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Moving to Zurich

Perched on the northwestern edge of the breathtaking Lake Zurich in north-central Switzerland, Zurich is not only the country's largest city, but also infinitely picturesque and highly popular among ambitious expats.

Zurich is home to one of the world’s largest stock exchanges, and it is the country’s financial engine, but there’s much more to this beautiful Swiss city than commerce. It's safe, has excellent infrastructure and one of the best public transport systems in the world, and the city consistently ranks as one of the best places to live in the world.

Zurich attracts a skilled workforce and is a particularly popular destination for professionals working in the financial services industry. Although money isn't everything, it certainly helps and expats in Zurich earn impressive salaries that are well above the global average.

One of the biggest challenges expats will face, aside from getting there and adapting to the local culture, is finding somewhere to live. There’s a shortage of accommodation in Zurich, so prices and competition for quality rentals are high.

Luckily, the language barrier shouldn’t be much of a problem. English is widely spoken, especially in business circles. That said, Swiss German is the predominant language, and learning at least a few introductory phrases can make a big difference to interactions with locals who are reluctant to engage in English.

There’s plenty to see and do in Zurich. Having long influenced arts and culture, the city pays homage to its history with museums, galleries and theatres. Expats will enjoy strolling along the Limmat River that runs through the city, taking in the sight of boats whisking passengers along and lights glinting off its surface. The medieval Old Town is a rich backdrop for contemporary fashion stores, bookshops, bars, restaurants and clubs.

Overall, Zurich has much to offer expats who can negotiate a good salary to get around its high living costs.

Weather in Zurich

Expats will find the weather in Zurich to be slightly milder than in other cities of the country, but still relatively continental.

The city enjoys four distinct seasons, with rainfall present throughout. Winters are cold, and expats will need to make sure that they bring enough warm clothes to see them through temperatures known to hover between 14°F (-10°C) and 41°F (5°C). A good pair of shoes, thermal underwear and a dependable hat and scarf are crucial.

On the other hand, the summers in Zurich are normally gloriously warm and sunny. In July, temperatures of between 59°F (15°C) and 86°F (30°C) are the norm. The wettest time of year is during summer, between June and August.

 

Pros and cons of moving to Zurich

Even though it often comes near the top of quality-of-life surveys, living in Zurich does have cons to go with its many pros. From cultural differences and language barriers to finding good accommodation and schools, expats should be prepared for both the challenges and advantages that come with moving to Switzerland's biggest city.

Below are a few of the pros and cons of moving to Zurich.


Accommodation in Zurich

+ PRO: High living standards

Switzerland is well known to have high standards of living, and expats can look forward to state-of-the-art amenities.

- CON: Rental accommodation is difficult to find

Because of the short supply of accommodation in Zurich, expats might have a hard time finding a suitable space to live. The tenant selection process can also be a hassle, and even if all the requirements are met, the landlord ultimately reserves the right to rent out their place to whomever they please.


Cost of living in Zurich

+ PRO: High salaries

Most expats transferred from other offices or headhunted can look forward to a good remuneration package that can include various subsidies, such as an education allowance for expats with children.

- CON: One of the highest costs of living in the world

Switzerland currently has two cities in the top 10 list of most expensive cities for expats to live in, and Zurich is one of them. Schools, public transport and health insurance are famously pricey, and the cost of living, in general, is expensive.


Lifestyle and culture in Zurich

+ PRO: Luxury shopping and numerous restaurants

Zurich is well known as a shopping destination, and Bahnhofstrasse is globally acknowledged as one of the most exclusive and expensive shopping streets in the world. Its cosmopolitan atmosphere provides the setting for many different cuisines from around the world.

+ PRO: Low crime rate

Zurich, and Switzerland in general, prides itself on its low crime rate.

- CON: Shops are closed on Sundays

Except for shops in larger railway stations, most shops are closed on Sundays. While the reason for this lies in Switzerland's Christian roots, it has evolved to a day of rest.  

- CON: Generally conservative locals

The Swiss are known for their love of rules and regulations, and in comparison to other parts of the world, they can be quite pedantic. Expats might be subject to some seemingly arbitrary rules when they rent an apartment, such as not being allowed to wash their cars on Sundays.


Healthcare in Zurich

+ PRO: Good quality healthcare

The standard of healthcare in Zurich is very high, and most expats will find good service in hospitals and clinics. 

