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What financial aid are foreign students entitled to in Switzerland?

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
What financial aid are foreign students entitled to in Switzerland?
Some aid is available to foreign university students in Switzerland. Photo by Mikael Kristenson on Unsplash

The academic year in Swiss universities started on September 19th, with thousands of foreign students enrolled in many of the country’s higher education institutions. but are they entitled to any financial help whilst in the country?


Switzerland has 10 public universities — in Basel, Bern, Fribourg, Geneva, Neuchâtel, Lausanne, Lucerne, Lugano,  St. Gallen, and Zurich — as well as two institutes of technology located in Lausanne and Zurich.

Besides their field of orientation, the difference between “regular” universities and the polytechnics is that the former are cantonal institutions while the latter two are federal — both in terms of administration and funding.

In addition, there is a number of specialised universities  of applied sciences, as well as teacher training colleges.

A significant number of Swiss universities are highly ranked, with some, like Zurich’s polytechnic institute (ETH), positioned among the top schools worldwide and in the first place in continental Europe.


Because of their reputation for high-quality education, scores of international students apply to one of these schools each year, according to the Federal Statistical Office (FSO).

At the start of the 2020 academic year (the last data available), nearly 12,300 new international students enrolled in Swiss universities — 4 percent more than in the previous year — despite the Covid pandemic and travel restrictions.   

EXPLAINED: How can foreigners get into a Swiss university?

As the article linked above explains, “overall, the cost of studying in Switzerland is much lower than at top universities in the UK or the United States, but foreign students pay a significantly higher tuition than locals".

The reason is that Swiss universities are public, which means they are partly supported by tax revenue, so people who don’t reside in Switzerland have to shell out more money to study here.

As a general indication, in 2021,  foreign Bachelor students at the University of St. Gallen had to pay a semester fee which is 2.5 times higher than that of Swiss residents — 3,129 francs compared to 1,229 francs.

In the Masters program, the ratio was 2.3 (3,329 francs against 1,429 francs).

At the University of Italian Switzerland in Lugano, the most expensive in the country, foreign students paid double, or 4,000 francs.

READ MORE : How much universities in Switzerland charge foreigners compared to locals

But that’s not all : Apart from the tuition and additional fees for study-associated materials, you will have to pay rent for housing where you will live, as well as for meals, public transport, the obligatory health insurance policy, and whatever other miscellaneous costs you may incur.

Speaking of health policy, whether or not you need to buy one in Switzerland depends on where you came from and what kind of plan you have in your home country:

Do foreign students in Switzerland need to get a Swiss health insurance policy?


Are foreign students entitled to Swiss financial aid?

The expectation is that anyone from abroad should support themselves financially while studying in Switzerland.

But that is often not the case.

In such situations, international students can get some financial assistance from  the Federal Commission for Scholarships for Foreign Students (FCS).

The list of those eligible to apply is, however, limited to some postgraduate candidates and researchers from certain countries.

To check whether your nation is eligible for the programme, you can contact the Swiss Embassy or consulate in your home country.

Individual universities also offer some assistance.

University of Geneva, for instance, offers a stipend, designed especially for students who cannot benefit from the cantonal scholarship, including foreigners.

This site explains who is entitled to such assistance and how to apply.

As for ETH in Zurich, it offers some funds for both Bachelor and Masters-level students from abroad.

The conditions are outlined in this PDF document.

The situation is similar at ETH’s sister institution, the Federal Polytechnic Institute of Lausanne (EPFL), which offers help for foreign students who fulfill certain criteria.

Most other Swiss universities also have some sort of programmes to help foreign students financially, although none will offer enough money to help finance studies 100 percent.

 It is best to contact your university directly to find out what, if any, financial aid is available to foreign students, and under what conditions.


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