Cost of Living in Zurich

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The cost of living in Zurich, like in the rest of the country, is high, and expats will find themselves shelling out more than a few Swiss Francs for compulsory taxes, insurances and licenses.  

The city was ranked as the eighth most expensive destination in the world by the 2013 Mercer Cost of Living survey, but along with this not-so-exciting accolade, Zurich is also known for its high salaries, high buying power and its high quality of life.

Apart from taxes, rent, transport and and health insurance are likely to be expats largest expenses. It's important to educate oneself about what kind of costs to anticipate in Zurich in order to best negotiate a good expat contract.

Cost of accommodation in Zurich

housing costs in Zurich are highSwitzerland is a country of tenants, and Zurich is no different. As a result there's often stiff competition for a small amount of available property. Most households end up spending between 18 and 23 percent of their income on monthly rent, and some even choose accommodation that monopolises one-third of their salary. Utilities are for an expat's own account and generally amount to 10 percent of the cost of rent.

Rental prices for an upmarket apartment in the city centre
  • Studio:1400 CHF
  • One bedroom: 1900 CHF
  • Two bedroom: 2500 CHF

Cost of healthcare in Zurich

Private healthcare is compulsory in Zurich, as in the rest of Switzerland, and expats will need to procure some kind of coverage within three months of their arrival. Neither government- nor employer-sponsored healthcare exists, the full amount of the expense is the burden of the individual.

Furthermore, monthly premiums are not based on progressive salary scales, but rather on a certain area. Thus, two people making drastically different wages may still pay the same premium. In Zurich, the average annual expenditure on healthcare in 2013 was less than in the French and Italian speaking regions, but still fell between 3500 CHF and 4000 CHF.

Tips for saving money in Zurich

At the Supermarket

►Buy unpackaged goods. As is the case all over the world: the more packaged a product is, the more one has to pay for it. Avoid pre-sliced, pre-washed and pre-packaged material in the fruit and vegetable section.
►Do not buy bottled water. Tap water is perfectly safe to drink in Zurich, and therefore purchasing bottled mineral water is not really necessary.
►Stock up. Meat can be prohibitively expensive in this part of Switzerland, and the focus is on fresh rather than frozen. Different cuts of meat and poultry are usually packaged in small portions aimed at being consumed quickly, with larger family sized portions almost unheard of. The trick to not breaking the bank in order to have meat in ones diet is to take advantage of the discounted meat section available at most supermarkets (the bigger the supermarket, the larger the selection). Such meat is usually discounted because it is nearing its expiry date, but can be frozen and consumed later. Remember, however, that Swiss freezers tend to be very small, so as a long term investment, expats might want to consider purchasing a separate and larger freezing unit.
►Discounts are similarly available for items like toiletries, and are always clearly and markedly displayed. As in other major supermarkets abroad, the product line bearing the supermarket’s brand name is often cheaper than other brands. Migros also has its own budget brand.

Visiting Zurich

►Buy a Zurich Card. Those that plan on visiting the major museums, using public transport often and enjoying a lake or river cruise, it is wise to purchase a Zurich Card (20 CHF for adults for 24 hours, 40 CHF for 72 hours) which grants holders free entrance to around 40 museums and galleries, allows commuters to travel for free across a large area (including Uetliberg) on all means of public transport, includes a free lake and river cruise, free entry to a couple of clubs and discounts on other attractions.


►Live close to ones work place. Public transport is expensive in Switzerland and even as little as a 30-minute train commuting ride can end up costing around 20 CHF. Added to this, the difference in renting prices between Zurich and its surrounding suburbs is not that great, (although it becomes substantial if one has to cross into a neighbouring canton) making long commutes not usually worth the time and money.

bike licences are cheap in zurich►Commute by bike - Bikes are everywhere in Zurich, and this is not surprising since they can save commuters a lot of money by reducing daily public transport fees. After the initial cost of purchasing a bicycle, riders need to make sure to purchase a ‘bicycle license’ which comes in the form of a sticker that one places on the bike. This costs less than 10 CHF per year, is obligatory and covers the rider for any personal liability for up to 2 million CHF. Do note that if one gets caught riding a bike without the given licence, the fine is 40 CHF.
►Get discounts and special fares. Those that have to commute should look for discounts and special fares. People are under 25 years of age get about a 50 percent discount on certain tickets like the 6-day travel pass and the monthly pass. Those over 25 who commute daily and also plan on travelling around Switzerland can purchase the half-fare card. This costs 150 CHF and gives holders a half price discount on all public transport tickets across Switzerland for a year. If purchasing a ticket from a ticket machine one gets the discount by pressing the ½ button. Also remember that if transporting a bicycle, or a dog which does not fit in a bag, it is necessary to purchase a ticket supplement.

►Book a day pass at the local commune to explore Switzerland. If one contacts the local commune  (‘Gemeinde’ in German) in advance, they can book and purchase a day pass valid all over Switzerland on the SBB CFF FFS network for the price of about 50 CHF/24h (prices vary according to region and location). Cable cars are typically not included because they are served by a different transport company.


►Avoid the city centre. While Bahnhofstrasse is appealing for the range of products available and its central location, it is one of the most expensive retail areas in the world, and the price one pays for their goods will reflect this. Ask around and go instead to shopping malls around Zurich, where prices can be markedly less.

►Purchase English language books online. English language bookshops in Zurich are well-stocked but not cheap. The best solution to avoid paying for overpriced reading material is to make use of online book stores. not only delivers to Switzerland but also charges no extra fee for the service. The same applies to English language magazines which can be purchased from the Zurich main station but are also expensive. A subscription via the magazine’s website is usually the best option.


►Choose where live carefully. In Switzerland, the amount of tax a person pays depends on where they live, with different cities, towns and villages having specific rates associated to them. For example, Zug city boasts the lowest tax rate in the whole of Switzerland, which might seem a contradiction since it is so prosperous. In reality, this prosperity is exactly what drives taxes down, as the higher the concentration of companies and wealthy people in a location, the lower the tax rate, thus benefiting those individuals who are not as well-off. By extension, a small village with average income residents will have a higher tax rate. Therefore, while accommodation is more expensive in Zurich than around it in smaller towns, one will find that the tax rate is less in the city than elsewhere.

Rubbish disposal

►Recycle, recycle, recycle. In Zurich, residents need to purchase special garbage bags which are expensive because of the tax. In order to reduce waste volume, separate plastic, glass and aluminium and dispose of them at recycling sites for free. Not only will this help preserve the environment but also helps save money.

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