Switzerland has one of the world’s highest life qualities, but it comes at a cost. Can you afford it? Find out by reading about the cost of living in Switzerland.
The cost of living in Switzerland is notoriously high. Switzerland’s idyllic Alpine lifestyle, political and economic stability, excellent healthcare, and high quality of living come at a price. So much so that three Swiss cities featured prominently in Mercer’s 2021 Cost of Living City Ranking – Zurich (fifth), Geneva (eighth), and Bern (tenth).
Despite Switzerland’s high cost of living, it reportedly remains an attractive destination for foreigners, ranked as the 14th most popular country for British expats. The Swiss statistics office has also reported that Switzerland’s foreign population consists of just over 2.2 million people, representing a quarter (25.3%) of the total population (almost 8.7 million people).
This guide provides insight into the cost of living in Switzerland in the following areas:
- General cost of living in Switzerland
- Wages and salary in Switzerland
- Housing costs in Switzerland
- The cost of domestic bills in Switzerland
- Healthcare costs in Switzerland
- Childcare costs in Switzerland
- Education costs in Switzerland
- The cost of food and drink in Switzerland
- Transport costs in Switzerland
- Leisure activities in Switzerland
- Taxation and social security in Switzerland
- Assistance with living costs in Switzerland
General cost of living in Switzerland
While the average Swiss household expenditure is considerably higher than neighboring European countries, 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. You can compare the average salaries in Switzerland.
Cost of living in Zurich
Zurich was ranked as the world’s fourth-most expensive city in Mercer’s 2021 report, and the most expensive city in Europe. Online cost surveyors rank Zurich as having the highest costs for meals at an inexpensive restaurant, fitness clubs, imported beer and taxis, estimating the total cost of living to be:
- 80% more expensive than in Brussels
- 74% more expensive than in Munich
- 60% more expensive than in Paris
- 56% more expensive than in London
- 28% 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 to be:
- 59% more expensive than in Brussels
- 54% more expensive than in Munich
- 42% more expensive than in Paris
- 38% more expensive than in London
- 13% more expensive than in New York
Wages and salary in Switzerland
Switzerland has a reputation for high pay – the average salary in Switzerland is about CHF 36,487, higher than the OECD average. The country also has a higher employment rate than most OECD countries.
On the other hand, one of the less desirable aspects of Switzerland’s job market is the lack of nationwide minimum wage. However, several cantons have their own minimum wage requirement. If you live in Geneva, for example, you could earn the highest minimum wage in the world: CHF 23 per hour.
Housing costs in Switzerland
Few people own their own property in Switzerland (under 40%), so finding decent, affordable rental accommodation poses more difficulties than in 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.
The most expensive Swiss city to rent in is Zurich, with rent on apartments in the city costing between CHF 1,500 and CHF 6,000 per month. Geneva is similarly priced, with rent costing around CHF 1,600–6,000, although you can find cheaper accommodation outside the city center.
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 license.
The average price for buying a property in Switzerland varies from area to area. Zurich is the most expensive place, with average properties costing CHF 12,250 per square meter. Read more about buying property in Switzerland.
The cost of domestic bills in Switzerland
Utility bills in Switzerland
Some landlords include basic utilities, such as electricity and water, in the rental prices, typically around 15–20% of rent. However, most Swiss residents pay their own utilities (Nebenkosten). Online surveyor Numbeo puts average basic utility costs for an 85 square meter apartment at around CHF 198. Gas is rarely used in Swiss households because of extreme sourcing costs.
In addition to accommodation costs, residents are also obligated to pay a fee for garbage disposal. The monthly cost depends on the size of the bags and differs slightly between municipalities. Recycling is taken very seriously in Switzerland and local councils have strict rules. Break them and you could receive a big fine or even a two-day stay in the local prison.
Telecommunications in Switzerland
Telecoms are privately owned and offer all-in packages which sometimes reduce the overall cost of TV and broadband internet in Switzerland. Numbeo puts average internet costs at around CHF 56 per month. There is also a television and radio fee of around CHF 355 per year for any household or company with a television or radio.
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 systems in the world.
The average health insurance premium costs CHF 315.30 a month, although you can find health insurance packages for less. Low-cost insurance plans, however, can quickly leave you with a bill you 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). The government provides a tool to compare prices between areas.
Childcare costs in Switzerland
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 1,200 to 1,800 per month, but prices vary greatly.
The Swiss Red Cross also runs a baby-sitting program that encourages teenagers to look after young children. 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.
Education costs in Switzerland
The state education system in Switzerland is recognized to be one of the best in the world. Public schools are state-funded, meaning tuition fees do not exist. However, as lessons are taught in one of the canton’s official languages, international children who don’t speak French, German, Italian or Romansh can struggle.
There are also bilingual Swiss schools that teach the Swiss curriculum in a local language and English, with annual fees up to CHF 25,000. Read more about 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 educational institutions. The average cost for a whole Bachelor’s degree is around CHF 25,000. Certain institutions and disciplines will be more expensive than others.
