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Living in Switzerland
What You Should Know about Living Costs and More in Switzerland
When most people think of Switzerland’s country facts, they think of cows, cheese, and watches. However, there are many other facets that lend to Switzerland’s vast and diverse landscape such as its 26 individually governed cantons and four official languages.
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One of the most well-known facts about Switzerland is that the cost of living is high. From housing to healthcare, Swiss residents shell out a decent percentage of their monthly salary just by living in this country.
Expats moving to Switzerland will need to learn the practicalities not just of their new country, but of their specific canton. Switzerland is known as a “confederation of cantons,” meaning it is one country divided up into several regions. Cantons are similar to states or provinces in other countries. In Switzerland, cantons have a lot of power over their own individual laws, making each canton slightly different from the others and requiring expats to need to check the specific rules and regulations of wherever they are living.
As you prepare for your move to Switzerland, use this guide to help you learn all you need to know about the cost of living in Switzerland, setting up communications, and driving and public transportation.
Emergency Numbers in Switzerland
Public Holidays in Switzerland
Every canton in Switzerland celebrates their own specific holidays in addition to recognizing the national holidays. When moving to Switzerland, be sure to check the holidays associated with your specific canton.
National Swiss Holidays
|New Year’s Day||January 1|
|Good Friday||The Friday before Easter Sunday.|
|Ascension Day||40 days after Easter.|
|National Day||August 1|
|Christmas Day||December 25|
Holidays Celebrated in Most Cantons
|Berchtolds Day||January 2|
|St. Joseph’s Day||March 19|
|Easter Monday||Monday after Easter Sunday|
|Swiss Federal Fast||Third Sunday in September.|
|Immaculate Conception Day||December 8|
|St. Stephen’s Day||December 26|
Main Embassies in Switzerland
Embassy of Canada to Switzerland in Bern
CH-3005 Bern, Switzerland
Telephone: +41 31 357 3200
Embassy of India in Bern
3005 Bern, Switzerland
Telephone: +41 31 350 1130
British Embassy in Bern
3005 Bern, Switzerland
Telephone: +41 31 359 77 00
United States of America
U.S. Embassy in Bern
CH-3007 Bern, Switzerland
Telephone: +41 31 357 7011
Main Airports in Switzerland
Zurich International Airport is the largest airport in Switzerland. The other two main airports travelers can use are:
- Geneva International Airport
- Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg Airport
Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg is located in France but is still used to service Switzerland.
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Cost of Living
The average cost of living in Switzerland varies from canton to canton, but, overall, the cost is high. Much of this expense is due to housing alone. Over half of the housing market is dominated by rentals, driving prices up with little chance of going down in the near future. Expats moving to Switzerland will see much of their living expenses spent on accommodation.
While it is expensive to live anywhere in Switzerland, by far the most expensive cities are Zurich, Geneva, Basel, and Bern. The cheapest places are Uri, Glarus, and Appenzell Innerrhoden.
In the chart below, you can see the average living expenses for the most expensive cities.
Cost of Living in Basel, Bern, Zurich, and Geneva
Single Person Household
Four Person Household
Food and Alcohol Prices in Switzerland
As well as housing prices, food prices in Switzerland are also steep. Most Swiss residents cook at home because eating out can be expensive. However, even grocery prices are higher than what many expats may be used to.
Here is a look at Swiss food and alcohol prices in Geneva. (At these prices, CHF to USD are the same.)
|One dozen eggs||7 CHF|
|One loaf of bread||3 CHF|
|One liter of milk||2 CHF|
|Domestic beer||8 CHF|
|Bottle of wine||12 CHF|
If you are renting an apartment in Switzerland, your basic utilities of electric and water should be included. When you sign your lease, you should ask for the name of the previous tenant. When you know it, you can call the utility company and change the old tenant’s name to yours. If you rent a house, you will most likely have to set-up all of your utilities brand new.
Like the housing costs, utility costs in Switzerland are not cheap. Basic utilities such as electric and water average around 180 CHF (180 USD) per 85 square meters apartment. Gas is not common in Switzerland. Internet and WiFi will run around 60 CHF (60 USD). There is also a required television and radio licensing fee of 15 CHF per month (15 USD).
