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Cost of living: The most – and least – expensive cantons in Switzerland

Switzerland is notoriously expensive, but some cantons and towns are cheaper to live in than others. A new study shows where they are.

Cost of living: The most - and least - expensive cantons in Switzerland
Valais is th best canton for families — and it's beautiful too. Photo by Fabrice Coffrini / AFP

For many people, choosing a place to live is one of life’s most important decisions.

“Money plays a crucial role, as do location and infrastructure, the availability of suitable properties, emotional criteria and personal connections”, according to a new study by Credit Suisse released on Tuesday.

The bank’s economists looked at more than 120,000 sample households in Switzerland, basing their calculations on the so-called Regional Disposable Income indicator (RDI).

For each locality, RDI assesses “financial burdens” such as taxes, health insurance premiums, rents, property prices, as well as costs of childcare, public transportation and utilities.

Not surprisingly, they found that the cost of living is highest in urban centres particularly in the cities of Geneva and Zurich.

However, given Switzerland’s small size and transport infrastructure, “there are numerous municipalities with a commuting time of no more than 30 minutes from these urban centres – making them considerably more appealing places to live from a financial perspective”.

READ MORE: Why is Switzerland so expensive?

So what are the least expensive places to live in?

As the map below shows, Appenzell Innerrhoden has the lowest cost of living for the average household, followed by Uri and Glarus. Next are Schaffhausen, Jura, Appenzell Ausserrhoden, Valais and Thurgau.

On the other hand, Geneva has the highest cost of living, followed by Basel-City, Vaud, Zurich, Basel-Country, Zug, and Neuchâtel.

Typically, the expensive cantons are the ones where most of the jobs are and where many international residents live.

A study carried out in 2020 showed that the largest number of foreigners are living in big Swiss cities and urban centres, as well as areas surrounding them.

As The Local reported at the time, “Two researchers from the University of Geneva, who conducted the study, found a strong foreign presence in and around large cities, which are close to economic centres and job opportunities — such as the shores of Lake Geneva or Lake Zurich”. 

Valais is the cheapest canton for families

To assess where families fared best, Credit Suisse calculated regional variations in childcare costs, and other family-specific parameters such as taxes and child allowance. 

“On balance, Valais offers the cheapest living conditions for couples with children compared with other cantons” the study found.

On Thursday, The Local will follow up with an article  about how to choose in which canton to live according to one’s needs and financial possibilities.

READ MORE: How much should you save for a ‘comfortable’ retirement in Switzerland?

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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.