Switzerland is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, and the cost of living in Switzerland is quite high. Exclude countries like Liechtenstein (uses the same currency), Monaco (the harbor of billionaires), and economic havens such as Macau, Switzerland probably enjoys the highest salaries in the world followed by inflated prices.
The average salary in Switzerland is not easily defined, but as it stands at the end of 2019, the average salary is around 4,500 CHF (approximately 4,100 EUR).
If you get a job here: kudos to you! In my opinion, it is one of the most beautiful and safest places in the world. It has so much to offer, especially for nature lovers. Switzerland is full of scientists, bankers, inventors, IT people – it is a friendly and extremely diverse society here.
The beginning of life in Switzerland can be a bit frustrating (if you do it all by yourself) but don’t be discouraged, it is worth coming here.
So let’s have a look at the cost of living in Switzerland:
Cost of Living in Switzerland – Expat Guide for 2020
I’ll split living costs into a few different categories:
- Rent prices and how to rent an apartment in Switzerland
- Public transport prices (cars, import, train, trams)
- Food & Restaurant prices & shops to buy cheap food/ingredients
- Utilities (water, internet, electricity)
- Leisure (from cable cars to cinema tickets)
How to Find Cheap Apartments & Average Prices
It all depends on where you live and what kind of apartment you are looking for. Apartments are definitely more expensive in big cities like Zürich and Geneva and much cheaper in rural areas.
I currently live in Basel, and we rent an apartment, very close to Basel’s old town (2 minutes’ walk). A 2-room apartment costs us 1,300 CHF/month.
Learn more about Basel:
It’s like almost everywhere – the farther from the city centre you go, the lower the prices. Don’t worry if you’re a bit out of the city center as public transport connects everything with the center, and it’s an affordable way to travel.
If you would like a more prominent place, with three bedrooms, the price goes up to 1,700 – 2,000 CHF.
If you are moving into Zürich, be ready to pay for a small apartment (1.5 room), not central, at least 1,500 CHF, and higher. Suitable central apartments in Zürich would cost you at least 2,500 CHF.
If you want to get cheap rent in Switzerland, you may have to move out of a bigger city, go to smaller villages or outskirts, then you can find a decent apartment for 1,000 CHF or even lower. For a single person apartment, you can find comfortable rooms in shared apartments for 500 – 700 CHF.
You can check different prices of apartments and houses on this website to get a better understanding of the rent prices and what’s there on the market.
If you want to live in a city, but prices in Zurich or Geneva are simply too much for your wallet, you can always check smaller cities such as Basel or Lucerne. The value and life quality you get for the money simply beat Zurich or Geneva, in my opinion.
How to Rent an Apartment in Switzerland & Required Documents
I don’t know where you come from, but in Switzerland very very rarely a family or person has a separate apartment to rent. Most of the apartments are rented by big companies or government. Once you want to rent it, you must visit the apartment and then apply for it (fill a form of application, mostly those forms are provided during your visit). And there’s no guarantee you are going to get it even if you want it and say, “I want this apartment right now” during your first visit.
Sometimes during these visits, apartments are full of visitors (you will feel like in a crowded museum) or you will meet the current renters who will show the place. But all will be decided not by current renters, but by the company who owns the apartment. The company will check all your info, compare it to the people who are living already in the building, and then if you are lucky, you will get a positive answer that you can rent it.
It can be frustrating as the process is pretty long, and to rent an apartment while being out of the country is almost impossible (of course, some companies can help, but then it costs more).
It is easier then just to rent a room (if you really need something very fast). From there, you can start looking for your long-term apartment and applying for prospects.
Once you apply and get a positive answer, you are officially eligible to sign a contract (but before they will check your living permit, your job contract, and other personal information), pay the rent and move in. Renting an apartment with no job and grant is possible, but can be a real nightmare.
I can’t advise you more to plan everything before moving to Switzerland & prepare yourself financially if things don’t go as planned.
Be aware that most of the apartments come unfurnished. At most, they will have a fridge, an oven, some cupboards in the kitchen, a bathroom appliances.
Forget about tables, beds, shelves, carpets, and other furniture. Once you move in, of course, you don’t need much: just a place to crash and prepare some food. Furnishing your apartment is entirely on you. There are quite a few IKEAs in Switzerland, so you can always find affordable and modern-looking furniture.
