Basel, Switzerland Report of what it's like to live there

Personal Experiences from Basel, Switzerland

Basel, Switzerland 08/04/11

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No. With the United Nations previously, also in a German-speaking country.

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

Zurich airport (1 hour away) will get you where you want to go.

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3. How long have you lived here?

5 years.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Work at an international organisation.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Mostly apartments. Freestanding houses are very expensive. In fact, all accommodation is very expensive, but especially houses. You can live in a semi-rural setting and still be less than 20 minutes commute from the town centre.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Easy and expensive. There is a supermarket duopoly that restricts options somewhat, but you can always go to France or Germany to get some better stuff.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

All sorts. Food in Switzerland is very expensive. You can drive 5 minutes to Germany and suddenly eating out costs half as much.

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

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6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Cleaner is around 25 CHF per hour.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Yes.

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

Credit cards aren't accepted quite as much as in Anglophone countries.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

Various cable packages will have English-language channels, mostly from England. Our package has around 120 channels and about 12 of them are in English I'd say. It's pretty cheap, bundled with very fast internet.

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

You can get by without it, but life is more limited that way. Although everyone speaks Swiss German here (a dialect mostly incomprehensible to standard German speakers), they use standard German at school and will communicate using it if you know or learn it. I'd recommend learning German if you come, but life will be possible while you learn.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Minimal compared to most cities, although many older apartment buildings will not have a lift.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

The tram and bus system is outstanding. Living in Basel without a car is definitely an option to consider. Taxis are very expensive and I avoid them.

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes. Cheap.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

If you can work for a pharma company, not bad. If you speak German, OK. Otherwise, it's a little difficult, but unemployment is very low in Switzerland, so you have a chance.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Basel is pretty safe. Admittedly, I'm not out late much these days, but there are no "no-go" areas and a refreshing lack of aggressive drunks.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

Excellent, no problems.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Summer is nice and not too hot. In winter, you can go skiing in hundreds of different places. Basel in particular is a few degrees warmer than cities both north and south of it. Sometimes the cold parts of spring and autumn can be a little long if you're used to a warmer climate, but this isn't Russia! The coldest it would get in daytime is -8 in mid-winter. The warmest is around 34 (both in celsius). On average, there would be snow on the ground for maybe 8-10 days per year.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

There are two main international schools dealing with English - ISB (English, treats German as a foreign language), SIS (bilingual German-English). There are also Italian and French schools. I've heard good things about all of them.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

Until around age 4-5, there is no guarantee of getting childcare, although there are private options, including many bilingual. (Better to go with a German-speaking option though if you're planning to stay more than a couple of years.) We have a child in a government-run daycare and it is excellent. Fees are based on your income. However, we were fortunate to get in.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Yes.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Pretty big, mostly due to the pharmaceutical companies here.

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2. Morale among expats:

Good.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

Eating out is a little disappointing to tell the truth, but eventually you can find some decent options.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Definitely very good for families. I imagine couples would be fine and singles might fare worst of all, but should survive!

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Not serious problems, but the local right-wing loony party (SVP) delights in producing offensive, disturbing and dangerous imagery that demonises foreigners, especially eastern European or dark-skinned ones. And this party gets a substantial part of the vote come election time. Basel City and Geneva though tend to have the best rates in terms of supporting equality when it comes to the many referendums and votes held here.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Mountain biking, snowboarding, travel around Europe and northern Africa.

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

All kinds of bicycling, swim in the Rhine, Fasnacht (3-day carnival in February or March), other fairs (Art Basel, Autumn Fair, Christmas markets), art galleries, visit France and Germany on a whim.

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Switzerland is an easy country to live in, with excellent transportation, facilities and quality of life. Basel is right on the border with Germany and France and is a small, easily traversible town that makes it easy to get around and out. Basel airport is 5 minutes away and has a reasonable range of destinations. Zurich airport is an hour away and from there you can travel the world.

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11. Can you save money?

Yes. Incomes are high and taxes are low. Things to buy are expensive, so don't buy so many and you will save.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Yes. Basel isn't a great draw, recruiters tell me, but once here a lot of people love it and are keen to stay. I'd look to move on, but my kids love it and I can live with that.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Flagrant violations of societal rules. Swiss grow up with house and behavioural rules that, when broken, can result in you receiving annoying letters or verbal admonitions, mostly from the older Swiss. Finding a house to live in with a lax set of rules - or people who don't mind them being bent within reason - will reduce stress.

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3. But don't forget your:

Sports equipment. Swiss are the least obese people of the rich countries (outside east Asia) and this is not due to the food! They like to get out and about at all times of the year - hiking, biking etc.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

Enjoy Fasnacht (Carnival). This is an interesting experience for foreigners. A lot of expats don't like it and flee the city at the time, but I think they're party-poopers. It's great.

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