Switzerland is nearly as famous for its exorbitant cost of living as it is for its ski slopes and watch making. According to the 2013 Mercer Cost of Living Survey, three of the country’s cities, namely Geneva, Zurich and Bern, ranked within the top 10 most expensive destinations in the world.
Needless to say, expat life in a Swiss urban centre is expensive, and not necessarily so much cheaper than in a rural area. On the flip side, salaries in Switzerland are also among the highest in the world, and the quality of living is on par: a study by Credit Suisse even designated Zurich as the city affording workers the highest wages across the globe – with Geneva a close second.
Furthermore, expats living in Switzerland will find that they do in fact “get their money’s worth”. Everything is efficient, the infrastructure is designed for the general welfare of the people, and public spaces are incredibly beautiful and well maintained.
Still, those planning on moving to Switzerland should educate themselves about what kind of cost of living they can anticipate, and should negotiate their contract accordingly. Watch out for unforeseen expenses and strange compulsory taxes; expats are likely to need to finance aspects of their life they took for granted in their home country.
Furthermore, keep in mind that every canton, region and even city, town or village has different tax percentages and fees for specific things.
Cost of accommodation in Switzerland
The Swiss are a population of renters: nearly 70 percent of people are tenants rather than owners, and as a result a pointed shortage of apartments in both cities and towns has developed. The situation in Zurich and Geneva is especially stark, and the stiff competition has naturally resulted in sky-rocketing rental prices. Expats should expect to fork out at least 20 percent of their salary on accommodation in Switzerland.
Estimated accommodation prices in Switzerland in 2013
- CHF 1,700 for a small apartment in an unglamorous area
- CHF 3,300 for an upmarket city apartment
- CHF 5,500 for a larger house in a more suburban setting
Furthermore, in many cases three month’s deposit is expected upfront to secure a rental.
Budget between CHF 340 and CHF 350 per month for electricity and gas.
Paying for refuse collection in Switzerland
The novelty of paying for the amount of trash one produces wears off quicker than one can say “recycle”. In Switzerland, special garbage bags are required for trash collection, and these bags are priced according to their size. Thus, if a household produce more waste, they pay more. Recycling is free, and expats who didn’t consider themselves environmentally friendly before can count on a “greener” life in Switzerland.
Prices for trash/refuse bags in 2013
- 17-litre bag: 12 CHF/10 bags
- 35-litre bag: 20 CHF/10 bags
- 60-litre bag: 30 CHF/10 bags
- 110-litre bags: 24 CHF/5 bags (most comparable to an average American garbage bag)
Cost of health insurance in Switzerland
Aside from high housing prices, expats may be surprised to find that health insurance will eat up a large amount of the bank balance. Private health insurance in Switzerland is compulsory, and expensive to boot. Premiums are based on geographic area rather than salary, so even if one doesn’t make a CEO’s wage, they still may be paying the same premium as a CEO. The government does grant cash subsidies to those who find the monthly premium is equal to or above eight percent of their monthly salary. On average, expect to pay 4,200 CHF for health insurance annually.
Keep in mind that all family members will need to be insured separately, and discounts are granted to young adults and children.
Cost of transport in Switzerland
Switzerland has an extensive and well-integrated system of public transportation; however, the trains, buses and boats are expensive to use. If one lives in an urban centre and plans on utilising one or more of these modes of transit regularly, it’s recommended expats purchase a “Swiss Half Fare” card for 165 CHF. This card is valid for one year and entitles commuters to (up to) a 50 percent discount on train, mountain-train, boat, bus and cable-car travel.
One good way to avoid extensive transportation costs is to use a bicycle, a popular and free mode of transit in Switzerland. Keep in mind that cyclists need to purchase an annual licence for a minimal fee. Don’t write this petty purchase off though, fines for those cyclists caught without a licence is a whopping 40 CHF.
The cost of owning a car in Switzerland is mushroomed by a number of supplementary fees. In addition to the cost of importing, buying or leasing a vehicle, expats will need to pay for monthly insurance, for canton tax, for a parking permit, for a highway sticker and for petrol. Costs vary depending on the area in which one lives, but anticipate spending between 150 and 300 CHF per week on a car. Needless to say, if it is possible to live without one, do so.
Cost of education in Switzerland
The Swiss education system is renowned for its high standard and it is free. That said, the teaching language will reflect the primary language of the respective canton (either German, French, Italian or Romansh). Some bilingual and even trilingual schools do exist, but tuition at these institutions can be as much as 25,000 CHF per year.
Additionally, those expats who wish to send their children to international schools that uphold their home country curriculum and teaching language should anticipate astronomical fees. Price increases as students age, and can peak at over 35,000 CHF per year.
Try and convince the employer to shoulder this expense, if at all possible.
Cost of food in Switzerland
Restaurants, bars, and grocery stores are more expensive than almost anywhere else in the world. Expect to pay 20 to 30 percent more on groceries in Switzerland than in surrounding countries. There are a few discount grocery stores; however, these are generally frowned upon by the Swiss. In fact, purchasing non-Swiss products, even if they are cheaper, is frowned upon by the Swiss.
Alcohol is still reasonably priced due to the level of VAT and state taxes charged. VAT in Switzerland is about eight percent, compared to nearly 20 percent in Germany and France.
Cost of living in Switzerland Chart (2013)
*All prices listed in Swiss Francs (CHF). Baswed of average prices in Zurich
|Furnished two bedroom house||CHF 3,000|
|Unfurnished two bedroom house||CHF 2,000|
|Furnished two bedroom apartment||CHF 1,550|
|Unfurnished two bedroom apartment||CHF 1,000|
|Dozen eggs||CHF 7|
|Milk (1 litre)||CHF 2|
|Rice (1kg)||CHF 2|
|Loaf of white bread||CHF 3.50|
|Whole chicken||CHF 8|
|Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)||CHF 7.50|
|Big Mac meal||CHF 8|
|Coca Cola (500ml)||CHF 2.50|
|Bottle of beer (local)||CHF 6|
|Three-course meal at a mid-range restaurant||CHF 80|
|Mobile call rate (per minute – mobile to mobile)||CHF 0.29|
|Internet (Uncapped ADSL or Cable – average per month)||CHF 59|
|Electricity (average per month for standard household)||CHF 325|
|Taxi rate per kilometre||CHF 2.50|
|City centre bus fare||CHF 2|
|Petrol/Gasolene (per litre)||CHF 1.94|