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ZURICH

MAPS: The best commuter towns when working in Zurich

If you live in Zurich, you could be paying a whole lot of money for not very much at all. Here are some great options not so far from the city.

MAPS: The best commuter towns when working in Zurich
Zurich HBF. Von Ikiwaner - Selbst fotografiert, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Living in Zurich can be incredibly expensive. Apartments tend to be smaller and finding a place with a yard is almost impossible. 

In the canton of Zurich, the average rent is the second-highest in Switzerland at CHF1,550 per month. 

This average is however offset by other, smaller parts of the canton, with rents in the city itself averaging CHF3,000 and reaching as high as CHF6,000 per month. 

MAPS: The best commuter towns when working in Geneva

The towns can be seen here. Hover over each blue marking to see the town. Image: Google Maps

Fortunately, Zurich’s excellent public transport networks and good road infrastructure means that getting into the city isn’t too difficult if you live elsewhere (although Zurich’s traffic is a concern pretty much all day long). 

Commuting is common in Switzerland for the above reasons.

A study from 2010 argued that the entire country could be considered as one continuous metropolitan area, due in part to the prevalence of commuting. 

While we wouldn’t recommend commuting from Ticino or Geneva, commuting into Zurich – Switzerland’s largest city and most populous canton – from the surrounding regions is relatively popular, a popularity which has grown since the pandemic. 

The following map, put together by the Swiss government in 2014, shows commuting patterns all across Switzerland. 

It illustrates just how popular commuting to and from Zurich is. 

Swiss domestic commuting patterns. Image: Swiss Statistical Office, 2014.

Keep in mind that the following options are largely all based on renting rather than purchasing. 

As The Local Switzerland has reported previously, renting is far more common in Switzerland than elsewhere – particularly in larger cities. 

READ MORE: Why do so many Swiss prefer to rent rather than buy their own home?

If you are looking for the costs of purchasing a house, the following report breaks it down on the basis of cantons. 

Several cantons border Zurich and are options for commuting, including Zug, Schwyz, Schaffhausen, Thurgau, Argau and St Gallen. 

Property: In which Swiss cantons are homes the cheapest – and the most expensive?

Here are some of the best options for commuting into the city of Zurich from other places in the canton, other cantons and internationally. 

Winterthur 

One of the most popular options for commuting to Zurich is the city of Winterthur. 

With a population of more than 110,000, it is the sixth-largest city in Switzerland. 

Due to its size, it offers many of the same cultural options offered in Zurich, while getting by with English will be easier than in smaller villages. 

Winterthur is also served by international schooling options. 

The train station in Winterthur. You’ll become well acquainted with it. By Roland zh – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Winterthur is 20 minutes from Zurich by train and is in the same canton, which means you’ll be subject to largely the same tax rules as if you lived in Zurich itself. 

While this might be more convenient, several cantons surrounding Zurich have reduced tax in order to encourage commuters to live there (with tax being determined on the basis of place of residence in Switzerland). 

READ MORE: How to decide where to live in Switzerland based on affordability

You can also buy the monthly train pass which gives you unlimited travel in the canton for around CHF250, an amount that is likely to be more expensive if you cross cantonal borders. 

The average monthly rent for a large, three-bedroom family apartment in Winterthur is around CHF3,000. This is high of course, but cheaper than what’s available in Zurich. 

Zug

Despite being a different canton, Zug – along with Winterthur – is considered to be part of the Zurich Metropolitan Area (ZMA). 

Located 30 minutes to the south of Zurich, the canton of Zug is a popular commuting option for a number of reasons. 

Besides the relative proximity, Zug’s favourable tax laws make it attractive for high income earners, while there are some top quality international schooling options. 

This favourable tax framework means more millionaires live in Zug than any other Swiss canton on a per capita basis, with one in 16 people in Zug a millionaire. Neighbouring Schwyz also has the same proportion of millionaires. 

READ MORE: Which Swiss canton has the most millionaires?

A consequence of this however is that rents are high – in fact, rents in Zug are the highest in Switzerland, with properties relatively difficult to find. 

Canton-wide rent is CHF1,837 on average in Zug, approximately CHF300 per month higher than that in Zurich. 

The city of Zug itself has much higher rent however, with smaller apartments costing near CHF3,000. 

Therefore, while Zug might be close with good transit connections, there is a relative paradox whereby only the rich can save by moving to Zug. 

View over Lake Zug with the old town of Zug and the Zytturm. By Schulerst – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikicommons

Schaffhausen

Located north of Zurich along the German border is the town of Schaffhausen, the capital of the canton of the same name.

The canton has around 80,000 inhabitants, half of which live in the main town.

Schaffhausen itself has beautiful renaissance architecture and a quaint old town where cars are prohibited. As a consequence, it is incredibly peaceful compared to the hustle and bustle of Zurich.

