Swiss cities ‘the most expensive in Europe for international residents’

It’s hardly news to anyone who’s had to fork out big francs for a coffee lately, but new research shows just how expensive Switzerland is for international residents.

Swiss cities 'the most expensive in Europe for international residents'
Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash

Three of the top ten most expensive cities in the world for expats are in Switzerland – and the only other European city in the top 20 is London, at 19th. 

Zurich (fourth), Bern (eighth) and Geneva (ninth) sit alongside a number of Asian cities, as well as a handful of cities from the United States. 

The most expensive city in the world for expats is Hong Kong, while Ashgabat in Turkmenistan and Tokyo in Japan round out the top three. 

Cost of living

The research project was put out by American consulting firm Mercer, who looked at various metrics to determine cost of living for expatriates in cities across the world. 

Currency fluctuations, costs for food, housing, transportation, entertainment, clothing and household goods are all taken into account. 

Geneva. Photo by Will Truettner on Unsplash

An expensive island in the middle of Europe? 

While residents and visitors have for a long time understood how expensive Switzerland is, it might still be surprising that only one other European city – London – makes it into the top 20. 

Other expensive expat hubs like Paris, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Brussels, Milan and Frankfurt feature nowhere near the top places. 

A major reason for this is the coronavirus crisis – and the strength of certain currencies against others. 

The Swiss franc, already one of the world’s strongest currencies, meant that Swiss cities stayed near the top of the list while other European cities fell away. 

Zurich rose one spot from fifth last year, while Bern and Geneva rose four spots from 12th and 13th respectively. 

On the other hand, Milan (47th), Paris (50th) and Frankfurt (76th) were nowhere near the top. 

Other currencies to emerge strongly out of the coronavirus crisis were the US dollar and the British pound, which drove New York from ninth to sixth on the list and London from 23rd to 19th on the list respectively. 

Covid and climate the major issues

The researchers said the challenges for city administrators was to ensure stability despite uncertain times. This was particularly the case with regard to two major current challenges – climate change and Covid-19. 

“Border closings, flight interruptions, mandatory confinements, and other short-term disruptions have affected not only the cost of goods and services, but also the quality of living of assignees” said Ilya Bonic, President and Head of Strategy at Mercer.

This focus on stability is another reason for why Switzerland continued to accrue such a high cost-of-living score. 

“Climate change, issues related to environmental footprint, and health system challenges have pushed multinationals to consider how a city’s efforts around sustainability can impact the living conditions for their expatriate workers.”

“Cities with a strong sustainability focus can greatly improve living standards, which can in turn improve employee well-being and engagement.”

Top ten most expensive cities for expats

1. Hong Kong

2. Ashgabat

3. Tokyo

4. Zurich

5. Singapore

6. New York City

7. Shanghai 

8. Bern

9. Geneva

10. Beijing

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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.