Which is the best canton to live in Switzerland?

The other day a friend was asking me which European country I would recommend him to immigrate to. Without the slightest hesitation, I told him to go settle in the Swiss Confederation (Confoederatio Helvetica). To my surprise, he followed through by asking me which canton or region I had in mind, given that he spoke both French and English, but little Italian and almost no German. Well, this made me think. I promised I’d get back to him and headed towards my lair to do some online research.

Which canton is the best place to live in terms of overall living standards?

It really depends on many factors. For someone who means to settle down, become Swiss, and apply for the white cross red passport, the question has a different answer. This is tricky and one must truly want to become Swiss in order to get the red passport bearing the white cross. And of course, the Swiss made a film for that.


The Swiss Makers (Die Schweizermacher) is a 1978 satirical comedy directed by Rolf Lyssy. 
The film retraces the adventures of strangers who decide to apply for Swiss naturalisation but are confronted by bureaucracy and cultural barriers.

The film is in French but since my friend speaks it, he will see what I meant to say. As a rule of thumb, if you want to become Swiss, you need to blend in with the Swiss and not stand out like a sore pickle. If you ignore this, you will not get the Swiss passport. That I can promise you.

The Swiss Passport

Furthermore, if you go to Switzerland on a quest to impress the Swiss with your money, you will find that they are very difficult folk to impress. If you give yourself airs of superiority, let me remind you what the people of Zurich did to Hans Waldmann in 1489. Hans Waldmann had fought for Zurich in the Burgundian War and returned home a hero. However, when he became its mayor, he started acting as if he was better than his pairs.

One night for instance he had trouble sleeping because the hunting dogs kept by the citizens of Zurich kept him awake. Next day, he ordered the killing of all the dogs. This and other bad calls sealed his fate. Within a year’s time, Hans Waldmann lost his head, literally, courtesy of the burgers of Zurich. And remember, the guy had brought home the proverbial ‘bacon’ of Zurich’s share of the Burgundian loot.

Pictured: the famous ducal golden hat of the Dukes of Burgundy. Such ‘baubles’ made up the loot recovered by the Confederates during the Burgundian Wars (1476-1477). A large majority of which found their way to the coffers of cities like Zurich and Bern. This is IMHO the starting point, or to be more precise, the foundations of Swiss banking.

Still, the egalitarian Swiss would have none of his airs. Hence, the decapitation.

Pictured: Hans Waldmann is brutally separated from his airs of superiority by a two-hand sword. Courtesy of the ‘knacker’ or executioner of Zurich.

This is how Hans Waldmann, hero of the Burgundian wars and traitor to the City of Zurich, came to an abrupt end. He was a consummate military leader and he could have died in his own bed. Alas, he had to give himself airs of grandeur, by overtaxing Zurich’s hinterland farmers. For this and other crimes, like sodomy and ordering the killing of people’s dogs, he was overthrown by some 500 incenses peasants, judged and executed.

Les Suisses – Le guerrier et le saint – The Swiss – The warrior and the saint (Episode 2). A very informative and well made Swiss movie about the Burgundian Wars, Bruder Klaus and Hans Waldmann.
Sic semper tyrannis, my friends, Thus always to tyrants!

Enough with the historical note.

Where to go, eh?

Well, it depends. Are you just transiting Switzerland, or perhaps on a B Permit looking to work but not grow roots? Then things change quite a bit. In 2017, while enjoying a Dominican Republic vacation, I came about an Italian family from the Italian Tyrol who lived 30 minutes from Bellinzona, in the canton of Ticino. They mentioned one of their acquaintances who made CHF 3,000 per week, working across the border in Ticino.

However, it is better to have as much data as possible before making an educated decision. So here are some criteria that might help inform one’s choice.

Taxation by canton: depending again on how much you would make, Zug would be my choice, for now. As it happens, taxation levels change every now and then. When this happens, the smart money tends to grow legs and move to a canton featuring a lower taxation. Which prompts all other cantons to use the fiscal lever as prudently as possible for fear of running out of ‘pluckable’ taxpayers. You see, in Switzerland, the people have the last word in all matters of state, including taxation.

I rest my case. It really pays to be a minuscule canton, does it not?!

Culture by canton: Geneva is a good but expensive bet. However, if you like to have a more relaxed life, anywhere on the arc lemanique (i.e. Pays du Vaud) or Valais would work out.

Zurich is also a fine but more expensive choice. Actually, it would cost you a pretty penny to set house on the banks of the Limmat.

Pictured: the Limmat river in Zurich.

Lugano or Locarno are equally expensive but if you like Italy with its Mediterranean lifestyle, that is where you should go.

Lugano the magnificent.

Basel and Schaffhausen are excellent from the cultural standpoint.

Elisabethenkirche in Basel.
Munot Fortress in Schaffhausen. Incidentally, I was watching Dark, a German TV series on Netflix and at one point a policeman discovers a bunch of sheep dead in a field. When he started calling the sheep – “schaff” , I had an Eureka moment. The light bulb finally lit up and I made the connection between schaff and Schaffhausen.
Pictured: the cantonal flag of Schaffhausen. You gotta love the medieval flair of the artist who created this very flamboyant and feisty sheep.

