Taxes For Members

What is Switzerland’s TV license fee and can you avoid paying it?

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
What is Switzerland’s TV license fee and can you avoid paying it?
The pleasure of watching television is not free in Switzerland. Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

In Switzerland, even if you don’t own a TV set, you still have to pay a tax for it. Here’s what you need to know about this fee.


Many foreigners who move to Switzerland are surprised to discover that they are automatically charged a TV and radio license fee.

It doesn’t matter whether you watch television often, rarely or never, or if you don’t even have a TV set in your house — most households are liable to pay this charge anyway.

That’s because in the June 2015 referendum, the Swiss voted to change the 'device system' to device-independent one, based on the idea that new technologies such as smartphones, computers and tablets can also be used to watch television.

This system came into force on January 1st, 2019. From that date, the license costs 365 francs a year per household, down from 451 francs previously (which proves that prices in Switzerland sometimes do go down).

This fee is compulsory for most households, though some can be exempted  from it (see below). The amount of 365 francs is the same for all private homes, regardless of how many people live there.

The bill is automatically sent out once a year by a company called SERAFE, which collects this fee on behalf of the government from private households. The Federal Tax Administration is responsible for collections from businesses.

The total amounts to 1.37 billion francs.

READ MORE: Switzerland’s strangest taxes – and what happens if you don’t pay them

Your taxes at work: where does this money go?

It is used to fund public broadcasters like the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation and other TV and radio stations across Switzerland.

“In this way, the public service will be guaranteed in all parts of the country and democracy will be strengthened; the entire country and all its inhabitants will benefit”, according to the Federal Office of Communications (OFCOM), which is responsible for the scheme.

This map shows which stations are subsidised by the government:

Image: OFCOM

OFCOM determines how the money generated each year from the TV license fee is split among these public stations.


Can you cancel the TV license fee?

As this payment is mandatory, you can’t cancel it or opt out of it, just as you can’t legally avoid paying your income tax.

However, if your household meets certain criteria, it can be exempted from the obligation to pay:

  • Households with persons who receive supplementary Old Age, Survivors' and Invalidity (OASI / AHV-IV) insurance benefits from the federal government
  • Households with no means of receiving radio or television (no radio, no television, no computer, no tablet, no smartphone, no car radio, etc.)
  • Households of deaf-blind people, provided that there are no people liable for the fee living in the same household
  • Households of diplomats


What will happen to the TV license tax if  the “Federal Act on a Package of Measures to Benefit the Media” is accepted by the voters in a referendum in February?

On February 13th, the Swiss will vote (along with three other issues) on whether the government should offer subsidies to financially-strapped print, broadcast and online media outlets.

But even if this measure is approved at the polls, it will benefit private radio and television stations, not public ones, so the vote will not impact the TV license fee.

READ MORE: Tobacco, tax and animal testing: What’s at stake in Switzerland’s February referendum?



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