Swiss cities remain costly for expats: report

Zurich, Geneva, Basel and Bern remain the most expensive cities in Europe apart from Oslo and another Norwegian city, according to the latest global ranking from consulting firm ECA International.

Swiss cities remain costly for expats: report
Zurich by night: Europe's most expensive city outside Norway (Photo:Tmesis)

Switzerland’s biggest cities are still more affordable than Norway’s capital and Stavanger, but otherwise are more costly places to live in than elsewhere in Europe, the consultant said in its annual report released this week.

However, the Swiss cities, which have recently seen prices drop on the strength of a strong franc, have been overtaken by ones in Japan, Venezuela and Angola as places where the cost of basic goods is the highest, ECA said.

Geneva, which last year was ranked third on the list, has fallen to tenth, while Zurich has dropped to ninth from fifth a year ago.

Bern’s ranking fell to 11th compared to seventh, while Basel is rated 12th, down from ninth.

Tokyo remains the world’s most expensive city, followed by Nagoya, also in Japan, and Oslo.

The ranking is base on surveys taken in May and September for ECA, a company that provides information for international companies to help them manage and assign employees around the world.

The surveys compare the costs of a basket of day-to-day goods and services.

Japanese cities occupied four of the top six spots in the ranking, while Luanda in Angola (fourth, up from 11th) and Caracas, Venezuela (seventh, up from 13th) jumped into the top 10 for the 2012 list.

Overall, variations in economic growth and changes in currency values led to dramatic changes in ECA’s list of expensive cities.

The company said cost of living plummeted in some parts of Europe — Madrid, for example, fell 44 places to 105th on the list.

The costs in Swiss cities were less affected than those in elsewhere in Europe  that “fell in the global ranking as the euro and other European currencies weakened against the US dollar,” ECA said.

Also “prices increased at a slower rate in Europe on average than other regions over the year.”
Meanwhile, costs rose in Chinese cities across the board, while Hong Kong overtook Manhattan on the list in a dramatic move from 32nd, up from 58th a year earlier.

The basket of goods and services compared includes food, drink, tobacco, miscellaneous goods and services, as well as general items such as electrical goods, motoring and meals out.

The surveys do not include accommodation costs, utility charges, car purchases and school fees because these are “usually compensated for separately in expatriate packages”, ECA said.  

Living costs for expats “are affected by inflation, availability of goods and exchange rates,” the company’s report said,  “all of which can have a significant impact on . . . remuneration packages”.

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Can I have a fire in my backyard or courtyard in Switzerland?

The winter months are on their way and the weather is getting colder. If you’re lucky enough to have a backyard, can you light a fire?

White marshmallows toast over a fire
If you want to toast marshmallows in your backyard in Switzerland this winter, first make sure it's OK. Photo by Leon Contreras on Unsplash

Even if you own a property, the rules for what you can and cannot do in Switzerland can be relatively restrictive. 

As we covered in the following article, laws or tenancy rules can prevent you from doing several types of activities in your own backyard, including felling trees or washing your car. 

You can also be prevented from certain activities on particular days. For instance, rules, bylaws and tenancy arrangements may prevent you from mowing your lawn or hanging out your laundry on a Sunday. 

READ MORE: What am I allowed to do in my backyard or apartment courtyard in Switzerland?

As the weather gets colder, you might be tempted to stock up the fire pit, fire basket or fire bowl with wood and set it alight. 

The rules for lighting fires are also relatively complex. What you are allowed to do will depend on your canton, your tenancy arrangement and the type of fire. 

Can I light a fire on my own property in Switzerland? 

If you’re living in one of the few Swiss houses to have a fireplace, then you are presumably allowed to use it, unless tenancy regulations prevent it at certain times. 

You are also usually allowed to have a barbecue or grill either on your balcony or in your backyard, provided the noise and smoke is not excessive. 

READ MORE: Can I have a barbecue on my balcony in Switzerland?

Whether or not you are allowed to have a fire in your backyard however will depend on the rules in your canton. 

You are generally prohibited from burning any waste in Switzerland, other than typical forest or garden waste (i.e. wood, grass, twigs, sticks and leaves). 

That however can also be restricted at certain times of the year.

In Zurich, for instance, fires in backyards are only permitted from March to October, meaning that you will need to find other ways to stay warm in the winter months in Switzerland’s most populous canton. 

Even if lighting fires is permitted, you may want to check with the rules of your rental contract to see if you are technically allowed a fire. 

What about fires in the forest or open parks? 

A campfire might also sound like a nice way to spend a winter evening, but this may be restricted or completely prohibited depending on the circumstance. 

There is no federal ban on fires in forests and other outdoor areas, provided you are not burning waste (other than garden waste etc) and you are not producing excessive emissions. 

The rules are the same on August 1st, Swiss National Day, where special bonfires usually require a permit. 

Note that there are special rules for burning old Christmas trees, which is prevented by law.