Switzerland is one of the wealthiest countries in the world and the costs of living in Switzerland are quite high.
If you exclude some small countries as Liechtenstein (which is next to Switzerland and has the same currency), Monaco (the harbour of billionaires) and some economical havens like Macau, Switzerland has probably the highest salaries in the world.
Switzerland does not really have the minimum wage and average wage is not easily defined, but as it is stands in the end of 2019, average wage is around 4500 CHF (around 4100 euros).
If you get a job here: kudos to you! In my opinion it is one of the most beautiful, safest places in the world. It has so much to offer, especially for the nature lovers. Switzerland is full of scientists, bankers, inventors, IT people – it is a really nice 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 really worth coming here.
So let’s have a look at the costs of living in Switzerland .
Costs of living in Switzerland
Let us split the the costs of living in Switzerland into these parts.
- Rent prices and how to rent an apartment in Switzerland
- Transport prices (cars, import, train, trams)
- Food (best shops to buy food)
- Utilities (water, internet, electricity)
- Leisure (from cable cars to cinema tickets)
Rent prices in Switzerland
It all depends 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 myself live in Basel and we rent an apartment, very close to Basel old town (2 minutes walk), we rent 2 rooms apartment (separate rooms, separate kitchen, hall, WC) and the rent costs 1300 CHF.
Depending on the location, I would say that is not an expensive apartment. If you would like a bigger place, with 3 rooms, the price goes up to 1700-2000 CHF.
If you look for place in Zürich, add at least 10-20 percent to Basel prices.
If you want to get a cheap rent in Switzerland, you may have to move out from bigger city, go to smaller villages and outskirts, then you can find a decent apartment for 1000 CHF or even lower. If you are alone, you can even rent just a room, so then the price goes lower than 1000 CHF and you can find rooms as cheap as 500-700 CHF a month. But that is the low end. It is possible sometimes to find cheaper places in student houses or something like that, but it is hard to get such for a simple person.
If you are moving into Zürich, be ready to pay for a small apartment (1.5 room), not central, at least 1500 CHF and higher. Good central apartment in Zürich would cost you at least 2500 CHF.
You can check different prices of apartments and houses in this website: homegate.ch. There are more websites like this, but this gives you a good indication of rental prices.
The most expensive is of course Zürich and Geneva, be ready to pay much higher if you want to live there. Other cities like Basel, Luzerne and others provide a very good life quality, but are cheaper to live in.
How to rent an apartment in Switzerland
Now, other thing is getting this apartment. I don’t know where you come from, but in Switzerland very very rarely a family or person has a separate apartment to rent, meaning that most of 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 really 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 really frustrating as the process is pretty long and to rent an apartment while being out of the country is almost impossible (of course there are companies who can help, but then it costs more). It is easier then just to rent a room (if you really need something very fast). Once you apply and get a positive answer, you can sign a contract (but before they will check your living permit, your job contract, your other information: maybe you own to someone in Switzerland and so on, so you will have to get an official form from the authorities), pay the rent and move in. Renting an apartment with no job in Switzerland and no permit can be very hard.
Be aware that most of the apartments for rent are completely empty. At most they will have: a fridge, an oven, some cupboards in the kitchen, a bathroom appliances. Forget about tables, beds, shelves, carpets. You will get completely empty rooms. Once you move in, of course, you don’t need much: just a place to crash and make some food, but to furnish your new apartment, the best place to get stuff is of course IKEA. There are quite a few IKEAs in Switzerland, so it should not be a problem for you.
Other costs to consider while renting an apartment
You will most likely be asked to provide a deposit for at least 2 months. You will have to pay the first month rent as well. So once you move in into your new apartment – you have to pay for 3 months, so just calculate a bit the rent prices and you easily must have at least 5000-6000 CHF just to start your life in Switzerland.
To avoid that big payment, you can buy an insurance for 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 lets you to search for a job in Switzerland) and B Permit is even better (you get this once you get a job there).
Utilities costs in Switzerland
Utilities in Switzerland compared to the salaries are pretty cheap. There are lot of different systems that you may pay for utilities, but let me explain how we pay it.
We get the water invoice every three months. That usually comes to 10-15 CHF a month.
We pay electricity once a year and IF we do not use the amount on the invoice, we get the rest back to our pockets. That usually comes to 40 CHF a month.
