Saunders 1865 | Moving to Geneva

Moving to Geneva

Are you moving to Geneva? Geneva is Switzerland’s most international city, located at the southern tip of Lake Geneva.  Its identity is complex and diverse; it’s the European headquarters of many multinational companies, including the United Nations, the World Health Organisation, and the Red Cross.  It is a global banking and diplomacy hub, with a highly-educated workforce.  French is the official language, but English, Spanish, and German are also spoken by the multilingual population.  Green areas cover a quarter of the city, which is surrounded by the Jura mountains and the Alps, with stunning views of Mont Blanc.

Our free, in-depth Moving to Geneva report includes info on:

• The best areas to live
• The good schools
• The average monthly rental prices
• The excellent public transport system in the city

Putting Geneva on the Map

As the second largest city in the country, Geneva is located in the south of Switzerland, close to the French border.  The City and the Canton of Geneva are wedged between two mountain ranges and is wrapped around the tip of Lac Leman (Lake Geneva).  Sharing a 3.5-mile border with the Canton of Vaud, it is otherwise totally surrounded by France.  This small city is unable to grow within Switzerland without destroying agricultural lands, putting enormous pressure on housing development.  Happily, the proximity to France enables expats and citizens to live there and commute into Geneva for work.  The Swiss and French authorities face the challenge of controlling development in France without serious impact on the environment, agriculture and quality of life.


Transport links in Geneva are excellent and work like clockwork.  There is no Metro or subway, but buses, trams and boats (mouettes) fill the void and cover the entire city.  All are clean and punctual, but the punctuality means that the drivers won’t wait while a customer is purchasing a ticket, they’ll simply be left behind to wait for the next one.

Traffic congestion is a major problem, with a large percentage of the commuters preferring to drive their own cars and paying exorbitant parking costs.

  • One of the most highly-rated airports in Europe, Geneva International is a mere 3 miles from the city centre. Planes take off and land every minute of the day.
  • A free 80-minute public transport ticket can be collected in the luggage collection area, before leaving the arrival zone.
  • Parking at the airport is free for the first 10 minutes, with the cost rising steeply by the hour. However, 550 yards away from the Terminal, at the Palexpo Arena, parking is free for the first 3 hours.
  • A rule banning non-EU registered hire cars, driven by EU citizens, forbids a Swiss registered hire car from crossing the border into neighbouring German, Italy, Austria or France, unless the driver is Swiss. Switzerland is not an EU member.
  • High speed cross border, regional, and intercity trains depart from Geneva’s Geneve CFF and Geneve Eaux Vives Stations.
  • Walking or cycling are a popular form of commuting, and it only takes half an hour to cross the city on foot.
  • Geneva has the shortest commuting time of any major city worldwide.


The Areas

The major decision of where to live in and around the city is made trickier by the high rental prices and lack of availability.  That being said, the neighbourhoods offer a perfect living environment, enhanced by many lakes and parks, and picturesque views of the mountains.  The excellent transport links limit the time spent commuting to work, with lower costs and less time spent searching for parking.

Due to the lack of available housing, and the high costs, many expats choose to live in France and commute the six miles to Geneva’s city centre.  Towns such as Gex, Annemasse, Evian, Ferney, Divonne, and Saint-Julien are close-by and less expensive.

Take note that the kitchen is counted as one of the rooms.  Therefore, a three-roomed house has a kitchen, bedroom and living room.  Bathrooms and toilets are not counted.  A carnozet is a basement room used for fondue and melting cheese tasting, traversant means the property has views from both sides of the building.  Apartments are rented with no light bulbs or curtain rods, and in some cases, the tenants are responsible for supplying a fridge, stove and kitchen cupboards.

Rental agreements are strict, and expats will need the help of an experienced relocation agent to navigate through the documentation and strange requirements.


One of the most expensive areas, the historic heart of Geneva offers a huge variety of bars, cafes and restaurants, and appeals to executives and young professionals with higher incomes.  Whether you live in Collonge-Bellerive, Bellevue or Versoix, travel time by car takes no longer than ten minutes.  The main traffic congestion point is the Mont Blanc bridge which links both banks of the lake with the city.


This area has great transport links, making getting around a cinch.  The buildings tend to be older, with small apartments, and the area feels more industrial with a number of corporate headquarters housed here.


These three areas offer peace and quiet away from the hustle and bustle of the city.  With larger properties, the majority of the residents are families.  The good schools nearby enable walking or cycling to school and there are large green areas.


Both great areas for families and raising children, the access to schools, the open spaces, the great sense of community and the village feel are unique in an area so close to a city.


This lively and bohemian area, with an international feel, is extremely popular with expats, especially singles and young professionals.  Entertainment is a high priority, with an eclectic variety of restaurants, pubs and clubs.  South Asian, Middle Eastern or Mediterranean are all examples in this hub for foreign cuisine.  In the summer the beach fringing this artificial peninsula is very popular.


