Cost of living in Switzerland: How to save money if you live in Zurich

Author thumbnail
The Local - [email protected]
Cost of living in Switzerland: How to save money if you live in Zurich
The Limmat in Zurich. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

You don’t need to live in Zurich to know how expensive it is - but locals' tips can make your francs stretch a little longer.


Zurich is the equal-most expensive city in the world, according to a study released in November 2020. 

The Swiss city ranks alongside Paris and Hong Kong as the priciest cities in the world, the study said.

READ: Why Zurich ranks as the world's most expensive city once again 

But that of course is no news to our Zurich-based readers, who by now are used to navigating to high cost of living Switzerland’s largest city has to offer. 

We reached out to our readers and asked them two questions about the cost of living in Zurich: what is the most expensive thing about living in Zurich - and how you can save money. 

What is so expensive about Zurich? 

We received just under 50 responses to the survey, showing that cost of living remains a major concern. 

The vast majority of those who responded lived or worked in Zurich, although some said they no longer had a connection to the city but the cost was burned into their memory. 

The most common responses were relatively predictable. 

Buying property versus renting in Switzerland: What is actually cheaper? 

Eating out was a frequent response, while plenty of respondents felt that the rent in Zurich was too damn high. 

A number of respondents said that high costs couldn’t be avoided when shopping at supermarkets, with food - and in particular meat - too expensive. 

Day care was another common response, with one reader lamenting the CHF2,500 expenditure per child. 


Several other respondents simply answered that “everything” was the most expensive thing in Zurich. 

There were however some relatively unique responses. 


More than one respondent said the cost of local prostitution services were extortionate, with one complaining of the CHF300 per hour going rate. 

Another said the most expensive part of living in Zurich was fines levied by police for breaking the rules - a sure sign that the police also struggle to make ends meet in Zurich. 

Everything you need to know about minimum wage in Switzerland 

“Hidden radar cameras claimed to be for safety reasons (are the most expensive). The undeclared primary reason is to collect more money from drivers. If the primary reason was for safety, there should be warning sign boards that a camera is present on this route etc., like we find in other cities and towns in Europe.”

Someone else, presumably from Columbia, asked Local readers to have a little more perspective. 

“Stop crying, living in Colombia is twice more expensive” he or she wrote. 

How do you save money when living in Zurich?

Obviously, some costs are harder to cut and simply electing not to pay rent probably wasn’t an option for most of our readers. 

That said, we had dozens of readers who told us that even moving slightly out of the city was likely to result in a huge rent saving. 


Think twice about eating out

The major response we had was to stop eating out and to take food with you wherever you go. 

One respondent said anyone who does so wouldn’t be missing much anyway. “Never eat out. Quality is bad, prices are high”. 

If you do want to eat out occasionally, one option is to think about supermarket canteens and department stores. 

“Jelmoli and Globus have lovely top-floor restaurants that offer a good view and great value for money thanks to being self-service,” said local yoga teacher Susan Andreou

Another tip is especially relevant for anyone with a bit of time to head to the border. 

“As a student, taking the train to Germany to buy food. The shop I go to is always filled 75% with Swiss plated cars.”

Save on groceries

Carina Scheuringer, founder of Switzerland’s travel and leisure magazine Spot, recommends looking for the best quality-to-cost ratio locally. She says: “I try to support the local economy where possible. I like shopping at local farms, farmers’ markets or picking up local produce in places like Farmy, an online farm shop.” 

Coupons and regular specials/deals – whether online or in print like supermarket magazines – are also very much a thing in Switzerland and are worth looking into. 

The following guide has a number of relevant tips when shopping in Zurich. 

Cost of living: How to save on groceries in Switzerland

DIY and save

DIY - do it yourself - is also a big tip, with readers pointing to the cost of hairdressers, beauty salons and mechanics. 


“Save restaurants for rare special occasions, and do as much DIY as possible - cut your own or your partner's hair, do your own nails, fix your car yourself whenever possible (Google and YouTube are your friends),” wrote one reader. 


Second hand is your friend

Living in one of the world's most expensive cities can be tough, but why not turn it into an advantage. 

A benefit of having a slew of wealthy neighbours is that second hand electronics, clothes and other goods will be thrown away earlier. 

Zurich has an excellent second-hand scene. 

Tsitaliya Mircheva, who founded the fashion and style website Mums in Heels, says: “I got my hands on a limited edition Stella McCartney, an almost new Bally bag and some classic pieces in perfect condition for really reasonable prices.” 
Her favourite place to find bargains is the Burkliplatz market on Saturdays from May to October, but other good options include Flohmarkt Kanzlei, Switzerland’s largest year-round flea market, and Razzo 2nd Hand, an all-round shop in the city centre. 
A helpful guidebook to secondhand outlets is Nicht Neu.

If you shop online, one option is to search in postcodes in the wealthier part of town - think Kreis 1, 7 and 8 - for items on eBay and other similar sites. 

Often you'll find barely used stuff at a fraction of the new price. 

The best things in Zurich - and Switzerland - are free (or cheap)

Others were quick to remind us that the best things in life (in Zurich) are free. 

“Shop at Aldi. Avoid pricey restaurants. Enjoy the free things like hiking, the lake etc.”

You can help yourself to water – Zurich has around 1,200 clean-water fountains; visit Zurich University’s Botanical Garden, which houses some 9,000 species of plants; and hire bikes through the Züri Rollt scheme, which simply requires a 20 franc deposit.

People jumping into the Limmat in Zurich. Photo: MICHELE LIMINA / AFP

Choosing to cycle rather than take public transport - and to ditch the car - were also common responses. 

The Wildnispark Zurich, a leafy space between the Sihlwald Forest and Langenberg, is home to 16 species of animals, including bears and bison, and costs very little for a family ticket – a fifth of the price of Zurich Zoo. 

READ MORE: Ten things Zurich residents take for granted

Work in Zurich

It might sound obvious, but Zurich - and indeed much of Switzerland - is not a great digital nomad destination (although here's how to do it if you want to). 

One reader used all caps to remind anyone thinking of moving to Zurich to get a job before they go. 

That's because of the high cost of living - which tends to be offset if you work in Zurich. 

Keep in mind that almost all jobs will have a higher wage in Zurich - teachers earn upwards of CHF80,000 per year - so you'll want to earn Zurich wages if you live here. 

Think long and hard about healthcare

Several readers also pointed to the high cost of health insurance in Switzerland, saying it pays to do your research when it comes to picking the right insurer. 

There are a number of ‘low-cost’ options for basic insurance, including the HMO, telmed and bonus insurance programs.

With the HMO (Health Maintenance Organisation) model, you are not free to choose your doctor or hospital. Instead, your first point of contact will be with a doctor from an HMO, or group practice, who will coordinate your treatment. In exchange, you get a cheaper premium.

You can also take out a Telmed policy, where (in most cases) you receive medical advice in a first consultation over the phone before a referral to a doctor or hospital.

Some providers also offer a bonus insurance program where you start with a higher premium which then drops for every year that you do not submit an invoice to your provider.

This can see premiums falling as much as 50 percent in five years.

More information is available at the following link. 

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about health insurance in Switzerland

Find the closest road out of town

Finally, a surprising number of people gave us the same advice - a blunt yet somewhat poignant tip. 

“Don’t live in Zurich” 

Did we miss anything? Is Zurich really not that pricey? Please let us know. 



Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

See Also