Cost of living in Switzerland: Your guide

TransferWise content team
31.08.17
4 minute read

Switzerland is a perennially popular expat destination. It's a European and global hub for finance, technology and life sciences, which means there are great, well paid jobs for foreigners in all the major cities. However, it's not cheap. Actually, Zurich is ranked as the most expensive city on the planet (21% more pricey on average than London), and Geneva comes in at number three in world, too.

It's expensive - but the salaries are typically high to match the costs. However, if you’re retiring, temporarily relocating or moving to Switzerland for good, it’s helpful to have a picture of what life there will cost as an expat. Here’s a quick guide to help you avoid surprises later.

How expensive is Switzerland in comparison to the USA, the UK, the EU and Australia?

The official currency in Switzerland is the Swiss franc (CHF on currency exchanges).

You can find out the exact value of your money in CHF, using an online currency converter - but here’s a rough guide:

  • 1000 GBP = 1,248 CHF
  • 1000 AUD = 732 CHF
  • 1000 EUR = 1,098 CHF
  • 1000 USD = 965 CHF
Comparing basic cost of living 1 bedroom flat in city centre (monthly rent) Lunch for 2 (3 courses, mid range restaurant) Transportation (monthly pass)
Geneva, Switzerland CHF 1,743 CHF 100 CHF 70
Bern, Switzerland CHF 1,214 CHF 100 CHF 77
London, UK CHF 2,105 CHF 69 CHF 165
Sydney, Australia CHF 1,916 CHF 59 CHF 117
New York, USA CHF 2,897 CHF 72 CHF 115

One major factor that adds expense for expats in Switzerland, is the cost of converting cash to CHF from your home currency. Even if your bank says it offers fee-free money exchange, you can be sure that its cut is rolled up in the exchange rate it uses. To get the best deal, you should use an exchange service like TransferWise, which applies the same mid-market rate you’ll find on Google and Reuters. Here, you can find a quick service, and low flat fees to transfer your cash, this can be a much better deal than using your bank at home.

What are the general living expenses for Switzerland? How much can you get by on?

Life in Switzerland is pretty pricey. With several cities ranked among the most costly on the planet, you’ll need a healthy bank balance to make the most of your time there. Rent plays a big role in this. Naturally, however, choose to live outside of the cities, and you’ll find the cost of living is much lower.

Living expenses in Switzerland (excluding rent) Geneva average cost Bern average cost
Single person, per month CHF 1,444 CHF 1,378
Single person, per year CHF 17,328 CHF 16,536
University student, per month CHF 1,062 CHF 1,011
4 person family, per month CHF 5,362 CHF 5,192
4 person family, per year CHF 64,344 CHF 62,304

What are the average salaries for Switzerland?

In keeping with the cost of living, salaries all over Switzerland are high. The salaries shown for reference here are for Geneva. Here, you’ll find some of the best paid dentists, IT managers and financial analysts in the world.

Salary averages for Switzerland Average annual salary
Cashier CHF 21,264
Copywriter CHF 58,668
Financial analyst CHF 104,355
Graphic designer CHF 34,120
Mobile developer CHF 115,743
Product manager CHF 81,583
Receptionist CHF 44,381
Software engineer CHF 68,989
Teacher CHF 40,955
Web developer CHF 61,930

How expensive is housing and accommodation in Switzerland?

The amount you pay in rent is a big driver of your overall cost of living. If you’re on a budget, consider life in a smaller city or town, or become one of the many people who work in Switzerland but live over the border in Germany, France or Italy.

Renting in Switzerland Average monthly cost (Geneva) Average monthly cost (Bern)
One bedroom apartment (city centre) CHF 3,003 CHF 1,214
One bedroom apartment (outside of city centre) CHF 1,896 CHF 851
Three bedroom family home (city centre) CHF 5,832 CHF 2,363
Three bedroom family home (outside of city centre) CHF 3,318 CHF 1,711
Internet CHF 60 CHF 42
Utilities (gas, electric and water for a 85m2 apartment) CHF 128 CHF 126

What about healthcare and dental costs in Switzerland?

It's compulsory to have private health insurance in Switzerland. As an expat you have to arrange that within three months of arriving, and can choose from different policies which range from basic to comprehensive coverage.

Healthcare service Average cost to you
Family doctor check-up CHF 121
Cold medicine for 6 days CHF 12
Antibiotic prescription CHF 34

How much is travel and transportation in Switzerland?

Public transportation in Switzerland is excellent. As you'd expect, in a country famous for their clock making, it runs punctually - but can be expensive.

Transportation and vehicle prices for Switzerland Average cost
Gasoline (1 litre / 0.25 gallon) CHF 1.51
Monthly bus/transport pass CHF 70
Bus ticket, single use CHF 3
Taxi tariff, 8km/5mile journey CHF 36
Toyota Corolla, new CHF 25,983
VW Golf, new CHF 25,000

How much does education cost?

The Swiss education system is world renowned. Private schools are excellent but expensive, and there are two of continental Europe's best ranked universities here, too (ETH Zurich and EPFL). Foreign students in most cases pay the same (fairly low) tuition fees for universities, plus an additional surcharge.

School Average cost
Preschool / kindergarten (monthly fee) CHF 1,980
Private school for lower grades (annual) CHF 23,710
University tuition (University of Zurich) CHF 720 per semester plus additional fees of CHF 500 a semester for international students
University tuition (ETH Zurich) CHF 580 per semester for local and international students alike

Switzerland is a fantastic expat destination, for a permanent move, or just to spend a year or two exploring somewhere new. From picture perfect alpine scenes, to the buzzing, beer fuelled festivals celebrated throughout the country, there's something for everyone in Switzerland. Just measure your finances to make sure you have the budget to enjoy it.

Good luck with your new life in Switzerland!

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