The Rhein falls – Europe’s largest waterfall – located between Schaffhausen and Zurich. Photo: Wikicommons.

While taxation is a little higher in Schaffhausen than in Zurich, this is more than offset by the lower rents, which average CHF2,200 in the town and CHF1,193 in the canton as a whole.

Commuting from the town of Schaffhausen to Zurich will take roughly 40 minutes via train, while there are also a number of good connections to Germany and other parts of Switzerland.

Frauenfeld

A little further afield – although only 45 minutes via train – is the town of Frauenfeld, which is the capital of the canton of Thurgau. 

Frauenfeld is a little smaller than some of the other cities on this list, with around 25,000 inhabitants, which makes it a peaceful option and a good choice for families. 

Frauenfeld authorities have sought to capitalise on the town’s proximity to Zurich by building a number of new developments in recent years, most of which are tailored towards couples and families. 

EXPLAINED: Why are major Swiss cities so expensive?

As a result the supply of apartments has increased, with a three-room apartment in Frauenfeld costing around CHF1,500. 

This is around a half of the cost in Zurich. 

The average monthly rent of an apartment in the canton of Thurgau is CHF1,213, meaning that you can find something even cheaper outside Frauenfeld. 

The tax burden is also relatively low in Thurgau, although not as low as that in Zug and Schwyz. 

Frauenfeld, in the Swiss canton of Thurgau. By Odonata – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5.

Olten

Located 30 minutes away from Zurich in the canton of Solothurn, Olten is perhaps Switzerland’s truest incarnation of a commuter town. 

Starting out as a sleepy village – and still embodying many of those qualities – Olten has grown in popularity over time due to its fortunate location. 

Not only is Olten 30 minutes from Zurich via train, it’s also 30 minutes from Bern, Basel and Luzern, meaning it is perfectly situated to access Switzerland’s economically strong towns. 

Rents in Olten are roughly the same as the Swiss average, or around CHF1,330 for a two-to-three bedroom apartment, much cheaper than in Zurich. 

Although the figures are a decade old, around one third of the workers who live in the canton commute to work. 

Downtown Olten. Photo: Wikicommons

Konstanz (Germany)

Living in Germany and commuting to Zurich is not as difficult or time consuming as it may sounds. 

The towns and villages on the German side of the border are popular with commuters to Switzerland, with Konstanz one of the most popular. 

In 2019, an estimated 325,000 people crossed the border into Switzerland every day to work – 177,000 from France, 76,000 from Italy and 60,000 from Germany.

Cross-border commuters are so important to the Swiss economy that a special exemption was drawn up to allow them to cross the border during the heights of the first wave of the Covid pandemic in 2020. 

READ MORE: How Switzerland avoided a coronavirus ‘catastrophe’ by protecting cross-border workers

The trip from Konstanz to Zurich is just over an hour by car, although traffic and parking in Zurich can be problematic and expensive. 

If your work does not offer you a parking space, one is likely to cost upwards of CHF150 per month around Zurich, or around CHF300 per month in the city centre. 

Another option is taking the train or doing a combination of both. 

Konstanz to Zurich via train will take between 75 and 90, with many deciding to board the train in the neighbouring Swiss village of Kreuzlingen.

Being a cross-border worker will require you to get a G-Permit – the type of residence permit for cross-border commuters. 

READ MORE: An essential guide to Swiss work permits

Rent in Konstanz is cheaper than in Switzerland, although it is a fair bit more expensive than the German average due to its proximity to the Swiss border. 

For a two-to-three bedroom apartment in Konstanz which is the German average of 92 square metres, you can expect to pay €1,279 (CHF1383)

One further thing to keep in mind is that while almost everything is cheaper in Germany including rent, groceries, clothes and of course beer, tax tends to be much higher in Germany. 

Some consider this higher tax rate to be worth it considering the additional social support families receive in Germany, whereas others find it excessive. 

The Rheintorturm in Konstanz. By JoachimKohlerBremen – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Honourable mentions 

There are several other areas which are worth considering if any of the towns and cities from above do not tickle your fancy. 

Rapperswill is relatively close to Zurich and is a little cheaper than the city centre. A three-bedroom apartment will be roughly CHF1,500 to CHF2,000. 

Aarau is also considered part of the ZMA and is served by international schooling options. It is along the river and while it might be quieter than Zurich, it offers many of the same cultural and entertainment options. 

A two-to-three bedroom apartment in Aarau will cost you around CHF1,500 on average. 

Schwyz is further afield but has many parallels with Zug when it comes to tax rates – with the consequence being that one in 16 residents are millionaires (with Zug, the equal highest percentage in Switzerland)

In particular, the Schwyz towns of Wollerau and Feusisberg offer beautiful views and relatively quick commuting, although rents are high – rivalling those in Zurich itself – due to the high incomes in the canton. 

