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Everything You Need to Know about Living in Zurich, Switzerland

by Shannon Steinberg on Feb 9, 2024

Living in Zurich has been described as the best of big city and small town life. Safe, quiet, and scenic, with quaint streets and stone buildings surrounded by miles of open country, it’s also one of the most advanced cities in Europe, with world-class infrastructure, strong businesses, and a diverse culture. It’s an amazing place where people thrive, thanks to its:

Robust and Stable Economy

Zurich is an international hub for finance and innovation that attracts workers and companies from around the world. Swiss banks manage millions in assets on behalf of investors from Switzerland, Europe, and beyond. Some of the largest, such as UBS, Vitol, Swiss Re, Glencore, and Credit Suisse Group, operate out of Zurich, where they generate a third of the city’s wealth and employ roughly a quarter of its workforce.

But while finance plays an outsized role in the economy, Zurich’s universities have drawn a large number of technology, biotechnology, pharmaceutical, and research companies as well. IBM and Google are major employers, and smaller entrepreneurs are making their mark as well. More than 26,000 start-ups have been registered in the city, some with over $1 billion valuations. Its talented workforce and enterprising culture have drawn attention from venture capital firms, who have invested heavily in the area, which has helped make Zurich the leading city in the Global Innovation Index for the past five years.

Superb Quality of Life

Zurich is one of the top rated cities in the world for well-being and satisfaction. In addition to its strong economy and extensive employment opportunities, the city also offers:

  • Top-Tier Healthcare. Swiss healthcare blends public and private coverage. With its emphasis on innovation, preventative care, and patient satisfaction, its hospitals consistently rank among the best in Europe.
  • Efficient Public Transportation. Zurich is connected by a large rail network that runs from the city center to the surrounding suburbs. Swiss trains run like clockwork, so reliable that most residents don’t bother owning a car.
  • Safe Streets. Zurich is one of the safest cities in the world. Petty crime is low and major crime almost unheard of. People walk the streets alone at all hours, day or night, without any issue.
  • Clean Urban Environment. Besides their efficient trash collectors, Zurich also employs teams of city cleaners who scour the streets for litter every morning. Citizens even organize their own trash collection teams to pick up garbage at city parks, to create a better environment for all.
  • Great Schools. Families love Zurich for its wide range of educational opportunities. Swiss primary schools emphasize reading, writing, mathematics, history, geography, singing, handicrafts, drawing, religion, swimming, and sports. Secondary schools include a strong science curriculum. Lessons are conducted mostly in German, so foreign parents often prefer to send their children to one of the excellent international schools in the area, where they can attend classes in their native language.

MultiCultural Communities

Zurich has a diverse expatriate population made up of professionals and their families who have relocated in order to take advantage of the city’s economy and lifestyle.

Germans, Italians, Turks, Serbians, Albanians, Portuguese, and Spaniards are the largest foreign communities, but there are people here from over 36 other countries as well. Living in Zurich introduces you to languages, cultures, and traditions from all over the globe, where you can also be sure of finding a community of people who share your customs and background.

English Proficiency

Switzerland has four official languages: German, French, Italian, and Romansh. Where you live determines which one you’ll hear most often. In Geneva, they speak French. In Lugano, they prefer Italian. Romansh is spoken only in Grisons while up north in Zurich, they speak mostly German. But no matter where you go, there is one language nearly everyone understands: English.

English is spoken most commonly in the business sector, where it’s been adopted as a lingua franca, but most people living in Zurich are proficient enough to hold at least a simple conversation. As a result, most Americans find settling into Zurich relatively easy. Even if they’re still learning German, they generally won’t have any trouble communicating with waiters, shopkeepers, and whoever else they might meet over the course of their day.

Rugged and Majestic Countryside

Zurich is surrounded by lush forests, lofty mountains, and miles of crystal blue water. The area is particularly popular with hikers. During summer, they swarm the hills to explore the alpine meadows, rocky craters, and towering peaks around the city. Mountain trails lead visitors along high ridges dotted with wildflowers and up barren crags overlooking richly wooded valleys and clear ponds hidden beneath towering cliffs.

Those same peaks also make the area a magnet for skiing and snowboarding. There are a dozen winter resorts outside town, most reachable by both train and car. The deep snow and fantastic views make them the perfect destination for a weekend trip or a long ski holiday. With plenty of bunny runs and vertical slopes, the Swiss mountains offer plenty of fun for both experts and beginners.

But while the city offers incredible access to the mountains, the lake is by far its most popular attraction. A short distance from the city center, Lake Zurich is lined with parks, promenades, and beaches where residents come to swim, sunbathe, and party. The more adventurous can hop in a boat and go sailing, kayaking, or canoeing. There are plenty of opportunities for waterskiing and wakeboarding as well. The lake and mountain ranges stretch for miles, giving Zurich’s nature lovers plenty to see, do, and explore.

Rich and Lively Culture

As the biggest city in Switzerland, Zurich’s festivals and cultural institutions are both large and well-funded. In addition to the pubs, dance clubs, and concert halls in the Langstrasse District, where you can enjoy live music practically every night, the city also offers residents numerous opportunities to expand their mind and celebrate the town's history and people, including:

  • Kunsthaus Zurich. The largest art museum in Switzerland, with pieces from the Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, and Modernist periods. Paintings from Swiss artists such as Alberto Giacometti and Ferdinand Hodler are prominently featured beside other noteworthies such as Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, and Wassily Kandinsky.
  • Zurich Opera House. Home to the Zurich Opera, the Zurich Ballet, and the Zurich Opera Orchestra, the Zurich Opera House regularly hosts classic, contemporary, and experimental shows throughout the year. It’s an internationally renowned showcase for some of the best singers, dancers, musicians, and choreographers on the continent.
  • The City Festival. A three-day event held every three years, the Zurich Festival brings together a diverse group of performers to celebrate art in all its forms. Experimental shows and interdisciplinary collaborations are showcased beside classic works of theater and opera, in order to encourage cultural exchange and creative expression.
  • Zurich Street Food Festival. Taste the best food from around the world, prepared by cooks from Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America. Visitors can feast on curbside fare from dozens of countries, including burgers, tacos, kebabs, cupcakes, sushi, ceviche, and raclette, a Swiss dish made with melted cheese, potatoes, and dried meat.

Moving to Zurich

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