Cost of living in Switzerland

Cost of living in Switzerland: Can you afford it?

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The cost of living in Switzerland in high but provides access to one of the world's highest life qualities. This guide includes the cost of living in Switzerland for housing, healthcare, education, transport, food and more.

The cost of living in Switzerland is notoriously high. Switzerland’s idyllic Alpine lifestyle, political and economic stability, superior healthcare and high quality of living come at a price. Three of the country’s most prominent cities – Zurich, Geneva and Basel – feature in Mercer’s top 10 most expensive cities in the world in 2017. But it’s not all bad news, with the high cost of living in Switzerland offset by other benefits.

Despite Switzerland's high cost of living, it reportedly remains an attractive destination for foreigners, ranked as the 12th most popular country for British expats. The Swiss statistics office also reported that Switzerland’s foreign population hit 2.1 million people in 2017, representing almost a quarter (24.9 percent) of the total population (around 8.4 million pople) and a year-on-year growth rate in 2016 of 2.5 percent. 

This guide provides insight into the cost of living in Switzerland in areas such as accommodation, food, health insurance, education, taxes, social security and entertainment.

This guide to the cost of living in Switzerland includes:

Cost of living in Switzerland

While the average Swiss household expenditure is around 60 percent higher than other Eurozone countries (Eurostat 2016), the cost of living in Switzerland is supported by superior wages and high living standards – an advantage many expats working in Switzerland find particularly appealing. In HSBC’s 2016 Expat Explorer Survey, Switzerland was named the fifth best country to offer a good quality of life, and topped the local purchasing power index. You can compare the Swiss minimum wage and average salaries in Switzerland.

Cost of living in Zurich

Zurich was ranked as the world's second most expensive in Mercer's 2017 report, as well as ranking ninth (joined with Hamburg) as having the best city infrastructure. Online cost surveyors rank Zurich as having the highest costs for basic medicine and lunchtime menus and taxis in the business district, estimating the total cost of living in Zurich at around:

  • 100+ percent more expensive than in Lisbon, Madrid and Istanbul
  • 84 percent more expensive than in Brussels
  • 72 percent more expensive than in Munich
  • 46 percent more expensive than in Paris
  • 33 percent more expensive than in Singapore
  • 24 percent more expensive than in London
  • 21 percent more expensive than in Lausanne
  • 6 percent more expensive than in New York.

Cost of living in Geneva

Mercer ranked the cost of living in Geneva as the eighth highest in the world. Online cost surveyors estimate Geneva's cost of living at:

  • 71 percent more expensive than in Milan
  • 36 percent more expensive than in Paris
  • 25 percent more expensive than in Singapore
  • 16 percent more expensive than in London
  • Around the same as New York.

Basel's cost of living also entered Mercer's top 10 for the first time in 2017. The cost of living in Bern ranked ninth in 2015 and eighth in 2014, although fell to 13th place in 2016.

Housing costs in Switzerland 

Few people own their own property in Switzerland (around 40 percent) so finding affordable, decent rental accommodation poses more difficulties than other European countries. In popular expat hangouts like Zurich, Geneva and Bern, high demand means the best apartments come with many requirements, including up to three months’ deposit upfront. In general, expats can expect to pay around 20 percent or more of their salary on housing. 

The most expensive Swiss city to rent is Zurich. Luxury apartments cost around EUR 3,950 per month for 120 sqm while a standard three-bedroomed apartment averages some EUR 2,180 a month. Geneva is slightly less expensive with average rental prices at around EUR 1,870. However, for expat families looking for a house in a surburban setting, prices shoot up to more than CHF 5,000 in the top areas. 

The most affordable town to rent is La Chaux-de-Fonds in the quaint canton of Neuchatel, which is a popular choice among expats. Here you will find apartments for an average of EUR 1,500 whilst other popular towns of St Gallen, Schaffhausen and Biel average EUR 1,220. Apartments for rent in the Swiss capital, Bern, average around EUR 1,800. 

The Swiss government also imposes restrictions that make it harder for non-nationals to buy property in Switzerland, as well as residents who are not EU nationals or holders of a permanent Swiss residence. It’s not impossible but can cost more because temporary residents may be required to purchase a licence to buy. The average price for houses and apartments is EUR 11,500 per square meter. The minimum price of a studio can range from CHF 150,000–350,000 in the top cities, while ­an apartment (two to three bedrooms) can start from around EUR 800,000. Total transaction costs also add up to around 3.7 percent, on top of the typical 20 percent deposit. Read more about buying property in Switzerland

Rubbish collection costs in Switzerland

On top of accommodation costs, residents are also obligated to pay a fee for garbage disposal. The monthly cost is worked out on the size of the bags and differs slightly between municipals. The most expensive is Zurich which imposes the following charges:

  • 17L – EUR 0.80
  • 35L – EUR 1.59
  • 60L – EUR 2.90
  • 100L – EUR 5.34

Recycling is taken very seriously in Switzerland and local councils have strict rules. Break them and you could receive a EUR 250 fine or a two-day stay in the local prison. 

