Top of the heap: Switzerland’s ‘richest’ places by purchasing power

The central Swiss canton of Zug is at the top of the country’s purchasing power table with an average disposable net income of €60,000 (70,500 francs) per head a year, according to a new study by market research firm GfK.

Top of the heap: Switzerland’s 'richest' places by purchasing power
Photo: Tourism Switzerland

That means the disposable net income of low-tax Zug is nearly one and a half times the Swiss average of €40,456.

It also puts the canton clearly ahead of fellow low-tax cantons Schwyz where the figure is €55,411 and Nidwalden (€51,449).

In Zurich, average disposable net income is €46,019, making it the fourth ‘wealthiest’ canton. Meanwhile, the total for fifth-placed canton Geneva is €43,737.

Read also: Here is how much tax Swiss people can expect to pay in a lifetime

There are large differences between the cantons at the top and the bottom of the GfK table though. In last-placed Jura, the figure is just €32,992. Uri and St Gallen round out the bottom three.

A GfK map showing the relative purchasing power of Swiss districts where the Swiss average is 100.

At a more local level, districts in the cantons of Schwyz and Zurich dominate the rankings. In the distract of Höfe (Schwyz), the average disposable net income is €87,853. The Zurich district of Meilen, on the so-called Gold Coast, comes in second place with €61,431.

In the French-speaking part of Switzerland, the wealthiest district is Nyon, where the disposable income is €61,431. That puts Nyon eighth on the overall list of Swiss districts.

The disposable income issue

But the GfK study does not make clear how much actual disposable income is actually available to Swiss people and families: while the market research firm looks at all types of income including government benefits, the figures it provides are before outgoings for costs including rent, insurance, electricity and clothing.

Read also: Here's why Swiss rents are so painfully high right now

A 2017 Swiss government study showed that the average disposable income in Swiss francs of households in 2015 was 6,957 francs a month or 83,484 francs a year. In that case, disposable income was calculated by deducting obligatory expenses including taxes, social insurance, health insurance and pensions from gross revenue, which includes salaries and bonuses, plus income from property, savings and investments.

But that same year, just 8.4 percent of Swiss people said they could not afford to go on a one-week holiday and 1.4 percent said they could not afford a full meal every second day, against 7.1 percent in Germany and 11.8 percent in Italy.

Another report released in 2017 showed that around 500,000 Swiss people, or around seven percent of the population were living below the poverty income threshold.

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Where to find property in Switzerland for under CHF 500k

Switzerland is not known for being a cheap country and property prices are higher than in other European countries, but it's still possible to find property bargains, some for even under CHF 100k.

Where to find property in Switzerland for under CHF 500k

Property prices are rising in much of Europe and Switzerland is no exception. As the average salary is high in Switzerland, finding homes for under CHF 1 million in some parts of the country becomes almost impossible.

Even when you do find cheap properties, they are sometimes quite literally too good to be true. For example, Switzerland’s famous one-franc home scheme had to be scrapped after nobody signed up. The cheap homes were, actually, too expensive when considering the costs for renovation or even how remote they were.

READ ALSO: Six no-gimmick websites that help you save money in Switzerland

Some of the properties in the scheme weren’t connected to the electricity grid, sewer system or even roads.

So, where can we find cheap(er) homes in Switzerland – that are still liveable or could be excellent investments for those who enjoy fixer-uppers (or huge DIY projects)?

Not an easy search

To find these gems, we used a property website that allowed us to search for real estate in the whole of Switzerland (instead of just a few main cities) and showed us homes with at least three rooms.

The price limit was set at CHF 500,000 (while our colleagues in Germany had theirs set at €100k, but, hey, this is Switzerland).

As of August 2022, we found 203 houses and 80 apartments following these criteria on sale.

Most of these definitely need some fixing up, but you can still snatch a home for under CHF 500,000 with lovely views of lakes and mountains or big terraces and gardens.

Going through the addresses with some of the properties, some things stand out:

Head for the border – most of the most affordable places are in Italian-speaking Switzerland. However, you can also find some of them in the French regions. In both cases, they are located very near the border with France or Italy.

Forget about cities – All the properties we found are quite far from the major cities of Zürich, Bern, and Geneva, which makes sense as the cost of living tends to rise in those regions. If you’re looking for a cheap home, you’re highly unlikely to find one in city centres.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Why is Switzerland so expensive?

Consider property type – It is also worth mentioning that there seemed to be a distinction between the homes in the west and those in the south. In the French region, there are more apartments and newer properties, with some outstanding options.

While in the Italian south, most of the properties are houses – and you need to inspect well because some will need a lot of work.

Research services – You should definitely check carefully the property’s location – some are not connected to basic services or even roads.

Renovation costs – Almost all of the properties we found were ‘renovation projects’. Some can turn out to be very good investments, but it takes time and work to renovate. Before buying, get an estimate of the likely works so you can see whether the property really will save you money in the long term, and be honest about your level of DIY/building skills and how much work you are willing or able to do.

Extra costs – Besides renovating costs, you must be mindful of property taxes and other living costs and how much they are in the region where you are buying property. Prices can vary quite widely depending on the canton, so research well.

You can check all our Property in Switzerland stories here.