- CON: Mandatory private health insurance

Expats will find that they are obliged to find and pay for their own health insurance, which can be quite costly. 


Transport in Zurich

+ PRO: Efficient public transport

The transport system in Zurich consists of a network of trains, buses and even boats. The infrastructure is outstanding, and travellers can use the integrated ticketing system across the entire network.

- CON: Expensive public transport

Public transport in Switzerland is notoriously expensive, even though there are various discount options available. Many people choose to cycle instead.


Weather in Zurich

+ PRO: Many opportunities for outdoor sports

Zurich is quite pleasant during the summer months, and there is a myriad of activities available for nature-lovers. During winter, skiing is a popular past-time in the Alps.

- CON: Long sub-zero winters

While the cold is ideal for skiing, expats from more tropical climates might have a difficult time adapting to the winter. It is advised to invest in some good-quality winter gear, such as boots, coats, hats and gloves.


Language in Zurich

+ PRO: Most people speak English

While expats might find themselves surrounded by different languages, most Swiss nationals speak English well. Zurich is a diverse city and popular with expats, and English is widely spoken. That said, expats in Zurich will do well to learn at least the basics of Swiss German.

- CON: Many important documents and instructions aren't available in English

Expats might struggle with immigration documents that are in German or French, or find themselves baffled over grocery and medical products that don't have English labels. 

Working in Zurich

Working in Zurich places expats in an international banking capital and a major European commercial centre. The city is known for its high professional standards, and long-term career opportunities can arise from even a short stint. Educated and experienced expats can expect high salaries, which are necessary in a city with such a high cost of living.

Most non-EU nationals relocate with a job already in place, given the difficulties attached to securing a Swiss residence permit. Still, with concerted effort and determination, it's possible for English speakers to find a job in Zurich.


Job market in Zurich

Most employment opportunities for expats come from the finance sector, in banking and wealth management. This industry area generates nearly a quarter of the jobs and a third of the wealth in the city, but there are opportunities in other industries too.

IT, computing, engineering and banking are big business in Zurich. Vacancies in these industries often don’t require applicants to speak German unless some level of customer service is involved. Google has a large office in Zurich which routinely sponsors and employs foreigners, and major banks sometimes have vacancies for English-speaking professionals.

Expats wanting to teach English in private language schools will likely need a CELTA certificate and an English degree. Few schools will consider candidates without them, including the largest language centres which offer the best chance of earning a good salary.

Expats will also need several years’ experience to teach 'English for business' courses. Vacancies are limited and competition is fierce due to a surplus of language teachers and good hourly rates. Giving private lessons to students is also an option, but this involves a complicated process to register as a freelancer.

Teaching English in standard schools will require an education degree, and other qualifications won’t be accepted. Swiss locals are often preferred for these posts, but vacancies are posted through the English Teachers Association of Switzerland and individual school websites.


Finding a job in Zurich 

Finding a job in Zurich is not easy. Most expats working in the city have either been transferred through their company or have been headhunted.

Because of the high cost of living in Zurich, it's advisable to secure a job before relocating to the city. In fact, it's pretty difficult to sign a rental contract without proof of employment in the city.

The best place to begin a job search would be online. Many local newspapers also have job listings and some of these publications have online versions available, which enable expats to begin the job search before relocating. Social networking sites such as LinkedIn are also highly useful. Individual companies often post vacancies on their websites, so it's worth surfing sites relevant to one's industry.

While it is not always necessary to speak Swiss German, it is certainly advantageous. Having some knowledge of German will be especially useful for those intending on working in the service sector. 


Work culture in Zurich

The business culture in Zurich, and Switzerland in general, is rather formal, but industries and individual companies differ. Business practices may also vary slightly based on which canton an expat is based in.

Business interactions in Zurich are characterised by directness and restraint, especially with the German-Swiss, and expats will have to stay focused and control their emotions. Small talk is generally best avoided in the business environment.

The Swiss are famously punctual, and arriving late to a meeting or being unprepared will be seen as disrespectful. It's always best to arrive early and confirm appointments ahead of time. 

Hierarchy is important and people receive respect based on their rank, education and achievements. Even though executives make the decisions, they look for a broad consensus. Managers are expected to guide their teams, and cooperation is valued.

