Bern is ranked among the best cities to live in the world. It explains why most expatriates live in this city as they comprise 34% of the population. A 2015 study titled the World Happiness Report found that Bern was ranked among the best city to offer good quality of life.
This is largely because of a healthy work-life balance, and the enthusiasm that citizens have when taking care of themselves. Surprisingly, the city is often underrated because it is not as popular as Switzerland’s renowned financial hubs like Geneva and Zurich. Read on to find out why Bern makes a great cityfor expats.
Is Bern a good place to LIVE? I can’t restate this statement enough. I only moved here a month ago, and I must say I have enjoyed living here more than any other city I have travelled to. To begin with, the scenery is just superb; the river has clean water and the medieval part of the town is scenic. Bern has 130 parks with diverse fauna and flora, not to mention the fresh mountain air blowing across the city.
Bern is home to the country’s national parliament, and its capital is also known as Bern. It has a pretty decent population size of 139,000 and is located to the west of Switzerland. The beauty of this city is that it is well connected to neighbouring countries like Germany, France, Italy, Austria and Liechtenstein.
Being an expatriate here for the first time, I found it a little difficult to blend in with the locals as their main dialect is called Bernese German. Locals also engage in other languages like French, Italian, English and Roman but German is the main speaking dialect.
Is Bern a Good Place to Live?
At this point, I have covered a handful of reasons why Bern is a good place to live. Not yet convinced? The rest of the text explains my experience living and working in this city and why I would recommend it for people looking to live here for the long haul.
Bern is the capital city of Switzerland and hosts three levels of the government of Switzerland (the federal, city and cantonal parliaments). I mainly fell in love with the city thanks to:
• The high quality of living
• Healthcare facilities
• Educational institutions
Several other aspects are particularly attractive about this city:
The Transportation System
I found the city’s transportation system pretty efficient. Its international airport is relatively small compared to other cities though it provides direct flights to and from a range of European cities, including London, Munich, Barcelona and Paris.
For those who prefer travelling by rail, should try the Swiss Federal Railway network, which offers a regular connection to Basel, Lucerne, Zurich and Geneva. I explored most of the city on foot except on occasions when I had strict time-sensitive appointments.
I found bus systems run by Bernmobil and suburban rail systems pretty useful. Additionally, since Switzerland is at the forefront for going green, it has set up transportation schemes that encourage citizens to travel using bicycles.
Bern is one such city that has taken to this trend by setting up a system that offers bike hire throughout the city. As such, both adults and children can rent bikes, skateboards and scooters from specific locations upon presentation of an ID and a small deposit.
Leisure Activities and Attractions
Many expats are also drawn to live here due to these reasons. What’s more, this city boasts a rich cultural history as it was founded in 1911.
Labelled as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Bern has a century-old ornate tower, arcaded walkway and a massive cathedral that provides breathtaking views of the city, the Bernese Alps and the Gurten Mountain. I enjoyed the attractions located a little further out of town like the Bear Park, the Botanical Garden and the Paul Klee building, which showcases the most extensive collection of art created by the artist.
There are so many outdoor activities in this city; I couldn’t exhaust them during the one-month stay. I particularly enjoyed running along the Aare and swimming in the river during the weekends. There’s also a 1,200-meter long toboggan run near the Gurten mountain, which is a favourite hang-out spot for local families.
Is Bern a Good place to Work?
As I highlighted earlier, Bern has a large population of expatriates. It shows this city makes a great place to work.
Statistics show the city receives thousands of expats every year to work in different sectors. What’s more, the unemployment rate is pretty low as the majority of the population is employed in various industries.
Expats who have in-demand skills, e.g., those who speak German and one other official language find it pretty easier to find work here. When I was applying for a work permit to work in Bern, I had to meet several conditions- I had to indicate my country of origin and my expertise.
I also noticed that citizens from EU countries, including Liechtenstein, Iceland, Switzerland and Norway, were allowed to reside in Bern for three months when job hunting. This period may be extended to six months if the individual is actively looking for a job.
However, citizens from other countries are allowed to reside in the city if they have an active contract from their employers and a work visa before entering Switzerland.
