Resources

Welcome to Basel!

Basel is a cosmopolitan city home to global corporate headquarters, universities, renowned art and theatre and a diverse population. Basel has a beautiful medieval old town centre, a vibrant Carnival, and several world class art museums built by architects like Renzo Piano, Mario Botta and Herzog & De Meuron. Basel is also rich in architecture old and new, with a Romanesque Münster (cathedral), a Renaissance Rathaus (town hall), and various examples of high quality contemporary architecture. Basel lies in the heart of Europe on both banks of the Rhine.  The city is the center of the idyllic border triangle of France, Germany and Switzerland – lying between the Swiss Jura Mountains, Germany’s Black Forest, and the Vosges in Alsace.

As a newcomer to the area, the American Women’s Club welcomes you and provides a support network to help settle in and adjust to life in your new home.

If you have recently moved or are trying to make the relocation decision, please join one of our events to expand your network and get your questions answered.

 


Information listed below is basic and provided as an overview. For the most up-to-date information please refer to the appropriate Agency.  

Health Care

Excellent medical care is offered throughout Switzerland.  All residents must purchase basic health insurance. In Switzerland, it is normal to arrange medical and accident insurance privately. Rates for your health insurance premium are also based on the type of hospital accommodation you require. There are three types of hospital accommodations available in Switzerland: ward (allgemein), semi-private (halb-privat) and private (privat).  A ward has multiple beds in one room (usually four to eight); semi-private has two beds; and private has only one.

Choosing a physician and dentist in Basel poses the same problems as it would anywhere.  Ask friends, relatives, neighbors, business associates, your local pharmacist, your local hospital or cantonal medical society for recommendations.


 

Housing

Finding housing can sometimes be a challenge. Demand for certain types of housing far exceeds supply. Rents are higher than in most US cities and vary according to location, neighborhood and type of building. Both houses and apartments are usually smaller than their US counterparts and contain smaller rooms. The purchase of a house or apartment by foreigners is highly regulated in Switzerland.

Light fixtures, draperies and closets are typically not included in rental apartments and houses. Most rentals will have washing machines and dryers, but many buildings only offer shared facilities.

Apartments and houses can be found through print and online advertisements or through real estate brokers and relocation specialists.

Homegate.ch

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Real Estate Brokers and Property Management Firms

Real estate brokers are listed under the classifications “Immobilien” and “Liegenschaften.” They have a very limited listing of houses or apartments at a given time, and you must call them weekly to find out if they have new possibilities. There is no fee charged to the tenant.

Relocation Specialists

Relocation Specialists work on an independent basis to assist with housing searches. Many of these specialists provide additional services such as helping set up utilities, registering with local authorities and finding schools.


 

Language

The national languages of Switzerland are Swiss German (Central and Eastern Switzerland), French (Western Switzerland), Italian (Southern Switzerland) and Rhaeto-Romanic (South-Eastern Switzerland). German is spoken by 69 percent of the Swiss population, 20 percent speak French, 10 percent Italian and 1 percent Rhaeto-Romanic.

The language spoken in Basel is referred to as Swiss German. It sounds and looks very different than High German. Swiss German is used for almost all oral communication, but High German is used for all written communication, such as newspapers. Fortunately, Basel is a cosmopolitan city, and many people are fluent in more than one language. English is widely spoken and understood.

Most foreigners here learn High German, though many master a few key phrases in the Swiss German dialect. There is a wealth of language schools in the Basel area offering High German classes. The majority of schools offer total immersion courses, meaning the courses will be taught entirely in High German. New classes are starting all the time, and price varies depending on class frequency, class size and your level in the language.


 

Permits & Visas

What type of permit or visa will I need as a US citizen to enter Switzerland?

A valid US passport, but no visa, is required of an American citizen entering Switzerland as a tourist for a maximum period of three months. Information on residence, student visas and other immigration issues should be obtained from the Swiss Embassy in Washington or one of the Swiss Consulates General.  Switzerland has no vaccination requirement.

Do I Need a Residence Permit in Switzerland?

Switzerland has a very specific immigration policy. The government gives each canton a quota for the number of residence permits it can issue each year. There are several types of residence permits in Switzerland. Among them are: seasonal (type A), annual (type B) and permanent (type C). Initially, most people are given a B-permit, which must be renewed annually. A B-permit restricts the holder to living in the canton which has issued the permit. It will also indicate the reason for being in Switzerland. Depending on country of origin, a B-permit holder is usually given a C-permit after 5 years of continuous residency. US citizens can also apply for a C-permit after 5 years of uninterrupted residency in Switzerland. Holders of C-permits are permitted to change jobs and cities of residence, in Switzerland, without applying for a new work permit. The holder is also free to leave the country for up to two years without losing permanent resident status.

How can I obtain a Swiss working permit?

As a US citizen in Switzerland, you must have a job offer before you can obtain a work permit. Job hunting in Switzerland is really no different than anywhere else. More detailed advice on job hunting can be found in the book Living and Working in Switzerland by David Hampshire.

