Living in Basel sounds fun, but at the same time, very challenging as Switzerland is one of the most expensive countries in the world. Basel is the third-largest city in Switzerland, and it is a German-influenced city as most residents are fluent German speakers. The city is easy to get around, and all public transport options are exceptional. It is normal for people to communicate both in French and English.

Since there are many international travelers and expats in Basel, the city offers a unique multicultural experience which is very attractive (at least it attracted me to move here). The Old City of Basel offers a perfect chance for you to explore the surroundings as it has some of the best-preserved old towns across the globe.

Basel is often considered as the cultural hub of Switzerland, and it is a popular tourist destination for cultural museums, education centers, and holding of historical works. People planning to move in Basel can enjoy a diverse environment that gives them a unique experience as they have the best transport and communication systems.

Let’s talk about the most important aspects to cover before moving to Basel.

Location

Basel is located in the northwestern region of Switzerland, and it borders Germany to the southern part and France on the western part. The city offers a fantastic lifestyle, shopping, and cultural experience that you will never find anywhere in Europe. Since the location of the city is unique, you can work in Switzerland and live in Germany or shop in France. If you choose to live in Basel, you have the chance to pop over the border and explore what the other neighbouring countries have to offer.

It is imperative to understand that Basel’s location makes it a perfect destination since you are an hour’s drive away from Lucerne and Zurich. Montreux and Interlaken can be reached in less than two hours. A large number of expats live in Basel, and there are other people from other countries across the globe. The bus and tram links are exceptional, and you can move from one location to another with ease.

I can’t recommend more checking the official Basel expats Facebook group to connect with likeminded expats and form some awesome friendships. Also, there is a ton of helpful information, especially if you’ve just moved to the city.

Health Care System

One of the main industries in Basel is pharmaceutical. The medical services in the city are the best in Europe. They have clean, efficient, and well-staffed hospitals with a huge number of chemists and doctors both in the suburbs and the city center. One of the most outstanding aspects is that you have the choice of the doctor who will take care of you.

You have unlimited options around you, and you can choose a favorite doctor to take care of yourself and your family. It is important to note that medical care is privately paid in Switzerland and dental costs are not covered in the health insurance offered. Nonetheless, in case of any emergency, there is a helpline provided, and you can call them anytime, and they will be ready to help you out.

In Switzerland you are obliged to get a medical insurance in 3 months after your arrival, no matter which kind of permit you have (L, B, C or any other, with exception for cross border permit (the people who for example live in France, but work in Switzerland)). Once you get an insurance, you will have to pay for the passed months (if you get insurance on the 3rd month of your stay in Switzerland, well, you will have to cover the costs of the two previous months as well).

Insurance is not very complicated, but there are few variations and options:

  1. You may get an insurance where you can only get a chance to visit a doctor only in your city or region. If you get sick in Lugano, but you are living in Basel – you will get full medical help only in Basel. Such kind of insurance is a bit cheaper.
  2. You may even get an insurance which can give  you full service, luxury hospital help and so on for extra.
  3. Most common deductible scheme is like this: 2500 CHF is not covered at all, but once you reach 2500 CHF (per year), later on you will have to pay only 10 percent of the cost. Let me elaborate here: let’s say you got some stomach problems, you got into hospital, they did many procedures on you and you have to pay 1100 CHF. You must cover it all yourself. But maybe in next 4 months you have to go again and this time the bill is 2000 CHF. So this time you pay fully 1400 CHF and for the rest amount (of 600 CHF) you pay only 60 CHF (that is the 10 percent). And IF you go one more time to the hospital (that same year), you will pay only 10 percent of the bill all the time.
  4. Some medical insurances cover even dental care, but then your monthly payments will increase.
  5. The usual monthly payments are around 350 CHF a month (if you are not married, no unusual medical conditions, ect). Some companies will have some extras, some offers and so on. But if you are a healthy person, the only additional thing I would take – to get the medical help in all of Switzerland. That usually costs 10-20 CHF per month additionally.

There are many insurance companies in Switzerland and Basel: Azzura, Helsana, Comparis, ect. You will find them easily in Basel.

Once you decide which company to choose, arrange a meeting with them and have all necessary documents: passport, permit and sometimes the job contract.

Additionally, I must add, hospitals in Switzerland are top notch, very friendly staff and all the best you can expect. Once my friend was in a hospital in the late evening, they gave food not only to her, but to me as well. If you are going to spend more time in hospital, you will get a menu for each meal (you choose what you want to eat), doctors will comfort you in all possible ways.

