Diccon Bewes: The cheapest place to live in Switzerland
The Swiss love statistics and a report on the cheapest places to live in Switzerland offers a range of interesting titbits. Which canton pays the most tax? Rent? Insurance? It's got it all.
There's nothing the Swiss love more that compiling and tabulating statistics, especially when they are about Switzerland. Barely a month goes by without some new report about road deaths, organic food consumption, or numbers of foreigners; last week it was disposable income, when Credit Suisse published its latest look about which Swiss cantons were the cheapest and priciest to live in. And the winner was...
Uri. If you're reading this outside Switzerland, you may never have heard of Canton Uri, even though it was one of the three original cantons that founded the country back in 1291. That was perhaps its high point, other than being the home of the most famous Swiss man ever, William Tell. It doesn't have any big name attractions, so most visitors just pass through on their way over or under the Gotthard Pass. And it doesn't take long to pass through – Uri is only 1076sq km – but while we do that, here are some other Uri stats.:
- Population: 35,335, with 9.4 percent foreigners;
- Languages: German (93.5 percent of the population), Serbo-Croatian (1.9 percent), Italian (1.3 percent);
- Unemployment rate: 1.4 percent.
None of that counted in the Credit Suisse survey, which focused on living costs across Switzerland, including rents, taxes, social costs and health insurances. All of those vary from canton to canton, even income tax; in Switzerland that is determined by where you live, not where you work, and communities can have hugely differing rates of tax. Health insurance is another fixed cost that is priced according to place of residence, even if the cover is the same. Tax cuts and low insurance helped Uri jump from 11th place last time straight to the top. The five cheapest places to live (in terms of lowest combined fixed costs) are:
- Appenzell Innerrhoden
Which is all very well if you want to live surrounded by fields of cows or apple trees; too bad if you actually want something more exciting than watching cheese mature. For that you have to go somewhere more expensive.
City life doesn't come cheap in Switzerland; all the bottom (priciest) places were taken by more urbanised areas, with Geneva by far the most expensive place in the country, followed by Basel-Stadt, Vaud, Basel-Land and Zurich. My home, Bern, scraped in at number 20 (out of 26), just about at the national average.
Funnily enough, all those places are the ones with the highest percentage of foreigners living there. Some might say that it is the foreigners who are pushing up costs, particularly in housing; others, however, might just realise that foreigners choose the more interesting places to live.
The whole report (which you can read here), includes some fascinatingly detailed data. Who knew, for example, that Jura and Neuchâtel have the highest tax burden but lowest housing costs? Or that Graubünden is the most expensive place to own a car? Or even that health insurance is half the price in Appenzell Innerrhoden compared to Geneva, for the same cover! Geneva loses again on rents, the highest in Switzerland.
Perhaps the biggest surprise for me was that, overall, tax is less of a drain on household income than insurances or housing costs. Anyone reading this in Britain or Germany will find it hard to believe that tax only accounts for 11.7 percent of Swiss income. And that's a national average figure. West is worst when it comes to tax, as this map shows. No wonder stars like Roger Federer and Tina Turner live in the dark blue areas.
Even after digesting all that, I don't think I'll be moving to Uri in a hurry. I might have to pay more to live in Bern but it's worth every franc. There's nowhere else in Switzerland I'd rather be.
Diccon grew up in Britain but now lives in Bern. He has spent the last seven years grappling with German grammar, overcoming his innate desire to form an orderly queue and exploring parts of Switzerland he never knew existed. And eating lots of chocolate. He is the author of the bestselling book Swiss Watching.
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