Business environments in Switzerland tend to be merit-based, but trust is still important to negotiations. The Swiss like dealing with people they know, and often expect long-term commitments from their associates. Negotiations can be prolonged by the trust-building process and the Swiss eye for detail and respect for procedure.

Cost of Living in Zurich

The cost of living in Zurich is high, even by the standards of an expensive country. Aside from accommodation, transport, food and education, expats will also have to pay various taxes, licence fees and insurance premiums.

The Mercer Cost of Living Survey for 2020 ranks Zurich as the fourth most expensive of 209 cities around the world. However, its high living costs are mitigated by high salaries and good quality of life. It's important for expats to anticipate what their living expenses in Zurich will be, so they can negotiate a good salary and plan ahead.


Cost of accommodation in Zurich

Most residents, including locals, rent in Zurich, so there’s stiff competition for relatively few available properties. Expats could spend between a fifth and a third of their income on monthly rent.

Renters will also have to pay their own utility bills, which generally amount to the equivalent of about 10 percent of the rent. TV and radio licence fees are also something worth taking into account when considering utility payments. 

Expats living in Zurich should get into the habit of recycling. The council taxes residents per garbage bag and one can save a considerable amount by separating their rubbish into plastic, glass and aluminium, and disposing of these at free recycling sites around Zurich. 


Cost of healthcare in Zurich

In line with Swiss law, private healthcare is compulsory in Zurich and expats will need to get covered within three months of their arrival.

Health insurance is by no means cheap in Switzerland, and it is worth shopping around to find a suitable package for one's individual needs. Expats on any form of long-term medication should check whether this is covered by their health insurance policy. It's also important to note that dental treatment is not covered by health insurance.


Cost of transport in Zurich

While Zurich's public transport network is excellent and extensive, it isn't cheap. Regular users should invest in monthly and annual transport passes which will save them a considerable amount of money in the long term.

The city is divided into transport zones. There often isn’t a big difference in rental prices between Zurich and its outskirts, so many expats find that living closer to work is the best way to save, and gives them the option of commuting by bicycle. However, residents will need to buy an extra ticket if they wish to transport their bicycle on the train. 

Owning and maintaining a car in Zurich is very costly, and quite unnecessary for most expats. Public parking fees quickly add up. Drivers also have to pay to park in residential areas, so expats planning on getting a car should check the rates for residential parking when they are searching for a home. 


Cost of education in Zurich

Public schools in Zurich have high standards and are free, but the language of education will be Swiss German. This makes them an unsuitable option for most expats. However, those who are planning on settling down in Zurich in the long term and have children young enough to easily adapt may want to consider this option.

Some bilingual schools exist, but tuition at these institutions can be costly – and it gets even pricier for expats who'd rather send their children to an international school that teaches their home country's curriculum in their home language.


Cost of living in Zurich chart 

Prices may vary depending on product and service provider. The list below shows average prices for January 2021.

Accommodation (monthly rent)

Three-bedroom apartment in the city centre

CHF 3,600

Three-bedroom apartment outside of the city centre

CHF 2,500

One-bedroom apartment in the city centre

CHF 1,900

One-bedroom apartment outside the city centre

CHF 1,400

Shopping  

Eggs (dozen)

CHF 5.65

Milk (1 litre)

CHF 1.62

Rice (1kg)

CHF 2.87

Loaf of white bread

CHF 2.75

Chicken breasts (1kg)

CHF 27

Pack of cigarettes

CHF 8.75

Eating out

Big Mac Meal

 CHF 15

Coca-Cola (330ml)

 CHF 4.36

Cappuccino 

 CHF 5

Bottle of local beer

 CHF 7

Three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant

 CHF 100

Household

Mobile-to-mobile call rate (per minute)

 CHF 0.38

Internet (uncapped ADSL or cable – average per month)

 CHF 53.70

Basic utilities (per month for small apartment)

 CHF 193.50

Transport

Taxi rate (per kilometre)

 CHF 4.50

Bus/train fare in the city centre

 CHF 4.30

Petrol/gasoline (per litre)

 CHF 1.60

Accommodation in Zurich

Finding accommodation in Zurich is one of the greatest initial challenges that expats will face. The standard of housing in Zurich, in line with the rest of Switzerland, is excellent. It is also expensive.

