Cost of living in Switzerland (2022 Guide)

Gabriela Peratello
21.02.22
7 minute read

Switzerland is a dream expat destination, with great career opportunities, a developed economy and infrastructure, and an excellent quality of life. However, it's not cheap. Actually, Zurich came in the top 5 most expensive cities in the world in 2021¹.

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. We’ll also introduce Wise, a quick, cheap and secure option for you to move and manage your money abroad.

📑 Table of Contents

Cost of living in Switzerland vs the US

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

Check out today’s rate with the conversion calculator below

Life in Switzerland is pretty pricey. So it’s safe to say that 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 big cities, and you’ll find the cost of living is much lower. We’ll cover rental and property prices in a bit.

For now, you can check some of the average costs of life in Switzerland compared to some major US cities. Data is taken from Numbeo, which collates live information from people living in different cities around the world.

CityLiving cost — family of 4, not including rentLiving cost — single person, not including rent
Geneva, Switzerland²5,301.01 USD/month1,443.45 USD/month
Basel, Switzerland³6,139.78 USD/month1,671.26 USD/month
Zurich, Switzerland⁴6,205.88 USD/month1,680.89 USD/month
Lausanne, Switzerland⁵5,677.41 USD/month1,550.87 USD/month
New York, USA⁶6,703.61 USD/month1,826.94 USD/month
San Francisco, USA⁷4,529.15 USD/month1,257.78 USD/month

Note: Data correct at time of research — 7 February 2022

Send money to Switzerland with a quick, cheap and secure Wise transfer

One major factor that adds expense for expats in Switzerland, is the cost of converting money 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 Wise, which applies the same mid-market rate you’ll find on Google and Reuters.

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Switzerland average income: full breakdown

In keeping with the cost of living, salaries all over Switzerland are high. The salaries shown for reference here are for Geneva, and come from live data captured by Teleport.

Interestingly, there’s no national minimum wage in Switzerland. However, some cantons do have local minimum wage arrangements which tend to be in the region of 20 CHF/hour. Although exchange rates change all the time with global markets, at the time of writing that’s just over 21 USD/hour.

Salary averages for SwitzerlandAverage annual salary⁸
Cashier22,178 USD
Copywriter61,189 USD
Financial analyst108,840 USD
Graphic designer35,586 USD
Mobile developer120,717 USD
Product manager85,098 USD
Receptionist46,288 USD
Software engineer71,953 USD
Teacher42,715 USD
Web developer64,591 USD

How much does it cost to live in Switzerland?

swiss-food

Let’s dive into the details of how much life in Switzerland might actually cost you.

Average monthly housing cost in Switzerland

Housing is always going to be a big cost — whether you’re living in the US or in Switzerland. However, it’s fair to say that the cost of housing does push up the overall cost of living in Switzerland, with average rent in Switzerland notoriously high compared to global averages.

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.

Rent and utilities prices in Switzerland

Where you live will make a difference to the rental costs you can expect — here are a few examples for major cities, taken from Numbeo.

To keep things simple we’ll look at the Switzerland cost of living in USD, so you can compare monthly rents here against your home location.

CityRent 1 bed, city centerRent 1 bed, outside of city centerRent 3 bed, city centerRent 1 bed, outside of city center
Basel³1,465.40 USD1,161.68 USD2,747.08 USD2,141.97 USD
Geneva²2,196.60 USD1,723.40 USD4,407.11 USD3,135.53 USD
Lausanne⁵1,636.62. USD1,320.40 USD3,268.92 USD2,856.9 USD
Zurich⁴2,155.56 USD1,560.13 USD4,053.92 USD2,860.59 USD
Average price¹⁰1,628.76 USD1,268.51 USD2,952.74 USD2,290.52 USD

Note: Data correct at time of research — 8 February 2022

Basic utilities, such as electricity, gas, water and garbage collection, for a 915 sq ft apartment will cost around:

CityPrice
Basel¹¹250.20 USD
Geneva¹²196.82 USD
Lausanne¹¹224.64 USD
Zurich¹²229.64 USD
Average utilities price225.32 USD

How much is a house in Switzerland?

If you’d rather own a house instead of renting, you might consider buying a place in Switzerland as an investment and a place to live during your stay. Here are some average costs to consider across major Swiss locations.

LocationPrice (sqft) in city centerPrice (sqft) outside of city center
Basel¹¹1,089.48 USD1,089.48 USD
Geneva¹²1,386.01 USD996.33 USD
Lausanne¹¹1,385.61 USD1,135.75 USD
Zurich¹²1,369.62 USD936.76 USD

Food and entertainment

How much you need to pay for food and drink will depend to a large extent on your lifestyle and personal preferences. There’s plenty of options to eat out, head to events and get involved in the lively Swiss culture — or you can choose to keep your costs down by eating more at home, and enjoying the great outdoors for free.

