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The High-Flying Swiss Lifestyle Comes at a Price

It may not come as a surprise for many of you, but the cost of living is anything but low in Switzerland. Indeed, the country keeps ranking as one of the most expensive places to live in the world. Our guide explains some of the general expenses you can expect to pay for when embarking on expat life in Switzerland.
Zurich is famous for being the most expensive Swiss city in terms of rental costs.

At a Glance:

  • Switzerland is consistently ranked as one of the most expensive countries in the world to live in.
  • Rent and compulsory health insurance will take up a large amount of your salary. Expats with kids can expect to pay huge fees for international schools.
  • The public transportation network in Switzerland is extensive and modern, but expats should prepare to pay if they plan on using it for their daily commute.


Life in Switzerland is of a very high standard and the expats currently living there would agree, placing it in 10th place out of 67 on the Expat Insider 2016 Quality of Life Index. This high quality, however, does come at a price. In the 2016 Mercer Cost of Living Survey, two of Switzerland’s most popular cities for expats — Zurich and Geneva — both place in the top 10 of the most expensive cities to live in, with Bern ranking in 13th place.

To give you an idea of how much expats living in Switzerland can expect to spend on a monthly basis, the 2015 Eurostat figures show that the total household expenditure in Switzerland is roughly 50% higher than the average across the European Union.

On the other hand, salaries in Switzerland are among the highest in the world. Before you move abroad, it is useful to know the average expenses of an expat in Switzerland, so that you can negotiate your salary accordingly. Do bear in mind, however, that the taxes and general living costs do differ slightly between cantons.

Rental Market: Prepare to Part with a Chunk of Your Salary

Accommodation will most likely take up the biggest percentage of your budget while living in Switzerland. People living in Switzerland have a tendency to rent housing rather than buy it, and this has led to a severe shortage of apartments, especially in major cities like Basel, Geneva, and Zurich. To put it in perspective, rent in Switzerland is over 120% higher than rent in neighboring Germany.

Of course, the price that you pay differs greatly depending on the size of the property and the area that you are looking in. For example, expats in Zurich — the most expensive city to rent in in Switzerland — can expect to pay over twice what expats in La Chaux-de-Fonds — the cheapest city in terms of rent — will pay.

Geneva isn’t much better price-wise and expats there can expect to pay more for less. The price per square meter in Geneva is the highest across the whole of Switzerland, with the average apartment size standing at 60 square meters — significantly less than the average size of a Swiss apartment (76 square meters).

Rental Market: Any Alternative Will Do

Rising rent prices can be a bit off-putting for those looking to move to Switzerland. However, if you are willing to make a few sacrifices, there are alternative solutions. If you are planning on staying in Switzerland long-term, it may be worth buying a property. Due to rising rent prices and low interest rates, recent studies suggest that buying a house can actually be cheaper than renting an equivalent in the long run — it serves as a solid investment.

Depending on where your new job is located, there is also the possibility of becoming a frontalier. Thanks to strong transport connections between main cities, like Geneva, and the countries surrounding Switzerland — France and Germany, for example —, there is the possibility of commuting across the border for work.

Living in France or Germany would significantly reduce your living costs; however, you would need to ensure that your work permit and visa allow it. If you are not a national of an EU member state, for example, things can get complicated.

For further information on work permits for Switzerland, please see our InterNations Expat Guide on Visas.

Internet and Electricity: What You Need to Know

Some rents will include utilities as what is known as ‘Nebenkosten’. The Nebenkosten tend to cover water, use of shared facilities, and general maintenance of the building. Whether or not electricity or heating bills are included is up to the landlord.

The amount you will pay varies greatly, depending on the size of the apartment and the number of people who will be living there. Do bear in mind that, if you go over the amount of electricity or water budgeted for your apartment, you will have to pay an extra fee at the end of the year.

While apartments tend to include utilities, if you are renting a house, this is seldom the case. If you have to sort out your own utilities, our guide covers the basics so that you have a rough idea of what to expect.


The energy market in Switzerland is privatized, offering expats a large number of providers to choose from. In general, utility companies tend to cover electricity, gas, and water, meaning you don’t need to find three separate companies. The energy market is regulated by the Swiss Federal Office of Energy, so prices tend to be fairly similar.

What you pay depends on your meter readings. Bills are normally sent out every two months and you will pay an estimated amount, based on meter readings that are taken every six to eight months.

The voltage in Switzerland ranges from 220 V to 240 V and the plug has three rounded prongs — don’t forget adaptors for your important electrical items!


Gas isn’t overly common in households in Switzerland, due to its high price. If you do require gas, only selected providers supply it:

Phone and Internet

Depending on what you’re looking for, many providers offer deals on phone lines and internet. Some offer mobile contracts or TV packages as well. Below is a list of providers:


Residents in Switzerland need to pay an annual fee in order to get access to television and radio stations. This annual fee is 286 CHF for television or 451 CHF for television and radio. Not paying for these services can result in a fine of up to 5,000 CHF.


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