What is billag?: TV and radio licencing in Switzerland

What is billag?: TV and radio licencing in Switzerland

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Our blogger Jessica of Swisstory explains the surprising fees for televisions and radios.

The other day we got a letter in the mail from 'Billag.' Just from reading the return address alone my husband asked, "What did you buy now? That must be a bill...'

Funny, because that's exactly what it was.

Billag is the branding or name that the Swiss government calls its TV and radio licence program.

Basically, if you have a TV or radio within your presence you have to pay a licencing fee per month for the service.

Honestly, this blows my mind, so just to dull the blow for any newcomers to Switzerland, here are my own personal Billag FAQs.

Q: Is this like...you know, just paying for cable?

A: Um, absolutely not! This is the basic licence that you pay to use a TV or radio. Period. On top of cable, if you have it. (Can you live with the four or five stations you get without cable?)

In the information we received, it says that it costs CHF 13.75 per month for radio and CHF 23.84 per month for a television (approximately CHF 450.08 per year). From reading the book Living & Working in Switzerland, I learned that one redeeming feature of this whole licensc thing is that it covers any and all TVs or electronics with a radio in your possession. Thank goodness.

Have three radios? They're covered with one licence. Have two TVs? Covered. Have a TV at home and one in the country house? Hahahah...oh that's just too funny... um sorry, let me compose myself and continue...then this covers them both, too.

But on the other hand, even if you do have one of these items and you NEVER use it, you still have to pay; hence some angst on the English Forum.

(One bloke on the forums made a bit of a scene at the Billag office because he thought it was crazy to pay the radio licence just for his car radio. So he asked if he would have to pay if he tore it out of the car. To which the Billag customer service rep said, "Oh, ok... well you have a clock radio, yes? Then you still pay...sorry. Ah HAHAHAHHA!")

Q: What if I don't want to pay this?

A: Um, well tough nuts. As we understand it, you have to pay it... you can be fined heftily if a Billag inspector comes around and you don't have this licence paid. Actually, if my translation is correct, it's a CHF 5000 fine. Yes, that's right, three zeros there.

Also, the Swiss, a meticulous nation, keeps good track of where you live and when you’re home. They'll come by to listen at your door to what shows you watch and return the very next week to interrupt your favourite shows and charge you! (Not really, but I have read they do show up to do inspections!). So... again, it's not worth it to try and work the system.

While it hurts me as much as it (may) hurt you, I don't want them interrupting my Gossip Girl or Ausgezeichnet Alaska (for all you foreigners that's what they call Northern Exposure here, which I'm into now, having never seen it when it first aired).

So that's Billag. . . Personally I think it's a bit weird and should just be part of some other tax that you have to pay that gets secretly rolled into something else.

Text: Jessica Cartwright / Expatica 
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3 Comments To This Article

  • CanadianMountie posted:

    on 12th May 2014, 17:38:14 - Reply

    The Swiss like to gauge you when they can.

    It is a joke that this is a democracy when 30% of the population is foreign with no voting power and the majority of the system is paid for by foreign taxes and worker funds.

    In addition to the "Foreigner's are taking our jobs" sentiment because they refuse to work more than 30 hours a week or with different time zones.
  • SwahiliWizz posted:

    on 13th March 2014, 08:27:15 - Reply

    After today's reports of overwealming support for new laws on Swiss TV and Radio Broadcasting tax (Billag), with no opt-out possibility for non-listeners, non-computer/smartphone/gadget owners - ie. a flat-tax for all private and also large corporate persons - it's time to again reflect on the nature of the Swiss Billag fee, and compare it the the BBC TV licence fee.
    Collection efficiency preceeds motives of equality.
    No opt-out (apart from in next five years) for anyone, irrespective of their consumption, or gadget-ownership.
    Progress, equality, justice, at last in a democratic nation.
  • Erica posted:

    on 1st May 2009, 21:54:23 - Reply

    It really, really bugs me to pay this fee! It should come out of the tax that's paid through your cable bill.