Owing to the fact that the majority of Zurich residents, including the local Swiss people, rent rather than buy property, rental housing is in short supply. Prices, in turn, are notoriously high. Those looking for larger homes, particularly those suitable for families, often have to consider living further afield in the suburbs

Considering the high rental rates in the city as well as the challenges of finding a suitable home in an unfamiliar place, expats should try to negotiate a provision for accommodation into their employment contract. In senior positions, employers are often willing to make such a concession or at least assist in the search for a home.


Types of accommodation in Zurich

The majority of Zurich residents live in apartments. Naturally, the price and character of the apartments vary according to the age of the building and the area in which it is located. 

Freestanding houses are few and far between in Zurich and those looking for a family-friendly property should extend their accommodation search to the outlying suburbs of the city. 

Across the board, property in Zurich is expensive and expats will need to set aside a large portion of their monthly budget to cover rent. 


Finding accommodation in Zurich

Central Zurich consists of 12 districts (kreis), each of which contains between one and four neighbourhoods. Expats should familiarise themselves with all of these and look for housing in the specific area that best suits their priorities.

The majority of expats in Zurich receive some form of assistance from their employer when it comes to securing a property. For those who are not lucky enough to have this sort of help, the best starting point is online. There are various property portals and online property sections of local newspapers where available properties are listed. Searching online also gives expats the chance to get an idea of what is available before they relocate to Zurich.

Failing this, the next option is to use an estate agent. These professionals have an intimate knowledge of Zurich's property market and are best placed to find new arrivals a home that meets all of their requirements. They can also alert renters to properties that haven't yet been publicly advertised.


Renting accommodation in Zurich

Because of the competitive accommodation market in Zurich, once expats have found a suitable property, they will need to act quickly to secure the rental contract.

Making an application

Prospective tenants usually need to provide proof of employment, ID and bank statements to secure a lease. In some cases, expats may also need a Swiss guarantor to act on their behalf – this will usually be the employer. 

Accommodation in Zurich isn't secured on a first-come, first-served basis. Landlord and rental agencies carefully review applications before choosing a tenant they think is the best fit.

Leases and deposits

Leases in Zurich are usually for a minimum period of 12 months. Once a tenancy application is approved and signed by both parties, the next step is to carry out an inspection of the property and do an inventory.

Renters are generally required to put down a security deposit that is equivalent to three months' rent. The first month's rent is also required to be paid upfront. 

Tenants are usually required to give at least one month's notice if they wish to terminate a lease early. 

Utilities

Properties in Zurich are usually unfurnished, and the rent price can include extra service charges such as garbage disposal. Electricity and water bills may or may not be included in the rent price; expats should be sure to enquire which utilities are for an expat's own account when investigating a place to rent.

Areas and suburbs in Zurich

The best places to live in Zurich

Wherever they look for accommodation in Zurich, expats will need to consider commute times to work and schools, their budget and the kind of property they're looking for.

When selecting an area to live in, expats should factor in how long it takes to get to work and the time it takes for their children to get to school. Children in kindergarten and primary school can be expected to come home for lunch every day. Secondary school students often need to travel some distance, so access to public transport is important.

However, many residents commute to work and school, so getting around in Zurich shouldn't be a problem. Hour-long commutes are rare and expats probably won't need to spend too much time on the road. 

Expats who are used to large properties should remember that Switzerland is a small country – space is limited and the market is quite tight. 

Accommodation in Zurich mostly consists of apartments and houses. City apartments won't differ much from other large cities around the world, while nearby towns and villages often have terraced apartments. There are usually four to eight apartments per building that have terraces rather than balconies or gardens. These offer outdoor space without the work associated with maintaining a garden. Houses usually have small gardens, while swimming pools are rare.

Unfortunately, house prices in Zurich reflect its position as one of the world's best cities to live in. Being close to the lake easily doubles or triples rental prices, so it might be worth doing the proper research and budgeting before relocating.


City living in Zurich

Zurich city

Living in the city centre is probably easier for single expats or those with older children. Most people live in apartments, as space is limited and children have less room to play. Enge and Seefled are popular with bankers and lawyers, but keep in mind that most restaurants in this area are closed on Sundays. Older, more affluent Swiss residents tend to live in Fluntern and Zürichberg, which are located near the city's zoo.

Trendier areas include Kreis 5, which has loft apartments, restaurants and bars. Oberstrass and Unterstrass, located around the university, as well as Oerlikon and Affoltern, which used to be industrial areas, are popular with young people.

