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Moving to Geneva
What to know if you're moving to Geneva
Moving to Geneva, Switzerland’s most global city, is an exciting experience for most expats. Our InterNations GO! Guide, will help you find essential information on visas, residence permits, and accommodation, as well as other important advice for your relocation to Geneva.
Relocating to Geneva
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.
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Visa Requirements for Geneva
Visa Waiver Agreements
In addition to bilateral treaties and the Schengen visa, there are several visa waiver agreements. They grant different nationalities outside the EU the right to enter Switzerland for up to three months (or in some cases longer) without applying for a visa. Among these countries are Australia, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, and the USA.
Applying for a Visa
Documents required to support your visa application may vary, but they are likely to include at least the following:
- Your passport, which mustn’t be older than ten years, should be valid for at least three or six more months, and contain two blank pages.
- You need health insurance cover for the entire period of your stay unless you are planning to become a resident of Switzerland.
- You have to show proof of sufficient financial means to support yourself during your stay.
All visa applications and supporting documents must be submitted to the nearest Swiss embassy or consulate in your normal country of residence.
Please note that a visa simply grants you the right to enter the country. Only together with a residence permit does it make you a legal resident of Switzerland. In order to work in Geneva, you also need a work permit.
Information on Residence Permits
All foreign nationals, including EU/EFTA citizens, who come to Switzerland for a period exceeding three months have to apply for a residence permit. This can be done at the Cantonal Migration Office for Geneva in Onex (Route de Chancy 88), which provides the service étrangers et conféderés.
EU nationals should have no problems obtaining the residence permit they need. However, please note that Swiss immigration authorities impose strict annual limitations on the number of so-called third-state nationals (i.e. from non-EU countries), as well as on the citizens of some EU member states. Thus, not all of them will be granted a residence permit.
Types of Residence Permits
- B Permit: Most EU/EFTA nationals will be granted this five-year residence permit if they can provide proof of employment or financial independence. To third-state nationals, a B Permit is initially issued for one year and only within the annual limits on foreign employment. There are currently temporary limitations on the number of Croatian citizens who will be granted this permit.
- C Permit: With this permit, EU/EFTA nationals are granted the right to settlement after five years of continuous residence in Switzerland. Third-state nationals must have lived in Switzerland for ten years before they can obtain a C Permit. Once a foreigner has been given the right to settle, their permission to remain in the country is no longer tied to a specific job, and they are treated like Swiss nationals for tax purposes.
- Ci Permit: Spouses and children (up to 25 years of age) of foreign representatives or employees in intergovernmental organizations are entitled to this residence permit. It automatically grants the holder the right to take up gainful employment.
- G Permit: Strictly speaking, this is not a residence permit. It mainly serves cross-border workers who are employed in Switzerland but whose main place of residence remains outside the country, e.g. in France or Germany. A G Permit is granted for a maximum of five years. Permit holders must return to their country of residence at least once a week.
- L Permit: Foreigners with an employment contract of less than a year will receive an L Permit. Please note that the usual limitation regulations on work and residence permits for third-state nationals apply. EU/EFTA citizens may reside in Switzerland on an L Permit without a job offer if they have the financial means to support themselves. An L Permit is often used by people who come to Switzerland in order to look for a job.
Settling Down in Geneva
Identity Cards with a Chip
Residence permits are issued in the form of paper identity cards to EU and Schengen nationals. Following EU regulations, third-state nationals receive the new biometric chip identity card as of 2011.
All biometric data is stored on an invisible chip in the card and will be deleted from the system five years after the owner of the card has left Switzerland for good. The data consists of two fingerprints and one passport-style photograph.
Residential Areas — Where to Live?
Generally speaking, the Swiss are not a nation of home-owners in the same way as, for example, the British are. Many Swiss live in rented accommodation, especially in Geneva, where expats and other temporary residents make up a large part of the population.
Finding accommodation in Geneva can be a little difficult and rents are extortionately high by most standards. For this reason, many expats working in Geneva look for accommodation in the neighboring French towns of Annemasse, Ferney-Voltaire, Saint-Genis-Pouilly, or Saint-Julien-en-Genevais. As these French towns across the border belong to the Geneva metropolitan area, most of them benefit from good train connections to the city.
Geneva City — The Search for Accommodation
If you are looking for accommodation in Geneva city, the best place to start your search is the internet. The site immobilier.ch has many listings for Switzerland as a whole but also in Geneva, which combine offers from several estate agents. Alternatively, check local newspapers or contact the local administration of the community where you would like to live for an up-to-date list of available rental property.
Due to the city’s compact size and good public transport facilities, there aren’t necessarily any areas in Geneva where expats prefer to live. Instead, expats tend to search for accommodation all across the city, as commutes tend to be short and easy.
The Process of Renting Accommodation
Landlords or estate agents may ask to see a valid residence permit when renting to foreigners. The deposit for a flat usually amounts to three months’ rent. The money is kept in a special account and returned to the tenant (plus interest) upon termination of the contract — provided they did not inflict any damage to the property.
Most apartments are rented unfurnished for a fixed period of at least one year. However, tenants can usually terminate their contract earlier if they find someone suitable to take over their tenancy.
Flats should come with their individual basement and access to some sort of launderette, which can be used by all tenants of the building. It usually contains coin-operated washing machines, a dryer, and sometimes a separate room to hang up your clothes.
Join Our Exciting Events in Geneva
Once we've helped you move to Geneva, we can make you feel at home by introducing you to other expats who have already settled and are part of our Geneva Community. Attend our monthly events and activities in Geneva and get to know like-minded expats in real life.
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