Sankt Gallen is nice if you enjoy a more secluded lifestyle. SG has the most refined library in central Europe.

Sankt Gallen
And its eponymous library. Sometimes I forget to close my mouth when I see such wealth of knowledge and beauty.

All these cities hold innumerable works of art, churches, monasteries, bridges, fortresses, museums, palaces, architecture, vistas, etc, you name it and the Swiss have it.

Economy by canton: Zurich, Geneva, Basel, and Ticino are thriving the most right now in terms of jobs creation and potential for investment.

Zurich Stock Exchange (Börse). The country’s beating heart pumping money instead of blood.
The Bank for International Settlements in Basel. The centre of international banking is owned by central banks.
Pictured: Locarno in Ticino.

Real Estate by canton: Aargau is your best bet if you want to buy some property. Unless you are very rich, you cannot touch property elsewhere in CH.

Pictured: Aargau’s Old Town. The past is always present in Switzerland. The last war was waged in CH in 1847. It lasted less than a month and only 150 people died. No wonder that you get to walk in the same streets that people treaded 500 years ago or more.

Education by canton: HEI in Geneva, Univ. de Fribourg, Zurich ETH, Lausanne, American School in Ticino, and the USG Handels-Hochschule St. Gallen. are among the most prestigious higher education establishments in the world.

Pictured: The Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (HEI) in Geneva.
University of Fribourg.
Pictured: Fribourg
ETH Zürich, Zentrum, Hauptgebäude HG, Haupteingang, Rämistrasse. In testament of his time spent in Switzerland, by 1899 Einstein had begun to apply for Swiss citizenship. On 21st February 1901, Einstein became officially a citizen of Switzerland.

This is the renowned University where Albert Einstein first studied (1896-1900), then taught theoretical physics as an Associate Professor (1909-1911) and Full Professor (1912-1914). While in Zurich, Einstein also worked at the Patent Office (1900-1909). During his Anno Mirabilis, in 1905, he he wrote five significant works on three areas of application. These dealt with the reality and size of the atom, photons and the theory of special relativity.

The brilliant concept of special relativity occurred to Einstein in May 1905 in a discussion with Michele Besso in Bern. Over the next two months he wrote his essay, which appeared in September in the “Annalen der Physik” under the inconspicuous title of “Zur Elektrodynamik bewegter Körper.” With one stroke of his pen, he revolutionised physics as well as the established ideas about space and time. In 1907 Einstein made his breakthrough by discovering the theory of general relativity.

Palais de Rumine, place de la Riponne, Lausanne. The Old Edifice of the University of Lausanne.
Pictured: Cathedral Notre Dame de Lausanne. Incidentally this is where the funeral service was performed for one of the most famous citizens of Pays du Vaud: General Henri Guisan.
Henri Guisan was the General in Charge of the Swiss Armed Forces during WW2. He was praised for his adroit and flawless discharge of his duties during the world conflagration. Surrounded on all sides by Axis forces for more than four years, General Guisan managed to keep the Confederation out of the fray. In 1960, his funeral attracted thousands upon thousands of Swiss and foreigners who paid him the supreme homage.
TASIS or The American School in Switzerland based in Montagnola, Lugano.
Pictured: USG Handels-Hochschule Sankt Gallen’s. Another prestigious institute of higher education.

When it comes to private education, the Swiss offer the best money can hope to buy. Check out Le Rossey (tuition fees: £86,657 per annum). That’s a lot of coin or quid bearing Her Majesty the Queen’s likeness.

Pictured: Le Rossey College summer campus in Rolle. If there ever was a school for royalty, this is it. Admission here guarantees a meteoric career for its alumni.

The top 10 most expensive schools in the world

Switzerland has something for everybody. Personally, I would go to Ticino, just because I enjoy the best parts of the Mediterranean lifestyle, yet I care not for its less appealing potentialities. Besides, where else can one swim the placid blue waters of lake Lugano where palm trees are the norm, change clothes and jump in the car and reach the Airolo ski slope in one hour?

48 Hours in Lugano, Switzerland – How to Get the Best from Your Trip

Ski resorts close to Lugano | FindSkiHolidays.com

This here is Locarno on Lake Maggiore.
These are the Montebello and Corbaro Castles, Bellinzona, Switzerland.
This is Ponte dei Salti, Lavertezzo, Valle Verzasca, Cantone de Ticino.
This is Valley of Serdena, above Isone and below Camoghé, Cantone de Ticino, where the famous Isone Grenadiers Corps of the Swiss Army have been training since 1970.
Another picture from Vale Verzasca, Ticino. Look at that water! Just look at it! I bet you can drink it. God, I love Switzerland!

Safer rivers | ticino.ch

One thing to remember, no other country is more open to foreigners than Switzerland. And no other country is as expensive to live in as is Confoederatio Helvetica.

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