The author of this post, Roger Timbrook is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, breaking 3 suitcases in the process. He is currently based out of Switzerland, a place he now knows like the back of his hand. You can find him blogging about his experiences at Expert World Travel and catch him on Twitter.
Ahh, Zurich: the perfect combination of ultra-modern city living and small town charm. This fashionable city is a hotspot for expats, ranked second in the world when it comes to quality of living. Benefitting from Switzerland’s highly efficient transportation system, many world-class establishments, unparalleled healthcare, and exceptionally low crime rates make Zurich a very attractive city to live in. Couple that with a backdrop of mountains and lakes at a central location in Europe, and Zurich sounds like a jackpot.
It is also the most expensive city in the world.
Transportation, food, and accommodation, none of which is cheap, will be the bulk of your expenses. However, if you’re moving to Zurich as an expat, you will have to shell out even more for taxes, license fees, and mandatory insurance premiums. The good news is that all these potential stress-inducing expenses can be mitigated by high salary rates and overall quality of life in the city. It will be almost necessary to have an idea of what your living expenses look like so you can negotiate an appropriate salary, plan your relocation, and fully enjoy this beautiful city.
Let’s break down the cost of living in Zurich:
Eating out in Zurich is expensive. You will find restaurants and cafés in every district, and chances are they serve good quality food. However, a meal at a mid-range restaurant can cost anywhere from $20 to $40, and fast food isn’t all that cheap either.
The best way to save money on food is to cook it yourself. The major supermarkets in Zurich are COOP, Migros, and Spar. Just keep in mind that meat is expensive. If you can manage to stick to vegetables and some basic pantry items, a week’s worth of meals can cost around $75 to $100. If you can’t go without meat your bill will skyrocket. For example, a pound of meat can cost between $12 to $14, and higher if you crave a juicy beef filet. Try going for deli meats and cold cuts to satisfy your protein lust.
Understandably, meal prepping for a full week isn’t always the most convenient option, especially when you have a city to see. Try scoping out some local restaurants as most of them offer lunch specials at $10 to $20. Most Swiss eat their biggest meal at lunch.
The most bang for the buck would be Asian cuisine like Chinese and Indian, as well as Middle Eastern food, which all tend to be served in bigger portions at reasonable prices.
It goes without saying that ordering drinks with your meals will jack up your expenses, but going for a night out does that at a whole other level.
Most beers in local bars and pubs will cost around $8, and a bottle of wine will be $10 to $25 (at least). Of course, nobody sits alone at a bar and just orders one drink, right? So a full night of moderate drinking can easily set you back $50 to $75 if you’re not careful. And even more if it’s a great night out!
Clubbing is another experience altogether, which is very tempting with Zurich’s thriving techno scene. Most of the city’s more popular clubs have a door charge up to $100, and cocktails in these clubs will cost around $20 per glass.
If you’re visiting Zurich alone, your best bet would be Couchsurfing. If you’ve been part of this community for a while with good reviews and testimonials, it won’t be too difficult to find someone to stay with for free. However, if you’re not comfortable with this kind of living arrangement, Airbnb is another good option. Private rooms can go as low as $20 per night, but you’ll have to deal with living far from the city center or in university districts. If you’re traveling with someone else, a room at a more convenient location will cost around $60 to $80 a night to be shared between two people.
Dorms in hostels can also be an option, but this will still cost you around $50 to $80 per night.
Living in the center Zurich is a different matter altogether.
Apartment rentals are extremely expensive, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find anything below $1,000 per month. Even then, these properties are found way outside the city and are most often unfurnished studios.
Another hurdle would be the fickleness of landlords and agencies when it comes to tenants. With more and more students and young professionals moving to Zurich, landlords tend to review every applicant before choosing the one with the best credentials. Sometimes there are lines to the end of the block. And all that trouble for a small space at a high cost. Crazy, huh! On average, an apartment at a relatively convenient location will cost around $2,000 to $3,000 per month.
Long-term living arrangements in Zurich are best done by living in a Wohngemeinschaft, or WG (pronounced as “vay-gay”), otherwise known as “Shared Living”. You get to enjoy larger spaces with lower rental costs, and, if there is already an existing tenant, you won’t have to worry about furnishing the place. There is also the benefit of less paperwork, and you get to meet new people who can help you get to know Zurich.
The most popular website to look for a WG is WG Zimmer. You have the option of either browsing through existing ads, or posting your own ad to receive alerts about rooms that match your criteria. Another site you can look through is Ron Orp English or Ron Orp German.. Students and young professionals tend to use these sites more, which means possibly cheaper rental rates at relatively good locations. A good classified ads site is tutti.ch, although it is not available in English.
If you are successful with your WG hunting, you will be spending $700 to $1,000 per month for rent. Your room will still most likely be unfurnished, but you’ll be benefitting from a livable communal space, a convenient location, and (hopefully) good social interaction.
There are no free state-provided health services in Switzerland, which is why private healthcare is mandated by law. Expats will need to acquire a policy within three months of arrival. Unless you are just passing through as a tourist.
