Is Switzerland really So Expensive in 2023?| Updated: |
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People often cite Switzerland as the most expensive country in the world. Several of its cities, Zurich and Geneva, are also often among the most expensive cities in the world.
Now, is it as expensive as people believe it is? Is everything more expensive, or are just some items significantly more costly than others? And finally, are some things cheaper in Switzerland than in other countries?
In this article, I answer these questions. We discuss the price of several things in Switzerland. It should give us enough material to answer the question of whether Switzerland is so expensive!
Grocery shopping is costly in Switzerland. If you have been to any other country, it should be pretty clear that groceries are too expensive here!
If you shop at a medium price shop like Coop and Migros, you can save a lot of money by buying in another European country. However, if you shop at a German discounter like Lidl or Aldi in Switzerland, you will not save that much money. Aldi and Lidl are reasonably priced in Switzerland. And you do not have to cross the border and drive your car far for that!
This fact is especially true for Swiss products. For instance, Swiss meat is incredibly expensive. Except for pork, we rarely buy Swiss meat. It is kind of sad. But I am not willing to pay 50% more for Swiss meat. It is good quality, but it is not that much different in my mind. Many people go to the butcher in France to have cheaper meat, especially beef.
Even though grocery shopping is expensive in Switzerland, there are ways to reduce your food budget. It is mainly done by avoiding Swiss shops and preferring German discounters. And if you want to lower your bills, you will have to opt for some foreign products.
Unsurprisingly, shopping is expensive in Switzerland, even in small cities. For some reason, magazines are significantly more expensive in Switzerland than in other countries. We pay around twice the price of the same magazine in France or Germany.
Cosmetics and clothing are also quite more expensive in Switzerland than in the rest of Europe. Shoes and toys are also a little bit more expensive.
Now, all of these results are based on average prices. If you look for it, you can find cheap clothes in Switzerland, for instance. There are such vast differences between shops that the average is quite high.
For instance, shops like H&M and C&A are not much more expensive in Switzerland than in other countries. But the average is highly skewed towards luxury items.
I prefer shopping online most of the time. And there are some good online shops in Switzerland where you can get good deals.
Electronics are cheaper in Switzerland than in all neighboring countries. It is as cheap as the United States and cheaper than China for several things.
Laptops, phones, and such are available at an excellent price in Switzerland. I said obscure reasons because that is the only consumer product cheaper here than in Europe. And nobody seems to know why. One reason is that the tax on these products is lower than the average in Europe. But that does not explain everything.
I see several possible reasons for that:
- All electronics are built abroad with cheaper employees.
- Many electronics come from the U.S. (after being assembled in China) or China. And our currency is quite strong against theirs.
- The VAT on electronics is 7.7%. It is very low compared to some countries.
I am not sure these are the only reasons. But at least we are lucky to be able to purchase electronics at such prices. For me, it is almost not a good thing since I really like computer gadgets. So I spend too much on them. But it is not that bad.
These days, the best way to buy electronics in Switzerland is to shop online. I have a guide for shopping online in Switzerland.
Another very expensive thing in Switzerland is going out. Almost everything that you can do to go out is too costly, in my opinion.
Restaurants are costly. Unless you go to a fast-food restaurant, finding a meal for less than 20 CHF is difficult. And most menus are generally around 50 CHF. And if you add some drinks to that, it can very quickly add up. I may be cheap, but I do not enjoy spending around 100 CHF on an average dinner.
Even for Swiss people, I feel like restaurants are very expensive. In a lot of countries, you can regularly go eating out. But in Switzerland, eating out often would be very expensive. But there are still many people that eat out regularly.
If you want to go to the movies, you should plan at least 20 CHF per person if you wish to have a drink or a small food item. These days, I am very rarely going to the movies. And going to the city just for a movie does not appeal to me anymore. We can watch good movies at home, on a better sofa.
Other activities are quite expensive as well. Going to the museum or the theater (the actual one) is not cheap either. On the other hand, we can hike for free in a ton of beautiful places!
Something very expensive in Switzerland is Real Estate. Both renting and buying are costly.
Switzerland is one of the countries with the lowest house owners percentage. Two-thirds of the population in Switzerland is renting, even outside of cities. The main reason people are not buying is because of the very high price for real estate.
And the fact that so many people are renting drives up rent price. It is a vicious cycle. And let’s not forget that the country is quite small. With the strong regulations in place, it cannot expand very fast.
One good thing about real estate is that interest rates are very low. So, you will need a substantial downpayment, but you will pay lower interest payments.