Finding an Apartment

Switzerland apartment
KISS Apartment Building – NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

If you are looking for a place that you can live in Basel, there are multiple options that you can explore. You can have a relocation agent do the groundwork for you. All you need is to give them your specifications, and they will go out to search for the best rental/residential places that will meet your requirements.

Further reading: How much does it cost to live in Switzerland?

There are many well-constructed apartments that you can live in. You can easily find a terraced house with a small garden at a considerable price. The safety of the location makes it ideal for many people as you can see children walking on their own to home from school.

To find an apartment from another country or even a city can be a pretty hectic experience, so I would offer to come to Basel, rent a hostel or even live in France or Germany for a while (I have lived in Saint Louis for the first 6 months in France). Saint Louis is right on the border as Weil am Rhein. There are even trams going to Weil am Rhein from Basel, the public transport as well goes into France – so the connections are amazing.

Once you get settled in in your temporary accommodation, go straight into the search of an apartment. The best website I have found for the rent is homegate.ch. You can as well search the Facebook groups and some other places, but Homegate was really useful for me.

Once you find an apartment you like, you can call, email and arrange a meeting, BUT I must warn you that most apartments have specific and arranged visiting dates and times. Most of the apartments in Switzerland belong to real estate companies (not to individual people) and they decide when you can visit and come.

Once you go to visit the apartment, do not be surprised if you see 20 other people visiting it on the same time. If you like the apartment, you have to take the official form of application, fill it and send it to the company. To apply, I would say, 99 percent of the time, you must show your permit, your job contract, recommendations (if you have them), your salary and many other details about you. If you do not have yet a job in Switzerland or a permit to live in Switzerland – there’s a very big chance, you won’t get a place.

Once you send the documents to the company, they will give you an answer in 2-5 days if they accept you and you can rent the place. If you are in a hurry, you can send the documents and then call them right away to push them a bit.

Another thing: a deposit. Most of the companies will ask you for 2-3 months deposit (that can be 5000-6000 CHF right away) or you can get a special insurance where you pay each year to cover that deposit.

My suggestion for people who do not have yet money for deposit or do not have yet a job in Switzerland – rent a room in apartment where people already live OR live in France or Germany for a while. This will save you a lot of money in the beginning.

Apartment prices

Basel has a very wide variety of different apartments: from small ones in the old town, to big houses in the suburbs, from luxury apartments in the city center, to medium ones not far from the river. There’s something for everyone, for sure.

Prices can vary quite a lot, you can find some small apartments for 800-900 CHF a month, but the price can get to 4000 CHF a month and higher. But if you are looking for a neat, clean 2 room apartment not far from the city center in a nice neighborhood – you will have to pay 1300 – 1700 CHF a month. For 2000 CHF and higher you will get much bigger apartments and maybe in a more exclusive places or with some very nice perks as terrace, huge balcony, private small patch of grass and so on.

One additional note: price of parking garage in Basel is mostly around 200 CHF a month. For a motorcycle or moped you can get it for 20-40 CHF.

Language Barrier

Some people may be apprehensive about moving to Basel because they fear language barriers. However, as much as the neighbouring countries influence the city, you will find people who are fluent in the regional languages as well as English.

Many people working in the city are familiar with French, Italian, German, and English. However, if you are planning to live and work in Basel long term, then it is time to take some language lessons. It’s easier to get promoted in Swiss company if you’re fluent in local language and dialect as it’s a part of Swiss business culture.

Most international companies will add language lessons as part of the relocation package.

But basically, you will get along just fine with English language – in the train station, shops, police, real estate companies, bars and so on. If you speak some German – do not be surprised if you do not understand the local language – Swiss German in some cases is very different or not even understandable for German speaking person. All swiss German speaking people speak perfect Hochdeutsch and once  they understand that you are not swiss – will change their language as well. I myself had just a couple of situations where the local continued to speak Swiss, but it was in a smaller towns.

Basel is very multicultural and friendly city. You can even get a long if you speak only French or even Italian, but the most widely spoken language is German.

Sport in Basel

Basel has quite a lot of gyms around the city and you will definitely find the one for you. The usual price per month is around 100 CHF, but if you buy the abo for a year or even with some discounts, the monthly price will fall to 50 CHF a month or even lower.

It is very popular in Basel to swim in the river in the middle of summer – you will see hundreds of people in the river. As well there are many outdoor pools around the city.

