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BASEL

MAPS: The best commuter towns if you work in Basel

Basel is one of Europe's best cities for finding work, which is perhaps why it's so expensive. One option is commuting. Here's what you need to know.

A quiet square in the centre of Basel, Switzerland
Commuting is a great way to save money in Basel. Here's what you need to know. Image by Birgit Böllinger from Pixabay

Basel is one of Switzerland’s economic powerhouse cities, which can be a blessing and a curse. 

A consequence of Basel’s strong job market and economic power is that the city has become an incredibly expensive place to live, with rents outstripping those of many other parts of the country. 

One option however is commuting. With Switzerland’s relatively small size and strong public transport infrastructure – not to mention roads and motorways – one option is to live in some of the cities and towns surrounding Basel and commute into the city for work. 

Colourful houses on a beautiful street in Basel

Colourful houses on a beautiful street in Basel. Image by Birgit Böllinger from Pixabay

Commuting from surrounding towns and villages is popular in Basel, with tens of thousands commuting from Switzerland, Germany and France daily. 

The impact of the pandemic – with businesses often encouraging their employees to work from home – has only served to encourage the popularity of moving away from the city. 

Besides lower rent or housing costs, living away from Basel also usually means you are able to have a bit more space and can enjoy the Swiss countryside, which is especially popular for families. 

From cross-border commuting to finding places to live in Switzerland, here are some of the best options when it comes to commuting to work in Basel. 

Don’t live in Basel? Here are our summaries on commuting in Zurich and Geneva. 

MAPS: The best commuter towns when working in Zurich

MAPS: The best commuter towns when working in Geneva

Commuting to Basel

Basel City is Switzerland’s smallest canton by square kilometres, which means that crossing cantonal borders is even more likely. 

Living in the neighbouring canton of Basel Country is a popular option, as is living further afield. 

One such option is Switzerland’s best-known commuter town – Olten – which is not only situated 30 minutes from Basel on a public transport hub, but is also the same distance from Zurich, Bern and several other important Swiss cities. 

Another option is cross-border commuting, with Basel sharing a border with France and Germany. 

An estimated 37,000 people cross the border to work in Basel every day from either of those two countries, making it one of Switzerland’s most popular cross-border worker hubs. 

The following map shows how popular commuting is as a whole in Switzerland, although as it’s been put together by the Swiss government, only Swiss locations have been included. 

As can be seen by the size of the circle, Basel is one of the major commuter locations. 

Major commuter locations in Switzerland

Major commuter locations in Switzerland. Image: Federal Office of Statistics.

One further advantage of living in either France or Germany can be lower costs of living – particularly regarding rents and groceries etc – although if you pay tax in either of these countries, it is likely to be higher. 

Finally, Swiss workplaces are relatively supportive of commuting and cross-border working, at least in part because they have no choice. This means that work and social events are often organised in a fashion which takes commuters into account. 

READ MORE: Can I rent my apartment on Airbnb in Basel and what are the rules?

One thing to keep in mind – and which is a continual gripe of many Local readers – is traffic in Basel, which has been rated by readers as everything from “shocking” to “terrible”.

Basel remains a small, picturesque city with a central old town but it has experienced dramatic economic growth, meaning that it can struggle in peak times. Therefore, when picking a location, have public transport in mind. 

St Louis 

Not just a fun sign to take a picture of for homesick Americans, St Louis is a popular commuter town located in France. 

Located just eight minutes from Basel, St Louis has a population of around 20,000 – many of whom work in Basel and cross the border daily. 

The close proximity and the high proportion of cross-border workers means there are around 50 trains per day from St Louis to Basel, with the same number going back. 

Standard apartments in St Louis will cost anywhere from €700 to €1,500 per month, with more space and rooms for your buck than in Basel. 

Unlike some of the Swiss towns mentioned above however, St Louis does not have an English or international school. There are however some private options in relative close proximity. 

As a slight extra bonus, it must be a nice feeling to know you can scream “Hellooooo St Louis!” when you get home from work in the evening, every evening, although be aware that this joke has a tendency to get old. 

Colmar

Around an hour from Basel is the French village of Colmar, located in the Alsace region of France. There are also a handful of faster train services which take around 45 minutes.

There are approximately 60 trains going to and from Basel each day. 

Besides being close to St Louis, Colmar is incredibly beautiful and peaceful, with its thatched timber houses giving it the nickname Little Venice. 

It’s a little bigger than St Louis, with roughly 70,000 residents. A consequence of that is a better gastronomical scene which showcases the best of French cooking, along with additional cultural options. 

Colmar offers some incredibly cost effective options for rentals, with dozens of three-room apartments under €1,000 per month. 

Like St Louis, there is currently no international school option in Colmar, so you may have to send your kids to international schools in Basel unless you want to put them in private schooling in France. 

The beautiful French village of Colmar is less than an hour from Basel

The beautiful French village of Colmar is less than an hour from Basel. Image by Ben Kerckx from Pixabay

Lörrach

Right on the Swiss border is the German town of Lörrach, which is an obvious favourite for Basel commuters. An estimated 21,000 people commute from the region of Lörrach to Switzerland daily, 5,200 who come from the town itself. 

