Verdict: How to save money in Bern

Want to feel the Bern on the cheap? Here’s how to save a franc or two in the Swiss capital.

The Swiss capital of Bern. Photo by Andreas Fischinger on Unsplash
The Swiss capital of Bern. Photo by Andreas Fischinger on Unsplash

The home of Toblerone and Emmental, Bern can be an expensive place to live.

The Swiss ‘capital’ of Bern is home to a number of domestic and international organisations, as well as companies, making it a sought after location for workers. 

EXPLAINED: Why is Bern the ‘capital’ of Switzerland?

Bern is Switzerland’s fifth-largest city on the basis of population, which makes it a little quieter than Zurich or Geneva. 

While the cost of living in Bern might be a little lower than the larger Swiss metropolises, it is still Switzerland – meaning that it can get expensive. 

In order to get a better idea of the cost of living in Bern and how to save money, we reached out to our readers to ask for their perspective – and their tips.

Here is what they had to say. 

How expensive is it to live in Bern?

Compared to other European countries, pretty much every corner of Switzerland is expensive, from Aargau to Zug. 

Fortunately however, unlike other capitals – and we are aware that Switzerland doesn’t technically have a capital as we’ve discussed here – Bern is not the most expensive place in the country. 

The international hubs of Zurich and Geneva, with their strong job markets and expensive rents, are the most expensive cities in Switzerland to live. 

Outside of these two, the most expensive places tend to smaller areas like Saas Fee and Gstaad, which are popular both among tourists and the wealthy. 

READ MORE: The Swiss capital of Bern has a statue of an ogre eating babies and nobody knows why

More than half of those who responded to the survey told us cost of living was an issue in Bern, reflecting the fact that while it may be expensive, it’s still cheaper than other parts of the country. 

How to save money in Bern?

Many of the tips our readers gave us were not Bern-specific, but had relevance no matter where you live in Switzerland. 

Ashutosh, a relative newcomer to Bern, said “don’t spend unnecessarily” while Neil simply said “spend less”, which is a great way to save money wherever you are. 

Bent Mathiese, who has been in Bern for 20 years, told us to use websites like price comparison site Top Priese to get an idea of how to save. 

“I shop in Denner, Migros and Digitec. Other stores charge a premium. Uses and other sites to compare prices.”

Cost of living: How to save on groceries in Switzerland 

Joe, who has lived in Switzerland for seven years, said “cooking for yourself” was the best way to save. 

Walking in Bern is absolutely free. Photo by Alin Andersen on Unsplash

Walking in Bern is absolutely free. Photo by Alin Andersen on Unsplash

Bern-specific tips to save money

Bern residents will probably also know that some of the greatest things to do here are free. 

Swimming in the beautiful Aare river won’t cost you a centime, while you can also visit the Marzili and Lorraine baths free of charge, including the use of lockers and bathrooms. 

The Rosegarten is home to a spectacular variety of flora and is a perfect place to spend a summer’s day. 

While eating out in Switzerland is never cheap, signing up to the Prozentbuch – annual fee CHF45 – will get you two-for-one meals in restaurants across the city. 

Given that a meal can cost up to CHF45, eating just one meal might get you your annual fee back immediately. 

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

If you are visiting Switzerland and you’re going to buy Toblerone or Emmental to take home, keep in mind that they are available in supermarkets for much less than specialty stores and gift shops (and they’ll still come from Bern, so they’re still authentic!)

For tourists, visiting the former home of Albert Einstein will set you back just CHF5 while checking out the Zytglogge is free (guided tour starts at CHF20). 

Tell me more about Bern

Located near the linguistic border between French and German-speaking Switzerland, the capital city has a very picturesque medieval city centre recognised by UNESCO as a Cultural World Heritage Site.

Despite its relatively small size (144,000 residents), Bern also possesses one of the longest shopping promenades in Europe.

Bern. Photo by AFP

Why is this city great for expats? One of the reasons is that its central location and political status means  residents can take advantage of the frequent and reliable public transportation to other major Swiss cities.

Useful information:

Foreign nationals: 16.3 percent

Unemployment rate: 1.8 percent 

Average net monthly salary: 5,490 francs

Average rent (based on size), 3 bedrooms: 2,485 francs

Public transportation: bus, tram

Nearest international airport: Zurich, about 130 km by train or motorway

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Five things to consider when organising childcare in Switzerland

Switzerland's childcare costs are among the world's highest, although there are some ways to save. Originally from the United States but now raising children in Zug, writer Ashley Franzen takes you through some of the most important things you need to consider when finding childcare in Switzerland.

Five things to consider when organising childcare in Switzerland

Switzerland has a peculiar dichotomy when it comes to childcare. Although many parents both work full-time, Switzerland has traditionally been hands off when it comes to childcare support for families with children under five, leading to some of the highest childcare costs in the world. 