As with everything else in Zurich, health insurance is far from cheap, but you know that you are getting the world’s best healthcare. Premiums can cost anywhere from $250 to over $500 per month, and that doesn’t include dental treatment.
Your basic or Grund insurance covers hospital services and doctor consultations, but most employers will cover accident insurance. If not, these are usually cheap add-ons to your premium for around $10 per month. If you are on a work permit, immigration will give you a call after a month after you arrive just to check if you have healthcare. Yes, it’s mandatory!
It’s important for you to shop around and look for insurance coverage that will best fit your needs. Comparis.ch is a good starting point. If you’re simply traveling or visiting Zurich for a shorter period, you can get away with travel insurance.
Everything in Zurich works, especially public transport. If the schedule says that the train will arrive at 11:59, the train will arrive at 11:59.
You can live your entire life in Zurich (or anywhere in Switzerland) without ever owning a car. Public transportation in Switzerland is one of the most convenient and efficient in the world. Relative to other countries, tickets can be expensive. In Zurich, it could be an average of $5 a day, and up to $15 for suburbs farther out from the city center.
A common mode of transportation is bicycle. Zurich is perfect for cycling either for leisure or getting around. If you need to get on a train, however, you need a ticket for your bike too.
Living in Zurich with a work permit entitles you to a Half-Fare travelcard, which is included in your SwissPass. This allows you to travel at half price on all SBB routes, including most railways, boats, buses, and trams within the country. There are also several discounts included in the travelcard so be sure to check those out.
If you live in Zurich and travel a lot for work, it is worth getting a ZVV pass. This enables you to travel across multiple zones at a reduced yearly or monthly rate. Yearly starts at $460 for central Zurich alone.
Visitors to Zurich may have a harder time with transportation since most of the discounts and passes don’t apply to them. However, a popular alternative is BlaBlaCar, which is a ride-sharing app mostly used for intercity travel.
If you really have to own a car, be aware it is very expensive. Some things to consider are public and residential parking fees, as well as car service, yearly road tax, and winter tyre change. It adds up quickly.
You obviously will not survive without a mobile phone package. Lucky for you, they are becoming more affordable in Switzerland of late.
If you already have a functioning mobile phone, you can opt to get a plan from Migros. Their Mini One Plan costs $19 a month, which includes 600MB data, 60 SMS and 60 minutes’ worth of calls. The Maxi One package costs $29 a month and includes 2 GB data, 2,000 SMS and 2,000 minutes’ worth of calls. Another option is CoopMobile with their Swiss Flat offer. For $29 a month, you get unlimited calls and SMS to all Swiss networks, unlimited data with a 5 GB high-speed 4G, and no contract terms. They also offer contract terms bundled with a smartphone.
But honestly, just be sure to shop around and check contract terms. Subscriptions are usually taken out for a duration of 12 or 24 months, and extended automatically if you don’t file a written cancellation request.
Mobile data is great for light use, but if you want to work at home or simply want to be connected 24/7, it is also worth getting an internet connection at home. Internet in Switzerland is extremely fast, and packages rarely have a data limit. However, it doesn’t come cheap.
The cheapest package you will find is from Sunrise with its Sunrise Internet Start package. For a monthly price of $45, you get 40 Mbit/s. It also involves an additional $59 activation fee with a minimum contract duration of 12 months. (This is where living in a shared place is a bonus as they often have this already)
One Month in Zurich
That is a whole lot of information to take in, so for illustration purposes, let’s see what a month of living in Zurich will cost. If you follow all the cheapest options available:
|Cost per month|
|Transportation (ZVV annual pass)||$38.33|
|Mobile (Migros Mini One)||$19.00|
|Internet (without activation fee)||$45.00|
A budget of $1,352.33 to cover the barest minimum for one month isn’t so bad for the most expensive city in the world. There are a whole lot of other elements to consider, but, again, take comfort in the fact that Zurich is a land of opportunities and potentially very high income. It is highly unlikely that working in Zurich will not cover your living expenses, as long as you are prepared for the first few months when you haven’t built up your salary yet.
Some Good Things in Life are Free
Sure, the cost of living in Zurich might be much higher than anywhere else in the world, but it doesn’t mean that you have to shell out cash every time you want to enjoy the city.
For newcomers to Zurich, you can hire a bike for free with a $20 deposit. City bikes, e-bikes, and children’s bikes are available in various locations, including the Swiss National Museum and the Postbrücke.
There are also over 50 museums and more than 100 art galleries in Zurich, and some of them don’t charge any admission. Check out the Zoological Museum or the Paleontological Museum at the University of Zurich.
Since Zurich sits on the banks of Lake Zurich and the Limmat River, swimming in the waters, hanging out at the parks and botanical gardens, or taking a leisurely walk along the shore are both fun and free. For the more active types, a hike up Uetliberg rewards you with beautiful views of the city and the lake. And if you have a mountain bike, the ride back down can be hair-raising!
Ultimately, Zurich is a breathtaking city with a vibrant mix of nature, culture, and history. With its rich heritage, a long list of landmarks and architectural structures, and abundance of outdoor activities, you will always find something to do and somewhere to go without having to spend any money.