportunity to go on to study at university, while other students can choose between applying for vocational training and going to the Fachmaturitätsschule.

Sending Your Kids to a Local School

The language in the classroom is usually German, but students in Basel are taught French, followed by English, from primary school onwards. If you plan on settling in Switzerland or want to stay for a long while, a public school in Basel may not be a bad choice. Younger children in particular often pick up foreign languages fairly quickly, so your kid could soon be fluent in German. The public education system also has the definite advantage of being entirely free of charge.

If you have any questions concerning public education in the city of Basel, please contact:

Erziehungsdepartement des Kantons Basel

Leimenstrasse 1

4001 Basel

061 267 84 00

ed@bs.ch

For advice on registering your child for a place in kindergarten or with the nearest primary school, please call 061 267 54 60 or write to volksschulen@bs.ch.

If you are searching for a public daycare center to look after your kid, please get in touch with:

Vermittlungsstelle Tagesheime

Freie Strasse 35

4001 Basel

061 267 46 14

vermittlung.tagesbetreuung@bs.ch

In the canton of Basel-Landschaft, the following office is in charge of public education:

Bildungs-, Kultur-, Sportdirektion

Rheinstrasse 31

4410 Liestal

061 552 5111

bksd@direktion.bl.ch

International Schools in Basel

Unfortunately, the language barrier and the culture shock can have a negative impact on many expat children. If your family intends to stay in Basel for a short while only, an international school may be just what your kid needs. Luckily, there are several in the Basel area.

Moreover, the Early Learning Association runs an English-language nursery, daycare center, and primary school in Basel City, while both the Freies Gymnasium Basel and the Gymnasium am Münsterplatz offer English immersion classes. Although the Gymnasium am Münsterplatz is primarily a German-language school, students do have the possibility of acquiring an IB diploma.

Transportation in Basel

The River Rhine

Since the city owes much of its prosperity to commerce, Basel has always profited from its strategic location on the Upper Rhine. Today, it features excellent transport connections to the rest of Switzerland, as well as Germany and France. However, the three river ports in the cantons of Basel-Stadt and Basel-Landschaft focus on commercial cargo rather than passenger traffic.

There is a riverboat company (the Basler Personenschifffahrt), but it mainly organizes pleasure cruises and excursions to Rheinfelden. Basel’s national and international transport links are now by road, rail, and air.

The EuroAirport

The closest airport is located on French territory, and the two countries run this traffic node together. The EuroAirport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg is Switzerland’s third largest airport, with a record number of 6.5 million passengers in 2014. This success is due to its status as a popular point-of-departure for vacation flights by no-frills airlines like EasyJet or Air Berlin.

The EAP provides regular (and some seasonal) connections to Austria, Belgium, Canada, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, the UK, and several other countries. Situated only six kilometers north of Basel, the airport is easy to reach by car, bus (BVB 50), or tram (line 2). A taxi ride to the city center costs about 50 CHF.

Train Stations in Basel

Basel’s three train stations are as important for the city as the EuroAirport. The central station and the (formerly French) Basel SNCF building are part of the same complex nowadays. The French railway company has ceded most of its responsibilities to its Swiss equivalent. In addition to the central station, there is the Basel Badischer Bahnhof in the northern part of the city. It is run by the German Bahn AG, thus providing connections to various German cities.

From Basel’s central station, trains depart to major cities in Switzerland, as well as Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, and Russia. Moreover, this station serves as an important stop for regional express trains in the Basel agglomeration (the S-Bahn).

Traveling by Public Transportation

Both Basel cantons (city and countryside) have an efficient and well-organized public transport network (known as BVB in town and BLT in the rural canton). It consists of about a dozen tram lines in Basel, as well as plenty of urban and rural bus lines. They serve all of Basel’s neighborhoods and the larger towns in Basel-Landschaft. You can easily plan your journey in Basel City online.

Frequent passengers, especially commuters, benefit from buying the Green Travelcard. It is valid for all public transport connections in northwest Switzerland, beyond the immediate Basel area. Adults living in the region currently pay 76 CHF per month, and an annual subscription costs 760 CHF. However, if you are not a registered local resident (e.g. because you commute to work across the border), you have to pay 101 CHF for the same monthly travel card. Various other tickets are available at multi-lingual vending machines throughout Basel.

Expat Driving Licenses

Please note that the following regulations only apply to expats in Switzerland. If you live in France or Germany, but want to drive to work in Basel, you have to follow French or German requirements, respectively. Please check the InterNations guides to driving in France and driving in Germany for more information.

If you prefer to drive while living in Basel, you are allowed to use your foreign permit for up to 12 months after moving to Switzerland. At the end of this year, you have to switch to a Swiss license. To acquire a category B driving permit for cars, please take these steps:

  • Do an eyesight test.
  • Fill out the application form and attach a recent passport photograph.
  • Bring along your valid foreign license and your alien ID card.
  • Pay a fee of 140 CHF.

If your foreign permit has been valid for less than a year, though, you will only be issued a probationary license. It is valid for a maximum of three years. During this period, you have to comply with special learner’s rules and take additional driving classes.

Information for Drivers and Car Owners

In Basel City, you can get your Swiss driving license here:

Motorfahrzeugskontrolle des Kantons Basel-Stadt

Clarastrasse 38

4005 Basel

3rd floor (2. Stock)

061 267 82 00

info@mfkbs.jsd.bs.ch

If you are a registered resident of Basel-Landschaft, the following office can issue your Swiss driving permit:

Motorfahrzeugpruefstation Basel-Landschaft

Reinacherstrasse 40

4142 Muenchenstein

061 416 46 46

mfpbb@bl.ch

If you consider importing your own car into Switzerland, you should also contact the MFP Basel-Landschaft. For a certain fee, they will examine your vehicle documents and tell you if your car needs any major changes or repairs to comply with Swiss regulations. This service may save you a rude awakening and much hassle later on. Even if you don’t have to make any technical changes, though, you may still have to pay customs duties for the import.

Do you want to relocate? If you have never moved abroad, the process will be overwhelming, and if you have, you know the burden that lies ahead. Whatever stage you are at, InterNations GO! can help you with a complete set of relocation services, such as home finding, school search, visa solutions, and even pet relocation. Our expert expat team is ready to get your relocation going, so why not jump-start your move abroad and contact us today? Best to start early!

Updated on: December 06, 2018
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