Switzerland is known for many things – the fine art of watch-making, spectacular ski slopes and melt-in-the-mouth cheeses, among other things. But there’s something else for which the country is known, and that is its exorbitant cost of living. In fact, the Swiss cities of Zurich, Geneva and Bern are often ranked among the top ten expensive places in the world. Expats thinking about moving to Switzerland need to be aware about the costs of living, so that they can make adequate preparations. Remember that there may also be a few unforeseen expenses and taxes after moving there. Another important factor is that there are differences in the tax percentages and fees for certain things that vary from one region to another. The Swiss tax system is complex, as it covers 26 cantons and around 2,600 municipalities, and each of these levies its own taxes.Accommodation
Switzerland has more tenants than owners, and there is a shortage of apartments in most towns and cities, especially bustling ones like Geneva and Zurich. This has led to an escalation in rental rates, and expats may have to part with at least 20 percent of their income on accommodation. In some cases, an advance payment of three months deposit may be required to secure a particular accommodation. As per 2013 estimates, the rate for an upmarket city apartment is CHF 3,300, while a smaller apartment in a low-key area will cost CHF 1,700. The cost of accommodation in suburban areas is about CHF 5,500 for a larger house. Add to this a monthly budget of CHF 340 to 350 for gas and electricity costs. You also need to pay for special garbage bags in Switzerland, and these are priced according to size.
Groceries could cost you at least 20 to 30 percent more than in any surrounding country. Even restaurants and bars are more expensive. Although not very popular, there are some discount stores for groceries. VAT and state taxes are lower in Switzerland compared to countries like France and Germany, and therefore alcohol prices are more reasonable.
Health insurance can take up a considerable amount of your salary here. Each family member has to have separate insurance, although there are discounts for children and young adults. It is mandatory to have private health insurance, and this is an expensive affair. You may have to shell out about CHF 4,200 per year for health insurance. You will be charged premiums depending on your geographic area, irrespective of your income level. There are no cash subsidies provided by the government for those who have to pay a monthly premium equal to or higher than 8 percent of their monthly income.
The country’s transport services are efficient and comprehensive, but still expensive. Those living in urban areas may avail of a Swiss Half Fare card. It costs CHF 165 for a year and provides up to 50 percent discounts on buses, trains, mountain trains and cable car services. Some expats prefer to save on transport expenses by investing in a bike. Cycling is a common mode of travel in Switzerland, but you do need to pay a fee for an annual license, as without it you could be liable to pay a hefty fine.
For those interested in using a car in Switzerland, remember that apart from the expenses of importing, buying or leasing a vehicle, there are also many supplementary fees. There is canton tax, insurance, the cost of a parking permit and petrol expenses. Many find it more economical to live without a car.
Switzerland offers its residents high quality, free education. But the teaching language depends on the geographic area. There are some schools that are bilingual or trilingual, but these can cost you up to CHF 25,000 annually. International schools, which are usually the first choice for expats, are even more expensive, charging well up to CHF 35,000 per year.
It’s important to note that the country does offer good wages (among the highest in the world) and the quality of living is also excellent. Many expats living in Switzerland feel that they get good value for their money, since the Swiss way of life is highly efficient, with solid infrastructure that takes excellent care of residents.