Over the border in Germany, Waldshut is around 60 minutes to Zurich via train – a little less than Konstanz. Rent is cheaper than in Konstanz – and cheaper than much of Switzerland – with a two-to-three-bedroom apartment setting you back €892 per month, based on regional averages

Have we missed anything? Do you have an inside scoop on commuting to Zurich – or any other city – that you’d like to share with us? Let us know: [email protected] 

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OFFBEAT

Is Switzerland’s male-only mandatory military service ‘discriminatory’?

Under Swiss law, all men must serve at least one year in compulsory national service. But is this discriminatory?

Swiss military members walk across a road carrying guns
A new lawsuit seeks to challenge Switzerland's male-only military service requirement. Is this discriminatory? FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

All men aged between the ages of 18 and 30 are required to complete compulsory military service in Switzerland. 

A lawsuit which worked its way through the Swiss courts has now ended up in the European Court of Human Rights, where the judges will decide if Switzerland’s male-only conscription requirement violates anti-discrimination rules. 

Switzerland’s NZZ newspaper wrote on Monday the case has “explosive potential” and has “what it takes to cause a tremor” to a policy which was first laid out in Switzerland’s 1848 and 1874 Federal Constitutions. 

What is Switzerland’s compulsory military service? 

Article 59 of the Federal Constitution of Switzerland says “Every man with Swiss citizenship is liable for military service. Alternative civilian service shall be provided for by law.”

Recruits must generally do 18 weeks of boot camp (longer in some cases). 

They are then required to spend several weeks in the army every year until they have completed a minimum 245 days of service.

Military service is compulsory for Swiss men aged 18 and over. Women can chose to do military service but this is rare.

What about national rather than military service? 

Introduced in 1996, this is an alternative to the army, originally intended for those who objected to military service on moral grounds. 

READ MORE: The Swiss army’s growing problem with civilian service

Service is longer there than in the army, from the age of 20 to 40. 

This must be for 340 days in total, longer than the military service requirement. 

What about foreigners and dual nationals? 

Once you become a Swiss citizen and are between the ages of 18 and 30, you can expect to be conscripted. 

READ MORE: Do naturalised Swiss citizens have to do military service?

In general, having another citizenship in addition to the Swiss one is not going to exempt you from military service in Switzerland.

However, there is one exception: the obligation to serve will be waved, provided you can show that you have fulfilled your military duties in your other home country.

If you are a Swiss (naturalised or not) who lives abroad, you are not required to serve in the military in Switzerland, though you can voluntarily enlist. 

How do Swiss people feel about military and national service? 

Generally, the obligation is viewed relatively positively, both by the general public and by those who take part in compulsory service. 

While several other European countries have gotten rid of mandatory service, a 2013 referendum which attempted to abolish conscription was rejected by 73 percent of Swiss voters. 

What is the court case and what does it say? 

Martin D. Küng, the lawyer from the Swiss canton of Bern who has driven the case through the courts, has a personal interest in its success. 

He was found unfit for service but is still required to pay an annual bill to the Swiss government, which was 1662CHF for the last year he was required to pay it. 

While the 36-year-old no longer has to pay the amount – the obligation only lasts between the ages of 18 and 30 – Küng is bring the case on principle. 

So far, Küng has had little success in the Swiss courts, with his appeal rejected by the cantonal administrative court and later by the Swiss Federal Supreme Court. 

Previous Supreme Court cases, when hearing objections to men-only military service, said that women are less suitable for conscription due to “physiological and biological differences”.

In Küng’s case, the judges avoided this justification, saying instead that the matter was a constitutional issue. 

‘No objective reason why only men have to do military service’

He has now appealed the decision to the European level. 

While men have previously tried and failed when taking their case to the Supreme Court, no Swiss man has ever brought the matter to the European Court of Human Rights. 

Küng told the NZZ that he considered the rule to be unjust and said the Supreme Court’s decision is based on political considerations. 

“I would have expected the Federal Supreme Court to have the courage to clearly state the obvious in my case and not to decide on political grounds,” Küng said. 

“There is no objective reason why only men have to do military service or pay replacement taxes. On average, women may not be as physically productive as men, but that is not a criterion for excluding them from compulsory military service. 

There are quite a few men who cannot keep up with women in terms of stamina. Gender is simply the wrong demarcation criterion for deciding on compulsory service. If so, then one would have to focus on physical performance.”

Is it likely to pass? 

Küng is optimistic that the Strasbourg court will find in his favour, pointing to a successful appeal by a German man who complained about a fire brigade tax, which was only imposed on men. 

“This question has not yet been conclusively answered by the court” Küng said. 

The impact of a decision in his favour could be considerable, with European law technically taking precedence over Swiss law.

It would set Switzerland on a collision course with the bloc, particularly given the popularity of the conscription provision. 

Küng clarified that political outcomes and repercussions don’t concern him. 

“My only concern is for a court to determine that the current regulation is legally wrong.”

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