Home City Guide: Zurich Zurich Basics The expat community in Zurich
Last update on November 05, 2019

The expat community of Zurich enjoys some of the world’s best living standards, with great international schools, good job prospects, a healthy environment and some of the most stunning scenery on the planet.

Pristine Switzerland’s largest city is synonymous with financial services, insurance and a great quality of life, with all the entertainment, arts and cultural amenities that a global metropolis can offer, and the gorgeous great outdoors literally on the doorstep.

Stefanie Polko, head of marketing at Obersee Bilingual School (OBS), a private day school in Canton Schwyz just 30 minutes from central Zurich, says that “expats come from all around the world for our quality of life, the job opportunities at the many international companies, the good schools (both English and German-English) and the beautiful landscapes.”

Here, she offers a treasure trove of local tips for expat parents living in and around Zurich.

Obersee Bilingual School is an English - German bilingual school located in Pfäffikon, Canton Schwyz, Switzerland and has over 300 students representing nearly 30 different nationalities from all over the world. OBS is an IB World School and provides high quality bilingual education and care for children aged 3 months through to upper school.

International social clubs in Zurich

In one of the world’s richest countries, it’s perhaps appropriate that there should be a “wealth” of things to do, and Zurich and its surroundings are certainly no exception. But even the most extrovert expat explorers need handy introductions sometimes.

“There are many social clubs catering to various expat interest groups,” says Polko. “So whether you’re into sports, arts, or even learning German (our local language), your downtime will be well spent.”

The American Club of Zurich helps Americans and Canadians adjust to the area, while the Asian Ladies Club of Switzerland in nearby Urdorf says it is “dedicated to promoting a better awareness and understanding of other cultures”. Antipodean cousins can access the New Zealand Association of Switzerland. In a similar vein, the Indian Association Zurich caters to the local Indian community, while Zurich International Women’s Association has members from more than 65 nationalities.

If members’ clubs don’t sound appealing, you can join a meetup. Zurich International Club, for example, has regular social events for expats and Swiss nationals. If sports and fitness are more your bag, then find a willing partner or team to hook up with.

There are also stacks of meetups for families, an excellent way for expat parents – and their children – to make new friends in Zurich.

International schools in Zurich also organise extra-curricular activities for students and their families. “From cultural outings to the great outdoors, expat families in Zurich and the wider Canton have access to a wide range of social activities. It’s a very inclusive place to live,” Polko notes.

Online outreach in the Zurich area

While you dash headlong into new social circles, you’ll doubtless be courting the online community for the gossip on that great Indian restaurant you’ve heard about, or that amazing hair stylist you so desperately need.

There’s a wealth of information out there. Expats in Zurich and Zurich Expats are both very active Facebook groups, as is the Worldwide People in Zurich group, an online community that also organises parties, dinners, hikes and wine tasting.

For a more “local” perspective, Glocals.com has the lowdown, and claims to offer the “classiest” socialising in the city.

Who you gonna call? Facebook Mamas

A great resource for expat parents is the Zurich Silver Coast Parents Facebook group, with more than 2000 members, along with other local Facebook parenting groups in your new home town.

These “Mama” groups, found in cities all over the world, are geared towards expats with children and are a gold mine of information. Members are all expat-parents, and many have already vanquished the same hurdles you may be facing now. They will helpfully dispense advice on everything from childcare and babysitting to understanding more about Swiss parenting styles. These communities are also a sure-fire way to make friends or find playmates for your little ones, with social events, play-dates or even themed-parties.

Business and pleasure, Swiss-style

For an expat living in Zurich, the boundaries between work and leisure can be pretty blurred, so you may want to broaden your networks beyond colleagues and your immediate social circle.

“There are lots of English language, business-focused groups in Zurich for people to network, do business or develop their careers,” says Polko.

The Professional Women’s Group of Zurich is a great international career support network. The Swiss American Chamber of Commerce, meanwhile, focuses on bilateral investment and trade, and is an excellent way to pick up contacts.

The Zurich Professional and Business Networks meetup has more than 800 members and bills itself as a fast-track networking opportunity.

A taste of home away from home

Once you’ve had your fill of fondue and are chock-full of chocolate, thoughts may turn to home cooking. Fortunately, expats living in Zurich and the area are never far from a specialist grocery store. “These stores range from inexpensive to high end, and nearly all do home delivery,” says Polko, “so satisfying your cravings is never a problem.”

Try New Asia Market on Feldstrasse for great Asian veggies for a stir fry or Thai curry. Nishi’s Japan Store on Schaffhauserstrasse is perfect for udon and miso paste. You’ll also find South American, Eastern European and Turkish and Greek stores in the city, while Americans in need of Betty Crocker Brownie Mix, Twinkies or collard greens need look no further than American Food Avenue.

Embrace the Zurich diversity

Zurich draws people from around the world, and there’s a buzzing expat student scene.

Obersee Bilingual School, for example, has families, children and staff from more than 30 countries, a perfect embodiment of the Zurich region’s rich cultural diversity,” says Polko.

Families arriving in Zurich and surrounding areas should have little trouble finding their bearings, with many opting to live in Zurich but also Lucerne Zug and Canton Schwyz, she adds.

“There is a large community of English speakers – or English-as-a-second language speakers – and a diverse landscape that is just perfect for family-friendly extra-curricular activities.”


Stefanie Polko brings years of marketing experience to Obersee Bilingual School. She grew up in San Francisco, California and left the US for university in London to get her degree in History of Art and Architecture. Her career brought her back to California where she met her German husband. They headed back to Europe, but not before living a year on their sailboat, sailing across the Atlantic from Mallorca and living aboard while sailing through the Caribbean.

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