How Much Does It Cost to Live In Switzerland? (Three Budgets Compared)

by Gigi Griffis

So, one of the most popular things I do here on the blog is share some of my real monthly budgets all over the world. I’ve told you what it cost me to spend a month in Italy’s Umbrian countryside. I’ve shared real figures from Paris. And I’ve shown how you can live like a queen on a super small budget in Split, Croatia. And now I’m going to share some real figures from my time in Switzerland.

Switzerland, as you know, has a reputation for being quite expensive—and that reputation is a well deserved one. Eating out will usually run over $20 (and often more than $30). A gin and tonic costs upwards of $10. And a train ticket from Basel to Interlaken is a whopping $60+ unless you have a discount card.

Still, I think you’ll be surprised at how affordable Switzerland can be if you’re careful–if you choose to rent a place with a kitchen, to eat in more often, to picnic, to hike, to bike instead of taking the train…

Since I have lived here for over a year now, I’m going to share three real monthly budgets with you to showcase how differently you can live and how those lifestyles impact budget. These represent time spent living with roommates, in my own space, and in a hotel/guesthouse.

January: Small, dark room; two roommates

January 2014 was a quiet one mostly spent working, healing from a shoulder injury, and having weekly girls’ nights with the local ladies. Because of the healing and the work, I didn’t spend as much time out and about as I normally would, though I did head to the coffee shop quite often just to get out of the house. I also lived with two roommates in a small apartment. My room was a converted attic cubby and didn’t have windows. It wouldn’t be a great long-term place to live, but it was most definitely cheap. So consider this an example of extreme frugality in Switzerland.

January spending:

 CHF  Dollars
 Small room in a shared flat  293 $324.01
 Transportation  63.80 $70.55
 Groceries and supplies  364.50 $403.97
 Eating/drinking out  241.60 $267.17
 Other (printing, post office, laundry, etc.)  7.90 $8.74
 Dog food, supplies, & vet bills  79.50 $87.91
 Activities  70 $78.15
 Healthcare  38.90 $43.02

Total CHF: 1,159.20 / Total Dollars: $1,284.72

Notes on my spending:

The above does not include a few non-place-related incidentals, including costs for books, music, and my quarterly payment for my Skype phone number.

February: Guesthouses & Hotels

February, I moved out of the cubbyhole and into a local guesthouse for two weeks, then a budget hotel for two weeks. Both gave me good prices because I was staying longer than your average tenant and both let me use their kitchen, which helped a lot in the food expense department. Still, you can see that my spending leapt upward this month both because of the cost of my accommodations and because of the cost of food.

When you’re living somewhere without a fridge (which I was the second half of the month), you spend more on groceries because things just go bad. To mitigate this, I used my windowsill as a makeshift fridge (February weather is fridge-like), but I still spent a lot more than usual.

The other big ticket item this month was my year-long half-fare card. This is an almost-$200 card that allows you to buy train tickets at half price for the rest of the year. If you’re in Switzerland for a few days, it’s probably not worth buying, but for the year it absolutely is. And that purchase made this month a bit unbalanced on the high side with transportation.

 CHF  Dollars
 Rooms at the local guesthouse + budget hotel  725 $822.28
 Transportation  246.70 $279.80
 Groceries and supplies  426.20 $483.38
 Eating/drinking out  215.38 $244.28
 Other (printing, post office, laundry, etc.)  110 $139.76
 Dog food, supplies, & vet bills  176.50 $200.18
 Activities  18.53 $21.02

Total CHF: 1,918.31 / Total Dollars: $2,190.69

Notes on my spending:

Not included above are some small purchases unrelated to living in Switzerland, including things like books and website upgrades.

May: Settled Into An Apartment

In May, I finally moved into an apartment and my expenses became more average for my time in Switzerland. The place I was living was pretty cheap compared to other local options because it was under major construction and there was going to be noise, possible water or power shut-downs, etc.

Later, it turned out to be a horrible place to live because of the creepy, druggie building manager who constantly lied about everything. In October, I would end up moving out suddenly, afraid for my safety. (But that’s a story for another time.) So turns out some prices are too good to be true.

The below figures reflect my new rent, a good deal of laundry (since our washer didn’t always work), and a lot of time spent at the local coffee shop since our internet wasn’t working yet (read: ever).

 CHF  Dollars
 Accommodations  750 $834.82
 Transportation  77 $85.71
 Groceries and supplies  515.30 $575.75
 Eating/drinking out 296.16 $330.90
 Other (printing, post office, laundry, etc.) 55.05 $61.28
 Dog food, supplies, & vet bills  65.20 $72.57
Health + wellness 48 $53.43

Total CHF: 1806.71 / Total Dollars: $2,014.46

Notes on my spending:

Yet again, things like business expenses and yearly health premiums are not included above.

Final notes

* The value of the Swiss franc has fluctuated a little bit in my time here, so the exchange rate I’ve used may vary a little. To get the most accurate picture of future expenses, use the total CHF figures and calculate based on the current exchange rate.

Your turn. Have any budget tips or info for Switzerland to share?

Interested in seeing more monthly budgets? You’ll find them all here.

Looking for in-depth info about my yearly spending habits (including details about international health insurance)? Here’s a post on just that.

Going to Switzerland? Grab a copy of my brand new unconventional guide: Switzerland: 100 Locals Tell You Where to Go, What to Hike, & How to Fit In.

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Kathryn May 27, 2015 - 6:22 am

Thanks. I love your budget posts and I’ll be in Switzerland for a month this year.

You’ve actually touched on something I’ve been thinking about lately — whether paying more for accommodation actually saves you money in terms of being happier at home rather than wanting to get out and work in a cafe or somewhere.

gigigriffis May 27, 2015 - 6:24 am

Yep. Spending tons of time in cafes adds up really quickly. Having somewhere nice to come home to, work, read a book, etc. makes a huge difference I think.

Parviz Nazem September 6, 2015 - 8:26 pm

What about expenses in smaller places such as Interlaken and even smaller places? I am interested in cost of housing mostly. I am such a good cook I won’t eat out!

gigigriffis September 7, 2015 - 12:23 am

These expenses were for living in Lauterbrunnen, which is 20 minutes from Interlaken. Interlaken should be comparable.

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