Even though the price of entry is higher, it is cheaper in the long term to own a house than to rent. I mentioned houses because houses are particularly expensive to rent.
If you want to learn more, I have a guide about owning versus renting in Switzerland.
Public Transportation is very expensive in Switzerland. I do not like the Swiss public transportation.
It costs me about 60 CHF to go to Geneva by train. And it costs me 16 CHF to go by bus to work and return. It is simply insane.
If you can take a travel card, it becomes fairer. But a yearly travel card to travel in entire Switzerland will still cost you about 4000 CHF per year. And remember that the country is tiny! If you do not have a card, taking public transportation is very costly! Single fare tickets in Switzerland are the most expensive from any country I have ever visited.
Cars are also more expensive than in other countries in Europe. However, gas is cheaper than in most developed European countries such as France and Germany. But you will pay a ton of taxes on your car, and you will have mandatory insurance. It is probably about 20% more expensive in Switzerland than in the average European country.
In Switzerland, we have an excellent education system, probably among the best systems in the world.
But contrary to many things in Switzerland, education is affordable. The country fund public schools. This federal funding means you will not have to pay any tuition fees.
And even advanced education such as Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees is subsidized by the canton. You rarely pay more than 2000 CHF per year for a school. And this is already on the high of the fees. My parents never spent more than 1200 CHF per year on my education.
The Swiss education system is incredibly better than the crazy system in the United States, where students end up with tens of thousands of dollars in student debts.
However, you need to keep in mind that most schools are charging significantly more for foreigners. If you are not Swiss, you may have to pay more than, especially at the university level. And any private school will be very expensive.
Also, non-mandatory schools like kindergarten can become quite expensive. There are some deductions, but the base cost is very high. If you are concerned, you should learn more about kindergarten in Switzerland.
Healthcare is another thing that is very expensive in Switzerland. Here, health insurance is mandatory. Every member of your household will have to pay for health insurance. It can quickly go for 300 CHF per person and month.
And even though you are insured, there are still many things you will have to pay for yourself. Each insurance also has a deductible. And a visit to the doctor or some drugs at the pharmacy can quickly pile up.
My wife and I pay close to 800 CHF per month for health insurance. And we still have to pay almost everything because of our high deductible.
You can learn more in my guide to health insurance in Switzerland.
Tourism is expensive
One reason that many people say that Switzerland is so costly is that tourism in Switzerland is expensive.
I already mentioned that restaurants are costly. It is already bad for tourists. But hotels are also expensive. In most cities, even cheap ones, it is complicated to find a hotel below 150 CHF per night. And some hotels are much more expensive than that.
And if that was not enough, popular attractions in Switzerland are incredibly expensive, even from a Swiss perspective. For instance, if you want to go to the Matterhorn, the most famous Swiss mountain, you will have to pay about 100 CHF per person! I think this is just dumb. All around popular Swiss attractions, prices are going up very quickly.
Even for Swiss people, going to these very popular places is very expensive. Even though it is a pleasant experience to go to the Matterhorn, I do not think it is worth more than 100 CHF per person. Note that we still went to the Matterhorn when we went to Zermatt.
The high cost of tourism is why most Swiss people do not travel much in Switzerland. For us, it is cheaper to travel to European countries than it is to travel to Switzerland. It does not make sense, right?
If you want to travel abroad instead, find out how to travel abroad for less.
Taxes in Switzerland
The average taxes in Switzerland are reasonable. Switzerland is among the cheapest countries for taxes. We pay taxes on income and wealth in Switzerland.
On average, people pay about 10.5% of their net income in taxes. However, we are also paying taxes on our gross income. These extra taxes are directly removed at the source, so we never see them. It is about 5% of our gross income on average. So I would say that the real tax average is about 15%.
This average is lower than in many other countries. For instance, people in the U.S. pay 18% on average, and people in Denmark pay 36%!
Of course, there are vast differences between the different cantons in Switzerland. In some situations, taxes can double from one canton to another.
And I mentioned average because taxes can quickly become high as your income grows. And there is not much we can do about that.
It is essential to consider that we also pay some direct taxes based entirely on our gross income. These are deducted directly from our salary every month. Some of these deductions are for our pension, so they should not be counted as taxes. However, we also pay for the invalidity insurance directly from our salary. It needs to be taken into account when comparing with other countries.
If you want to learn more, I wrote a complete guide about taxes in Switzerland.
When foreigners talk about Switzerland, they often think of places like Zurich or Geneva. And these two cities are the two most expensive cities in Switzerland. Therefore, foreigners directly believe that Switzerland is incredibly costly everywhere. Even some people from Zurich and Geneva think the prices are the same all over Switzerland.
