Living in Zurich?

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Living in Zurich

Zurich is a great place to start or continue your expat experience! With a population made up of many nationalities, the city has an international flair. Our guide to Zurich briefly introduces you to leisure, transportation, healthcare, and education in the city by the River Limmat.

At a Glance:

  • Zurich has excellent transportation links, from its international airport and central train station with connection throughout Europe to a dense network of buses, trams, and local trains.
  • If you are planning on driving in Zurich, you need to exchange your foreign driver’s license for a Swiss permit within one year. Depending on where your original permit was issued, you may also need to pass a driving test.
  • If you are planning to live and work in Zurich, you will need to purchase Swiss health insurance.
  • The education system in the canton of Zurich consists of two years of kindergarten, six years of primary school, three years of secondary school, followed by either upper-secondary school or vocational training.  

Living the Good Life!

Expats moving to Switzerland’s most populated city can look forward to the excellent quality of living in Zurich. In the Mercer Quality of Living Ranking, the city has ranked second out of over 200 expat hotspots for years now, once again only beaten by Vienna in 2018.

The high rankings for expat life in Zurich are due to several factors. We have already mentioned some in our guide on moving to Zurich: picturesque scenery, an overall lack of pollution (despite a great degree of urbanization), and a high level of personal safety. In addition, the residents of both city and canton profit from other advantages, including countless leisure activities, a good transportation infrastructure, top-notch medical facilities, and numerous schools for expat kids. 

What to Do in Your Leisure Time?

When it comes to making the most out of your spare time, Zurich has something in store for everyone, from culture and fashion to nightlife or the opportunity to take part in outdoor activities. Local events such as the Sächsilüüte (a spring festival), the Knabenschiessen (a shooting competition and fun fair), and the tri-annual Züri Fäscht combine the touristy and the traditional. Once you’ve dealt with the practical issues of living in Zurich, make sure to also take some time for sight-seeing: stroll along the lake promenade, sip a cup of hot chocolate at the Confiserie Sprüngli, or admire the panoramic view from the nearby Uetliberg.

The city boasts over 50 museums and 100 galleries, which feature everything from exhibitions on Swiss national history to cutting-edge design. With various concerts, movie nights, and theater performances, the summer open-air season is a highlight of living in Zurich. Of course, venues like the Zurich Opera House or the Zurich Playhouse offer entertainment all year long. If you have some energy left after power-shopping in Bahnhofsstrasse or exploring Zurich’s club scene, the Alps are only a stone’s throw away with numerous hiking trails and ski resorts.

The Zurich Tourist Service at the central station or the City of Zurich (cultural office and office for sports and education) can advise you with further details on recreation options in Zurich.

You can also find out more about Switzerland’s events, art, and culture in our various in-depth articles on Culture, Shopping & Recreation in Switzerland.

An International Transportation Hub

Getting around Zurich on a daily basis is made easier by the city’s well-developed transportation infrastructure. Expats from overseas arrive via the International Airport Zürich, the headquarters of the national airline, Swiss Air, which flies to over 100 destinations from both Geneva and Zurich. From the airport, you can easily reach Zurich city center by train or tram or take one of the 16 regional bus lines to Zurich’s surrounding areas. There are also taxi ranks outside Terminal 1 and 2, although a ride to the city center is rather expensive (ca. 70 CHF).

Expats from continental Europe often arrive in Zurich at the central train station. The city has various international train connections to Austria, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Southeast Europe, and other destinations. The central station is also an important stop for local commuter trains.

Using Local Transportation to Get Around in Zurich

Zurich’s public transportation network (the ZVV) includes suburban trains (S-Bahn), buses (especially in rural areas), and trams in the city itself. If you intend to use public transportation frequently while living in Zurich, purchase a personalized monthly ticket. For daily passengers, this is the cheapest option and the easiest way of navigating various fare zones. Also, if you possess such a personalized ticket, you don’t have to worry about forgetting to validate it.

Taxis are the costliest way of getting around in Zurich. There are various taxi companies, all equally expensive, though prices are usually at least below the maximum rate as defined by the city of Zurich in 2014: 8 CHF basic rate per trip plus 5 CHF for every kilometer. Well-known providers include Taxi 444 (0 444 444 444), 7x7 TAXI, and iTAXI. Uber also operates in Zurich.

You can find out more about public transportation in Switzerland in our in-depth article on Switzerland’s extensive public transportation system.

Want to Drive on Your Own? Exchange Your Foreign License

If you prefer to drive your own car when living in Zurich, you need to exchange your foreign driver’s license for a Swiss permit (Führerausweis) within one year. As the paperwork might take a while, make sure to start this process early on.

  • Fill out an application form and attach a passport photo.
  • Do a vision test and, if your license includes permission to drive large vehicles (e.g. lorry or buses), get a medical exam.
  • Bring along the filled-out form, the test results, your foreign license, your alien ID and residence certificate to the Strassenverkehrsamt Zürich.
  • If your foreign license was issued in an EU/EFTA member state or one of the following countries, you’ll simply get the Swiss permit via mail: Andorra, Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, Morocco, Monaco, New Zealand, San Marino, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Tunisia, and the US.
  • Residents from other countries need to pass a practical road test within three months. You have only one try to pass this exam.

For more information on Swiss traffic rules and importing your car to Switzerland, please refer to our respective in-depth articles.


We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete.

If there’s something you’re still not sure about, check out the InterNations Forum.

Andrey Vasilyev

"I was able to connect with other expats in Zurich who enjoy cycling as much as I do and organize weekly rides."

Elin Gustavson

"At the first InterNations event that I attended, I met my wonderful partner. We now live together in a flat next to the Limmat."

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