For most expats and travelers, the word ‘exorbitant’ is what immediately comes to mind when talking about Switzerland. This is hardly surprising, as this Alps country has featured among the top in the list of the ‘Most Expensive Places to Live in the World’ for several years in a row.Almost every single Global Survey on countries with high living costs is likely to have this popular European destination among the top 10, right along with Japan, Norway, Luxemburg, Iceland, Denmark, the UK, France, Bermuda and the Netherlands. Even when looking at individual cities that are among the most expensive, three popular Swiss cities, Geneva, Zurich and Bern, always rank among the top. Unfortunately, rural areas in Switzerland aren’t really much cheaper either. Yet, the Land of Milk and Honey acts as a magnet for tourists and expats of all ages and from across the globe. So is this nation really as expensive for foreigners and residents as the surveys will have you believe?
People working or running a business in Switzerland usually tend to earn a higher income as compared to professionals and entrepreneurs in most other places. Their purchasing power is therefore quite strong. This helps to offset the higher than average prices of products and services to a great extent. Moreover, Swiss authorities ensure that heavy discounts are offered to those who really need them, like students. Many Swiss citizens do not believe that their country is very expensive as they are not comparing the cost of living to other nations. As an outsider who has just moved to Switzerland you may think otherwise, especially if you keep converting amounts you pay in Swiss Francs (CHF) into your local currency or if you compare prices to how much you pay for the same product or service back home.
To figure out how expensive a place really is for an expat, you should ideally consider the various expenses you are likely to incur in a month and compare the final amount to your estimated income. Also make sure that you factor in an additional amount for emergencies and luxuries each month as a buffer. When anticipating your expenditure, do bear in mind that taxes in the country are high and could differ from one canton to the other. Read on to find out how much you are likely to spend each month living in Switzerland.
Housing costs are probably the biggest expense for a majority of expats and locals. Unfortunately, there are limited options and demand is extremely high in comparison, thereby driving up prices. The average resident spends approximately 20% of their salary on rent every month. The amount you pay for accommodation per month may vary, depending on location (proximity to the heart of the city), size and type of the property you settle for. Also, like in most other countries, furnished homes always cost more than semi or unfurnished apartments.
The average rent for a 1-bedroom flat in the main city is around CHF 1,528 (US $1,555). However, you will pay less than CHF 1,130 (US $1,150) for an apartment of the same in a suburban or rural area. While the rent for a 3-bedroom apartment is around CHF 2,936 (US $2,988) in the city center, it is less than CHF 2,235 (US $2,274) outside the main city. People pay up to CHF 3,500 (US $ 3,550) to stay in some of the more expensive areas of Zurich. These prices may differ depending on whether the property is furnished or not. Tenants are generally required to pay 3 months’ rent as a deposit.
Purchasing a house in Switzerland isn’t cheap either. In fact, property prices are known to be very high and that’s why a majority of the residents rent their accommodation. The average price per square meter is around CHF 10,611 (US $ 10,799) in the city center and around CHF 7,805 (US $ 7,944) outside the main city area.
Several landlords ask for Nebenkosten (maintenance, laundry and utility charges) in addition to the rent. This is an annual charge and it could be anywhere between 12% and 20% of your total yearly rental. Be prepared to pay between CHF 1,500 (US $ 1,521) & CHF 3000 (US $ 3,042) a year, depending on the size of your house.
Alternately, you could choose to settle your own electricity, water and heating bills, as per your consumption and have your landlord only charge you for the shared facilities. The average monthly cost per person is usually under CHF 100 (US $ 101); a family of four is likely to spend approximately CHF 400 (US $ 404) every month on their utilities.
The disposal of waste matter comes at an additional cost. Garbage bags in this country are priced depending on their size. Households that produce a higher amount of trash therefore end up paying more for waste disposal. However, recycling is free as the authorities are encouraging residents to follow a greener lifestyle.
The monthly cost of a basic Wi-Fi/Broadband/DSL connection at home is around CHF 50 (US $51). You could pay up to CHF 200 (US $203) per month for a higher speed. Most people get better deals when they sign up with companies for a package that includes internet, a telephone line and cable TV, at around CHF 100 (US $101) each month. Anyone who has the equipment for receiving a television or radio signal must have a TV license from Billag. The charge is around CHF 120 (US $121) for three months and has to be paid quarterly.
Mobile phone users have several plans and packages to choose from, depending on their requirements. The most basic prepaid mobile tariff without any discounts is CHF 0.36 (US $0.37) per minute.
