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COST OF LIVING

Everything you need to know about the cost of living in Switzerland

Switzerland is expensive: there's no nice way to say it. But, like everywhere, it depends on where you live and what you do. Here the people at Studying in Switzerland provide a round-up of the sort of costs you can expect for everything from food to travel and insurance.

Everything you need to know about the cost of living in Switzerland
File photo: Depositphotos

Accommodation

Finding an affordable place to stay can be a challenge in Switzerland. Swiss students either live in shared flats, in a rented apartment or studio or at home with their parents if it is within commutable distance, cycling to the university or taking public transport. 

Rooms in halls of residence are usually limited and not all universities provide it. International students usually receive a subsidized price for housing on those campuses.

There are great advantages to living on campus, such as price and living close to college facilities as well as other students, but you should apply for student accommodation as soon as possible when you receive your admission letter since places are limited. Most higher education institutions in Switzerland will have a Housing Office or an International Office that can give you more information about your housing options. They assist students searching for accommodation.

READ ALSO: Eight things you need to know before renting in Switzerland

Zurich’s ETH university, for example, actually has a number of rooms reserved only for new international Master students. 

If you want to live alone, a 30m per square 1-bedroom apartment outside the city centre of the city you’re studying in will cost you somewhere from 900 to 2000 Swiss francs (€820–€900). The further away from the city centre you are, the lower the price will be. Yes, you will pay the cost of public transport, but it will still be easier and more affordable to find a flat outside the centre. 

Image: Depositphotos

If not, then shared flats could work for you; they are the most common form of accommodation for students and young professionals. Try these websites to help you find a room in a shared flat: Erasmusu.comWG ZimmerHousing for Students or students.ch. These are great for international students because the postings are in English, German, and French. Monthly rents for rooms in a shared flat can range from 500 to 900 francs or more, depending on the size of the room and the flat’s location. 

Here are some other websites to check out when settling in Switzerland for the first time:

ch.ch and Federal Housing Office for useful information about renting an apartment,  

Ron Orp and Woko for available rooms in Zurich and neighboring town Winterthur,  

Josephine’s Guesthouse for short-term women-only accommodation, 

SWOWI Foundation for ZHAW students in the Wädenswil area,

Geneva Interns Association for accommodation advice  in Geneva, 

and EPFL’s housing database if you were admitted there. 

Average price: Studio – 900 to 2000 francs, shared flat – 500 to 900 francs

Food

Eating out

As a student, you’re likely to not be able to afford eating out often, be it in Switzerland or anywhere. But, we have to admit Swiss restaurants aren’t cheap. 

Prices obviously vary with the quality of the restaurant. If you’re on a budget (which is understandable being a student), there are some restaurants where you can eat reasonably “cheap”, for about 30-35 franc a meal, such as Vapiano for Italian pasta and pizza. A basic lunchtime menu, including a drink in the business district, is about 26 francs, while in ethnic restaurants like Chinese, Turkish, Indian, or Thai for the biggest portions and best deals for as prices ranging from 10 to 20 francs. In Turkish restaurants (such as Sofra) and cheap Asian restaurants (such as Mr. Wong) you can eat for as little as 15 francs.

READ ALSO: So what is actually cheap in Switzerland?

If you’re looking for very inexpensive meals then there are supermarket restaurants like Migros and the Coop and Manora where you don’t have to spend much. At Manora, you can have a salad, pasta, coffee and water to drink for only about 15 francs, while the same ones plus a glass of wine would cost you up to 40 Francs in a mid-range restaurant in one of the many mountain resorts. Finally, a combo meal (such as a Big Mac Meal) in a fast food restaurant is approximately 13 francs. 

Average price: 15-40 francs per meal

Eating in (groceries)

A week’s worth of food (bread, pasta, rice, eggs, vegetables, cheese, deli meats for sandwiches, and some assorted fruit) will cost you around 75-100 francs in Switzerland. The major supermarkets are Migros, COOP, and Spar. COOP is the most expensive, while the cheapest are the German discount supermarkets Lidl and Aldi.