Cost of Education
While everything else in Switzerland is expensive, the cost of education is reasonable. Public schools are free, and since their standard of education is of the same quality as private schools, the majority of Swiss residents choose to send their children to state institutions. However, most public schools are taught in the dominate language of their canton. That means that if the child does not speak any of them, the parents may need to look into private schooling instead, which can get pricy.
University prices are also low, especially when compared to other European countries or the US. Yearly tuition costs are generally below 2,000 CHF (2,040 USD) for both undergrad and graduate programs.
Over half of Switzerland’s housing market is dominated by rentals. Although not quite as steep as places like Los Angeles and the UAE, expats moving to Switzerland should be prepared to spend a significant portion of their salary on rent alone.
One-Bedroom Apartment Monthly Rent
|Switzerland’s Main Cities||CHF||USD|
Three-Bedroom Apartment Monthly Rent
|Switzerland’s Main Cities||CHF||USD|
Switzerland’s standard of healthcare is equal to that of its healthcare costs: high. Although there is a universal healthcare system, every Swiss resident must have their own private health insurance. Even newborn children must be signed up for their own healthcare plan within three months of their birth.
Prices for health insurance vary depending on your canton and whether you opt for a basic or a premium plan. On average, a basic healthcare plan for an adult in Switzerland range anywhere from 260 CHF (270 USD) to 480 CHF (490 USD).
Travel and Transportation Cost
In the main Swiss cities, a monthly public transportation pass costs about 75 CHF (75 USD). There are single tickets available as well and you will find that most of them work on trams, buses, and ships.
It is easy to travel within Switzerland. People travel by car, bus, or train as all options are fast and convenient. Depending on the mode of transportation, costs range around 10–100 CHF (10–102 USD). A trip from Zurich to Bern by bus, for example, is about 50 CHF (50 USD).
Culture and Social Etiquette
Historically, Switzerland is known for its neutrality and peacefulness. However, there are a handful of cultural and social etiquette to be aware of to ensure your stay in the country is also a peaceful one.
It Depends on Your Canton
It might seem like the phrase “it depends on your canton” is said too often in regard to Switzerland, but that is because it is true. This landlocked country is influenced tremendously by its bordering neighbors, specifically Germany, Italy, and France. These neighboring countries lend to Switzerland having four official languages (German, French, Italian, and Romansh) and cantons which vary culturally depending on the dominant language of the region.
For example, Geneva is in a French-speaking canton of Switzerland, while Zurich is in a German one. Expats moving to Geneva will benefit from familiarizing themselves with French and general French customs, while those moving to Zurich should do the same with German.
The differences between cantons also extends to laws and politics, as Switzerland gives a lot of authority to the cantonal governments. No matter where you move in Switzerland, you should check with your specific canton’s website as mandates and expectations can vary widely.
You may think the Swiss are known for punctuality just because of their watches, but the expectation to be on time runs deeper than that. In the business world, meetings start exactly on time and it is seen as unprofessional to be late. Even in social engagements, tardiness is considered rude. Being a few minutes late is acceptable, but it is best to show up show up right on time or a few minutes early to avoid any faux paus.
Bring a Gift
If you are invited to someone’s home, it is expected to bring a gift for the hostess (and a small present if they have a child). Even if you go to a friend’s home, it is customary to bring something such as a bottle of wine, flowers, or sweets.
Toasts are important in Switzerland. If you go to someone’s home for a meal, you must wait for the hostess to make a toast before eating or drinking. Once the toast has been made, everyone raises their glass and makes direct eye contact with someone nearby. Likewise, if you meet one person for a drink, you should also maintain direct eye contact during a toast or cheers.
Greetings in Switzerland are formal and direct. You should either shake someone’s hand or kiss to the side of the cheek. The number of kisses, two or three, depend on your canton. When you shake hands, you should also maintain direct eye contact.
When addressing someone by name, use formal titles such as Mr. or Mrs., or, depending on the canton’s language, Monsieur, Madame, Herr, or Frau. If the person is a doctor, be sure to refer to them as such.
Dogs are Allowed Everywhere
If you are not a pet lover, Switzerland may be uncomfortable at times. It is perfectly acceptable for someone’s furry friend to accompany them into a restaurant or shop.
Despite the Swiss propensity for order and timeliness, when it comes to lining up or giving people space, Switzerland can feel a bit chaotic. Do not be alarmed if someone presses against you on public transportation or cuts in front of you at the grocery store. You may not even get an acknowledgement for the infraction. This is not deemed rude in Switzerland, but rather just the way things operate.