Utility costs in Switzerland 

Utility companies are privately owned in Switzerland and offer all-in packages which sometimes reduce the overall cost of electricity, broadband and TV licences. Gas is rarely used in Swiss households because of extreme sourcing costs. 

Some landlords include basic utilities in the rental prices, typically around 15–20 percent of rent. However most Swiss residents pay their own utilities (Nebenkosten), at estimated rates of around CHF 200–350 per month for a one-bedroom apartment, up to CHF 600 for a family in a three-bedroom apartment. Online surveyor Numbeo puts average basic utilities costs (85sqm) at around CHF 180 (range CHF 80–300) and internet costs at around CHF 50 per month (range CHF 30–75). 

There is also a television and radio fee of around CHF 150 per quarter for any household or car with a television or radio. 

Cost of public transport in Switzerland   

If you intend to live in one of the major Swiss cities, you can expect to pay from EUR 50–100 a month for a travel pass. Tickets are valid on trams, trains, buses and ships. Single fares are around EUR 3. 

There are numerous discount cards available to cut costs, including the annual Swiss Half Fare card which grants almost 50 percent off all public transport types, or a Junior Card which allows children to travel free with an adult. 

Taxis demand a carriage charge of EUR 6.20 and EUR 5.35 for every mile travelled (prices based on 2017 rates). If you intend to drive your own vehicle in Switzerland, fuel prices were around CHF 1.4 per litre in April 2017. Owning a car can be expensive, however, due to canton taxes, vehicle insurance and parking permits. Cars are estimated at around 30 percent more expensive than in other European cities. 

Cost of groceries in Switzerland 

Monthly supermarket bills vary widely depending on the household size and preferred brands, however, food in Switzerland can be expected at around 20–30 higher than other European cities, with prices highest in Zurich and Geneva. Residents should budget around EUR 200 per person (ranging from CHF 100 for a single person to EUR 300 for a family). Shopping after 5pm can sometimes save a few euros on perishable items, or at international budget supermarkets such as Aldi or Lidl. 

Education costs in Switzerland 

The state education system in Switzerland is recognised as one of the best in the world. Public schools are state-funded meaning tuition fees are free. However, as lessons are taught in the canton’s local language, international children who don’t speak French, German, Italian or Romansch can struggle. There are also Swiss bilingual schools that teach the Swiss curriculum in a local language and English, with annual fees ranging anywhere up to CHF 25,000. Our guide explains the types of schools in Switzerland to help you decide.

An alternative option is a private or an international school, which follow international curriculums in native languages. Competition for places is stiff and tuition fees are expensive, ranging anywhere from CHF 25,000 to CHF 100,000 per year. Expat employees, however, can often negotiate to include education expenses in their employment package. See our guide to international schools in Switzerland.

In contrast, fees for universities in Switzerland are substantially lower and exceptionally reasonable compared to other leading education institutions, such as in the UK and US. The average annual cost for tuition fees are: 

  • University of Geneva – EUR 900
  • University of Bern – EUR 1,500
  • University of Basel ­– EUR 1,600
  • University of Lausanne – EUR 1,500

The Universities of Fribourg, Lucerne, Neuchatel, St. Gallen, Zurich and Lugano charge additional fees for foreign students. Read more about studying in Switzerland.

Healthcare costs in Switzerland 

Basic healthcare insurance is compulsory in Switzerland and can be expensive, although it does provide access to one of the best healthcare system in the world. 

The average cost for healthcare ranges from EUR 400­–500 a month although you can find health insurance packages for less. Low-cost insurance plans, however, can quickly leave insurees with a bill they weren’t expecting to pay.

Price rises can vary greatly each year depending on the insurer’s and canton’s economy, which are announced by the Federal Public Health Office (OFSP). With 2017 increases ranging from 3.5 percent to 7.5 percent across insurers and cantons, cantons with the highest average monthly premiums include:

  • Basel-City – CHF 567
  • Geneva – CHF 554
  • Vaud– CHF 495
  • Jura – CHF 488
  • Basel-Landschaft – CHF 488

The lowest costs were seen in:

  • Appenzell-Innerrhoden – CHF 348
  • Nidwalden – CHF 361
  • Ury – CHF 369
  • Zug – CHF 376
  • Obwalden – CHF 376.