Meat is expensive in Switzerland, especially beef, so stick to veggies and avoid buying meat for all your meals. Half a kilogram of meat is about 12-14 francs, while a pack of twelve eggs can cost up to 8 francs in big cities. Local cheese is also expensive, as qualitative as it undoubtedly is; 500 gr (16 oz.) of local cheese is 11 francs. Further on, 1 kg (2 lb.) of tomatoes costs around 4 francs, and 2 litres of Coca-Cola are 2.46 francs, which is twice the price of a Coke in other European countries.

Average price: 75-100 francs per week

Going out

Drinking is not cheap here. Most beers are around 8 francs and most wines between 10-25 francs. Along with paying for the entrance, going to a club will cost you 50 francs at least. A cocktail drink in the downtown club will cost you around 17 francs, while a bottle of beer in your neighbouhood pub (500ml.) is generally 7 francs.  As for coffee, a cappuccino in the expat area of the city is usually 5.24 francs.

Average price: 5-25 francs per drink

Public transport

Transportation can be expensive, but most cities have monthly travelcards which can be used for trains, trams, and buses. A 2nd class ticket costs around 50 francs for the local network, while for extra zones you can get a more expensive travelcard, eg. in Zurich for 1-2 zones it’s 85 francs. As for a single ticket, the price is approximately 2.20 francs per ticket. 

Photo: AFP

The SBB app is great when it comes to public transport. Whether you travel by train, bus, tram, ship or cable car, it shows you the fastest way to your destination. Additionally, you can use the ride-sharing website BlaBlaCar for longer distances. This service lets you rideshare with people which makes it quite reasonable.

Alternatively, you can use taxis or Uber; for a 10-minute drive in an Uber or cab, you’ll need to pay 20 francs.

Average price: around 100 francs per month

Health insurance

Understanding the whole health insurance system in Switzerland is not necessary but what is crucial is to know that health insurance coverage is mandatory for any person residing in Switzerland for more than three months (which applies to you as a student). The basic insurance is governed by law and comprises the same benefits for all insurers, but the monthly premiums vary a lot according to insurance model and age. 

READ ALSO: What you need to know before you take out Swiss health insurance

The basic insurance covers medical treatment in the event of illness and accident, and you are free to choose your own insurance company. Some companies offer special packages for foreign students designed for non-EU students (but can also be purchased by EU students).

If you are from an EU country

Students holding a European Health insurance Card (EHIC) or with private insurance from an EU country may be exempt from compulsory health insurance in Switzerland. As for students who are working beside their studies, this exemption is not possible since it is only approved if you do not have any income. 

If you are from a non-EU country

If you are from a non-EU country and do not hold a European Health Insurance Card, you will have to take out Swiss insurance. Here are the available options:

  • Academic Care

Academic Care by Groupe Mutuel is a student insurance package for international students at very cheap rates. The cheapest is the monthly premium one for students under 26 which is 90 francs (with an annual deductible of 500 francs), while for those over 26, it’s 125 francs (with an annual deductible of 500 francs).

  • Swisscare

With “studentplan”, Swisscare also offers a student insurance package for foreign students at cheap rates. Monthly premiums (Standard plan) for students up to 31 is 65 francs (with an annual deductible of 1000 francs), while for students over 32 it’s 85 francs (with an annual deductible of 1000 francs).

  • Student Care

Student Care offered by SWICA is also an affordable student insurance package for non-Swiss students. Monthly premiums for students under 25 are 91.70 francs (with an annual deductible of 500 francs), while there are slightly higher prices for students over 25.

Non-EU/EFTA students with private insurance from their home country
 
Citizens of non-EU/EFTA countries with private insurance from their home country could also apply for an exemption, but it is rare that such exemption requests are approved.
 