While around a quarter of Lörrach residents commute to Switzerland for work, this rises to 36 percent in Inzlingen

Travelling from Lörrach to Basel takes around 20 minutes via car (traffic pending), 30 minutes via public transport or 35 minutes if you decide to cycle. 

While taxes are higher in Germany, residents of Lörrach and the surrounds report better child care services, easier access to schools and cheaper supermarkets, restaurants etc. 

Renting is also cheaper, with apartments averaging between €900 to €1,500 per month. 

One thing to keep in mind however is that some municipalities in the region have taken action against cross-border commuters due to fear of rising rents, putting in place restrictions on who can live there. 

Many of these are in practice difficult to enforce, but it’s worth keeping in mind before you move. 

Liesthal

While cross-border commuting is incredibly popular in Basel, there are also several options in Switzerland worth considering. 

Liesthal, located in the neighbouring canton of Basel Country, is ten minutes from Basel on the fast train. 

Rents in Liesthal are much cheaper than Basel, although it is still Switzerland so rents – and other costs of living – are likely to be much higher than in Germany or France. 

Prices for studios and one-room apartments are around the CHF1,000 mark, while a three-bedroom place will set you back 1,600CHF per month. 

A study done way back in 2000 showed that around one third of Liesthal residents commuted outside the town for work, although note that this was done 20 years ago and there is no specific indication of how many of those people went to Basel. 

Olten

No discussion of commuting in Switzerland would be complete without a mention of Olten, Switzerland’s true commuter city. 

Olten is located within half an hour of Zurich, Bern, Basel and Luzern. As a central rail hub and with rents far lower than each of those cities, it has cemented itself as Switzerland’s true commuter town.

The town’s official Twitter biography boasts of “friendly and uncomplicated residents” living in a city which is “often undervalued” as a place to live and work. 

A sign which says “clever commuters live in Olten”. Image: Olten City

The town brags that 80 percent of Switzerland is less than an hour away. 

Rents in Olten are roughly the same as the Swiss average, or around CHF1,330 for a two-to-three bedroom apartment, much cheaper than in Basel.

Although the figures are a decade old, around one third of the workers who live in the canton commute to work.

Olten’s status as a true commuter location is so established that we’ve written an entire article focused on it. Click the following link to find out more.

Everything you need to know about Olten: Switzerland’s commuter city

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LEARNING FRENCH

How to talk email, websites, social media and phone numbers in Swiss French

It's a very common experience to have to give out your phone number or email address in Switzerland, or take down the address of a website, so here's how to do this if you're in the French-speaking part of the country.

How to talk email, websites, social media and phone numbers in Swiss French

The correct names for punctuation marks used to be fairly low down on any French-learner’s list, but these days they are vital whenever you need to explain an email address, website or social media account.

Likewise if you want to talk about websites, or social media posts, there are some things that you need to know. 

Punctuation

Obviously punctuation points have their own names, and making sure you get the periods, dashes and underscores correct is vital to giving out account details. 

Full stop/period . point. Pronounced pwan, this is most commonly heard for Swiss websites or email addresses which end in. ch (pronounced pwan ce ash).

If you have a site that ends in .com you say ‘com’ as a word just as you would in English – pwan com.

At symbol @ Arobase – so for example the email address [email protected] would be jean pwan dupont arobas bluewin pwan ce ash.

Ampersand/and symbol & esperluette

Dash – tiret

Underscore _ tiret bas 

Forward slash / barre oblique

Upper case/capital lettersMajuscule (or lettre majuscule)

Lower caseminiscule

The following punctuation points are less common in email or web addresses, but worth knowing anyway:

Comma , virgule. In French a decimal point is indicated with a comma so two and a half would be 2,5 (deux virgule cinq)

Exclamation mark ! point d’exclamation – when you are writing in French you always leave a space between the final letter of the word and the exclamation mark – comme ça !

Question mark ? point d’interrogation – likewise, leave a space between the final character and a question mark 

Brackets/parentheses ( ) parenthèse

Quotation marks « » guillemets 

Numbers

If you need to give your phone number out, the key thing to know is that Swiss-French people pair the numbers in a phone number when speaking.

So say your number is 079 345 6780, in French you would say zero septante-neuf, trois-cents quarante-cinq, soixante-sept, huitante (zero seventy-nine, three hundred forty-five, sixty-seven, eighty ).

Mobile numbers in Switzerland  begin with 079 or 078 (zero septante-neuf or zero septante-huit).

Social media

If you want to give out your Twitter or Instagram handle, the chances are you might need to know some punctuation terms as described above.

Otherwise the good news is that a lot of English-language social media terms are used in Switzerland too.

Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have the same names in Switzerland and have entered the language in other ways too, for example you might describe your dinner as très instagrammable – ie it’s photogenic and would look good on Instagram.

On Twitter you can suivre (follow), aimer (like) or retweet (take a wild guess). You’ll often hear the English words for these terms too, though pronounced with a French accent.

There is a French translation for hashtag – it’s dièse mot, but in reality hashtag is also very widely used.

Tech is one of those areas where new concepts come along so quickly that the English terms often get embedded into everyday use before the French-speakers can think up an alternative.

READ MORE: French-speaking Switzerland: Seven life hacks that will make you feel like a local

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