Why you would (or wouldn’t) want to live in Zurich, Switzerland

Posted on May 7, 2010



If you’ve already landed in Zurich and have a high salary job and accommodation organised for you, then congratulations, because you have one hell of an adventure ahead of you, with enough money to allow you entrance into the most posh, most beautiful and best places in the city, and multiple holidays and weekend breaks around Switzerland and in neighbouring Europe.

If, on the other hand, you’ve landed in Zurich without a pre-arranged job contract, without speaking fluent German, without being a finance or IT genius and, to add insult to injury, with a mere week booked at a hotel (you think you’ll be able to find an apartment to rent easily), then, my dear friend, you’re a complete idiot.

Moral of the story? Finding a property to rent, especially in the lower price bracket (as an article I’ve written and published here explains) can be a nightmare, and people who are successful in finding a job that can support the expensive Zurich lifestyle often do so in their home country, through business contacts, luck or an offshore opportunity offered by the company they already work for. Unless you want to stay home most of the time, gazing out of your window and wishing you could travel around, eat out and visit beautiful places, make sure you have that taken care of, because Switzerland is in general a pricey country, and Zurich even more so. Also know that teaching English is not the lucrative business it used to be. The supply of teachers far exceeds demand, with locals cutting down on studying in Zurich due to the exorbitant lesson prices, and opting for courses in English speaking countries. If you do manage to find a teaching job, full-time contracts are almost unheard of, and you need to be able to live with a flexible and unstable monthly income, a thing which will cause you problems in a city where everything, even disposing of your garbage, can cost a small fortune.

Beyond the essential elements of money and accommodation are a set of pros and cons whose value and importance very much depend on individual opinions. Winters are long, sunless and cold, with temperatures normally below zero, but if you’re a Mediterranean girl like me, you will be bewitched by the vast expanses of snow-covered fields and forests in the countryside and on the mountains. Locals are also notoriously hard to befriend and almost indifferent to foreigners (unless they break the rules), but expats from around the world are plentiful and easy to find on the many expat forums. Then there is the language problem, with the fact that in order to pay bills, read your mail, fill immigration documents and understand what’s written on your product labels and medicine leaflets, you’ll need to know German, and to understand what’s being said around you and fit in and be accepted, the harsh-sounding and very glottal Swiss-German. Communication and even conversing in English is perfectly possible more often than not, but at the expense of always being considered a foreigner and therefore an outsider.

These things can and will weigh down upon you during the first few months, making you miss home and wonder why you ever came. You’ll leaf through your guidebooks trying to discover how you can experience the idyllic Switzerland so stereotyped and advertised around the world without breaking the bank. You will complain that a train ticket to Geneva or Ticino costs as much as a plane ticket to London. You will come up with adjectives to describe Zurich like ‘stiff’, ‘cold’, ‘provincial’ and even plain ‘dull’. You’ll try to escape from it every time you can.

Until one day, something changes. Spring comes and the city is covered in a riot of colour and blooms. The locals relax a little bit, shed their stern faces, and the streets fill up. You put down your guidebooks and simply walk around, discovering delights your guides never mention; the view from Zurichberg and the silent forest; the old botanical gardens overlooking river pools which come alive from May till September; the pretty fountains and the art in the streets; the small unique shops in the old town; and the walks along the Limmat and the banks of Lake Zurich, from where, on clear days, you’ll fall in love with the view of the distant mountains, snow-covered depending on the time of year and framed by medieval buildings and light turquoise church steeples in the shape of needles, pinching the sky.

Is this enough to make you stay? Who knows? Despite the various different nationalities which make up its population, Zurich remains stubbornly Swiss. Staying might need you to metamorphose, to talk, walk, act and live like the Swiss do. Or if you’re prepared to live on the edge of a culture, looking in, if you’re ok with standing out because you can’t bear the thought of living anywhere else, then you’ve earned your spot in this unique city, whatever anyone else may say.


Useful Websites

My Switzerland – Official Country Website

Zurich City official website

SBB  – Swiss Transport Website (look out for discounts and passes)

Jobs.ch – a job webiste where you can really find jobs for English speakers, without the need of German, mostly in finance or IT

Spotted by the Locals – advice from locals about how to really get to know the city

Ron Orp\’s Mail – where you can subscribe to a weekly newsletter (in English) with details of events and entertainment options

Anglo Info Zurich – expat website with information, forums and a classified section

Expat Arrivals Zurich – expat website with my contributing articles

Post Finance – Swiss post bank with English language information and application forms

Orell Fussli – English Language book shop in Bahnhofstrasse, strangely with a website only in German

Allegra! – Lovely small and homely language school, great for learning German and meeting fellow expats



– Text and Photography by Denise Pulis @ www.travelwithdenden.wordpress.com

Posted in: Expat Talk, Zurich, Zurich