Here’s a look at the average cost of some key grocery items in Switzerland:

ItemCost in Switzerland¹⁰
Loaf of bread3.08 USD
1 gallon milk6.58 USD
12 eggs6.29 USD
1lb apples1.90 USD
1lb potatoes1.22 USD

Note: Data correct at time of research — 8 February 2022

What about health and dental care 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.

It’s worth noting though that Switzerland’s healthcare is costly — in fact, the percentage spent on health in Switzerland is second only to the amount people spend in the US. A huge 12% of GDP is dedicated to health and medical costs overall¹³.

Increasing monthly healthcare, dental and social care costs have been making headlines in Switzerland, with private households who pay excess or out of pocket costs being hit the hardest.

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Travel and commuting costs

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.

The average cost of a monthly public transport ticket sits at 86.45 USD¹⁰. However, in Zurich the average sits at above 90 USD/month — a cost worth considering if you intend to commute by public transport⁴.

Studying in Switzerland: costs

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.

Taxes

Tax on personal income in Switzerland can comprise 3 separate costs — federal income tax, canton taxes and municipal taxes. Most of the taxes involved are progressive — meaning the more you earn, the higher the tax rate that applies. However, some municipal taxes are flat rate and applied to everyone.

Federal income tax runs from 0% for the lowest earners, to 13% for top earners, with canton taxes running at a similar rate. Tax rates vary between single earners and joint earners with dependent children¹⁴.

Where to live in Switzerland?

Hopefully you’re excited about the prospect of moving to Switzerland now. Depending on your circumstances you may have one final decision to make — where to live in Switzerland?

Check out these key cities to kickstart your research. And if you need to make payments in Swiss francs from the US, check out Wise for low cost, fast ways to send money to Switzerland.

Cost of living in Basel

basel

Basel attracts a huge number of expats — and particularly those working in life sciences, medicine and pharmaceuticals. Many global organizations are based in Basel including giants like Roche and Novartis — leading to great career opportunities as well as a high quality of life.

In fact over a third of everyone living in Basel is thought to be from overseas. Consumer prices in Basel are high — but the rents aren’t the highest in the country, which makes up for this in part. Basel is also famous for having some big festivals, great museums and a vibrant cultural scene.

Geneva cost of living

geneva

Geneva is close to the French border, and the capital of the French speaking regions of Switzerland. It’s also home to a huge number of global organizations, and agencies such as the Red Cross, World Health Organization and many branches of the United Nations.

Life in Geneva is good — but expensive. One way many people manage this is to live over the border in France where rent and living costs are lower, and commute into Geneva on a daily basis.

Cost of living in Lausanne

lausanne

Lausanne describes itself as the world’s best small city — set in beautiful surroundings and also home to some major global corporations. That means it’s popular both with tourists and expats arriving for work.

Rent in Lausanne is on the high side — even for Switzerland — but consumer prices are slightly lower than in some other regions, which makes it a good choice nonetheless.

Zurich cost of living

zurich

Zurich is known as the financial capital of Switzerland, and a big draw for expats coming to progress their careers in the country. However, costs are on the high side compared to some other Swiss cities.

That said, Zurich’s reputation for being clean, safe and easy to live in leads to it regularly being listed as one of the best places in the world to live — whether you love the outdoors life, or prefer to hit the shops in your free time.


Bottom line: is it expensive to live in Switzerland?

Compared to other countries, yes, Switzerland can be an expensive place to live in. But if you relocate there, chances are that your salary will give you the means to enjoy a comfortable life.

From picture perfect alpine scenes, to the buzzing, beer fuelled festivals celebrated throughout the country, there's something for everyone in Switzerland. Just make sure to choose a city that fits your budget, and you’re good to go.

And don’t forget, if you need to send money to Switzerland, give Wise a chance and you might be surprised on how you can save when making international transfers!

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Sources:

  1. Bloomberg - Most expensive cities
  2. Numbeo - Cost of living in Geneva
  3. Numbeo - Cost of living in Basel
  4. Numbeo - Cost of living in Zurich
  5. Numbeo - Cost of living in Lausanne
  6. Numbeo - Cost of living in New York
  7. Numbeo - Cost of living in San Francisco
  8. Switzerland - Minimum wage and average salary
  9. Teleport - Geneva salaries
  10. Numbeo - Cost of living in Switzerland
  11. Numbeo - Cost of living comparison: Lausanne and Basel
  12. Numbeo - Cost of living comparison: Geneva and Zurich
  13. Swiss Info - Healthcare expenses
  14. Tax Summaries - Taxes on personal income in Switzerland

Checked on 02.18.2022


This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from TransferWise Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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