In contrast with the lack of personal space, the Swiss tend to keep people at an emotional distance until an adequate length of time has passed. This means, when meeting new people, do not feel slighted if you are not immediately welcomed and invited to every gathering. Likewise, do not open up about your personal life at work, nor ask too many personal questions of your colleagues.
Swiss culture dictates a gradual build of friendship and closeness. Once this is established, you will have no problem feeling welcomed.
Driving in Switzerland
The road rules for driving in Switzerland are heavily enforced in Switzerland and traffic fines are steep. If you are caught driving 61 km/h in the 50 km/h zone, the fine could be as high as 250 CHF (255 USD).
Facts about Driving in Switzerland
- The minimum age for driving in Switzerland is 18.
- Driving in Switzerland is on the right side of the road.
- Your headlights must be switched on during all hours of the day, even in daylight.
- The speed for motorways is typically 120 km/h and for highways it is 100 km/h. In towns it is 80 km/h.
- Traffic on the right has priority.
- You must stop for pedestrians in a crosswalk.
- If you drive on the motorways, you must have a Swiss motorway vignette (toll pass). Vignettes can be purchased online or at the Swiss border. It is only possible to buy a one-year pass for 40 CHF (40 USD).
Driving in Switzerland with a Foreign License
Switzerland largely allows any valid driving license to be used in the country for up to a year as long as the license contains Roman letters and numerals, and has a date displaying the driver has been legally able to drive for at least one year. If your license does not contain Roman letter and numerals, you will need to obtain an International Driving License.
Often, Canadian and US driving licenses do not have an issue date. If this is the case, you may need a special note from your embassy or consulate saying that you have been driving for more than a year. Once you have this letter, you can drive in Switzerland with your foreign license for one year (the expiration date should be noted in the letter). Be sure to carry the note with you whenever you are driving.
Residents with a UK or EU licenses are allowed to drive in Switzerland for their first year of staying there.
How to Get a Swiss Driving License
No matter in which country your driving license was issued, if you wish to drive in Switzerland after one year of living there, you must get a Swiss driving license. For most nationalities, this will just involve some paperwork and a fee. For others, you may need to take a driving course, written and practice tests included. Once you have a permanent place to stay and your residency card, it is advisable to apply for your Swiss license sooner rather than later.
To get a driving license in Switzerland you will need:
- an ‘exchange of driver’s license’ form from your canton’s government website
- certified Swiss optician eye test (note that a Swiss optician will need to fill out a section of your ‘exchange of driver’s license’ form)
- passport photo
- residency permit
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Renting a Car in Switzerland
To drive a rental car in Switzerland, you must be at least 20 years old and have held your current driving license for longer than one year. Your car should come with a vignette pass and it is advisable to get insurance.
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Public Transportation in Switzerland
Like everything else in Switzerland, public transportation in Switzerland is highly efficient and organized. The system spreads throughout the entire country, making it easy to get around the major cities and reach remote, rural towns.
How is Public Transportation in Switzerland?
Trains and buses are at the heart of Switzerland’s public transportation system. Together, they cover over 5,000 km of road.
Major cities are connected by InterCity trains, which run regularly throughout the week and weekend. Although Switzerland does not have its own high-speed railway system, high-speed trains from neighboring countries cut through the country on a daily basis and make frequent stops at Swiss cities and towns.
Cost of Public Transport in Switzerland
There are many different types of fare options for public transportation in Switzerland such as one-day passes, unlimited monthly passes, or half-fare passes. Please see the chart below for a sampling of public transportation costs in Switzerland.
|Fare Type||Fare Cost CHF||Fare Cost USD|
|Single journey tram/bus ticket||3–4.50||3–5|
|Tram/bus day pass||6–9||6–9|
|Monthly General Abonnement (GA pass)**||340–545||350–560|
|Yearly General Abonnement (GA pass)**||3,860–6,300||3,940–6,440|
* Allows for half-priced travel on entire public transport network.
** Best for frequent public transportation use.
Taxi prices in Switzerland vary slightly by canton, but, on the whole, they are expensive. Fares start at 6.50 CHF (7 USD) and charge about 3.50 (3.50 USD) per kilometer.
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