This puts Basel-City at around 63 percent more expensive than Appenzell-Innerrhoden. The government provides a tool to compare prices. Find more information on the Swiss healthcare system and Swiss health insurance

Childcare costs in Switzerland 

Thanks to a government initiative in 2003, there are more than 2,000 crèches in Switzerland with the capacity to mind around 50,000 children. But childcare costs in Switzerland do not come cheap.

Crèches are centrally located in city centers for working parents, where higher rent prices generally mean higher child-minding fees. Childcare averages around CHF 2,000 per month, but prices vary greatly. Parents living in Zurich, Bern and Geneva can pay anywhere from EUR 50–EUR 150 per day. In smaller cities, the cost of day care centres ranges from EUR 40–120. 

An alternative option is to hire a ‘day mother’, who often have their own older children so prices can be cheaper. Their fees can cost from EUR 5 to EUR 15 an hour per child. 

The Swiss Red Cross also run a baby-sitting program that encourages teenagers to look after young children. However, fees are equivalent to day mothers, so you have to decide where your money is better spent. 

The least expensive option is to hire an au pair, whether locally or from abroad. Swiss law only allows au pairs to work for six hours a day. The most you will pay an au pair is around EUR 750 a month. 

Read more on finding childcare in Switzerland

Cost of dining out in Switzerland 

Switzerland has a cosmopolitan flavour when it comes to eating out and is acknowledged as a culinary haven – if you can afford to eat out, with costs typically limiting the number of times the average family treats themselves to a restaurant meal. 

For an easy price comparison, a Starbucks coffee is EUR 6 and a McDonalds value meal is EUR 14 in Switzerland. A modest meal in a bar or café can cost EUR 10–15 per person, or up to around EUR 20 per person in a cheap restaurant or for takeaway like pizza. The average price for a pint of beer in a bar is around CHF 5–6, with a bottle of water costing around CHF 1.50–3.30 (supermarket to restaurant prices). 

For something more extravagant, you can expect to pay at least CHF 100 in a typical mid-range restaurant for a three-course meal for two and a glass of wine each. Set menus tend to be slightly less expensive than à la carte and cost anything between EU 30–50 each. If you’re adding cinema tickets to your date, add around CHF 40 for two. Opera and art exhibitions are cheaper, at around CHF 15–20 per person. 

In total, estimates the average food expenditure in Switzerland at around USD 8,025 per year, including dining in and out plus alcohol and tabacco costs. 

The good news is that tips are included in the bill. The most affordable time of day to eat out in Switzerland is lunchtime where you can order discount deals from the menu of the day. This usually consists of a starter and a main course. 

Tax costs in Switzerland 

Switzerland’s tax system is complicated with taxes levied at federal, municipal and cantonal levels. Married couples are also taxed on their joint earnings rather than individually, and many tax reliefs exist. 

Federal income tax is levied on a taxpayer’s worldwide personal income at a maximum rate of 11.5 percent depending on the amount of earnings. Swiss taxes are exempt on incomes less than EUR 12,500. Added to this are cantonal tax and municipal tax, which are calculated separately as are deductions set by the canton. The average percentage of taxable income is around 17 percent, up to a maximum of around 30 percent, although some cantons have a flat taxable rate. 

In total, residents in Switzerland can expect to pay from 20–40 percent of their earnings in Swiss taxes depending on monthly income and where you live. In 2017 Zug reportedly had some the lowest tax rates, making it one of the most attractive for companies, alongside Schwyz, Nidwalden, Lucerne and Appenzell Ausserrhoden. 

Other taxes also apply, such as wealth and capital gains; see the full list of applicable Swiss taxes and an explanation of when Swiss inheritance tax applies. 

Social security and pension costs in Switzerland 

Expats living in Switzerland are obligated to pay social security and pension contributions. This is typically organized by your company and paid directly out of your monthly salary, along with your employer’s contributions (contributing around 50 percent). 

In the event of losing your job, expats can be entitled to unemployment benefits at a rate of up to 70 percent of previous salary after one year of working in Switzerland. Read our complete guide to Swiss social security and benefits.

The pension system in Switzerland includes three pillars: state, company and private pensions. State and occupational pension contributions are mandatory on income higher than EUR 19,818, payable from the age of 20 until you retire. Private pensions are optional. Read more in our guide to Swiss pensions.

For economic indicators of prices, such as inflation, see the Swiss government’s website.

Click to the top of our guide to the cost of living in Switzerland.

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