Switzerland has vibrant cities, a refreshing natural environment, and some of the highest standards of living on the planet. It’s no surprise that it’s a...
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.
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.
|Living cost — family of 4, not including rent
|Living cost — single person, not including rent
|New York, USA⁶
|San Francisco, USA⁷
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 usually find on Google.
|Use Wise for
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 Switzerland
|Average annual salary⁸
Let’s dive into the details of how much life in Switzerland might actually cost you.
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.
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.
|Rent 1 bed, city center
|Rent 1 bed, outside of city center
|Rent 3 bed, city center
|Rent 1 bed, outside of city center
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:
|Average utilities price
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.
|Price (sqft) in city center
|Price (sqft) outside of city center
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:
|Cost in Switzerland¹⁰
|Loaf of bread
|1 gallon milk
Note: Data correct at time of research — 8 February 2022
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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!
- Bloomberg - Most expensive cities
- Numbeo - Cost of living in Geneva
- Numbeo - Cost of living in Basel
- Numbeo - Cost of living in Zurich
- Numbeo - Cost of living in Lausanne
- Numbeo - Cost of living in New York
- Numbeo - Cost of living in San Francisco
- Switzerland - Minimum wage and average salary
- Teleport - Geneva salaries
- Numbeo - Cost of living in Switzerland
- Numbeo - Cost of living comparison: Lausanne and Basel
- Numbeo - Cost of living comparison: Geneva and Zurich
- Swiss Info - Healthcare expenses
- Tax Summaries - Taxes on personal income in Switzerland
Checked on 02.18.2022
This publication is provided for general information purposes and does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from Wise Payments Limited or its subsidiaries and its affiliates, and it is not intended as a substitute for obtaining advice from a financial advisor or any other professional.
We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether expressed or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.
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