Are There Any Other ‘Hidden’ Costs of Renting Apartment in Switzerland?
Don’t forget about the deposit! The usual practice in Switzerland is paying at least two months upfront as a deposit plus the monthly rent for the first month. Be sure to add that up in your financial planning.
To avoid that big payment, you can buy insurance for an apartment: but this insurance doesn’t cover fires, water damages, burglaries, or something like that, it covers just your deposit. This insurance can cost 200-300 CHF a year.
I must mention as well, that to rent an apartment in Switzerland without a permit (which lets you live in Switzerland) is almost impossible. You must have at least L Permit (which enables you to search for a job in Switzerland), and B Permit is even better (you get this once you get a job there).
Utility Cost in Switzerland
Utilities in Switzerland, compared to the salaries, are pretty cheap. There are a lot of different systems that you may pay for utilities, but let me explain how we pay it.
Water: every three months; 10-15 CHF per month.
Electricity: once per year; on average 40 CHF per month (if we overpay it, then we get that money back).
Internet: once per month; 59 CHF per month for unlimited GB. I can recommend internet providers such as Swisscom, Salt, and Sunrise.
Garbage & Cleaning: In Basel, we have a pretty impressive system, but I saw that this system works in many other Swiss cities as well. You do not pay for garbage in Switzerland, you buy garbage bags in the shop, AND you are only allowed to dispose of your trash in those bags, otherwise, you will get a fine. We pay 23 CHF for 10 bags (35 liters). For us, one bag is good enough for one week. So one month sums up to 9-10 CHF. You can dispose of all your paper once a month for free. If you have to dispose of something big (maybe a table, a TV or something), you have to use a sticker which is provided to you by the city, or you have to buy additional ones. Do not leave some big stuff on the street.
There are some costs for cleaning the stairs and maintenance as well, but that doesn’t come up too much.
I must mention a couple of other things: in most apartments in Switzerland there is no washing machine, and you will have to use the washing machine in the cellar. You won’t have to pay additionally for that, but usually, you will get ONE day per week to use or ONE day per two weeks.
I find this system ridiculous, but it is how it is. Once you adapt, it is no problem, but it bothers me that you can not wash your sports clothes right after training or some other activities.
Other costs: You will get the invoice to pay for the TV and Radio in Switzerland. That money goes to national Swiss TV and Radio just to keep them separated from the government and not to be influenced by any politicians. That is a brilliant system, but all immigrants must pay it as well. You will get angry once you get this invoice, especially if you do not use TV (or don’t have it, that was my case), but there’s almost no way to avoid it, so you have to pay it. If nothing, you’re spending so the country won’t get corrupted by politicians and you have a better place to live and work.
Another very interesting thing is the church bill (I know it is not utilities, but it is a rather interesting topic). Once you come and apply to get a permit in Switzerland, they will ask your religion. IF you mark CHRISTIANITY, you will have to pay for that. Every year.
And it is tough to reverse this thing. Documents will go even to the Vatican that you disavow your religion. So if you are not a big-time Christian and do not plan to visit the church every week, better check that you are without faith, and no harm will be done.
All in all, utilities, for an average apartment in Switzerland, shouldn’t get higher than 100-150 CHF a month.
Transport Cost in Switzerland
One thing you must consider before moving to Switzerland – you have up to one year to move your car and register it in Switzerland for free. After that, you will have to pay a bunch of taxes (VAT, import, documents, etc.), fill a lot of forms, visit all the offices to check your car, and so on.
And you have to rush all of the things as you will have a limited time frame after you enter with that car into Switzerland and border people check it. That is a massive pain in one place. I did it, and I regret it not doing before.
If you have a car in Switzerland, you will have to pay for pollution taxes, car taxes, insurance, and parking taxes. Be aware that in Switzerland cities there are almost ZERO free parking places. They are all blue marked in any tiny street you will go to. You have to pay a yearly fee so you can park your car in the city.
If you get a permit to park your car in Basel, you won’t be able to park it unlimited in Luzerne or any other city. My parking ticket for one zone in Basel costs 250 CHF.
You can, of course, park a car in a rented garage or parking spot, but it mostly costs around 200 CHF a month. For a motorcycle, it can be much less, from 20 CHF a month.
One very bizarre thing is that petrol here is cheaper than diesel. I guess it is because of extra taxes on diesel. So diesel/petrol costs around 1.60 CHF a liter. It can be much more expensive on highways (once I paid 1.90 CHF a liter on the road to Geneva), so always fill your tank in the city.