They could not be more wrong! There are huge differences between cities in Switzerland. Living in Zurich’s city center is several times more expensive than in a small village in the canton of Zug.
For instance, a standard apartment for 4000 CHF per month is not surprising in Zurich. But in Fribourg, it would be incredibly expensive. You could have a prime apartment in the city center for this price.
On average, Switzerland is much cheaper than these two expensive cities. And while it is true that Switzerland is expensive, it is not as extreme as some belief.
To learn more about the differences between cities and cantons, read about Geo-Arbitrage in Switzerland.
Income in Switzerland – It is all relative
The high income of Swiss people can explain a lot of the expensiveness of Switzerland.
The median income in Switzerland is about 6200 CHF (6200 USD) per month. The median income in Switzerland is significantly higher than in most countries. There are some significant discrepancies between cities and cantons and also between jobs. Interestingly, the average income is considerably higher at around 8000 CHF.
Even when you put together the high income with the high prices of Switzerland, we still have a high purchasing power in Switzerland. We do have one of the highest purchasing power in the world. Purchasing power is more important than price.
A very good representation of purchasing power is the so-called Big Mac Index. It compares the price of a Big Mac in every country and compares how long it would like for a person to work to afford one.
This study shows that Switzerland has the most expensive Big Mac in the world at 6.50 CHF (in 2021). The study takes only the sandwich, not the menu. However, we only have to work about 11 minutes to get one. For comparison, for a much cheaper Big Mac, a worker in Ukraine needs to work 54 minutes for it. It is a good way to put things in perspective.
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Switzerland is indeed expensive compared to the rest of the world. Many things are significantly more expensive here than in most countries.
From my point of view, Switzerland is not that expensive overall. We have high incomes. Even with the comparatively high prices, we still have a nice purchasing power. However, some things are too expensive here.
Mainly, I think that health care and public transportation are too expensive. I would also say that real estate is in pretty bad shape right now.
From a tourist point of view, Switzerland can seem extremely expensive. If you have a good salary in your country, but that country is twice cheaper than here, you may be shocked by the prices. And it is indeed a costly place for tourists.
And the average Swiss city is significantly cheaper than cities like Zurich or Geneva. So, while Zurich is undoubtedly expensive, the average Swiss city is much cheaper.
If you want to learn more about how people spend money in Switzerland, read about the Average Swiss Household and their expenses.
What about you? Do you think Switzerland is so expensive?
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46 thoughts on “Is Switzerland really So Expensive in 2023?”
Thanks for article. I am expat living currently in Switzerland and must say that actually Switzerland is quite affordable. Okay, we resigned from going to restaurants because it’s crazy expensive even with Swiss salary but cost of food, transport(petrol) is relatively low compared to other countries when we take salaries into consideration. Also, housing…my, my, people will never understand how housing/renting is crazy in other countries if they never left Switzerland. In Switzerland to get a nice flat for two working professionals it’s perfectly feasible. Houses are indeed extremely expensive but flats are quite affordable. In UK where I used to live before I moved to Switzerland me and my partner had to spend around 25% of our monthly income on renting – and we did not even live in London but on the city outskirts. Here it’s 18% of the monthly income but only because we wanted a nicer flat. We could easily lower this to 14-15% if we agreed to rent something smaller(We live in Bern). Quality of housing is at amazing level. In UK it is so bad that landlord equips you with mould removing agent when you start your tenancy. Here, rooms are spacious and very bright. It’s amazing and worth every single penny. I am not even mentioning that to rent a flat in UK in London when being single is almost impossible and you are unfortunately limited to either do flatsharing or live in completely dark/mouldy shithole.
Taking salaries into consideration, raw food is indeed affordable. And I agree with restaurants.
Interesting, I did not know UK was so insane on renting prices.
But this will vary very much as well. If you compare it to center of Gevena, it would be insane too. But if you take London center, it’s probably on par.
Thanks for sharing! Renting in the UK looks horrible.
Swiss meat actually does have way higher standards and less animal abuse than other EU imported cheap meat. Also its the local production, which is always better than shipping. So yes its more expensive but totally worth it.
If you still cant afford it ,you cant afford meat.
You will indeed save a lot on shipping, which we should avoid as much as possible. But is Swiss chicken really worth twice more than foreign chicken?
