Switzerland is almost as famous for its high cost of living as it is for its spectacular ski slopes. Three Swiss cities featured in the 2023 Mercer Cost of Living Survey's top five – Zurich, Geneva and Basel – and to top it off, the rural areas aren't necessarily that much cheaper either.

On the other hand, Swiss salaries and living standards are also among the highest in the world. And thanks to efficient public services and well-maintained infrastructure, most expats feel that the high costs are worth it.

Expats moving to Switzerland should still try to anticipate what their living expenses will be and negotiate their contracts accordingly.


Cost of accommodation in Switzerland

Most people in Switzerland rent property, and a shortage of available apartments has developed as a result. The situation in Zurich and Geneva is especially dire, and stiff competition has resulted in sky-high rental prices – expats should expect accommodation to take up well over 21 percent of their salary. In many cases, one will also need to pay a three-month deposit upfront.

In Switzerland, special rubbish bags that are priced according to their size are required for rubbish collection, so households that produce a lot of waste will pay more. Recycling is free, and even expats who aren't especially environmentally conscious can count on a greener life in Switzerland. Exact costs and conditions differ between municipalities.


Cost of transport in Switzerland

Switzerland's extensive and efficient public transport system is, unfortunately, rather expensive too. Expats who live in an urban centre and plan on commuting regularly should consider purchasing multi-ride passes.

Owning a car in Switzerland is pricier owing to supplementary fees. Many who can go without a car do. In addition to the cost of importing, buying or leasing a vehicle, expats must pay for monthly insurance, canton tax, a parking permit, a highway sticker and petrol.


Cost of education in Switzerland

Swiss public schools have excellent standards and are free of charge, but the teaching language will be the respective canton's official language. Some bilingual schools exist, but tuition at these institutions can be costly.

It gets even pricier for expats who'd rather send their children to an international school that teaches their home country's curriculum in their native language. Prices also increase as students get older.


Cost of healthcare in Switzerland

Swiss health insurance will also likely take up much of an expat's payslip. Medical cover is compulsory and can be expensive, although the government does grant subsidies in certain situations. Premiums are based on geographic area rather than salary, so CEOs and regular workers can end up paying similar amounts depending on their package.


Cost of groceries in Switzerland

Regardless of what brands and products expats prefer, the cost of groceries in Switzerland is over 20 percent higher than in other major European cities. Expats are encouraged to employ cost-saving measures such as planning meals and buying non-perishables in bulk. Visiting supermarkets after 5pm will also expats money on perishables, as supermarkets are often keen to part with the day's stock. 

Expats who have a few bucks to spare will also not be left wanting, as Switzerland is home to a fair few speciality supermarkets that sell fresh organic produce. New arrivals can visit stores such as Manor, Globus and Alnatura for these products but can expect to spend significantly more. 


Cost of entertainment and eating out in Switzerland

Eating out in Switzerland is a luxury that most families can only enjoy occasionally. While Switzerland may be a diverse culinary haven, the cost of eating in the country limits its residents from fully enjoying this fact. To reduce their dining expenses, expats can eat out at lunchtime and order from the menu of the day. 

Revellers looking to explore the vibrant nightlife in Switzerland's major cities like Zurich will be pleasantly surprised to find that alcoholic beverages are reasonably priced and offer good value. This is due to low taxes on alcoholic beverages. Nature-loving expats will be delighted to see that much of the lifestyle and entertainment in Switzerland centres around outdoor activities such as hiking, skiing, kayaking and swimming. The best part is that despite the initial costs of purchasing or hiring equipment, these activities can all be enjoyed for very little money. 


Cost of living in Switzerland chart

Prices may vary depending on the product and service provider. The list below shows average prices for Zurich in October 2023.

Accommodation (monthly rent)

Three-bedroom apartment in the city centre

CHF 4,300

Three-bedroom apartment outside the city centre

CHF 3,040

One-bedroom apartment in the city centre

CHF 2,700

One-bedroom apartment outside the city centre

CHF 1,750

Shopping

Eggs (dozen)

CHF 6.70

Milk (1 litre)

CHF 1.78

Rice (1kg)

CHF 3.50

Loaf of white bread

CHF 3.15

Chicken breasts (1kg)

CHF 26

Pack of cigarettes

CHF 9

Eating out

Big Mac Meal

 CHF 16

Coca-Cola (330ml)

 CHF 5

Cappuccino 

 CHF 6

Local beer (500ml)

 CHF 8

Three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant

 CHF 140

Household

Mobile phone monthly plan with calls and data

 CHF 40

Internet (uncapped ADSL or cable – average per month)

 CHF 56

Basic utilities (per month for a small apartment)

 CHF 294

Transport

Taxi rate (per kilometre)

 CHF 5

Bus/train fare in the city centre

 CHF 4.40

Petrol/gasoline (per litre)

 CHF 1.93

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