For older kids there is before and after-school care that is offered by the canton, but for younger kids who haven’t quite started kindergarten, it can pose problems for parents who are in need of reliable care, particularly those who don’t have grandparents to rely on. 

According to the Swiss Federal Council, “Grandparents as well as daycare centres and extra-school care facilities are the most frequently used forms of childcare, with each category accounting for a third of provision for children aged 0 to 12 years. 81 percent of families in large cities turned to extra-family care for their children compared with 66 percent of families in rural areas. Parents’ satisfaction with the care facilities is high, but there is still unmet demand.” 

What alternative childcare options do I have in Switzerland?

There are various childcare and nursery options for babies and toddlers up through young children aged five or six. Each canton offers childcare, though often there are lengthy waitlists for available spots.

READ ALSO: ‘A developing country’: Why do so few Swiss children attend childcare?

An alternative might be a private or bilingual daycare, but the costs for these are even higher than the locally-run childcares, and sometimes have longer waitlists.

Get on a list early as it’s important to get the ball rolling on paperwork, especially as a foreigner in Switzerland. 

An alternate option is to find the equivalent of a Tagesmütter, or a carer who opens up their home to taking care of up to four children at a time, when there is space available.

The costs remain about the same, but it can be easier to get placement for childcare with an in-their-own-home carer.

Some families opt to hire a nanny, but it may not be possible financially for all families. As for bringing an Au Pair to join the family, there are specific rules and regulations in Switzerland surrounding pay, number of hours they can work (about half of which you would need to be present for), and language rules– the main one being they cannot speak the same language as the family. Additionally, language classes are stipulated for the duration of their stay. 

Suffice it to say, that there are quite a few hurdles to overcome and in order to make sure your family is supported with reliable childcare to meet your needs.

Below are five things to consider as you plan out and organise childcare in Switzerland.

Children play with educational tools. (Photo by Thomas SAMSON / AFP)

1. Compare the options

Childcare in Switzerland is top notch, albeit expensive, so make sure you take the time to figure out where you want to enrol your child.

Some of the best programs are actually run as not-for-profit organisations, such as KiBiz in Zug.

READ ALSO: What alternative childcare options do I have in Zurich?

Most daycares offer a pedagogically strong curriculum and having them at a local daycare gives your child the opportunity to learn the local language. 

2. Decide on someone to name as your emergency contact

This can be a bit harder if you don’t have family or friends nearby, but double check with a colleague or someone that you trust in the case of an emergency or illness.

Finding a colleague that is willing to help by picking up the kids when they were sick when both parents find themselves out of town can be incredibly helpful. 

READ MORE: How much does it cost to raise a child in Switzerland?

3. See if you qualify for subsidies

According to the OECD, Switzerland has the highest cost for childcare among wealthy countries. Cantons are in the process of trying to increase the amount of money they’re able to allocate for assisting families with the costs.

If your household income is under a certain amount (it varies by canton), then it might be possible to have some of the costs of your family’s childcare covered. 

4. Consider having a babysitter or two on hand that you can call

As a foreign parent in Switzerland, sometimes it makes sense to have someone extra to call on for help with childcare coverage– even if you don’t think you’ll need anyone.

Meetings get moved, appointments need to be rescheduled, and sometimes there’s the odd school workday, where kids do not attend classes.

READ MORE: How to save money on childcare in Switzerland

In situations like these, having someone to reach out to, who can help provide coverage (and perhaps even the occasionally date night) helps provide a safety net for parents that might not have any backup to call at the spur of the moment. 

5. Be open for and prepared to have a hurdle or two, be it language or logistics

Many of the institutions around the country, particularly for younger kids are really good at filling in the parents on what the kids have done during the day, what they’ve eaten, how they’ve acted. The seemingly hardest part is actually filing the paperwork and piecing together care, particularly if you don’t speak the local language.

Wendy Noller is originally from Australia, and now lives in Luzern with her husband, and their two children, aged five and seven.

When they were getting signed up for Kita, she expresses that there were quite a few hurdles to consider.

READ ALSO: How different is raising kids in Switzerland compared to the United States?

Initially they received a letter from Canton Luzern stating that there weren’t enough places for their daughter. “We had heard negative reviews from other expats, but learned that there really are a lot of myths around childcare– that it’s not good quality, or there aren’t enough places. My husband and I work 100 percent and [when registering the kids], found the local authority to be both very helpful and responsive.”

She adds that she would call or email every couple days after receiving the letter to express that they both worked full-time and were really interested in their daughter integrating.

In the end, just a couple days before school started, they were told there was a place available for her. 

While their situation had a happy ending, sometimes other backup plans need to be put in place. Organising childcare in Switzerland is doable and having a fellow foreigner who has gone through it before to help share their experience or how to go about it can make a difference in how easy or how difficult it feels.