Lake Zurich


Lake living in Zurich

Lake Zurich

Few things beat living in an area with a view of Lake Zurich. The right side of the lake is called the Gold Coast because it catches the sun, and the left side is called the Silver Coast. Many expats live here because there are international schools on either side. Popular lakeside villages include Kilchberg, Thalwil, Rüschlikon and Horgen on the Silver Coast, and Zollikon, Küsnacht, Erlenbach and Meilen on the Gold Coast.

Many facilities and stores around the lake cater to the English-speaking expat community. However, property prices are steep and most people can only afford the area if they receive a housing allowance from work or are willing to compromise on space.

Pfannenstiel and Albis regions

The villages up on the Gold Coast's ridge are in the Pfannenstiel region, and those on the Silver Coast are in the Albiskette region. They don't necessarily have a view of the lake, but their proximity to the international schools and the city make them popular. Prices are also high here, but it is possible to find affordable accommodation. After-school activities, stores and other places often don't offer English-speaking services, but are still in easy reach of the city.

GreifenseeGreifensee

The other lake in the canton of Zurich is called Greifensee. It's a nature reserve and residents will see many cyclists, rollerbladers and joggers in the area. There are many villages around the lake with minimalistic infrastructure, with some larger towns such as Uster and Volketswil. Numerous expats live here, and send their children to a nearby international or local school. Prices are more moderate and residents usually get more for their money in this area.


Other areas of Zurich

Unless expats speak German, living in other areas in the canton of Zurich can be more challenging. Areas such as the Zürcher Oberland and the Weinland are beautiful, but there aren't many expats aside from those who want to integrate fully and don't live a typical expat life. 

The Zürcher Unterland is the area around the airport, north of Zurich. More foreigners are coming to work and live in Zurich without the support of generous expat packages, and are moving to the villages around Bülach and Dielsdorf. Prices are far more affordable than around Lake Zurich and the English-speaking infrastructure is ever expanding. Residents are subjected to airplane noise, but it isn't intolerable. 

At the end of the day, living in Zurich is great. Finding the right area will be determined by an individual's budget and how willing they are to give up on the English-speaking conveniences. If expats can live beyond their comfort zone, they will most likely be rewarded with a lovely home and many local friends.

Healthcare in Zurich

Zurich has public and private medical facilities, but differences between the two are small and expats can be assured of a high standard of care at both. However, health insurance is compulsory in Switzerland, and it isn't state sponsored, so residents have to take out a policy themselves.

Public hospitals are clean and modern, waiting times are almost non-existent and most medical staff speak English. Many treatments are covered by even the most basic government insurance policies, but patients will have to pay extra for specialist procedures.

Waiting times at private hospitals are even shorter than at public facilities, but treatments cost a lot more and are only covered by comprehensive medical insurance policies. There are also a number of private clinics that offer specialist services such as geriatric rehabilitation.

Pharmacies can be found in shopping streets and in the few malls throughout the city. Some pharmacies are open 24/7.


Hospitals in Zurich

Klinik Hirslanden

Websitewww.hirslanden.ch
Address: Witellikerstrasse 40, 8032 Zurich

Klinik Im Park

Websitewww.hirslanden.ch
Address: Seestrasse 220, 8027 Zurich

Kinderspital Zurich Eleonorenstiftung

Websitewww.kispi.uzh.ch
Address: Steinwiesstrasse 75, 8032 Zurich

Schulthess Klinik Zurich

Websitewww.schulthess-klinik.ch
Address: Lengghalde 2, 8008 Zurich

Triemli Hospital

Websitewww.stadt-zuerich.ch
Address: Birmensdorferstrasse 497, 8063 Zurich

University Hospital Zurich

Websitewww.en.usz.ch
Address: Rämistrasse 100, 8091 Zurich

Education and Schools in Zurich

The system of education in Zurich has a good reputation, and expats can rest assured that their children will experience a high standard of teaching during their time abroad.

There's a good range of schools in Zurich. State-funded schools are free of charge but usually teach in Swiss German, while some private and international schools teach in English but can be expensive. Regardless of the school expat children attend, they're guaranteed to get a quality education. 


Public schools in Zurich

As is the case throughout Switzerland, public schools in Zurich offer free education to students between the ages of four and 15.

