9 Reasons why I hated living in Geneva

Life in Geneva, by Packing my Suitcase.

Exactly 4 years ago I was making a big change in my life by moving from Brazil to Switzerland – with my traveling dog, Enzzo – to begin my Master degree in International Relations. I know that I don’t often mention the part of my life which I lived in Geneva here on the blog, but for the first time I am opening my heart about the most challenging year of my life to you.

I know that hate is not a beautiful word, in fact I consider it very strong, but in this case, I just couldn’t use the words love or didn’t like. The year I spent in Geneva was definitely not the easiest one in my life, but I am the kind of person who likes to see the positive side of everything. And the positive side of living in Geneva was definitely how much I grew up and evolved as a person.

I just can’t hide the ugly truth any longer, so before you think that I am crazy or judge me for the title I chose for this post, take into consideration that I was a Master student in Geneva, which means I did not have any job that paid for my costs. I also did not know any Swiss people before moving there and it was my first time living alone, which only made things harder. All I mean is, experiences differ from one person to the other, and this was mine.

I am only sharing this with you because I believe that if I knew some of these things before I moved there, my life would have probably been easier, since I would know what to expect as an international student. So without further ado, here are the 9 reasons why I hated living in Geneva:

Resident Permit (Titre de Séjour)

Before moving to Switzerland, my University kind of helped me with the Visa process part, which I got in Brazil at the Swiss Embassy. I was told that once I arrived in Geneva, I had to apply for a resident permit. Well, it all sounded simple to me, though I was about to learn that nothing is really simple in Chocolateland.

After taking days to figure out which type of Visa I should apply for, I went to the Immigration Office, waited hours to make a question, and waited some more to go to the right place. People there were not helpful at all to me and everything took ages. After requesting my permit, they told me I would receive it per mail in 3 months. What?! Are you kidding? No, they were not kidding! The worst part is that this document is important for everything you want to do in the country.

Life in Geneva, by Packing my Suitcase.

Real Estate Market

This is a serious well-known problem in Geneva, I heard people mention that the Real Estate Market there is a Mafia. It is freaking hard to find a place to live if you don’t want to spend a fortune, if you don’t have any recommendation – University does not count – if you are a foreigner and if you have a pet. Guess what? This was exactly my case.

Before finding a place to live, which only happened once I was already there – I had to stay one week at a hotel – I fell into one of the Real Estate scams. Yup! I paid for an apartment that did not exist, how dumb am I right? Well, how would I guess that things like that happen in Switzerland? Yes it does dear readers, and more often than we can imagine.

The truth is, Geneva is a small and very international city, the square meter costs a fortune and there are not many options. That being said, finding an apartment to live there is a nightmare no one in the world wants to have.

The living costs

Oh, so you thought that only housing is expensive? Sorry, but I often say that EVERYTHING in Switzerland is expensive, except for chocolate and cheese.

If you are lucky to have a job in Switzerland, you most probably earn the equivalent money to its living costs, so it is most probably fine for you. However, when you are a student as I was and many other people I knew were, you should be prepared to pay CHF 30 for a simple pizza around the corner (in case you are wondering, the equivalent to  €28 or £20… for a PIZZA).

Ohhh it hurt so bad to go out, to go to the supermarket, to buy clothes! Especially when I knew that just across the border, in France, you could find normal prices for the same things! I have never lived or been to a country as expensive as Switzerland, and I certainly will be skeptical if you tell me about a worse one.

I know, you will probably say that New York, Tokyo, Paris or London are worse than any city in Switzerland, but even in these cities it is possible to buy a coffee for a normal price, you just need to look for it, in Geneva, forget it! When I say EVERYTHING is expensive apart from chocolate and cheese… it really is.

 Life in Geneva, by Packing my Suitcase.

Parking is a nightmare!

When I decided to get a car in Geneva, I had no idea how much stress I was bringing into my life. Ok, I had a clue, but I would never guess it would be so bad.

