Switzerland has one of the world’s highest life qualities, but it comes at a cost. Can you afford it? Find out with our guide to the cost of living in Switzerland.
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. So much so that Zurich (fourth), Bern (eighth), and Geneva (ninth) – featured prominently in Mercer’s most expensive cities in the world list in 2020.
Despite Switzerland’s high cost of living, it reportedly remains an attractive destination for foreigners, ranked as the 15th most popular country for British expats. The Swiss statistics office has also reported that Switzerland’s foreign population hit nearly 2.2 million people, representing a quarter (25.3%) of the total population (around 8.6 million people).
This guide provides insight into the cost of living in Switzerland in the following areas:
- General cost of living in Switzerland
- Housing costs in Switzerland
- Rubbish collection costs in Switzerland
- Utility costs in Switzerland
- Cost of public transport in Switzerland
- Cost of groceries in Switzerland
- Education costs in Switzerland
- Healthcare costs in Switzerland
- Childcare costs in Switzerland
- Cost of dining out in Switzerland
- Tax costs in Switzerland
- Social security and pension 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 2020 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:
- 71% more expensive than in Brussels
- 64% more expensive than in Munich
- 43% more expensive than in Paris
- 54% more expensive than in London
- 36% more expensive than in New York
Cost of living in Geneva
Mercer ranked the cost of living in Geneva as the ninth-highest in the world. Online cost surveyors estimate Geneva’s cost of living to be:
- 64% more expensive than in Brussels
- 57% more expensive than in Munich
- 37% more expensive than in Paris
- 48% more expensive than in London
- 30% more expensive than in New York
Housing costs in Switzerland
Few people own their own property in Switzerland (around 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. In general, expats can expect to pay around 20% or more of their salary on housing.
The most expensive Swiss city to rent in is Zurich, with rent on apartments in the city costing between CHF 2,500 and CHF 6,000 per month. Geneva is similarly priced, with rent costing around CHF 3,000–6,000, although cheaper prices can be found 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 to buy.
The average price for buying a property in Switzerland varies from area to area.
Lausanne is the most expensive place, with average mortgage payments equalling 61.5% of income. Total transaction costs also add up to 3.55% of the overall property cost, on top of the typical 20% deposit – 10% of which must be in cash. 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. One of the most expensive is Zurich which is imposing the following charges in 2019:
- 17L: CHF 0.85
- 35L: CHF 1.70
- 60L: CHF 3.10
- 100L: CHF 5.70
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.
Utility costs in Switzerland
Utility companies are privately owned and offer all-in packages which sometimes reduce the overall cost of electricity, TV licenses, and broadband internet in Switzerland. 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% 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 and internet costs at around CHF 58 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.
Cost of public transport in Switzerland
Happily, public transport in Switzerland is widely available. However, it’s not the cheapest. If you intend to live in one of the major Swiss cities, you can expect to pay from CHF 75 a month for a travel pass. Tickets are valid on trams, trains, buses, and ships. Single fares are around CHF 3.20
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.
Taxis demand a carriage charge of CHF 7 and CHF 3.8 for every kilometer traveled. If you intend to drive your own vehicle in Switzerland, fuel prices were around CHF 1.43 per liter in February 2021. Owning a car can be expensive, however, due to cantonal taxes, vehicle insurance, and parking permits. Cars are estimated to be around 30% more expensive than in other European countries.
Cost of 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 100 for a single person to CHF 300 for a family per month. Shopping after 17:00 can sometimes save a few francs on perishable items, or at international budget supermarkets such as Aldi or Lidl.
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. 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 educational institutions. The average cost for a whole Bachelor’s degree is CHF 18,500 – though some charge just CHF 5,000 while others will cost up to CHF 24,000. 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.
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 cost for healthcare is around CHF 450 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 2,000 per month, but prices vary greatly. Parents living in Zurich, Bern, and Geneva can pay anywhere from CHF 55–170 per day. In smaller cities, the cost of daycare centers ranges from CHF 45–135.
An alternative option is to hire a day mother, who often have their own older children so prices can be cheaper.
The Swiss Red Cross also runs 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.
Cost of dining out in Switzerland
Switzerland has a cosmopolitan flavor 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 McDonald’s value meal is CHF 14 in Switzerland and a regular cappuccino costs around CHF 4.60. A modest meal in a bar or café can cost CHF 12–18 per person, or up to around CHF 25 per person in a cheap restaurant or for takeaway pizza. The average price for a pint of beer in a bar is around CHF 6–7, 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 CHF 35–55 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.
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.
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.
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 2019, Zug had some the lowest tax rates, making it one of the most attractive cantons for companies.
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.
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. Read our complete guide to Swiss social security.
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.
- For economic indicators of prices, such as inflation, see the Swiss government’s website.