The language of instruction at public schools in Zurich is German, but there are also lessons in French and English. As such, these are only really a viable option for expat children who speak fluent German or those young enough to pick up the language. The standard of teaching at public schools in Zurich is, however, excellent and therefore worth considering for those who plan on settling down in Switzerland permanently. 

It's also worth remembering that public schools in Zurich usually finish for the day in the early afternoon. So those who do go for this option should bear in mind the logistics of organising childcare if they are at work. 


Private schools in Zurich

Private schools in Zurich, also sometimes referred to as bilingual schools, offer teaching in German and French or English. The standard of teaching at these schools is top class and there are plenty of opportunities for students to take part in various extra-curricular activities such as art, drama, music and sport. 

While many of these schools follow the Swiss curriculum, there is a large number that offers students the option of studying for the International Baccalaureate (IB) or IGCSE.

Private schools are an option worth considering if expat children speak two languages. The major advantage of private schools in Zurich is that they allow foreign students to improve their German and continue studying their home language, while also providing them with the opportunity to interact with local Swiss children and integrate into the local culture. 

The fees charged vary from school to school. Parents also need to budget for the cost of uniforms, stationery, school excursions and extra-curricular activities. 


International schools in Zurich

International schools often present the best option for expat children in Zurich. While fees are high and space is limited, these schools offer students the chance to continue studying the curriculum of their home country without having to deal with the language barrier. The student population also tends to be made up mostly of expat children, who may find it easier to relate to one another.

Standards at international schools in Zurich are exceptionally high and students will have the chance to explore many extra-curricular pursuits as well. Fees are expensive, so it is wise to negotiate an allowance to cover for school fees in one's employment contract. 

Expats hoping to send their children to one of the international schools in Zurich should be aware that space is limited and there's a lot of competition for places. They should apply as early as possible, and since many schools have waiting lists, it's best to apply to several in case their first choice is unavailable. Requirements differ between schools, so parents should refer to the individual school websites.


Special needs education in Zurich

Pupils with special educational needs will, as best as possible and within the regular classroom, have their needs met in Zurich. Mainstream schools in Zurich recognise that all children are different, whether it is their abilities, learning style, rate of development, preferences or beliefs. Swiss schools aim to support those children with special educational needs so that all children are able to integrate into and participate in society.

The Heilpädagogische Schule (HPS) is a school for differently-abled children and adolescents who cannot be in a mainstream classroom due to severe learning difficulties or psychological disabilities. The Schule für Körper- und Mehrfachbehinderte (SKB) is a school for pupils with physical and multiple disabilities, while the Schule für Sehbehinderte (SfS) is a school for pupils who are visually impaired or blind.


Tutoring in Zurich

Tutoring is a valuable tool to assist students in their education, particularly expat children adapting to a new environment, language and curriculum. Even for children in international schools, tutoring is useful for gaining confidence, or for assistance in particular subjects such as maths, science or German. Good companies in Zurich include Tutorsplus and Tutor24.

International Schools in Zurich

Zurich's large expat population means it boasts a good selection of international schools. These are great for expats who only plan to be in the country for a short time and want their children to continue studying the national curriculum of their home country. Competition for places is stiff, fees are exorbitant and waiting lists are long. Most schools teach the International Baccalaureate curriculum, but some follow American, British or Japanese curricula.


Inter Community School Zurich 

Curriculum: International Baccalaureate
Gender: Co-educational 
Ages: 3 to 19
Website: www.icsz.ch

International School Zurich North

Curriculum: International Baccalaureate, Cambridge IGCSE and Swiss
Gender: Co-educational
Age: 3 to 18
Website: www.iszn.ch

Japanese School Zurich

Curriculum: Japanese
Gender: Co-educational
Age: 5 to 18
Website: www.jszurich.ch

Swiss International School

Curriculum: International Baccalaureate and Swiss
Gender: Co-educational
Age: 3 to 18
Website: www.swissinternationalschool.ch

Tandem International Multilingual School

Curriculum: International Baccalaureate and Swiss
Gender: Co-educational
Age: 1 to 12
Website: www.tandem-ims.ch

Zurich International School

Curriculum: International Baccalaureate
Gender: Co-educational
Age: 3 to 18
Website: www.zis.ch

Lifestyle in Zurich

Expats can expect a well-balanced and fun lifestyle in Zurich, despite the stereotype that it's a sedate banking capital. The city has great shopping, excellent nightlife and some superb restaurants. Its lakeside location and surrounding countryside provide expats with a number of exciting opportunities for outdoor activities. 