A mix of apartments and single family homes, with unimpeded views of the city, the large, villa-style properties have a high price-tag.  At a distance from Geneva, the village of Cologny and the hamlets of Ruth and La Belotte offer peace and quiet and access to parks, close to the river.  A perfect place to raise a family.


Recently re-listed as a city, this middle-class, leafy area has reasonably priced rental properties, and three major roads and tram and bus lines, connecting to bordering Geneva.  There are good international schools nearby, making this a perfect location for expats with young families.  It consists of the city centre, the neighbourhoods of Malagnou, Grange-Canal, La Pommiere and Conches, along with the recently built high-rise developments of La Montagne and La Gradelle.

Some things to remember about everyday life in Geneva.  Some apartment blocks stipulate that toilets cannot be flushed after a certain hour of the night.  Plus, they can only use their washing machines within allocated time-slots.  And there’s no car washing on Sundays.

Who Lives and Works in Geneva?

With a population of approximately 201,000, 40% of those come from outside Switzerland.  Thus, expats will find themselves surrounded with like-minded people from across the globe.

The primary industries and employers include major multinationals such as Ernst and Young, DHL, and Carrefour.  Over 100 banks are based in Geneva with its strong financial base, including ABN AMRO, ING Bank, Bank of America, Deustche Bank and Citibank.  Well-known as one of the foremost financial centres in the world, Geneva attracts expats with experience in banking, international trade, and finance.

Then, of course, the UN, the Red Cross, the EU, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other international organisations have a strong foothold in the city.  Combined, government and international organisations here employ in excess of 30,000 people.

Tourism is also a massive industry here, generating a quite significant share of the wealth of the region, with its historic, architectural and natural attractions.  This gateway to the Alps attracts outdoor enthusiasts all year long.

The Best Bits

Good salaries, extremely low crime rates, the 4th-best city to live in throughout Europe with the 2nd-highest purchasing power on the continent, along with plenty to do and see, make Geneva a preeminent choice of expats.

  • The Old Town. Clustered around the Cathedral Saint Pierre and the Place du Bourg-de-Four, with gorgeous views of the Jura mountains and over the Bastions Park. There are shops, boutiques, cafes, and restaurants for some R and R, and don’t forget about the archaeological remains to explore below the cathedral.  Geneva is justifiably proud of its history and heritage.
  • Plainpalais fleamarket is open on Saturday mornings, with hundreds of stalls, ranging from furniture to bric-a-brac.
  • Carouge is a brief tram ride from the city. This arty Italian area has markets, antique restorers, watchmakers, and book shops.
  • In the Mayrin district, guided tours around the lab in various accelerators are fascinating, while the Large Hadron Collider is closed to the public when operational.
  • Skiing, hiking, paragliding, summer mountain biking and tobogganing, sledging, cross-country skiing and ice skating are all possible within a short drive.
  • While most theatrical productions are performed in French, there are a number of English theatre companies.
  • There are 32 museums in the city, ranging from Art and History to Science including Musee D’ethnographie de Geneve, Maison Tavel, and CERN, to MRL – Maison de Rousseau et de la Litterature
  • The Alps.
  • The Lake.
  • The vibrant night life.
Bringing the Kids

Education is a high priority in Switzerland.  Whether you choose a state-funded school or a fee-paying private or international school, you can be assured of exceptional teaching standards.

With a great reputation for discipline and high educational standards, the 10 international schools that conduct lessons in English are amongst the best in the world.

Many private schools teach based on a monolingual system, e.g. English only, with some offering bilingual teaching streams in English and French.  An entrance exam may be necessary for admittance into some of the private and international schools.

There are 23 universities in Geneva.

State funded schools work on a catchment system, so you would need to live in the area closest to the schools.  In most instances, foreign children’s admittance is based on an academic test.

The school year starts at the end of August or beginning of September.

Relocating to Geneva

This is one of the top city choices of expats, due to the superb quality of living, excellent salaries, great education, and a surfeit of culture.  Its thriving economy, with strengths in finance, banking, and tourism offer great opportunities to the expat family.  There is plenty of choice of areas in which to settle, from the vibrant city centre to more village-based suburbs, with an excellent public transport system for commuters.  However, moving to a foreign country can be daunting.  Where to live, which school to choose, which clubs to join…..

An expert relocation specialist will guide you through the minefield of questions, helping find the right accommodation, then negotiating the lease and enrolling your kids in the best school.  Combining local knowledge with your unique requirements, your relocation expert will smooth your path.


City Centre
Good Schools
River side icon
Average Monthly Rent - Geneva
Apartment (1 bedroom) in city centre 1,912 Fr.
Apartment (1 bedroom) outside of centre 1,568 Fr.
Apartment (3 bedrooms) in city centre 3,600 Fr.
Apartment (3 bedrooms) outside of centre 3,000 Fr.
Contact us for a free initial consultation about your specific situation.
UK +44 20 7590 2700
Saunders 1865