First, finding a parking spot in Geneva is almost impossible, unless you find one of the private parking, which of course, you have to pay a fortune to park your car there. Second, if you park on the street make sure you pay for it on the machines, which normally only allows you to stay up to 90 min parked. Don’t even think of being late, not even for 5 minutes, or you will get a CHF 40 fine.

Well, parking around my block was impossible; I had nerves breakdowns a few times, trying to find a parking spot. What did I do? I decided to pay for a private parking near my house… sounds cool huh? Only I paid around CHF 200 per month to park my car there. In any case, better than leaving my car in the middle of the street and getting a fine everyday.

Opening a bank account

You remember that I just mentioned above that it took me 3 months to receive my resident permit? So, what if I tell you that you can only open an account at a Swiss bank if you either have this permit or around CHF 40,000 in your pocket? I KID YOU NOT. So without any other choice, I had to wait 3 months to receive my precious permit so that I could finally have a simple bank account!

Life in Geneva, by Packing my Suitcase.

Depressing Sundays

I never hated Sundays, but Geneva’s Sundays made me miss Mondays! It is normal a few things to close on Sundays in every city in the world, but in Geneva, it can be hard to find an open restaurant this day of the week, unless it’s a fast food one. Totally depressing.

Not so safe!

On the contrary to what most people think, Geneva is not a safe city! I know people who got their bags stolen, and even people who got beat up or harassed on the streets. Pretty sad, I know, but true.

Non-stop construction

I know that Europe seems to always be under construction and restoration. The problem is, in Geneva this is something really disturbing and it takes forever until they finish redoing a street. When I arrived there in March 2011 they were rebuilding a street close to my house, when I left one year later, they were still trying to finish it! The interesting thing is that as soon as they finish one construction, they start another one right away.

Slow, almost stopping

The Swiss have the fame of being slow, and people like to joke about that. Well, THEY ARE! And I hate waiting, I am not a patient person, and living in Switzerland I had to create some so I wouldn’t go nuts! You have to wait a lot for your permit, in line, at the airport, to get your drivers’ license, at the vet, in traffic, and the constructions never end. Anyways, I know that there are places worse than Geneva in this case; in my country things are slower. The difference is, Geneva doesn’t even have 200,000 inhabitants.

This slowness reflects on their efficiency. I know, the Swiss are famous for being efficient, only, I don’t agree with it. I have never had an efficient experience in Geneva, I only learned what efficiency is when I moved to Germany.

Life in Geneva, by Packing my Suitcase.

Dear Swiss people, do not be mad at me. I always found you very nice, probably the most polite and nicest people I came across in my life, but my experience in your country was not the best I ever had. I still like visiting though, your country is truly beautiful!


Keep in mind: this was my personal experience. I know people who think different than me, others that agree. Some love Geneva, others hate it. In any case, this is my opinion.


About Allane

A Brazilian living in Germany. Married to W. mommy to a baby girl and a Golden Retriever. Traveler, writer, aspiring photographer, diver, wine appreciator, Formula 1 fan, avid reader of historical and young adult fictions books. City girl, nature lover, believer of a better world, one little change at a time.

  • Thank you for sharing your experiences so honestly. I know from (my personal, but limited) experience, it’s not easy to settle into a completely new environment, and the stress becomes worse when we have ‘foreigner status.’ But as you say, such experiences help us to evolves as people, and I can also understand what it’s like to be out of my comfort zone.

    Have a great weekend,

    • Thank you for your comment Takami.
      You are right, being a foreigner is already a challenge by itself, that is why getting integrated really demands a lot of effort from us…we really do have to step out of our comfort zone.
      I also wish you a great weekend 😀

      • Thanks a lot for your reply 🙂
        When I read your post, I remembered my experience of studying/living in NYC. It was a very traumatic, but also important experience…

        • You’re welcome!
          Oh really? I am sorry about that 🙁 but as you said, it was a very important experience, and those teach us a lot of things! I like to see them as necessary experiences. You probably wouldn’t be the same if it wasn’t for them. Im happy that you see it in a positive way 🙂

  • Oh dear, I’m so sorry you felt that way, it must have been a very hard time. I think you had to face a lot in a limited amount of time, it didn’t help you enjoying the city. I’ve heard many times what you said about the city, the problem that everything is expensive.