Your grocery bills will contribute towards your monthly expenditure to a large extent as food in Switzerland isn’t cheap. A couple spends between CHF 100 (US $101) and CHF 300 (US $304) per week, depending upon the kind of products they buy and their alcohol consumption. Keep in mind that shopping for groceries is cheaper at some places like Denner, Lidl and Aldi as compared to Migros and Coop.
If you are likely to eat out on a regular basis, your monthly expenditure will probably go up considerably. A combo meal at a fast food joint will cost you about CHF 14 (US $14.25), almost twice what you pay in the US. This applies to other places too; you will pay at least CHF 26 (US $26) for a simple meal at an inexpensive eatery and more than CHF 100 (US $101) for a 3-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant.
Average prices are around CHF 4.48 (US $4.56) for a cappuccino, CHF 3.74 (US $3.8) for a soft drink, CHF 5.5 (US $5.6) for a 0.33-liter bottle of imported beer and CHF 6.5 (US $6.61) for a 0.5-liter bottle of domestic beer.
Switzerland has an extensive and a highly efficient public transport system but using it can be quite draining on your pocketbook. Fortunately, there are a number of discounted season tickets available especially for students, senior citizens, children and disabled commuters on various modes of transport.
The normal starting tariff for a taxi ride is CHF 6.30 (US $6.41) and you will pay CHF 3.5 (US $3.56) for every additional kilometer.
If you prefer traveling by bus or train, you are likely to pay around CHF 3.5 (US $3.56) for a short, one-way trip. Expats who live in the cities and commute on a regular basis prefer to purchase a multi-ride pass. People pay between CHF 300 (US $304) and CHF 450 (US $412) a month for season tickets. There are several travel cards that can get you up to 50% discount on each ride.
Many Swiss residents cut down on their commuting expenses by using bicycles, a popular mode of transport across the country. All cyclists must have an annual license and those who don’t are liable to pay a steep fine.
Owning a car in this country is likely to increase your monthly expenditure to a great extent because of supplementary fees like monthly insurance, canton tax, a highway sticker and parking charges. Gasoline costs around CHF 1.45 (US $1.48) a liter, which is almost three times more than the US.
The standard of education in this country is extremely high which is why students from all over the world apply to Swiss schools and colleges. Public schools are free to all residents and the quality of education is known to be excellent; however, the language of instruction in some of the state-run institutions is not English. The medium of teaching in a school could be French, German, Romansch or Italian, depending on its canton.
You will find private bilingual schools that cover the Swiss curriculum, but the classes are presented in a combination of two languages, which could include English, German and French. However, these schools tend to be more expensive and charge a tuition fee of up to CHF 25,000 (US $25,277) per annum.
Some expats choose to send their children to international schools, which can be a lot more expensive, at CHF 35,000 (US $35,387) per year. These schools generally cover curriculums of different countries like the US, UK and Canada. These schools may also use foreign languages for teaching and giving instructions.
There are a number of boarding schools across the country and their costs may vary, depending on their location and facilities.
While the healthcare system in Switzerland is regarded to be among the best in the world, it comes at a high cost. There is no free state-run health service in the country and everyone is required to have at least a basic health and accident insurance cover, even if they choose to undergo treatment at a public hospital.
Premiums are calculated according to a person’s geographic location rather than their salary and can cost anywhere between CHF 250 (US $253) and CHF 500 (US $505) per person per month. In case you want to apply for private insurance, be prepared to pay much more.
In case of hospitalization, your insurance company will be billed by the facility but you may be liable to pay co-pays, deductibles and the charges for specialist treatments. The government often grants subsidies in some situations, but rarely to foreign residents. As an expat, it is mandatory for you to be covered under a Swiss healthcare policy within 3 months of your arrival. A foreign policy is not likely to be accepted by local Swiss authorities even if it is a worldwide cover.
Do keep in mind that the various expenses mentioned above are only an estimate of what you are likely to spend each month on your everyday necessities; they don’t take into account the amount you may spend on any emergencies, luxuries, visa documentation fees, leisure, entertainment, personal care or the cost of relocation. Make sure you factor those in when calculating your expected cost of living per month.
If you realize that your income is not high enough to support the lifestyle you would like to lead, making the move may not be in your best interest. Alternately, you can try to negotiate for a better package, preferably one that includes accommodation, utilities and private healthcare. If you have children, try to get their education expenses sponsored by your company.
It is also essential for you to keep in mind that the standard of living in Switzerland is among the highest worldwide. This means you can expect a majority of the products and services you pay for to be of a superior quality to many other places. Moreover, Switzerland happens to be one of the best countries in the world to live in and this is bound to come at a premium.