The universities of Fribourg, Lucerne, Neuchatel, St. Gallen, Zurich and Lugano charge additional fees for foreign students.
The cost of food and drink in Switzerland
Groceries in Switzerland
Monthly supermarket bills vary widely depending on the household size and preferred brands, though food in Switzerland can be expected to be around 20–30% higher than other European cities, with prices being highest in Zurich and Basel.
Residents should budget around CHF 400–650 per month per person. Shopping after 17:00 can sometimes save a few francs on perishable items, or at international budget supermarkets such as Aldi or Lidl.
Restaurants in Switzerland
Switzerland has a cosmopolitan flavor when it comes to eating out and is acknowledged as a culinary haven. That’s if you can afford to eat out, as costs typically limit the number of times the average family treats themselves to a restaurant meal.
For an easy price comparison, a McDonald’s value meal is CHF 15 in Switzerland. A three-course meal for two will set you back about CHF 100, or up to around CHF 25 per person in a cheap restaurant or for takeaway pizza.
The good news is that tips are included in the bill. The most affordable time of day to eat out in Switzerland is lunchtime, when you can order discount deals from the menu of the day. This usually consists of a starter and a main course.
Beer, wine, and spirits in Switzerland
Whatever your preferred drink, Switzerland has all kinds available. White wine is popular with fondue, and beer-lovers will be spoilt for choice. The average price for a pint of beer in a bar is around CHF 6–7. Switzerland has a variety of vineyards to discover, and a bottle of mid-range wine will cost you about CHF 15, according to a price survey.
Coffee in Switzerland
A regular cappuccino will set you back, on average, CHF 4.70. This goes up to CHF 5 in Zurich – much more expensive than other European capital cities such as London, Paris, and Berlin.
Transport costs in Switzerland
Public transport in Switzerland
Happily, public transport in Switzerland is widely available. However, it’s not the cheapest in Europe. If you intend to live in one of the major Swiss cities, you can expect to pay from CHF 65 a month for a travel pass. Tickets are valid on trams, trains, buses, and ships. Single fares are around CHF 3.50.
There are numerous discount cards available to cut costs, including the annual Swiss Half Fare card which grants almost 50% off all public transport types, or a Junior Card which allows children to travel free with an adult.
Private transport in Switzerland
Taxis demand a carriage charge of CHF 6.50 and CHF 3.8 for every kilometer traveled. If you intend to drive your own vehicle in Switzerland, fuel prices were around CHF 1.67 per liter in March 2022.
Owning a car in Switzerland can be a costly investment, due to many additional charges. For example, registering you car costs CHF 50–100 depending on the canton. Driving on the motorway requires a motorway charge sticker, costing CHF 40. There is also an annual vehicle tax, which varies according to canton, with charges based on different criteria. For instance, if you own a car in Bern, you’ll pay CHF 240 for the first 1,000kg of weight and 14% less on each additional 1,000kg. Parking permits are an additional cost that can vary widely – anything from a few francs to upwards of 1,000.
Leisure activities in Switzerland
Clothing in Switzerland
Just like almost everything else in Switzerland, clothing is expensive. Compared to the three neighboring countries, you can expect to pay around 25% more. For example, a pair of good-quality jeans will set you back about CHF 99 and a summer dress from a chain store costs about CHF 47.
Sports in Switzerland
A gym membership in Switzerland is one of the more expensive ones in Europe. Expect to pay about CHF 85 per month. Meanwhile, the average cost of renting a tennis court is around CHF 35. If you want to save money with a one-off purchase, you can buy a pair of running shoes for about CHF 107.
Taxation and social security 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.
In total, residents in Switzerland can expect to pay from 20–40% of their earnings in Swiss taxes depending on monthly income and where you live. In 2021, Zug had some the lowest tax rates, making it one of the most attractive cantons for companies.
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.
The pension system in Switzerland includes three pillars: state, company, and private pensions. State and occupational pension contributions are mandatory and are payable from the age of 20 until you retire. Private pensions are optional. Read more in our guide to Swiss pensions.
Assistance with living costs in Switzerland
Should you find yourself unable to pay living costs due to your circumstances, there is help available in Switzerland. For a full overview, visit our pages on Swiss social security. Some of the main benefits you can claim include:
- Family allowance: At least CHF 200–250 per child
- Maternity/Paternity allowance: 80% of average income (up to CHF 196 per day maximum)
- Old-age pension: CHF 1,195–2,390 (CHF 3,585 for a couple)
- Social assistance: At least CHF 997 per month, depending on how many people in the household
- Unemployment benefit: 80% of average pay in the last six months, up to a maximum of CHF 1,2350 per month
In the event of losing your job, expats can be entitled to unemployment benefits at a rate of up to 70% of previous salary after one year of working in Switzerland.
- For economic indicators of prices, such as inflation, see the Swiss government’s website.