    Would you consider to go back at one point of your life to visit it with another state of mind or you would prefer to forget about it ?

    • It wasn’t easy… I was 24h a day out of my comfort zone. But I really did grow up a lot, and got to know myself better too. It wasnt the best time of my life, but certainly was one of the most important ones.

      As for your question… yes, definitely. I have been there after I moved to Germany, a few months after, but I was still with the feeling that I was living there haha. But I do want to go back and do some things I didnt do before, and see some friends who still live there 😀

  • This sounds horrible. So glad you shared it, even though it wasn’t something you really wanted to talk about. But it is an eye opener for people who may be considering moving to Geneva. Thank you.

    • Thank you dear! Yes, it took me a while to figure out the best way to write about my Geneva experience… this was the best option I came up with 🙁
      But I’m glad you found it useful. It is indeed an eye opener, people expect something very different before moving there, and they often get surprises, like I did!

      Have a wonderful weekend!

      • I have always believed the swiss to be really efficient. So your comment on them being slow and an unsafe place, really was a shocker. Good to know the truth though.

        • I used to think like you too… and was very disappointed to learn the contrary 🙁 the funny thing is that in some countries in Europe, like Germany, people joke a lot about they being slow… the first time I heard about it I felt stupid for not knowing this before… but I could never guess!

  • I have heard quite a few negative things about Geneva. First of all, New Yorkers consider it exorbitantly expensive. And it is still much pricier than London, Paris or Moscow, without down-market alternatives. And yes, it’s totally dead in the evenings and on weekends – not like anyone could actually afford to go to a bar anyway.

    • Oh really? I didnt know New Yorkers found it pricey too… so my theory is probably right hahaha.

      Anyways, you are right… the nights are very dead, everything closes early… and like you said (hahahaha) it is not like we can afford to go to a bar anyways. Once I paid CHF 20 for a cocktail… I almost cried!

  • Yes it’s definitely not easy to move to another country and adapt to a new environment. Munich must be heaven compared to this! Re: resident permit and bank account, I had the same problem here in Turkey. They do seem to take bureaucracy on yet another level. Also I was under the impression that the Swiss were efficient not. I guess the Germans would forever hold that title alone.

    • Yes it is! Some things makes this process easies, some makes difficult…. for me it was difficult in Geneva, even more now that I live in Germany and see how things are 😀
      Ohh really? Bureaucracy is everywhere 🙁 as a Brazilian, I can tell you that my country is veeery bureaucratic, and I can only imagine how difficult it must be foreigners 🙁
      I agree with you, I think the Germans will always hold the title of efficiency alone hahaha 😀

  • Do not seems like a very great experience at all! But like you say there is always something positive that come out of it all!
    I can really related to this visa issue, do to my husband. That it is so expensive I can understand as well! Seems like so many problems! But this made you a stronger person!
    Great post! It seems like things are easier in Germany 🙂

    • hahaha, no, living in Geneva was not easy… and most of my colleagues at University thought the same. Oh well, maybe it was just my experience, because I met other people who loves Geneva… go figure 😀
      Oh yes, the visa issue… there are many countries with this problem 🙁 I hope all works out for your husband visa!
      You are right, this year in Geneva really made me a stronger person, everytime I think about there, I appreciate even more to live in Germany 😀 yes, things are way easier here for me! 😀

  • My friend lived in Switzerland and hated it as well so you’re definitely not alone in this one!

    • hahahaha thank God I am not, otherwise people would probably hate me by now for sharing my thoughts 😀

  • What an eye-opener! I’m glad you can be positive and feel that you learned from the experience. I hope you like chocolate and cheese!

    • Yes, I learned a lot, so I see it as a positive thing. Though I dont think I would ever want to live there again… visit yes 😀
      hahaha lucky for me I love chocolate and cheese 😉

  • I’ve always thought Switzerland would be a great place to visit, but it seems like it would be quite difficult to live there, though maybe places other than Geneva are better. At least you’re able to look at the positive side!

