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.
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.
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|
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|
|Financial analyst||CHF 104,355|
|Graphic designer||CHF 34,120|
|Mobile developer||CHF 115,743|
|Product manager||CHF 81,583|
|Software engineer||CHF 68,989|
|Web developer||CHF 61,930|
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|
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|
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|
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.
|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!