For young people, access to Alpine resorts are all part of living in Zurich and Geneva. (Photo: Ed Andrews)

The following article is part of Global Geneva’s youth outreach series. 

For many young people starting out in professional life, one of their first questions is: where should I live? Free movement of workers means that young nationals of the European Union, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland have the opportunity to move and work nearly anywhere in those countries without a work permit. Choosing where to live will depend on what’s most important to you.

For many millennials, high priorities when choosing a city are job prospects, living costs and how they can spend their down time. To help you make a thoughtful decision about what you want from a city, here are some key questions to ask yourself:

  • Would you rather have a high-paying job in a more expensive city (these typically go hand-in-hand) or earn a lower salary in a city with a lower cost of living?
  • How do you ideally spend your out-of-work hours in the evenings and on weekends (e.g., watching Netflix on the sofa, spending time with friends at cafes, bars, clubs or cinemas, heading off to the slopes in the winter, or biking, hiking and sailing…?
  • How much is safety a priority for you? (e.g., will you live alone or will you frequently be travelling on your own at night?)
Zurich ranks as Europe’s top city for Millennials. (Photo: Swiss Tourism)

The right city for your friends might not be right for you. Sometimes a popular destination might not be your best bet. For example, someone looking for a manageable city with a lower cost-of-living and the ability to live near work (e.g., to reduce commute times) would probably not be well served by London, where renting a flat or bedsit  in town is prohibitively expensive for most young adults.

While there is no one “best” city for everyone, some cities do stand out for young adults. For example, a recent economic data study by NimbleFins showed that Zurich is the top city for millennials according to metrics related to employment, cost of living/affordability and quality of life (i.e., entertainment, health and safety). Prague ranked second and Geneva third. Berlin and Vienna came 4th and 5th.

Place Bourg du Four, a popular bar and cafe area in Geneva. (Photo Swiss Tourism)

Why Zurich and Geneva were Rated Top European Cities for Millennials?

While the cost of living is relatively high in both Zurich and Geneva, average wages tend to be generous enough to make the cities affordable for those who can secure a good job. In fact, Zurich and Geneva ranked #1 and #2, respectively, in the study for rent affordability as measured by the ratio of average wages to the cost of a one-bedroom flat in the city centre. (For many in the Lake Geneva region with its numerous outdoor activities, residing cross-border in neighbouring France but working in Geneva is also an easily accessible option with costs 20-30 percent less than in Switzerland).

Another good sign for jobseekers in Switzerland is that Eurostat data showed very few young adults work part-time. They would rather find full-time employment, suggesting that good jobs are available for those who want them.

Both Zurich and Geneva have top-rated lifestyles with both culture and the outdoors. (Photo: Swiss Tourism)

While Zurich and Geneva have a smaller absolute number of bars and restaurants than many cities, they are compact and have more of these venues per square kilometre than London and Madrid, for example. As a result, Zurich and Geneva can be attractive for young people who spend a significant amount of time socializing.

Although both cities stand out as principal employment hubs, they are also known for their quality of life – and accessibility to nearby regions. Many young people will not hesitate to nip off to nearby towns and other locations by car, train or bus, even on weekdays. Both cities have good public transportation meaning that you do not necessarily have to drive, a key factor if you plan to drink.

Many ski resorts in both Switzerland and France are within one to two hours’ by train or by car from Zurich or Geneva. Outdoor life is also a key attraction for young professionals. (Photo: Ed Andrews)

In Geneva, for example, you can head up the lake to nearby smaller towns such as Nyons, Morges, Lausanne or Montreux, all of which have good (and slightly cheaper) night-time activities, including water-side bars and cafes. From Geneva, too, you can whip off to popular French summer and winter resorts, either for the evening or for weekends, such as Chamonix (one hour by car) or Annecy (30 minutes) to hit the bars or to combine sport (skiing, snow-boarding, mountain climbing, hiking, biking…) with après-ski. Furthermore, in the summer, both Zurich and Geneva are within easy striking distance of numerous world-renowned music festivals, such as Paleo, Montreux Jazz and Frauenfeld.