Internet: 59 CHF a month. Unlimited GB. There are providers like Swisscom, Salt, Sunrise and more.
Garbage: in Basel we have a pretty interesting 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 your garbage in those bags, otherwise you will get a fine. We pay 23 CHF for 10 bags (35 liters), usually one bag is good enough for one week. So one month sums up to 9-10 CHF. You can dispose all your paper once a month for free. If you have to dispose something big (maybe a table, a TV or something), you have to use a sticker which is provided to you by 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 to much.
I must mention 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 really bothers me that you can not wash your sport clothes right after training or some other activities.
Other thing: 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 government and not to be influenced by any politicians. That is a very clever 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, you have to pay it.
Other very interesting thing is the church bill (I know it is not utilities, but it is 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 very hard to reverse this thing. Documents will go even to Vatican that you disavow your religion. So if you are not really big time christian and do not plan to visit church every week, better check that you are without religion and no harm will be done.
All in all, utilities, for an average apartment in Switzerland should not get higher than 100-150 CHF a month.
Transport costs in Switzerland
Let’s talk about transport cost.
One thing you must consider before moving into 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 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 huge pain in one place. I did it and I regret it not doing before. It was very costly. Better to buy a car in Switzerland than do that all import stuff.
If you have a car in Switzerland, you will have to pay pollution taxes, car taxes, insurance and parking taxes. Be aware, that in Switzerland cities there’s almost ZERO free parking places. They are all blue marked in any tiny street you will go. And you have to pay for that yearly and you will get a permit to park your car in just one zone of the city in the city you live in. 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 must check in your local police office about prices in your city.
You can of course park a car in 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 a highway 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: there is even a card with which you can travel all year in Switzerland as much as you want, but it costs over 3500 CHF, so just think if it is something you really need.
Trams. 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
Well, food in Switzerland is the most expensive in all over Europe. This 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 loooot. There are supermarkets right on the border, literally 5 meters from the official border.
Keep in mind, that Swiss people get the highest salaries in Europe, so it is normal that prices are quite high.
One thing which is exceptionally expensive is meat. If you want to save some money, avoid any kind of meat in Switzerland. It is really expensive and can be 30-50 CHF pro Kilogram. Or even more.
Now, if you want to save some money go for food in these places: Denner, Aldi and Lidl. As well all turkish small shops are cheaper. In smaller villages you will see VOGL shops, they are quite cheap as well. The more expensive shops are Coop and Migros.
It really 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.
Good meal in restaurant can cost around 20 CHF (pizza, lasagna, a meal with meat), but take away pizza can start from 10 CHF. Kebab – 8-9CHF.
Food is expensive, but if you work full time in Switzerland, that should not be a big problem for you. If you are tourist – try to avoid posh shops, buy stuff in well known low price shops like Aldi or Lidl.
Leisure costs in Switzerland
This is where it can get really expensive, but if you do not have any specific hobbies (tennis, sailing), you should get around pretty good.
Ok, so 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.
Meal in a good restaurant: be prepared to spend at least 30 CHF for one person.
Coffee: be prepared to spend at least 5-6 CHF for cappuccino.
Gym: it is always better to buy gym cards for whole year, then you can spend just 50-60 CHF a month, but if you buy just for one month, you will spend 90-120 CHF a month.
Any other social or sport activity like yoga, dance classes, rock climbing, language school can be from 100 to 300 CHF. I pay 300 CHF a month for the german classes.
Other costs in Switzerland
If you are employed in Switzerland, you must pay a 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. 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 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 country pays almost nothing to you. You have to pay for your kindergarten yourself and that can be 2000-2500 CHF a month. Of course, there are different kindergartens, different cities, different systems, but if you move to Switzerland with your little kids or plan to have kids, investigate this matter as much as you can, because you may get surprised by all the additional costs for your whole family.
So here you are. I hope I covered all the possible costs in Switzerland.
All in all, if you do not waist money and do not have any extra posh hobbies, have a full time job – Switzerland is an amazing place to live. It truly is. I know that some costs can scare you, like rent, meat prices, coffee prices (I know think that Sweden is damn cheap), transport prices, but if you get a job and use money clever, 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 travel 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 very strong 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 costs of living in Switzerland, please let me know, I will do my best to help you!
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