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Living in Switzerland

The Cost of Living in Switzerland

The average cost of living in Switzerland is high—rent alone costs around 2,000 CHF (2,150 USD) per month for a one-bedroom apartment. Add to this living costs of 1,500 CHF (1,600 USD) per month and you’ll understand why we say it is expensive to live here. Luckily, your wages should easily cover this. We break down what you will spend each month, from groceries, to utilities, and even healthcare costs.

At a Glance

  • In 2020, three Swiss cities were among the top 10 most expensive in the world: Zurich (4th), Bern (8th), and Geneva (9th).
  • The average salary here is one of the highest in Europe at 6,500 CHF (7,000 USD) per month, rising to 9,500 CHF (10,300 USD) per month for roles in specialized industries, such as the pharmaceutical sector. You will need these wages: A single person spends at least 1,500 CHF (1,600 USD) per month on living expenses, before rent.
  • Rent is high in the bigger cities. Expect to pay around 2,000 CHF (2,150 USD) for a one-bedroom apartment in Zurich and Geneva.
  • Public education is free here, and even the yearly tuition cost for university averages under 2,000 CHF (2,150 USD). 
  • You must invest in your own private health insurance in Switzerland. Expect this to set you back at least 300 CHF (320 USD) per month.

How Expensive is it to Live in Switzerland?

Switzerland is well known for being one of the most expensive countries to reside in Europe—and even the world. Competing with areas like Hong Kong and Singapore, expats spend thousands of Swiss Francs (CHF) to stay here each month. There are costs at every turn, from the obvious (e.g. high rent prices in major cities), to the unexpected (e.g. license fees for televisions and radios, which total hundreds of Swiss Francs each year).

Moreover, the country is divided into 26 cantons (the term that describes member states of the Swiss Confederacy). Each canton has a main city, which are more expensive to live in than rural areas. Costs also differ between cantons. For instance, expats who live in Canton Zurich pay far more than those who live in Canton Uri.

In this article, we explore everything you need to know about the cost of living in Switzerland. Read on to learn about how much education, healthcare, and even utilities will cost after you move to the land known for amazing clocks and even better chocolate.

The Most Expensive and Cheapest Cities

In this section, we look at the cost of living in Switzerland in four main cities. Each of the cities we look at—Zurich, Geneva, Bern, and Basel—are located in different cantons. Costs differ throughout the cantons and from city to city, but expats can expect to put a significant amount of their salary toward rent regardless of the canton where they live. If you need help finding a home in your ideal Swiss neighborhood, contact our local housing advisors. We can help you navigate the Swiss housing market and settle into the home of your dreams.

Most Expensive City: Zurich

While Geneva is often considered the most expensive Swiss city, and one of the most expensive cities in Europe, Zurich took the crown this year. The largest city in the country, Zurich has long been a European business hub. Indeed, one in every 11 jobs in Switzerland is based in the city of Zurich, predominantly in the financial and creative sectors. 

CHF USD
Average monthly rent: one-bedroom apartment 2,000 2,200
Average monthly rent: three-bedroom apartment 3,600 3,900
Average monthly expenses (before rent) 1,500 1,600

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Geneva

Geneva is one of the oldest banking centers in Europe and follows Basel as the second largest exporter of chemicals in Switzerland. Another major industry is tourism, with many people here employed in the service sector. It is only marginally cheaper to live here than in Zurich.

CHF USD
Average monthly rent: one-bedroom apartment 1,950 2,100
Average monthly rent: three-bedroom apartment 3,500 3,800
Average monthly expenses (before rent) 1,450 1,550

Basel

The third-most populated city in Switzerland, Basel is known as Switzerland’s capital of culture. It is home to Universität Basel, the oldest university in the country, as well as many museums and active social and arts scenes. More than this, the city is famed for its exports of chemicals and pharmaceuticals.

CHF USD
Average monthly rent: one-bedroom apartment 1,300 1,400
Average monthly rent: three-bedroom apartment 2,500 2,700
Average monthly expenses (before rent) 1,400 1,500

Bern

Though Switzerland has no legal capital, Bern is known to be the de facto capital and the location of the federal parliament. This might surprise some expats, as the city’s population of around 130,000 people is far lower than the 430,000 residents of Zurich. However, the city of Bern has existed for almost 1,000 years and draws foreigners from across the word.

CHF USD
Average monthly rent: one-bedroom apartment 1,200 1,300
Average monthly rent: three-bedroom apartment 2,500 2,700
Average monthly expenses (before rent) 1,400 1,500

Grocery Prices and Eating Out in Switzerland

You can expect to spend a minimum of 100 CHF (110 USD) per week on groceries in Switzerland, as food prices are steep. Locals will often cook at home as eating out is expensive, especially in cities like Zurich and Geneva. The following figures are taken from across Switzerland.

