Moving to Zurich?

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Moving to Zurich

There are plenty of reasons for moving to Zurich! Switzerland’s largest city attracts numerous expats due to its booming economy and high quality of life. Our guide to Zurich introduces you to the Greater Zurich Area, Swiss visas and permits, as well as housing for expats.

At a Glance:

  • Zurich is Switzerland’s largest city, and, with 32 percent of foreign residents, it is a truly global destination.
  • If you are just visiting Zurich on a trip that lasts less than three months and does not involve gainful employment, you do not need a work or residence permit. However, if you are not an EU/EFTA national, you may need a visa.
  • If you do intend to take up employment in Zurich, you will need a work and residence permit. The three most common types of permits are category L (issued for up to one year), category B (issued for one to five years), and category C (long-term permit).
  • The Zurich real estate market is competitive; always bring a copy of your employment contract and references from previous landlords to convince a potential landlord to take you on as a new tenant.

The Pros and Cons of Life in Zurich

Zurich is situated in one of the northernmost regions in eastern Switzerland, not far from the German border. The city is surrounded by a very scenic area, with plenty of rivers and lakes (the largest being Lake Zurich) and in convenient proximity to the Swiss Alps. However, not only outdoor fans have reason to move to Zurich: the canton is Switzerland’s economically strongest region. Expats often find employment in banking and insurance, business services, research and development, or the tourism industry.

Moving to Zurich allows you to enjoy an extremely high quality of life. In the Mercer 2018 survey on quality of life, Zurich ranked second out of 231 expat destinations worldwide. Unfortunately, just like mouth-watering chocolates and precision watches, the high quality of life comes at a price: according to Mercer’s 2018 Cost of Living Survey, Zurich is also the third most expensive city around the globe. The Economist Intelligence Unit similarly rated Zurich as the second priciest destination worldwide in 2018. Nonetheless, Zurich remains an attractive city for many. 

City, Canton, Metropolitan Area

With around 400,000 inhabitants in 2017, Zurich is the largest city in Switzerland, although it’s not the Swiss capital — this function has fallen to picturesque Bern. The city by the River Limmat forms the center of Switzerland’s most populous canton of the same name (with not quite 1.5 million inhabitants in 2017) and the heart of an even larger, densely populated metropolitan area, with some two million residents. Thus, moving to Zurich does not always mean that you are going to settle in the city of Zurich itself.

The historical center of the city is located in the charming old town by the riverside. However, this is just one of Zurich’s 34 neighborhoods (Quartiere), which are combined in 12 boroughs (Kreise). Beyond the city limits, moving to Zurich could as well mean living in one of the canton’s other 11 districts (Bezirke) and commuting to work. After all, between 2014 and 2016, around 150,000 employees traveled to work in the canton of Zurich every day!

The Greater Zurich Area extends its influence even beyond the canton to some corners of Aargau (especially Baden-Brugg), St. Gallen with its university, Schaffhausen at the German border, Schwyz, and Thurgau, which are all considered part of the Zurich metropolitan area, too.

Multicultural Zurich: You’ll Find It All

In the canton of Zurich, you’ll find people from various countries. Over one quarter of the canton’s population are foreigners. In the city of Zurich itself, this percentage is even higher with 32 percent. Considering the area’s excellent economic performance and its location close to Germany, it’s hardly surprising that many Germans decide to move to Zurich. There are also sizable communities of expats from Italy, Portugal, Spain, Austria, Turkey, Serbia, etc.

When relocating to Zurich, you are moving to the so-called Deutschschweiz, the German-speaking part of Switzerland. Although the federal institutions of Switzerland have four official languages (French, German, Italian, and Romansh), this is not necessarily the case on the regional level. The only official language in Zurich is Standard German. The Swiss population also speaks a local variety of Schwyzerdütsch (Swiss German).

However, don’t worry too much about the language barrier. Most Swiss residents have good English skills, and many speak two of the official languages, sometimes more. The most common foreign first languages in the city of Zurich are English, Italian, French, Spanish, Serbian, Portuguese, Albanian, and Turkish.

Before you move to Zurich, you will have to cut through some red tape — Switzerland’s immigration requirements. The first thing to find out is whether you need a visa and/or a work and residence permit (called Bewilligung in Swiss legal jargon). Continue to the next page for information on this topic.

You can also find out more about the languages spoken in Switzerland in our in-depth article on Switzerland’s Language Diversity.


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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