Ok, let’s go to trains. If you don’t have a car and want to travel a lot in Switzerland, you must get a half fare card from SBB (that’s a card which lets you pay half fare all the time). You can find all information here: SBB half fare card.
There are some other great options. For example, a card with which you can travel all year in Switzerland as much as you want, but it costs over 3,500 CHF, so just think if it is something you need.
Most of the big cities have trams, and you can get a monthly or yearly tram card. You must check all information about your location and the options. I mostly walk around, so I have never had a tram card.
Food Prices in Switzerland & Shops to Buy a Cheap Ingredients
Well, food in Switzerland is the most expensive in all over Europe. That is why quite many people go to buy a lot of food in Germany, Italy or France. Basel is right on the border, so people go to Germany a lot. There are supermarkets right on the border, literally 50 meters from the official border.
Keep in mind that Swiss people get the highest salaries in Europe, so, typically, prices are quite high as their purchasing power matches the costs.
One costly thing is meat. If you want to save some money, avoid any kind of meat in Switzerland. It is expensive and can be a 30-50 CHF per kilogram.
The kilogram of meat is veeery expensive and can cost from 30 – 50 CHF. Now, if you want to save some money, you should cook at home and buy ingredients at Denner, Aldi, Lidl, and small Turkish shops. In smaller villages you will see VOGL shops, they are quite cheap as well. The more expensive shops are Coop and Migros.
It depends on your need and how much you eat, what kind of food you eat, and so on, but I would say that I spend about 15-20 CHF per day on food (if I cook all at home). If you go out, add at least another 20 CHF and more. In Coop or Migros (I know, more expensive shops) there is quite a lot of branded products which are good quality and cheaper.
A good meal in a restaurant can cost around 20 CHF (pizza, lasagna, a meal with meat), but take away pizza can start from 10 CHF or Kebab averages at 9 CHF.
Leisure Costs in Switzerland
It is where it can get costly, but if you do not have any specific hobbies (tennis, sailing), you should get around pretty good.
Ok, so the cinema ticket is around 20 CHF. It can get more expensive for 3D movies.
Cable car tickets (if you are passionate about mountains) can be from little as 12 CHF to whooping 100 CHF.
A meal in a good restaurant will cost at least 30 CHF for one person.
Coffee is costly, and one cup of cappuccino costs 5-6 CHF while espresso averages around 4 CHF.
Gym membership is always better to buy for the whole year as the monthly fee will be lower. For instance, 50 – 60 CHF/month if paid annually, compared to 90 – 120 CHF.
Social or sports activities like yoga, dance classes, rock climbing, language school can be from 100 to 300 CHF. I pay 300 CHF/ month for the German courses.
Other Costs in Switzerland
If you are employed in Switzerland, you must pay social security yourself. It is not like in most European countries where the employer pays it for you. In Switzerland, you get a salary, and you pay it yourself. That is mostly 300-350 CHF a month, and it is excellent health insurance that covers everything.
Ask all the possible questions in the social security company about deductibles, where you can get help, what kind of hospitals you can use (sometimes you can use hospitals just in your canton), what is covered, and so on. For me, coming from a country where you don’t even think about social security as it is all covered, the system in Switzerland was a bit frustrating in the beginning.
Children can get pretty expensive in Switzerland. Usually, women get here very short maternity leave, and the country pays almost nothing to you. You have to pay for your kindergarten yourself, and that can be 2,000-2,500 CHF a month.
Final Words – Should You Move to Switzerland and Live as an Expat?
All in all, if you do not waste money and do not have any other posh hobbies, have a full-time job – Switzerland is a fantastic place to live.
I know that some costs can scare you, like rent, meat prices, coffee prices (I know to think that Sweden is damn cheap), transport prices, but if you get a job and use money cleverly, you won’t for sure be starving. No problem at all. Swiss people have probably the best life quality in the world, they travel a lot (you can go to many places from Zürich and flight tickets are not extra expensive), the enjoy the Swiss Alps and love their country.
I love that Swiss people have a powerful cultural identity and love their country (I have nowhere in my life saw so many national flags like in Switzerland). It is clean, safe, have pristine nature, it is a great place to be.
If you have any more questions about the cost of living in Switzerland and settling here, please let me know, I will do my best to help you!
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