Both the Zurich and Lake Geneva regions have great restaurants, bars and cafes. (Photo: Swiss Tourism)

In addition to the obvious questions (e.g., “How is the night life?”) there are softer issues to consider when choosing a city. For example, Eurostat data showed that young adults aged 16 to 29 living in Switzerland had a very low risk of poverty and social exclusion compared to many other European countries. While it is difficult to measure the mental health of a city’s inhabitants, this risk factor indicates that young people in Zurich and Geneva may be less likely to suffer from certain negative situations, such as loneliness or uncomfortable living conditions, that are known to contribute to poor mental health.

Switzerland’s high quality rail system with easy access to neighbouring countries is a strong reason for living in Zurich or Geneva. (Photo: SwissRail)

Rail and air accessibility are also key

Equally important are Zurich and Geneva’s rail and air access to the rest of Europe, particularly important for young people seeking to head back home on weekends or to visit friends and family. TGV and other express rail links make for easy travel to cities such as Milan or Paris.

Zurich Airport: Easy flights to the rest of Europe. (Photo: Swiss Tourism)

But both cities are also Easyjet hubs and often have exceptionally low fares to London, Amsterdam, Brussels, Barcelona, Paris, Frankfurt and other European cities. This means that most other airlines, such as Swiss, KLM and British Airways offer relatively good deals.

Finally, the lowest levels of pollution and crime help Zurich achieve the top spot for Best European Cities for Millennials.

Zurich is known for good bars, cafes and outdoor life. (Photo: Swiss Tourism)

How to Learn About a City

Before committing to a new city, you can get a feel for how it compares according to measurable factors. Here are a few easy-to-access resources to get you started:

Job prospects

Youth Unemployment Rates by Country. See LINK.

Wage Inequality between Men and Women by Country. See LINK.

Average Wages by City. See LINK.

Mountain biking, climbing, hiking, canyoning, sailing…All part of Zurich and Geneva lifestyles. (Photo: Ed Andrews)
Cost of Living

Living Expenses by City. See LINK.

Price of a 1-Bedroom Rental in European City Centres. See LINK.

Safety & Health

Safety Index. See LINK.

Peace Index. See LINK.


Proportion of Young People by City. See LINK.

Trip Advisor to Get a Feel of Food & Drink Venues. See LINK.

A Zurich cafe. (Photo: Swiss Tourism)

How To Increase Your Odds of Getting a Great Job

The ability to move freely to find your dream job means that competition for jobs can be fierce in the most sought-after cities. To boost your odds of securing gainful employment, be sure your resumé or CV includes a few key elements desired by most recruiters.

A great resumé not only lists skills and accomplishments, it also gives prospective employers colour about what you care about and why they should want you around – and ideally make you memorable. Here are three areas to consider:

Volunteer work, whether both at home and abroad, helps to land a good job. Young volunteers in Nicaragua. (Photo: Elisa Schmidt)

Volunteer work ticks a lot of boxes. Helping others shows you’re a good person and that you take action for causes you care about. (This is particularly important for young people still at high school). Nearly all volunteer work involves teamwork, a skill that employers are always keen to see. Some volunteer opportunities even offer the chance to practice leadership. (See Global Geneva’s Breaking In section for volunteer work and internships)

Extra training can really make a candidate stand out to recruiters, both to demonstrate your areas of interest and your additional skills. A large number of schools (both high schools and universities) follow traditional curriculums that haven’t progressed significantly in decades. Extra training is a chance to bring your skills up to 21st century standards and show you’re serious about your personal development.

For example, data scientists are in hot demand but young people often leave school without practical skills such as coding. With the proliferation of online courses, young adults can easily round out their skills to become more attractive to prospective employers.

Work experience, the Holy Grail for everyone’s resumé, can take many different forms. While those still in school can get assistance through their school’s careers office, this is just one avenue. In fact, smaller projects can be as valuable as formal internships. It’s all about the experience you gain and being able to demonstrate that you were faced with a problem and took action to solve it.

Young people are often not paid well for early work experience. If you expect to be working for little pay, keep in mind the cost-of-living for the city you target.

Final Thoughts

Starting off as a young adult in Europe is very exciting. Opportunities abound if you know where to look and how to present yourself. Remember that a recruiter’s job is to identify talent. When it comes to locking in a job you want, it’s all about helping recruiters see that you are that talent.

Erin Yurday is an analyst with NimbleFins, which reviews financial, insurance and other services. This report on the top five cities for European Millennials is based on World Bank, World Health Organization and other international data.

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