Areas and suburbs in Zurich
Wherever they look for accommodation in Zurich, expats will need to consider commute times to work and schools, their budget and the kind of property they're looking for.
When selecting an area to live in, expats should factor in how long it takes to get to work and the time it takes for their children to get to school. Children in kindergarten and primary school can be expected to come home for lunch every day. Secondary school students often need to travel some distance, so access to public transport is important.
However, many residents commute to work and school, so getting around in Zurich shouldn't be a problem. Hour-long commutes are rare and expats probably won't need to spend too much time on the road.
Expats who are used to large properties should remember that Switzerland is a small country – space is limited and the market is quite tight.
Accommodation in Zurich mostly consists of apartments and houses. City apartments won't differ much from other large cities around the world, while nearby towns and villages often have terraced apartments. There are usually four to eight apartments per building which have terraces rather than balconies or gardens. These offer outdoor space without the work associated with maintaining a garden. Houses usually have small gardens and swimming pools are rare.
Unfortunately, house prices in Zurich reflect its position as one of the world's best cities to live in. Being close to the lake easily doubles or triples rental prices, so it might be worth setting aside the expectations many expats would have set for themselves.
Popular expat areas of Zurich
City of Zurich
Living in the city centre is probably easier for single expats or those with older children. Most people live in apartments as space is limited and children have less room to play. Enge and Seefled are popular with bankers and lawyers, but keep in mind that most restaurants in this area are closed on Sundays. Older, more affluent Swiss residents tend to live in Fluntern and Zürichberg, which are located near the city's zoo.
Trendier areas include Kreis 5, which has loft apartments, restaurants and bars. Oberstrass and Unterstrass, located around the university, as well as Oerlikon and Affoltern, which used to be industrial areas, are popular with young people.
Few things beat living in an area with a view of Lake Zurich. The right side of the lake is called the Gold Coast because it catches the sun, and the left side is called the Silver Coast. Many expats live here because there are international schools on either side. Popular lakeside villages include Kilchberg, Thalwil, Rüschlikon and Horgen on the Silver Coast, and Zollikon, Küsnacht, Erlenbach and Meilen on the Gold Coast.
Many facilities and stores around the lake cater to the English-speaking expat community. However, property prices are steep and most people can only afford the area if they receive a housing allowance from work or are willing to compromise on space.
Pfannenstiel and Albis regions
The villages up on the Gold Coast's ridge are in the Pfannenstiel region and those on the Silver Coast are in the Albiskette region. They don't necessarily have a view of the lake, but their proximity to the international schools and the city make them popular. Prices are also high here, but it is possible to find affordable accommodation. After-school activities, stores and other places often don't offer English-speaking services, but are still in easy reach of the city.
The Zürcher Unterland is the area around the airport, north of Zurich. More foreigners are coming to work and live in Zurich without the support of generous expat packages, and are moving to the villages around Bülach and Dielsdorf. Prices are far more affordable than around Lake Zurich and the English-speaking infrastructure is ever-expanding. Residents are subjected to airplane noise, but it isn't intolerable.
The other lake in the canton of Zurich is called Greifensee. It's a nature reserve and residents will see many cyclists, rollerbladers and joggers in the area. There are many villages around the lake with minimalistic infrastructure, with some larger towns like Uster and Volketswil. Numerous expats live here, and send their children to a nearby international or local school. Prices are more moderate and residents usually get more for their money in this area.
Other areas of Zurich
Unless expats speak German, living in other areas in the canton of Zurich can be more challenging. Areas like the Zürcher Oberland and the Weinland are beautiful, but there aren't many expats aside from those who want to integrate fully and don't live a typical expat life.
At the end of the day, living in Zurich is great. Finding the right area will be determined by an individual's budget and how willing they are to give up on the English-speaking conveniences. If expats can live beyond their comfort zone, they will most likely be rewarded with a lovely home and many local friends.