    I totally understand about getting scammed. When I stepped off the plane in Chile for a semester abroad in college, I spent the first several hours in the country getting scammed by one person after another. It happens, but at least you know these things exist now and can avoid them in the future!

    • Switzerland is veeeery beautiful and I like to visit it sometimes, though if I had to live there again, I wouldn’t pick Geneva I guess. I find other cities there different.
      Oh yes I hate scams! It is so bad when you have no idea they exist and you are a victim…the locals find it stupid when you fall for them, but that’s because they already know about them, as for us first timers, we don’t. That’s why it is so important to share these things with other travellers. I am so sorry about the scams in Chile 🙁 must have been awful!

  • Great post! I have to admit, I wasn’t really taken by Geneva either… I agree, it’s sooooo EXPENSIVE! My husband was pretty much living on tinned soup when he lived there.haha… – I shouldn’t laugh really – The poor guy!

    When I went to visit, we pretty much came back BANKRUPT! Also, there was very little to do… but perhaps I visited at the wrong time of year?

    This being said, it’s a stunning place – scenic and clean 🙂 …So, not all bad.

    • Oh my, poor guy!!! It is so expensive 🙁 the interesting thing is that I know many people who live there that they are so used to this that they don’t notice it anymore!
      It is true that not all is bad, Geneva is a beautiful city, and so close to the Alps, I loved this. You went during fall/winter right? It rains a lot there… summer is much nicer 😀

      • Yes, I went in November last year. (It was around my birthday time) and it was freeeeeezing cold and very, very misty! The Alps were beautiful though – from what I could see through the thick mist! Haha.

        • True, I remember!! hahaha, the Alps are very beautiful indeed, it is quite a scenery the one from the Geneva lake! 😀

  • Felipe Bezerra

    Wow what a surprise! thanks for sharing Allane, I have never been in Switzerland, I was wondering they were a bit more like the German, but you would than disagree? At least Sundays are the same.. heard once its “family day”, meaning nothing is really likely to happen 😀

    • 😀 I guess the German part of Switzerland is different, I hear that often, but I can only speak for the French part hahaha… Sundays in Geneva are very dead, here in Germany, at least the restaurants are open 😀

  • Hi D – as an English girl who has lived in Australia for eight years I found this really interesting – certainly the opposite of all of my expectations about Switzerland. At least you had your Enzzo with you (think I mentioned before my dog is called Enzo with one z!) Laura

    • Hi Laura, yesss you mentioned about your dog 😀
      Oh well, it might be that if you ever live in Switzerland your experience will be different than mine. But I also didnt expect it to be like this 🙁 and I also believe that it differs a bit one region from the other.
      Yes, at least I had Enzzo with me <3 😀 thank you for your comment!

  • I guess this is the 1st time, the very 1st time i have heard somebody write something so honest about Switzerland! That place was like a dream location for me!

    • Ohh that is so nice to know!!! I am glad it was amazing for you!! I wish it was the same for me 🙁 maybe I am the one to blame, but that’s how it was… I find it important to be honest about this, as important as writing about the positive things. Where did you live in Switzerland?

  • You did a nice job of telling your story without disparaging the whole country outside of your own experience. I have never lived in Geneva, only visited, but even though I found most of Switzerland really gorgeous and wonderful, I thought Geneva was mostly just … boring!

    • Thank you dear, I must say it was not easy to write this post. I didn’t want to generalize things, in the end it was my opinion, many others think the opposite. We don’t always agree on the same thing right? 🙂
      You are right, Switzerland is veeeeery beautiful, this is not something I can ever complain about… and you are right again: Geneva is boring hahaha 😀

  • This sounds exactly like France ( except France is not nearly as expensive). I get your housing struggle though, it took me three weeks to find an apartment in Paris and almost fell for a scam as well!