Average price: 90 francs per month

Utilities and memberships

Utilities

Utilities like heating, electricity, gas etc. for one month for 1 person in a 45 m2 (480 square foot) studio cost around 150 francs, but of course, it depends on the individual how much one spends.

Gym memberships

Photo: Depositphotos

Differences between the amenities offered by gyms are vast, and the cost of gym memberships ranges between 500 to 2000 francs per year. You can find affordable ones, too, at about 50 francs, like NonStop Gym which is located in a few cities. However, it’s possible for your health insurance to cover up to 50-75 percent of your gym membership, or between 200 and 500 francs.

Netflix membership

Netflix is a little more expensive in Switzerland than in other countries. As opposed to $7.99 of a monthly Standard membership in the US, the Swiss pay 11.99 francs.

Internet bills

If you share a flat, you can pay your internet bill together with your flatmates. It can cost from 39 to 85 francs, so you should be careful in finding an affordable provider, like Yallo. Along with a phone provider (we suggest Sunrise), you’ll spend about CHF 110 on phone and internet bills.

Clothes

Shopping for clothes can also be a struggle in Switzerland, it being the country with the most expensive clothes in Europe. A pair of jeans (Levis 501 or similar) costs about 124 francs, a summer dress in a high street store (Zara, H&M or similar retailers) costs 61 francs, while a pair of sports shoes like Nike or Adidas will cost you about 145 francs.

Don’t forget to ask for a student discount, though!

Personal care

The drugstore isn’t an exception when it comes to steep prices; if you get a cold, medicine for six days of your sick time like Tylenol, Frenadol, Coldrex, or equivalent brands will cost you around 15 francs while a box of antibiotics (12 doses) is 34 francs. Hygienic stuff like deodorants (roll-on of 50ml ~ 1.5 oz.) is 7 francs, while a tube of toothpaste costs somewhere around 3.71 francs.

Standard men’s haircuts in an expat area of the city cost 50 francs, but in towns, you can find a place for half the price, thus 25 francs. Women’s are way more expensive. Better learn to cut your own hair!

Entertainment

Two tickets to the movies in one of Switzerland’s cinemas cost around 40 francs . If you’re into more adventurous stuff, the Schweiz Mobil app helps you out with anything that has to do with hiking, biking, cycling, skating or canoeing. It shows you every imaginable route across the country and lets you create your own list of favourites. The price of having fun in Switzerland varies greatly on your preference. It is so beautiful everywhere that you can just have a picnic by one of the many lakes here enjoying nature without breaking the bank.

Additional one-off costs 

As a tenant, you usually have to pay a rent deposit prior to moving in. The deposit amount ranges from one month’s rent to a maximum of three months’ rent, thus anywhere from 800 to 2,500 francs. There are also some one-off university fees you need to take care of at the beginning of the enrollment. These include registration, admission, tuition fees, etc.

The cost of studying and living in Switzerland for an international student depends on their personal choice of recreational activities but it safe to bank on at least 1600 francs (~USD 1589 or €1400) – 2000 francs (~USD 1986 or €1758) for your monthly expenses. The recommended budget for yearly living cost is between 18,000 francs and 28,000 francs. 

Students from an EU/EEA country are permitted to work up to 15 hours per week during term time, with no limitations outside of term time, while students from any other country are permitted to work six months after the beginning of their studies.

We hope you make it!

This article was provided by Study in Switzerland. To find out more about studying in Switzerland, visit their website here.

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OFFBEAT

Is Switzerland’s male-only mandatory military service ‘discriminatory’?

Under Swiss law, all men must serve at least one year in compulsory national service. But is this discriminatory?

Swiss military members walk across a road carrying guns
A new lawsuit seeks to challenge Switzerland's male-only military service requirement. Is this discriminatory? FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

All men aged between the ages of 18 and 30 are required to complete compulsory military service in Switzerland. 

A lawsuit which worked its way through the Swiss courts has now ended up in the European Court of Human Rights, where the judges will decide if Switzerland’s male-only conscription requirement violates anti-discrimination rules. 

