Mr Pickwick Stage
Another night at the Mr Pickwick Pub. Photo courtesy of Thomas Ruhland for Mr Pickwick.

Geneva is no exception. The days are gone, however, when expats living in Geneva led a somewhat parallel life to locals. Today many choose to live in the center of town; put their children in local public schools; learn French; are keen to meet locals and frequent the same bars, restaurants, etc. as Genevans do.

“Discreetly at the center of the world”

Geneva is surely the city with the longest and richest history of international cooperation in the world, starting with the creation of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in 1863; the first international humanitarian treaty (the Geneva Convention) in 1864 and the League of Nations in 1920, in the aftermath of World War 1. And in the last 100 years Governments have regularly come to Geneva to carry out sensitive discussions. The number of international organizations and multinationals has grown exponentially over the years. Today Geneva is home to over 35 international organizations, nearly 400 NGOs and over 1,000 foreign multinationals. A whopping 40% of the city's population is in fact foreign with close to 200 nationalities represented. It is therefore no surprise that wherever you go you are bound to meet expats. Here are a few places where you are sure to bump into them:

1. International Geneva Welcome Centre (CAGI)

The first step for a newcomer is to find his/her bearings in a new city. The International Geneva Welcome Centre (CAGI) was founded in 1996 by the Swiss Confederation and the Canton of Geneva, with the support of public and private groups, to facilitate the integration of international civil servants, members of permanent missions, consulates, NGOs and multinationals, as well as their families. Located in the beautiful mid-19th century “La Pastorale” estate, near the UN, the center is a most helpful introduction to Geneva. Their Newcomers Network Service, together with Fondation pour Genève, welcomes you and helps you discover Geneva and the surrounding region through excursions and lunchtime conferences. Their housing and information service assists you in all aspects of finding and settling into a new home, and their events service organizes and supports cultural and social events such as afterworks, movie nights, concerts, etc. to promote exchanges between internationals and the local community.

2. Mr Pickwick Pub

Things have certainly changed since George H. W. Bush senior, then director of the CIA, would come in for a pint, and American Marines would allegedly pick a fight with clients and the local police. Today, however, the 50 year old Mr Pickwick - the oldest and largest English pub in the French speaking region of Switzerland - remains one of the most popular in the city for expats and locals alike, and, as they put it, is "the place where people meet" and ”a home away from home for travelers and expats”. Throughout the year the pub also hosts live concerts and sports events. So if you wish to mingle with an eclectic group, come down and join the fun!

Riverside Cafe
Riverside Cafe by the Rhône. Photo by Vivian Hakkak

3. Riverside Café

On a hot summer evening, the ideally located terrace of the trendy Riverside Café directly overlooking the river is a buzzing favorite spot for both expats and locals who flock down for a relaxing drink with friends to unwind after a hard day's work. Feeling hungry? they do great hamburgers and tapas platters. It's a popular venue so get there early or, better still, book a table.

4. The Lady Godiva Pub

With features like its 12m hand made mirrored bar, its frontage and its furniture, all imported from the UK, the pub has an authentic British feel to it and, since its opening in 2007, has been adopted by the local expat community and locals alike. It is renowned to serve the largest choice of draft beers in Switzerland at competitive prices, as well as typical pub grub. Sports and music fans can enjoy live – and lively – events as well as take part in the entertaining Lady Godiva Quiz night on Monday evenings.

Lady Godiva Pub
Photo courtesy of Lady Godiva

5. UN Port and Beach

If you don't work for the UN or one of its agencies or for a diplomatic mission, make sure you know someone who does, so that you may be invited to the ideal lakefront setting of the exclusive UN beach for a relaxing day in the sun, a swim, a pedalo ride or simply lunch, dinner or Sunday brunch at its waterside restaurant.

UN Port
Photo courtesy of UN Port

6. The Ski Club International de Genève (SCIG)

Want to go alpine or nordic skiing, or snowboarding, in the winter and hike, cycle or go rafting in the spring/summer? Then the SCIG is for you. Membership is mainly open to UN, international organization and diplomatic corps staff, but they fortunately do accept other members as well. The outings are usually day trips on Saturdays and Sundays although weekend trips are also organized.

7. Glocal

Active in Geneva, Zurich, Lausanne, Basel, & Bern and with over 100,000 members, Glocals was the first English-speaking membership community of expats & international-minded locals in Switzerland and is free. Do you want to learn esperanto, practice yoga, or simply make new friends at an afterwork event by the lake? Check out Glocal's regularly updated postings. There is also a classified section where members may buy/sell/rent personal items or real estate. The same group runs BuyClub.ch which posts attractive local offers such as restaurant meals or health club memberships at up to 50% discount. To date BuyClub has allowed some 30,000 members to discover over 1,000 local businesses.

8. InterNations

This global expat network active in 420 cities has today reached 3.6 million members worldwide, with over 30,000 in Geneva alone. InterNations acts as a one-stop shop for expats – a great place to socialize, make new friends (both fellow expats and locals) and participate in activities of interest to you, while at the same time find useful information which allows for an easier integration in your new city. You may apply to be a free Basic Member or opt for a paying Albatross Membership which offers you additional benefits.

9. Meetup

Meetup is a global platform of over 44 million members in more than 190 countries, including Switzerland, with a focus on connecting people living in the same area who have similar interests. You can join for free and can choose to organize a group or attend events on just about any topic of interest to you, whether it be coding, wine-tasting, networking or jogging.

UN Beach
Photo courtesy of UN Port