Switzerland is famous for its high cost of living and three of its cities - Zurich, Bern and Geneva - feature in the top ten most expensive cities in the world (Mercer). Indeed, Geneva’s cost of living now outranks those of London, New York and Paris. Living expenses can be lower outside of the major cities in rural areas, however they remain high in comparison to other European countries. While living in Switzerland can be pricey, it is worth bearing in mind the average monthly salary in Swiss cities is around CHF 5,599.17 (£3750) after tax - almost twice the European average.
Owning a property is not the norm in Switzerland and over 60% of people rent their homes. Urban population growth has led to a lack of affordable homes and although property prices have slowed in recent years, they remain high when compared with other European countries. Renting is usually the most affordable option for expats, yet there is fierce competition for desirable properties, particularly in Zurich and Geneva. According to the Swiss Statistics Office, average rents can be as much as CHF 2500 (£1674) per month for a two-room apartment in Zurich. Expats should also bear in mind that Swiss rental properties are generally rented unfurnished, (without light fittings, curtains and carpets) which can ramp up the costs involved in setting up home in Switzerland. The best way to find a property to rent is through an estate agent such as Homegate or by searching through local newspaper classifieds.
Most Swiss landlords ask for a rental deposit (Kaution/Caution) of around three month’s rent in advance. Any damage to the property will be deducted from the deposit when a tenant moves out. Rent (miete/loyer), is generally paid to the landlord every month and does not include extra costs such as utilities, refuse disposal and street cleaning costs. Rental contracts can be anything from one year or more and tenants must give a minimum of three months’ notice before vacating the property.
Depending on the canton, most Swiss homeowners pay a municipal tax of around 0.05% to 3.0% which is levied on the value of their property. Property tax rates vary from region to region.
The Swiss energy market is privatised and there are wide range of companies offering combined water, electricity and gas deals. However, household gas usage is uncommon in Switzerland due to high prices. Utilities are usually the responsibility of the tenant and are paid on top of the rent. Companies send bills every two to four months and tenants pay an estimated charge which is re-calculated every six to twelve months, according to meter readings. There is also a wide range of telephone and internet providers in Switzerland, with Swisscom being among the largest. Most providers offer combined phone and broadband packages.
The average cost of basic utilities (electricity, gas, water, refuse) for an 85m² apartment is CHF193 (£129) per month and around CHF55 (£36) for a phone and broadband package.
All residents who receive radio or television services in Switzerland are required to pay a license fee, regardless of how they watch or listen to programmes (terrestrial, cable, satellite, via the phone line, mobile phone or via the internet). The fee is collected on behalf of the Federal Government by the Billag company and is around CHF 451 (£301) per year.
Healthcare and medical costs
The Swiss healthcare system is one of the best in the world and residents enjoy non-existent waiting lists and universal access to a vast network of premium medical facilities. Unlike other European countries, the Swiss healthcare system is not tax-based but is paid for by the individual through monthly contributions into private health insurance schemes. The healthcare system is administered by each individual canton. Basic health insurance (Soziale Krankenversicherung / Assurance maladie / Assicurazione-Mallatie) is compulsory for all Swiss and non-Swiss residents and insurance companies are tightly regulated by Swiss Federal Law on Health Insurance. Adults must pay the first CHF 300 (£200) of any hospital treatment themselves (except for maternity services) on top of their premiums. Prescription medicines are also covered by the basic health insurance policy and costs of medicines are kept low in most circumstances.
Thanks to its rich mix of cultures, Switzerland’s shopping has something for everyone - from Italian designer fashion to wonderful German markets and elegant Parisian-style arcades. Some of the finest watchmaking, jewellery and fashion boutiques in the world can be found in Zurich, Basel and Geneva - most with hefty price tags.
Switzerland has a number of large supermarkets, with the largest country-wide chains being Migros (also Switzerland’s largest retail chain) and Co-op. The cost of food and alcohol can be steep, particularly if you are eating out in Zurich or Geneva, where prices are considered astronomical compared to the rest of the world. However, it is possible to shop on a budget by using the German supermarket chains Aldi or Lidl, which can be found in most major cities.
Value Added Tax (Mehrwertsteuer, taxe sur la valeur ajoutée, tassa sul valore aggiunto) for most goods and services is currently set at 8% in Switzerland, with a reduced rate of around 2.5% for certain items.
* Rent 1-bedroom apartment in city centre – CHF1,558.16 (£1,040.19)
* Rent 1-bedroom apartment outside city centre – CHF1,194.43 (£797.37)
* Price of apartment per square metre in city centre – CHF11,040.90 (£7,370.65)
* Price of apartment per square metre outside city centre – CHF8,042.31 (£5,368.86)
* Loaf of bread – CHF2.45 (£1.64)
* Milk (1 litre) – CHF 1.48 (£0.99)
* Bottled water (1.5 litre) – CHF1.12 (£0.74)
* Draught beer (0.5 litre) – CHF1.81 (£1.21)
* Packet of cigarettes – CHF8.00 (£5.34)
* Petrol (1 litre) – CHF1.53 (£1.02)
* Cinema ticket – CHF18.00 (£12.02)
Source: www.numbeo.com (accessed December 2015)
Budgeting and Savings
Switzerland is a hugely expensive country and living on a budget can be difficult. The best way to save money is to live outside the principal cities of Zurich, Geneva and Bern and to use public transport where possible, as this is one of the few areas of Swiss life which remains relatively cheap. There are several price comparison sites available to help consumers cut costs. Comparis is the most well-known and is particularly useful for those needing to take out Swiss mandatory health insurance.