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Reader question: Why must I pay for a Swiss TV license if I don’t watch TV?

Helena Bachmann in Geneva
Helena Bachmann in Geneva - [email protected]
Reader question: Why must I pay for a Swiss TV license if I don’t watch TV?
License to watch: Each household has to pay the TV tax. Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsp

Many foreigners moving to Switzerland are surprised (and not pleasantly so) to discover the expensive obligation to pay the annual television tax — regardless of whether they actually watch TV or even have one.


To be fair, Switzerland is not the only country on the face of the earth that requires each household to pay this fee — for instance, the UK, Germany, France, and a number of other nations have some form of TV licenses as well.

In Switzerland, you are required to pay this tax once a year, which also includes any radios and computers in one’s house — basically, any and all devices that broadcast information.

So it doesn’t really matter whether you watch (or listen to) programmes on a TV set, your smartphone, tablet, or  computer; in all these cases, you are required by law to pay the fee.

The government outsources the collection process to a company called Serafe, which replaced the previous collector, Billag, in 2019.


This money is being used to subsidise the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, a public media company, and a range of private regional radio and TV stations.

According to Serafe, “without the radio and television fee, it would not be possible to provide a high-quality public service in the field of electronic media. Numerous radio and television broadcasters in all four language regions of Switzerland are funded by your fee. The federal government determines how much of the radio and television fee goes to the individual stations".

How much is the fee?

The pleasure of watching your favourite TV show doesn’t come cheap in Switzerland, but the good news is that, contrary to prices of most goods and services, which usually go up rather than down, the cost of a TV license actually dropped in the past few years.

And this is also one case where the amount you have to pay is not based on your canton of residence — a true rarity in Switzerland.

In 2018, the annual lump-sum tax was 451 francs per household, which dropped to 365 francs a year later. Then, in 2021, the price declined further, to 355 francs, where it remains to this day. However, the Swiss government announced in April 2022 that further reductions were being considered due to a surplus of funds, but this is still up in the air. 

The fee is the same regardless of the number of TV sets or radios you own, or even if you don’t own any at all.

The fee is also charged on a per household basis, meaning that a person living alone will need to pay the same amount as a sharehouse with four inhabitants. 

READ MORE : EXPLAINED: What you need to know about Switzerland’s TV licence


What happens if you don’t pay this license; will your TV be blocked?

No, this is not the way it works. However, this tax is mandatory — as other taxes are — so you have no choice in the matter.

The only way you could avoid these payments is if you qualify for an exemption under one of these criteria:

  • You are receiving supplementary AHV-IV benefits from the federal government, because your old-age or invalidity pension and other income are not sufficient to meet minimal living costs.
  • You live in a household without adequate reception, which means you can’t watch TV or listen to the radio due to to structural flaws of your house.
  • You live alone and are either deaf or blind. But if other people who live with you can hear and see, then the household is liable to pay the fee.
  • You or members of your family are diplomats or are employed at international organisations like the United Nations.
  • You receive social assistance. In this case, the license fee is already taken into account in the calculation of your benefits. 

More information about how to ask for an exemption, and other details about the TV license, can be found here.

Note, too, that this tax doesn’t cover the cost of any streaming services you may have, such as Netflix, Apple TV, and others.

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


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