Shopping in Zurich

Zurich’s shopping scene mostly consists of boutiques and speciality stores. Bahnhofstrasse is the main shopping street, and it houses department stores and jewellery shops such as Bucherer and Beyer. The street is known as one of the most elite and expensive shopping areas in the world.

For a glimpse into the city's sweeter side, expats should visit famed chocolate confectioners such as Confiserie Sprüngli or Teuscher. Well-crafted Swiss hallmarks, like Swiss army knives, cuckoo clocks, watches and embroidery, can be found at the Schweizer Heimatwerk cooperative.

The Helvetiaplatz flea market is a worthy Saturday morning excursion, and the Hauptbahnhof station also features ShopVille, which has numerous stores. The Niederdorf district and the narrow streets of the Old Town have eclectic offerings for expats who prefer trendy boutiques and speciality stores. Artwork is sold in Schipfe Street.


Nightlife in Zurich

Zurich’s nightlife is better than many expats expect. The eclectic Niederdorf area becomes a bustling hangout at night, with many alternative joints. Clubs and bars are clustered in the Zurich-West area, while the area around Paradeplatz has a good selection of upmarket lounges and hotel bars. The former red-light district of Langstrasse retains an edgy appeal and is worth checking out for something different.


Outdoor activities in Zurich

Active expats can hit the slopes for a spot of skiing, enjoy hiking in the Swiss Alps or simply relax watching the day go by while enjoying a coffee by the lake. Some of the best outdoor attractions that Zurich has to offer centre around the city's surrounding natural beauty. 

See and Do in Zurich

There’s plenty to see and do in Zurich, and some of its best sights and activities are free. Wonderful monuments, museums and churches adorn the city, and wandering the charming streets of areas such as Niederhof will take expats past chic cafes and talented street performers.

Expats planning on doing a lot of sightseeing should consider buying a Zurich Card, which gives the bearer free use of local transport, admission to museums, and free drinks at several bars for up to 72 hours.


Recommended attractions in Zurich

Fraumünster Church

The distinctive blue spire of Fraumünster is one of Zurich’s most emblematic sights. Founded in 853 AD, it stands sentinel over the old Münsterhof square. Look out for the Romanesque choir and its Chagall-designed stained glass windows.

Kunsthaus Zurich 

Famed for its Munch, Chagall, Picasso, Monet, Rothko and Expressionist collections, the Kunsthaus holds many treasures within its attractive premises and is the perfect outing for a rainy day.

Niederdorf

The traditional heart of Zurich is home to intimate cafes, old bars and street performers. Some of the buildings date back to the 15th century and host fashion stores, bookshops, boutique stores and antique dealers.

Rhine Falls

Take a day trip to the little town of Schaffhausen, home to the spectacular Rhine Falls – Europe’s largest waterfall. This natural spectacle is at its most impressive after the snow melts in late spring. On the hill above it is the medieval Schloss Laufen, and it’s one of the best places to watch the fireworks on Swiss National Day.

Swiss National Museum

The Swiss National Museum provides an illuminating study of Swiss life over the centuries. The building itself is impressive and, once inside, visitors will find Stone Age tools, medieval treasures and gilded weaponry.

Zurich Zoo

This eco-friendly centre is dedicated to nature conservation and preserving endangered species. The zoo houses hundreds of species and several thousand animals within authentically recreated ecosystems, such as the exotic Madagascan Rainforest and Ethiopian Highlands.

What's On in Zurich

The calendar of events in Zurich is surprisingly diverse, and expats are sure to find a few exciting events to their taste. Visiting international performers and other events are anchored by annual classics. Here are a few of the best annual events in Zurich.


Annual events in Zurich

Art on Ice (February/March)

A sell-out ice show held at the Hallenstadion Arena which brings together the best international skaters to perform spectacular routines accompanied by world-renowned musicians. It is one of the biggest events of its kind globally and people come from all over the world to see it. 

Zurich Marathon (April)

Every April, thousands of runners take to the streets to tackle the city's marathon. It's an event worth experiencing, even as a spectator.