Running is very popular in Basel and quite many people run along the river or in the little forests around the city. You can join the running clubs which organize special trainings with many other runners. These clubs are friendly to everyone who shares the love of running. The one I would like to recommend is this one: LSVB.

If you want to try something very local – you can join the local boat club where people swim in the river with huge boats. It is pretty special sport, but if you are up to a challenge – you must try it. One of the biggest clubs is called Rhein Club.

Hiking – that is a very popular way to spend in Switzerland. It is very easy to get out to the nature in Basel, you have just to walk 5 kilometers from the city center and you are suddenly in the forests, fields, next to the local farms or in some little village. If you want to begin your hike right in the nature, just take a train or tram to the outskirts of Basel and start your hike right there.

Horse riding – I was actually a bit surprised that horse riding is so popular in Switzerland. But if you run or hike in the forests around Basel, you will get to see many people riding on the horse. There are quite a few farms with horses where you can join and enjoy the rides in the local villages and forests.

Football – it is big in Basel. Very big. In Basel there are quite many little and big football stadiums, so there will be no problem for you to join a local club and play football with your friends.

Outdoor Environment and Cultural Life

Basel Outdoors

Basel is one of the greatest European cities because it is perfect for families. There are numerous green spaces, parks, playgrounds that are maintained at a high level of cleanliness. The dinosaur park is the popular location, and it has a restaurant, a large play centre with swings, slides, climbing frames, and rockers, among others.

The cultural life of the city is quite contagious as people live in a fast-paced world and with international diversity. There are also young children park with baby swings, slides, and wooden huts to play with. You can get a meal and enjoy it while the kids are playing in the playground.

Basel is a city that embraces arts, and it is a host of the most popular Art Basel fair. There are numerous museums and theatres that you can visit in Basel. The museum of fine arts is just one of them, and you can plan to visit several museums and get to understand more about the history of the swiss people as well the most amazing artworks in these museums.

It’s hard to get bored in Basel as there is always something to do. I’ve been living here for more than 5 years, and my advice is to first explore Basel and then go for day trips out of the city to embrace the beauty of Swiss outdoors.

Nightlife & Festivals

Basel Nightlife
Courtyard at Volkshaus – NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

There are several interesting family events throughout the year if you are looking for fun activities that you can do while in Basel.  Besides you can visit the autumn fair and find some souvenirs that you can pick from the fair.

There are other parties all planned out throughout the year. During Christmas, the city is lit with the fruity smell of mulled wine and exceptional lighting. You can do all your shopping at the Christmas market within your location. You must check local listings for the most current events. During Christmas time Basel becomes a complete fairytale place: full of small Christmas houses, markets, Christmas trees all over the city, full of colors and many other fantastic spectacles.

But for sure, the most popular event in Basel is called Fasnacht. It is an amazing celebration (which is already in UNESCO heritage) in February (sometimes in March) which lasts for exactly 72 hours and I honestly can say, that it is one of the most amazing spectacles I have seen. The whole city celebrates and is full of amazing shows, carnivals and other events.

Basel gets full of people with different masks, they march through the city with flutes and many other instruments while playing different songs and melodies. The celebration never stops, but of course, the city gets most crowded in the evenings. You can simply take a walk through the old town and you will get to see dozens of different groups, masks, songs, tiny bars open only on that occasion, and many other fantastic local things. Fasnacht is simply a must in Basel.

Shopping Experience

Basel has some of the unique boutique shops in the streets as well as high-end stores in the main shopping street in the old town. You can get your items at a department store near you which sells nearly everything that you may need.

The biggest and most popular shopping street is here: Freie Strasse. There you will find brands as Zara, H&M, Apple, Body Shop, Ochsner and many other. This street is especially busy on the Saturday afternoons.

Basel is quite multicultural and you can find many restaurant options: italian, chinese, japanese, mexican, swiss, greek and many others. There is definitely something for everyone.

If you want to find some local food or local vegetables, you should go to the Marktplatz (especially on Saturday mornings) where you will see a very nice market place with many local farmers and their production. It is a very cozy little experience.

If you are interested in flea market – head each Saturday morning to Petersplatz. There dozens of local sellers meet each Saturday to sell their old stuff and there you can find some really cool old stuff (coins, vinyls, furniture, cuttlery, ect) or even some bikes, computers or clothes. It really has it all.


What’s your favorite thing about living in Basel? Share your experiences, ups and downs below.

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