Switzerland has earned many accolades over the years. These are usually shaped around its natural beauty, traditional high-quality products and the financial sector. And usually, the first things that spring to mind when people think of Switzerland, are prosperity, a high quality of life, neutrality and cleanliness. But Switzerland is also seen by many as being expensive. Very expensive. In fact, figures released by the Swiss Federal Statistic Office, indicate that prices are 55 percent higher in Switzerland than the average across the EU.
In this post we look under the hood of the Swiss economy and compare costs in different categories to see how much things cost in Switzerland compared to neighbouring countries.
Food and Groceries
Up until a few years ago, there were only a handful of Swiss branded grocery stores. These included Migros, Co-op and Denner. It was common at this time, for people living near one of the neighbouring EU countries to cross the border to shop for groceries. Eagle eyed customs officers, however, were always on the alert to those trying to bring more than the permitted quantities of meat, dairy products and wines into Switzerland.
Today with German discounters such as Aldi and Lidl well established in Switzerland, it is unlikely that big savings would be made by crossing the border to shop for food.
In terms of costs, a comparison of a typical basket of groceries across the EU illustrates differences:
|Country||Typical Basket Cost||Median Gross Salary 2022||Comments|
|Switzerland||CHF 63’75||CHF 6’665||Meat – 50% over EU|
|Netherlands||CHF 44.00||CHF 3’889||2022 high price increases|
|Denmark||CHF 60.00||CHF 4’812||Good selection for price|
|Romania||CHF 43.00||CHF 998||Fresh Produce|
|Germany (Stuttgart)||CHF 37.00||CHF 3’640||Would cost more in Munich|
|Belgium||CHF 99.00||CHF 3’558||Meat + dairy expensive|
|Czech Republic||CHF 25.00||CHF 1’466||Choice and quality poor|
|Italy||CHF 70||CHF 2’536||2022 high price increases|
Most non-food items are more expensive in Switzerland than in neighbouring countries. Magazines, cosmetics and clothing are the main items that are significantly more expensive in Switzerland than in the rest of Europe. Shoes and toys are also in this category.
Clothing – especially name brands are also more expensive generally due to the exclusive distribution and representation channels, but shops like H&M and C&A are not much more expensive than in other countries. The average price is highly skewed towards luxury items.
One surprise category for many is that of Electronic goods, including laptops and phones which are often cheaper in Switzerland than in neighbouring countries. This is mainly due to the tax on these products being lower in Switzerland than the average in Europe. VAT in Switzerland runs at 7.7%, where the average in the EU is: 21%.
Those with enough money left over after paying for their rent and food, may actually want to go out and enjoy the many hospitality offers available. But buyer beware. The cost of eating out is very expensive and with wine and other drinks often only available at sky-high prices, the cost of dinner for two can almost run to the monthly rental of an apartment in other countries. CHF 100 for dinner for two would be an average price without a bottle of wine.
With a myriad of online entertainment providers now offering home entertainment at relatively low prices, the price of going to the movies at around CHF 20 per person (without snacks or drinks) also seems high and maybe a bit out of date?
With other activities such as going to the museum or the theatre not being cheap either, one of the best options could be to simply enjoy the beautiful Swiss nature.
Whether as an investment or simply as a place to live, real estate in Switzerland is very expensive. Typically it is recommended that living accommodation costs don’t exceed more than 30% of gross income. Over 2/3 of the Swiss population rent accommodation due to the high costs involved with purchasing real estate. But because more people rent than buy, the price of rentals has also risen sharply due to supply and demand. This coupled with stringent building regulations, means there is finite supply of rental objects and a triple whammy for the accommodation seeker.
The Swiss public transportation is one of the best run systems in the world. Intercity trains from main city hubs, link like clockwork with busses and local trains – so getting to the final destination is easy and efficient. The down side, you guessed it, traveling on public transport is expensive. Of course, for seasonal or yearly travel cards, there are special deals, but compared with other neighbouring countries traveling on Swiss transport is expensive.
With health insurance being mandatory, there is no way of getting round not spending money on this important shopping item. Each member of the household has to have their own health insurance. This can quickly add up with a family unit of four typically paying up to CHF 1’000 per month for this insurance. Even though insured, extras such as medicines and drugs also have to be paid for. And it seems like each year all the health insurance companies raise their insurance policies at the same time!
In Summary – In answer to the question: Is Switzerland expensive compared to its neighbours? The answer would be a resounding “YES”. But with clever planning and prioritisation, there are ways to get around at least some of the high costs – either by avoiding them altogether (such not as eating meat, not going out) and selecting those things that are healthy and often low cost – such as hiking and bicycling for picnics in nature and enjoying a baguette with a nice piece of Swiss cheese and some local wine that will not break the bank!
Of course, as the above table shows, Swiss salaries are significantly higher than most other countries so although the prices are very high, Swiss workers generally can meet the cost of living there.
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