Sample Grocery Prices

Food Item CHF USD
One dozen eggs 7.00 7.50
One Liter of milk 1.60 1.70
500g (one lb.) of chicken 13.00 14.00
500g (one lb.) of apples 2.00 2.10
One bottle of beer 2.00 2.10
One bottle of wine 14.00 15.00

Sample Eating Out Prices

The cost of eating out will vary across the country and depend on the type of restaurant you go to. As of 2020, there are 122 Michelin Starred restaurants here, which will cost significantly more than eating at a cheap local restaurant (around 25 CHF, or 27 USD per person). Dining out at a nice, mid-range place might cost over 100 CHF (110 USD) per couple.

Cost of Education

Did you know that the public-school system is free in Switzerland? The standard of education is incredibly high and matches the quality of private school education, with 95% of Swiss residents sending their children to state institutions. 

However, public schools are usually taught in the predominant language of their canton (usually Swiss French in places like Geneva, or Swiss German, for example in areas like Zurich). If your child doesn’t speak these languages, you may consider private education. This is incredibly expensive, with annual tuition costing upward of 80,000 USD for the top schools. 

Higher Education

Public university fees are also low, especially when compared to other European countries or the US. The yearly tuition costs average under 2,000 CHF (2,200 USD). Private universities sometimes charge ten times the amount of public institutions. Tuition is the same price regardless of your citizenship; international students pay the same as EU or EEA students. Learn more about the education system in Switzerland in our guide.

Healthcare Costs

You will need private healthcare in Switzerland, and you should budget at least 300 CHF (320 USD) per month to cover this. Everyone must be covered—even babies over 3 months old must have insurance. Prices will vary based on the canton you live in and the type of plan you opt for, but the general standard of care you receive is incredibly high across the country. Learn more about the Swiss healthcare system in our guide.

Utilities

Utilities are provided by private companies in Switzerland. For some, water and electricity are included in their monthly rental payments. Check your lease to confirm this and ask your landlord for the name of the previous tenant so you can change the billing name. If you are paying directly, an 85m2 apartment consumes around 200 CHF (215 USD) in monthly bills. Learn more about how to set up utilities in our Housing in Switzerland guide.

Connectivity

Internet costs around 60 CHF (65 USD) per month. Sometimes, this can be included in a package with your telephone and electricity bills, so it is useful to shop around. 

There is also a required television and radio licensing fee, known as Bilag, of around 150 CHF per quarter (160 USD). This covers multiple devices, e.g. your payment covers three televisions in one private household, whether they are in use or not. Surprisingly, for most expats, the fee must be paid if you have a car radio.

Garbage Disposal

You will be expected to pay a fee for garbage collection in Switzerland. This isn’t much, and varies by canton, but expect to pay under 1 CHF (1 USD) for a 17L bag. Make sure to recycle, as there are large fines for not doing so.

Public Transportation Costs

Public transportation is popular in Switzerland and there is an extensive and reliable network. For instance, there is around 5,200km (3,230 miles) of railway in the country, making the train an excellent way to travel between cities. In fact, the most popular way to travel here is by train, which are usually on time and efficient.

However, the price of public transportation may shock you when you arrive in the country. You rarely save money buying a ticket in advance, unless you can find a supersaver ticket. These are available 60-days in advance for specific train connections and have a discount of up to 70% of the original ticket price.

City Transport

Many public transportation passes are available that cover the main Swiss cities. A yearly, country-wide, unlimited-trip travel pass that works across trains, trams, buses, and ships costs 3,860 CHF (4,150 USD). Single tickets and monthly passes are also available. 

Buses, Trams, and Ships

As well as local bus networks, Switzerland has Postauto buses. Previously, these vehicles carried post between different areas and now cater for people. Zurich, Basel, and Bern all have local tram networks, and ferry routes are available where possible.

Each canton has different costs for city-wide public transportation. In Zurich, for example, a single trip tickets in local zones start at 2.70 CHF (3 USD) and rise to 17.20 CHF (19 USD) for all zones. You can learn more about how much your journey costs at the Zürcher Verkehrsverbund website. Check your local canton’s public transportation website for more information.

Taxi

The public transportation network is so good in Switzerland that taking a taxi is rarely recommended. Taxis are also expensive in comparison, with a base fare of around 6 CHF (6.50 USD) and costing around an additional 4 CHF (4.30 USD) per kilometer. Ride hailing apps, like Uber, are available in major cities.

Long-Distance Transport

Train

Traveling by train is popular in Switzerland, but it doesn’t come cheap. A one-way, second class ticket between Zurich and Bern—a journey of between an hour and an hour and a half—costs 51 CHF (55 USD). The same ticket between Zurich and Geneva, with a journey length of almost three hours, will cost 88 CHF (95 USD). You can book these online or purchase at a station. 

Bus

There are few long-distance bus networks in Switzerland. Cheaper European-wide bus companies, such as Flixbus, are beginning to run routes, though most people still choose to travel long distances by train.

Updated on: September 29, 2020
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