Switzerland’s NZZ newspaper wrote on Monday the case has “explosive potential” and has “what it takes to cause a tremor” to a policy which was first laid out in Switzerland’s 1848 and 1874 Federal Constitutions. 

What is Switzerland’s compulsory military service? 

Article 59 of the Federal Constitution of Switzerland says “Every man with Swiss citizenship is liable for military service. Alternative civilian service shall be provided for by law.”

Recruits must generally do 18 weeks of boot camp (longer in some cases). 

They are then required to spend several weeks in the army every year until they have completed a minimum 245 days of service.

Military service is compulsory for Swiss men aged 18 and over. Women can chose to do military service but this is rare.

What about national rather than military service? 

Introduced in 1996, this is an alternative to the army, originally intended for those who objected to military service on moral grounds. 

READ MORE: The Swiss army’s growing problem with civilian service

Service is longer there than in the army, from the age of 20 to 40. 

This must be for 340 days in total, longer than the military service requirement. 

What about foreigners and dual nationals? 

Once you become a Swiss citizen and are between the ages of 18 and 30, you can expect to be conscripted. 

READ MORE: Do naturalised Swiss citizens have to do military service?

In general, having another citizenship in addition to the Swiss one is not going to exempt you from military service in Switzerland.

However, there is one exception: the obligation to serve will be waved, provided you can show that you have fulfilled your military duties in your other home country.

If you are a Swiss (naturalised or not) who lives abroad, you are not required to serve in the military in Switzerland, though you can voluntarily enlist. 

How do Swiss people feel about military and national service? 

Generally, the obligation is viewed relatively positively, both by the general public and by those who take part in compulsory service. 

While several other European countries have gotten rid of mandatory service, a 2013 referendum which attempted to abolish conscription was rejected by 73 percent of Swiss voters. 

What is the court case and what does it say? 

Martin D. Küng, the lawyer from the Swiss canton of Bern who has driven the case through the courts, has a personal interest in its success. 

He was found unfit for service but is still required to pay an annual bill to the Swiss government, which was 1662CHF for the last year he was required to pay it. 

While the 36-year-old no longer has to pay the amount – the obligation only lasts between the ages of 18 and 30 – Küng is bring the case on principle. 

So far, Küng has had little success in the Swiss courts, with his appeal rejected by the cantonal administrative court and later by the Swiss Federal Supreme Court. 

Previous Supreme Court cases, when hearing objections to men-only military service, said that women are less suitable for conscription due to “physiological and biological differences”.

In Küng’s case, the judges avoided this justification, saying instead that the matter was a constitutional issue. 

‘No objective reason why only men have to do military service’

He has now appealed the decision to the European level. 

While men have previously tried and failed when taking their case to the Supreme Court, no Swiss man has ever brought the matter to the European Court of Human Rights. 

Küng told the NZZ that he considered the rule to be unjust and said the Supreme Court’s decision is based on political considerations. 

“I would have expected the Federal Supreme Court to have the courage to clearly state the obvious in my case and not to decide on political grounds,” Küng said. 

“There is no objective reason why only men have to do military service or pay replacement taxes. On average, women may not be as physically productive as men, but that is not a criterion for excluding them from compulsory military service. 

There are quite a few men who cannot keep up with women in terms of stamina. Gender is simply the wrong demarcation criterion for deciding on compulsory service. If so, then one would have to focus on physical performance.”

Is it likely to pass? 

Küng is optimistic that the Strasbourg court will find in his favour, pointing to a successful appeal by a German man who complained about a fire brigade tax, which was only imposed on men. 

“This question has not yet been conclusively answered by the court” Küng said. 

The impact of a decision in his favour could be considerable, with European law technically taking precedence over Swiss law.

It would set Switzerland on a collision course with the bloc, particularly given the popularity of the conscription provision. 

Küng clarified that political outcomes and repercussions don’t concern him. 

“My only concern is for a court to determine that the current regulation is legally wrong.”

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