    • Ohh noo… I know how it is in Paris too, I had the same problem there 🙁
      I think the French part of Switzerland is very similar to France…even though the Swiss don’t think that 😀

  • I think it’s great that you are so open and honest about your experience in Geneva. And no one can be offended, as you are talking about your own personal thoughts. The expense is just phenomenal. I can’t believe that it costs around £20 for a pizza. I’ve never been to Switzerland, and for once, I have to admit, it’s not high on my priorities of places to visit. Even more so now!

    • Thank you Ting! It was not easy to write this post I must say… I had to be careful with my words, as I didnt want to generalize things.
      Yessss, too expensive right? 🙁
      It is still a veeeery beautiful country, the landscape is breathtaking, but it is hard to do it on a budget… possible, but hard 🙁

  • Finding a place to live in Basel was INSANE! We had to keep putting our price limit up and up and up. We finally have somewhere though.
    I can’t believe you paid so much for parking!! A resident’s parking permit (for the blue spaces) in Basel is CHF 140 for the entire YEAR!

    • Ohh really?? I didn’t that also in Basel was that hard to find a place 🙁 probably this is a problem in the whole country.
      Ohh my CHF 140 for the whole year? That is awesome!! I wish I had found something like this in Geneva 🙁 I would have saved so much money!

  • Really interesting post. I think you always learn a lot more about a country when you live in it. Often the things that annoy you are things that a visitor would never have to worry about.

    • I agree with you! You often hear how a certain place is like, but once you move there, depending on your experience, things might different, positively or negatively. Again you are right, there are many things that you dont see when you are a tourist. Great observations 😀 thank you!

  • Since Brazilians (in general) assume that any other place in the world is perfect, it was nice to hear some criticism for a change. 😉

    • hahahaha thank you!! Yes, I find it important to share some negative things too, not all is perfect and beautiful 😀 glad you liked the post!

  • Kan

    Oh my… the real estate mafia sounds HORRIBLE! I wish your university had provided you better guidance on that. Living alone, abroad for the first time is always tough. Sorry to hear you had such a bad experience.

    • hahaha yes, it is horrible! People face a lot of problem trying to find a place to live there 🙁
      I also wish my University had helped me more in this matter, I guess what it’s obvious to them isn’t for us!
      I lived abroad before, but it was the first time I actually lived alone in the house… before I always shared it with someone, or lived with a homestay family. Living alone is not my thing 😀 I need to have someone to talk to!
      Ohh don’t worry, I take this experience to the positive side, it was necessary 😀

  • Sha

    It’s sometimes good to share the negatives even if it’s only from your own perspective. I can see that you were pretty frustrated about it but I imagine I would be too especially since you can seeing it from a foreigner perspective. At least, you are able to make something out of the experience now, so thanks for sharing with us!

    • Thank you Sha! I am glad you liked to read about my experience. I also find it important to share the negative aspects too… I don’t often do that here, but I thought it would be important to share this.
      I also wonder how expensive Singapore must be… probably same as Switzerland I am guessing! So far, I can only tell that hotels are pretty expensive in Singapore hahaha 😀

  • Sounds really bad. I love Switzerland (though my purse cries everytime I enter Swiss soil). I wouldn’t want to live there despite the beaitufl mountains!
    You should look into Norway and Sweden (Norway being the worst money-wise) One time we were ordering drinks in Oslo and ended up paying 27 Euros for two drinks (what the hell?)
    These days I try to stay on either the German or Austrian side of the border and only enter Switzerland for daytrips.
    Thanks for sharing your adventure!!

    • Hi Suze!! Thank you for sharing your experience!! Yes, I hear Norway is veeery expensive! I have been to Sweden twice before and didnt find bad as Switzerland… it is still expensive, but not as bad because you can still find affordable things.
      Like your purse, mine cries too when I am in Swiss soil hahaha. Better if we stay on the safe side of the border, Germany and Austria 😀 hahaha.

  • What a lousy living experience, Allane. So sorry to hear that! To let you know, I have a friend who studied in Italy, she had to wait for a year to get her residence permit. Practically she was unable to travel around Europe because of that!!

    I have visited Geneva twice – for work and study visit. I remember with my university mates, we stayed in the neighborhood of French border because the hotels in Geneva itself were crazy expensive. I also remember a colleague took me to a Chinese restaurant and it was super expensive but tasteless 😀 That’s my impression of Geneva: a super expensive city!