In 1978 the exchange rate was 3 Swiss francs to the dollar. US tourist lived like kings in Switzerland. In the meantime the dollar has lost its strenght, and a dollar is worth 0.96 Swiss francs. The per capita income in 2021 was approx 68 thousand compare to 94 thousand in Switzerland. This is approx. a 33% difference. This clearly shows you should never compare prices based on the exchange rate.
Yes, you should not compare too much prices in one country with prices in another one. What matters is how expensive it is for people earning a Swiss salary!
Just an FYI — others may have mentioned this — but the US does not have a VAT (national sales tax). Different states, cities and countries in the US have different sales taxes, but I don’t think anywhere it exceeds 10% and that’s rare — in NYC, for example. The average is more like 6-7%. In most places, this is not charged on supermarket foods (only on restaurant meals) and in some areas, clothing is not taxed.
You may be thinking of Canada, which DOES have a VAT though I am not sure what it is in 2022.
Thanks for letting me know. I have updated this phrase in the article.
Some states have no sales tax. But in the two such we have lived, state income tax is higher than average.
First, thanks for an interesting read. It gave an adequate information on many fronts. I had been in Lausanne, last time in 2018. A Big Mac was in between CHF 13 / 14, not $6.57 as mentioned by you. (I ate at McDonald right across the Lausanne main train station). For Tourist, a travel pass costs around CHF 500. That gives you unlimited travel in Switzerland- trains, local, buses, ferries, many other forms of public transportations. In the morning, a cup of joe and a croissant may cost you CHF 6 (at most 7, if u go for Chocolate Croissant). Now a days, there is a proliferation of Turkish Donner Kebab stores. Food is cheaper there. Also, in Lausanne (I am sure also in other cities) there is a farmer’s market, I guess, twice a week. They have fresh produce, cheese, and many other things. There are many AirBnB. So, staying at an AirBnB, get a TravelPass and get food from the farmer’s market or from Coop. Life is Good – not that expensive. With TravelPass u don’t have to worry about transport fare. Just hope (in Lausanne) on a Metro. Within 12-15 minutes, your at the campus of UNIL and EPFL. No shortage of food and cheap food establishments there. Also, a lovely Truck Food scenario is there. Once in a while, just spoil yourself with a dinner outside in an restaurant.
The point is: you can stay comfortably and eat comfortably and move around comfortably around Switzerland. Don’t get scared.
The 6.57 USD is from the study and it’s only the sandwich, not the menu.
You can definitely find fast food much cheaper, but if you want a good restaurant, you are not going to find any that cheap.
I am not saying we can’t find deals, I share many deals on this blog, but there should be no deying that Switzerland is quite expensive in most areas.
I disagree with transport prices. Everyone in Switzerland has at least a halbtax card which cuts all public transport prices by 50%. Also, a return ticket is valid for 24 hours on all included areas and is perfect for exploring.
This aside,compare prices with either the Netherlands or the UK where it is MORE expensive under pretty much all circumstances. Even a low-income country like Hungary is more expensive to travel around in cities. I would say CH is very affordable for public transport.
Far from everyone in Switzerland has a half-tax card. Most of the people I know don’t have it. The bus lines in my sector don’t have 24 hours return tickets.
For me, the fact that public transportation is much more expensive than taking a car and parking for several days is a big sign that it’s not affordable.
That’s true, but it’s also true that also in other countries (as Tomi pointed out, specifically the UK), public transport is much more expensive than the driving alternative. I lived in the UK for 16 years and all throughout that period I kept hearing how the govt wanted to encourage more uptake on the public transport. All of that whilst a Reading to Maidenhead (13 miles, 20km) return ticket was 15 quid, whilst the petrol would set you back at most a fiver, assuming you were driving a guzzler.
Thanks for sharing, Stefan :) I was not aware that this was also the case in other countries :)
Living in California and moving to Lausanne I found hotel prices to be very enticing in Switzerland. In Lausanne for around 150CHF you can stay in a modern hotel maybe even an old castle for 200CHF but in America you for $200-$250 you’re getting a Best Western, which is just above a motel (a desperate type of accommodation). I don’t know about the rest of Europe but Switzerland was the only place I didn’t flinch at the prices.
Thanks for sharing, this is interesting. I remember some fairer hotel prices in California, but that was close to 10 years ago and some were indeed expensive.
The rest of Europe, except for some big cities is significantly cheaper for hotels. And some places in Switzerland are much more expensive than Lausanne, but you can find good deals indeed!
$250 a night for Best Western? Where? San Francisco? Manhattan? not in 99% of the USA, it is more like $120 or even less. You can’t compare SF or NYC to “all of the US”, anymore than you can compare the priciest parts of Switzerland to (say) Estonia or Latvia.