Once you have a job offer, the next step is to apply for a work permit. This is done by your employer and consists of the official application form, an accompanying letter (which includes a job description, a description of your qualifications and the difficulties of finding a suitable employee in the local labor market), type of residence and work permit already granted, plus the employment contract and your C.V. The decision to grant a work permit is based solely on the application and is usually made within a few weeks. The government’s primary consideration is to protect Swiss jobs: if there are qualified Swiss citizens or C-permit holders available for your job, your application may be denied.

Once you are accepted, your employer’s name is entered on your residence permit and this then becomes your work permit as well. This permit is valid for one year and must be renewed annually. Note that this permit only applies to one employer in one canton. If you change jobs, your new employer must reapply for another work permit.

If you plan to work as self-employed in Switzerland, you will also need a work permit.


 

Transportation

Does Basel have a good public transportation system?

Basel has an excellent transportation network. Trains, buses and trams are part of Basel’s impressive transportation system. One of the many advantages of this integrated transport system is that you do not need separate tickets for the various stages of a journey.  You can purchase an annual U-Abo card for the local zones which includes buses, trams and trains.  On regional trains outside the city, tickets can be purchased at the train station. Ticket machines are usually found at city bus and tram stops. For more information, please visit www.bvb.ch and www.sbb.ch. If you travel regularly on the train investigate if a halb-tax (half tax) card or GA card are a good investment.  The half tax card reduces the price of all train travel in Switzerland by half and the GA card is an annual cost to ride the trains across Switzerland for free.

Will I be able to drive in Switzerland with a US license?

You may drive in Switzerland with your valid US license for up to one year after your arrival. If you have a valid US license, you will not need to take any driving tests to receive a Swiss license. Holders of expired US licenses must take the Swiss driving test when applying for a Swiss license. To apply for your driver’s license, you will need to go in person to the Strassenverkehrsamt and bring your residence permit, two passport size photos and your valid foreign driver’s license. You will also be required to have an eye test.

A Swiss driver’s license is valid for life, although older drivers must have regular eye tests. The minimum age for driving or learning to drive is 18. In Switzerland, liability insurance on motor vehicles is compulsory and must be provided by a Swiss insurance company.

Will I be able to bring my car into Switzerland?

Your own car may be brought into Switzerland duty free if you plan to re-export it within two years and if you have owned it for at least six months. Simply declare the car along with your household goods when you arrive. Foreign license plates may be used for the first year, as long as your insurance is Swiss and your license plates are valid “Z” plates. This indicates that the customs duties have not yet been paid, but Swiss license plates should be obtained for the second year. After establishing residence (Permit B), a regular Swiss license plate is issued. Bring with you a letter written by your former insurance company attesting to your safe driving record. This letter will help lower your premiums.


 

Taxes

As a US Citizen, do I have to pay Swiss and US taxes?

Any person residing or working in Switzerland must pay tax at local, cantonal and federal levels. Since the tax structure varies from canton to canton, it is not possible to give a general estimate of what various taxes may be. There is a treaty between the United States and Switzerland to avoid double taxation on income, which means that taxes paid to Switzerland by a resident of this country must not necessarily be paid to the United States.

In general, Americans employed in Switzerland can expect to pay at least as much tax to the various Swiss government levels as they would if they were paying tax in the United States. However, being subject to Swiss taxation does not exempt a US citizen from filing an annual return with the IRS.

If you have a financial interest or signature authority over a foreign financial account, including but not limited to a bank account, brokerage account or mutual fund or any other type of account, you are required to report it annually separately from your tax filing.  The Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts form is available online and submitted via e-filing.


 

Schools

What is the school system like in Switzerland?

Basel offers excellent public schools and a large selection of private and international educational facilities. Each canton in Switzerland makes its own laws about schooling, allowing for locally adapted solutions. The obligatory school system in Canton BaselStadt includes primary education (Primarschule) and secondary education (Sekundarstufe I). Before that, children in Canton BaselStadt are required to go to two years of kindergarten. At the end of primary school (or at the beginning of secondary school), pupils are separated according to their capacities and career intentions in several sections.

Students who aspire to an academic career enter high schools (Gymnasium or Kantonsschule) to be prepared for further studies and the Matura (normally obtained at the age of 18 or 19). Students intending to pursue a trade or vocation complete only three additional years before entering vocational schools. Vocational training consists of a practical, hands-on role at the company and a general studies course. In all, the traineeship takes about three to four years. Two-thirds of young adults in Switzerland choose this path for career training. The dual education system creates a high level of general education in the population and ensures a steady supply of skilled workers.

In addition to its excellent public schools, Switzerland is home to numerous private schools. The greater Basel area has several English-speaking schools (with an international curriculum) and numerous bilingual schools. Children in Basel are guaranteed an outstanding education and a smooth transition to other schools and universities around the world.


 

US Representation

Where are the US Embassy and Consular Agencies located?

The American Embassy in Switzerland is located in Bern, the capital of Switzerland. US citizens residing abroad should not only have a valid US passport but  should also have in their possession several certified true copies of birth and marriage certificates, divorce or annulment decrees for use as the need may arise. While it is not mandatory for US citizens residing or visiting abroad to register with the nearest US Embassy, it is advisable to do so in order that the consulate can better assist in cases of lost passports, serious illness, accidents, death, disappearance and other issues. It is important and strongly recommended that persons report to their consulate, as soon as possible, the birth, death or arrest of a US citizen within their consular district.