Additionally, family members of the permit holder can reside in Bern regardless of their nationality. As an expat who lived here for a month, I found my training in masters in economics gave me an edge over other expatriates who were looking for jobs.
The invention of Toblerone and Ovaltine and presence of myriads of locally-produced agricultural products is credited with Bern’s thriving local economy. Manufacturing, food, tourism and agricultural industries have been essential contributors to the local economy over the recent years, though technology has taken the lead.
Is Bern a Good place to Buy a House?
Bern has a mountainous landscape that provides a relatively small amount of land for housing. As such, most residents opt to rent the property instead of buying. Cumulatively, only 30% of Switzerland population owns a property, and most of the homeowners set up houses in the outskirts of the cities.
For me, the most sensible option was to rent a studio apartment as it was way cheaper than other alternatives. Unlike other towns, Bern experiences a ridiculously low vacancy rate of 0.2%-0.8%, which means the demand is higher than the supply of rentals. This is primarily because the larger population comprises international expats looking for temporary accommodation for a short period.
I did a little research concerning buying property in the city and found that foreigners looking to purchase property needed to:
• An EU national with a Swiss residence
• Hold a Swiss C Permit
Expats who have met the criteria have a right to acquire property as a Swiss citizen, i.e. I can buy an investment property, permanent residence, commercial property or holiday home. However, foreigners who have Swiss B permit are only allowed to buy a property to live in. Foreign residents and non-resident foreigners who don’t have a working permit or those who have seasonal work permits are not allowed to buy property.
Is Bern a good place to Retire?
The high quality of life, excellent healthcare and numerous attractions make Bern an excellent destination for retirees. Generally, Switzerland is continually ranked the best places to retire around the world with Bern regarded the most suitable city in the country.
However, the cost of living is somewhat expensive, which means that people planning to retire here should have ample budgets. It is essential to get acquainted with the legalities if planning to settle here.
To begin with, foreigners are required to meet specific criteria to acquire the Swiss residency; it varies based on the retiree’s nationality and the desired Swiss canton. Nationals from EU states, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein can relocate to Bern freely due to the bilateral agreements that allow freedom of movement.
However, retirees are required to register with local migration office within 14 days of arrival and apply for a non-working residency sanction. Retirees applying for this kind of visa should prove they have adequate financial ability to live in Bern and have a valid Swiss accident and health insurance.
Non-EU retirees have to meet the same criteria, but applications should be made through a Swiss embassy or consulate in the country of residence before entering Bern. The retiree also needs to demonstrate a meaningful connection to Switzerland in the form of ownership of property, family members living in the country or frequent trips to it. Most of these cases are dealt with on individual terms.
Additionally, retirees are only allowed to apply for a permanent residence permit after living in Bern for ten continuous years during retirement.
Is Bern a good place to Visit?
I found the island-like layout of the city fascinating as it made it easy to explore the many attractions by foot. I began by visiting the Clock Tower, also known as The Zytglogge.
It is lofty and has large windows that provide a clear view of the entire city. Tours take place inside the clock, where visitors view its history and machinery in a small museum layout. I then moved out to explore the cobbled streets that stretch more than 6 km. I managed to cover a few miles as I spent plenty of time exploring the shops located underground.
Their construction was pretty intriguing; they have small wooden doors open on the street and a channel that leads you down into a cave-like structure where I found cool cafes, bars and boutique shops. I also got to visit the city’s most elevated viewpoint, the Rose Garden. Its entrance is located a few meters away from the bear pit where I enjoyed the different types of roses (more than 200 types).
I then got to climb the 222 steps of Bern Munster for the celebrated 360 panoramic viewing ledge. My visit wasn’t complete without visiting the Bear Park. It is believed that the first animal to be killed in Bern was the Bear. As a result, you will find the idolised bear symbol throughout the city.
About the author: Marta Kovachek is the author of this article. She graduated from the University of Chicago with a master’s degree in Economics. Marta enjoys writing about the current economic situation and loves helping our readers to find their next "destination". From places to live to complex social and economic topics, we always enjoy Marta's work. Please contact us in case of any questions.