    • Yes it was 🙁 I am glad I can laugh about it now.
      Oh my, 1 year?? That is very bad…such a long time! 🙁
      I can totally imagine what you thought of Geneva… hotels are very expensive indeed. Staying in France much cheaper. Restaurants are soo expensive, it is impossible to find a place to eat on a budget… a kebab costs CHF 15 in Geneva 🙁
      Sorry about your experience too.

  • wow. if Geneva is ever mysteriously destroyed somehow, this post may be used as evidence against you!

    • hahaha oh my! I hope not 🙁 I just wanted to share my opinion and experience. Geneva is still beautiful 😀

  • Dear Sylvia,

    Thank you so much for your comment and for sharing your experience. I am sad about the experience I had, but I took it to the positive side, I am very open minded so I know that many of the point I mentioned does not happen only in Geneva. I am happy that you had a positive time there, I know many people who did too and still do 😀 If I had worked there things might have probably different, but as a student it was a bit complicated. I still like to visit though 😀

    Thank you once again… and welcome to my blog!

  • Very honest appraisal Allane. Switzerland is expensive and I’ve heard there is a lot of bureaucracy if you live there as a foreign national. That being said I do love it, but when we’ve gone we have stayed out of the big cities (apart from Basel once and that wasn’t too bad). Funnily enough I have been looking at Geneva for next year but when I saw the price of the hotels …..!!! However there are much cheaper places along the lake so am now looking into those eg at Vevey and Montreux (it would only be for a few days!)

    • Thank you dear!!
      Yes, living in Switzerland is different than visiting… the latter is much better, because the country is stunning. I still like to visit it, though I don’t think I would live there again.
      Montreaux is an amazing option, if you ca, go there, it;s stunning 😀

  • Hi Zoé!! Thank you so much for your comment and for sharing your side of the story.. As you said, it’s sad that this is all true 🙁 I wish had lived in other Swiss cities to be able to make a comparison, by I heard that other cities are better.
    I hope you achieve your dream of moving to Norway 😀

  • Hi Martin,
    For personal reasons I needed a car, that’s why. I was always in between Munich and Geneva.

  • Hi Joanna!
    There are of course high salaries in Geneva, and the mountains are amazing. People in Geneva love to ski on the weekends.
    But life can be difficult for many people there. I know people who love it, and others who hated it. I like to visit, but not to live.

    I understand you about having a difficult time in London. Even visiting it can be a bit stressful (I just came back from there).

    And as your boss said, yes, Geneva can be very weird in some places. It was a surprise to me when I moved it there. I made lots of research before moving there, but I just couldn’t find much, so I decided to write this post, might useful to some people 😀

    Thank you for stopping by!

  • Heey Vivi,
    Thank you for sharing you story with me. I’m sorry to know that!
    I am now living in Munich for almost 4 years and I love living here, totally the opposite of Geneva 😀
    Things were much easier here in the beginning, with the exception of the language hahaha
    Good luck to you and happy 2016!

  • Thank you so much for sharing your experience, it certainly means a lot to many people stopping by and reading this post.
    It’s true about the healthcare, I remember that too, but thank God in 1 year living in the city I didn’t need to go to a hospital.
    I never had a problem in terms of language, but that’s because I know French, it could probably have been different for me if I didn’t.
    The cleaning on Sunday is the same here in Germany, unfortunately, and sometimes it’s the only day you actually have time to do it, right? :/
    Great points made! Thank you for your contribution and I wish you all the best 🙂

  • hahaha 😀
    I don’t know… I find there German very efficient 😀

  • Ohh nooo, I’m so sorry about that Daniela! :/
    I know exactly what you mean. Their bureaucracy most of the time doesn’t even make sense.
    And no, you’re not late for the discussion, people keep coming to this post to share their experience and I really appreciate it!
    I hope all goes well in your career!!

  • Ohh noo, sorry to hear that!! Good luck with everything!! 🙂