Theatre Spectacular (July to September)

A festival of performances across the fields of classical music, art, theatre, opera and dance from world-renowned performers. The festival is held at Landiwiese, a space which is transformed into several venues, bars and cafes. 

Zurich Open-Air Cinema (July to August)

Every summer, Zurichhorn Park is transformed into a cinema under the stars for classics, cult movies and arty new releases. Expats should be sure to check when tickets go on sale as they sell out quickly.

Zurich Street Parade (August)

One of the world’s biggest electronic music street parties, it aims to be a 'demonstration for love, peace, freedom and tolerance', but is also a weekend of committed partying.

Langstrasse Festival (August/September)

Held each year in the heart of Zurich, this festival features a mix of culinary delights and international music with improvised stalls and music stages spread through the city. Food stalls offer a range of delicacies from local Swiss specialities to international dishes. Visitors can also enjoy Swiss music alongside blues, jazz and contemporary pop music. 

Zurich Film Festival (September)

This annual event attracts over 70,000 film buffs and is a chance to view the work of new directors and producers from across the globe. It's a great event for expats interested in the arts.

New Year's Eve (December)

Lake Zurich becomes the venue for one of Switzerland's largest New Year's Eve parties. The event attracts around 200,000 people who come to see a spectacular fireworks display at this most scenic of locations. 

Getting Around in Zurich

Getting around Zurich is made easy by the comprehensive public transport network that covers this compact city. Buying a car isn't a priority for most expats, who instead get to know the city using trams, buses, boats and trains.


Public transport in Zurich

The size and complexity of Zurich's public transport network may be daunting at first, but expats will come to appreciate its reach and efficiency. Public transport in Zurich is run by the Zürcher Verkehrsverbund (ZVV), which covers the entire Zurich canton and consists of buses, trams, ferry services and suburban trains (S-Bahn).

The network consists of fare zones that divide the city centre, the inner suburbs and the outer suburbs. The more zones commuters travel through, the higher their fare will be. Fares in Zurich aren't cheap, so frequent commuters often buy an annual or monthly ZVV Network Pass, which is valid on various modes of transport. Passes and tickets have to be purchased at station vending machines or ticket outlets before boarding most forms of transport.

Trams and buses

Numerous bus and tram lines cover the city at street level. Timetables can be found at bus stops, stations and the ZVV website.

Bus and tram services operate every five to 25 minutes, depending on the route and time of day. 

For travel in the early morning hours on weekends, commuters can use the Nachtnetz night-time network which consists of buses and trains. Nachtnetz routes appear on timetables with an 'N' in front of the route number. 

S-Bahn

The S-Bahn is Zurich’s fast, comprehensive and convenient suburban rail system. Most lines pass through the Hauptbahnhof, Zurich’s central station, before proceeding to outlying suburbs.

Commuters need a validated ticket or ZVV Network Pass before they board, or risk getting an on-the-spot fine during one of the regular checks that take place.

Boat

Boat-based public transport in Zurich consists of smaller river cruisers and lake steamers that are managed by Zurichsee. Riverboats only operate in the warmer months, while lake steamers run throughout the year.

River buses run from the Landesmuseum which is close to Hauptbahnhof, along the Limmat River, out onto Lake Zurich and onwards to Tiefenbrunnen. Passengers can board and disembark at stops along the way, but they're mostly aimed at tourists. Lake steamers leave from Burkliplatz and serve various destinations.

ZVV tickets and passes are valid on all commuter boat services.


Driving in Zurich

Expats often find that buying their own car isn't worth it, thanks to the city's efficient public transport. Private vehicles are most worthwhile for expats who intend to take regular trips into the Swiss countryside or take their children to and from school themselves.

Driving in Zurich’s city centre can be difficult. Navigating its compact streets can be challenging, parking is scarce and expensive, and rush hour traffic is heavily congested. 


Cycling in Zurich

Cycling in Zurich is a cost-effective and environmentally-friendly way to travel around the city.

The Zurirollt is a free bicycle-sharing scheme that operates all year round from 8am to 9.30pm. Bicycles can be picked up at various easy-to-find places in the city, such as the Hauptbahnhof station and GlobusCity shopping centre.

Expats would only need to present a copy of their passport and pay an initial deposit, but they shouldn’t become too reliant on it. Given that it's free, it isn't unheard of to find all the bicycles at a station are already in use – it might be better in the long run for expats to buy their own bikes.