Cost of Living in Switzerland vs The US

A recent report ranked Switzerland as the most expensive country to live in. The high cost of living in the country is attributed to high taxation rates. The US also has a high cost of living, especially in cities such as New York, which are expensive in some aspects, like rent, compared to Switzerland, but how do these two countries compare on the overall cost of living?

The cost of living in Switzerland is 19% higher than in the US. On the flip side, the average income in Switzerland is 28% higher than that of the US. Although life is expensive in Switzerland, you have a higher purchasing power.

Choosing between the two countries comes down to your evaluation and preference. While Switzerland offers a higher work-life balance and perks, the US provides more growth opportunities and is more diverse. Check out our dedicated article on the cost of living in Switzerland.

Is it cheaper to live in Switzerland or USA? 

Nationwide, living in Switzerland is more expensive than in the US. However, some US cities have similar to Switzerland prices. For example, the cost of living in New York is almost the same as in Zurich.

Switzerland ranked top among the most expensive countries in the world in 2022, while the US is also known to be a pricey place to live in.

A single person living in the US can live comfortably with a gross income of $2,100, while she/he will need $2,500 to afford a similar lifestyle in Switzerland.

That said, an average Swiss family spends about $6,500 to $7,000 monthly; $1,015 of it goes to food, $1,712 to housing, and $1,064 on transportation. In the United States, a family of four needs about $7,000 to live comfortably in any major US city.

Living in Switzerland as an American is something you might need to adjust to. Read on how.

In the US, $1,784 of the family’s budget goes to housing, $819 to transportation, $604 to personal insurance and pensions, $431 to healthcare, and only $412 to groceries.

Here is an example of typical monthly expenses for a single and a family of four in Switzerland:

ItemSingle
($)
Family ($)
Living, incl. utilities and electricity1,3001,600 to 2,200
Groceries, including food and drinks4341,015
Clothing and shoes129329
Health insurance and other insurance4001,000
Leisure 351780
Eating out439777
Communication: landline, mobile, internet, TV, Serafe, etc.145249
Transportation: car, mopeds, bicycle, public transport, other means of transport, repairs, maintenance, amortization, fuel, etc.513800 to 1,100
Savings1,2822,825

An example, of how much you need to live in the US depending on the size of a household.

Family sizeMonthly expensesYearly expenses
Single person$3,189$38,266
Family of two$5,572$66,861
Family of three$6,187$74,134
Family of four$7,095$85,139
Family of five$6,780$81,361

Below is a comparative table showing the varying living costs in the two countries:

Source: livingcost.org

To properly grasp the variance in the cost of living between these two countries, you need to compare prices of common human expenses. Some of these include:

  • Housing
  • Healthcare
  • Food
  • Transportation
  • Education

Read how much a family needs to live in the US vs in Switzerland.

Housing

Rent prices are higher in most Switzerland Cantons than in USA cities. The rent in Switzerland falls between $900 and $4,000. When comparing all apartment sites, the national average rent is $1,373 per month. The average price of rent per square meter is $15,90; see more in the table below:

CantonAverage rent 1 bedroom apartment ($)Average rent 2 bedroom apartment ($)
Zurich1,0001,350
Bern7501,000
Luzern7501,100
Schwyz8001200
Uri700900
Glarus600900
Apartment typeRent per month
1-1.5 room$950
2-2.5 room$1,360
3-3.5 room$1,610
4-4.5 room$1,850
5-5.5 room$2,255
Source: imhomapper.ch

The cheapest Swiss cantons for renting are:

  • Neuenburg
  • Jura
  • Glarus

Read more about rent prices in Switzerland.

In the US, rent prices have seen a steady rise in the last few years, as seen in the graph below:

Source: statista.com

The rent you pay in either country will be determined by the city you choose to settle in. For instance, in Switzerland, cities with the highest rent are Zurich, Bern, and Geneva, while in the US, New York, San Francisco CA, San Jose CA, and Boston top the list.

As an expat looking to pay minimal rent in Switzerland,  you can choose to settle in Jura or Wallis. In the US, you could settle in Wichita, Kansas, where the average monthly rent for an apartment is $580.

Food

Prices of food in Switzerland are higher than those in the US. A single person in Swiss spends between $20 and $60 daily on food which translates to around $700 monthly.

In the US, a single person spends between $10 and $15 on food which translates to a meager $350. 

Eating out in Switzerland is pricey, especially if you’re looking for a modest restaurant. You’ll spend approximately $25 on lunch and $40 for dinner, including drinks which are quite expensive. 

A family of three spends $1,100 monthly on food in Switzerland, and this includes the cost of buying groceries and occasionally eating out. In the US, the same family will spend between $800 and $900. 

Below are the prices of common food in the two countries:

Food itemAverage price in Switzerland ($)Average prices in the US ($)
Cheese per kg2411,5
Milk 1.5-20.9
Eggs5,423,2
Rice2-34
Apples (kg)3,954,76
Tomatoes (kg)4,164,44
Chicken fillet25,4211,75
Beef4814,9
Loaf of bread33
Fruit juice3-42.5
Barbeque108
Sausage63
Restaurant meal2516
Hamburger (McDonalds)159
Source: numbeo.com

In both countries, eating out proves to be more expensive, but nothing can beat Switzerland. So if you’re looking to save some money on food, get the groceries and cook at home. Nonetheless, you will keep more money in the US and especially when shopping in bulk.

Read more on food and groceries prices in Switzerland.

Transport

In Switzerland, the transport system is extremely well-developed, including trains, buses, boats, trams, and cable cars. You can go anywhere by public transport, even to the smallest villages. Yet, transportation costs a lot.

If you commute a lot in Swiss, then you’ll make some savings if you go for the rail pass, which includes some free bus tickets saving you some money.

You’ll need to purchase the tickets before you travel as some buses don’t have on-board ticketing. 

Overall, transport doesn’t come cheap in Switzerland. For instance, a one-way ticket pass in Zurich goes for $4, while a two-way pass in Tageskarte costs $8.5. An annual pass costs $3,860.

If you are considering buying and owning a car in Switzerland, read this guide on how much it costs.

That said, the average cost of owning, running, and using a car in Switzerland will be between $300 and $500 per month. 

Zurich taxi fares are expensive as they charge approximately $4 per mile. You’ll have to pay more if there’s a traffic jam. For instance, a delay in a traffic jam for five minutes could escalate the cost to $7.

Transport in the US is relatively cheaper compared to Switzerland. On average, a single person in the US spends between $400 and $1,000 monthly on transportation.

Public transport is cheaper in metro areas than taxis, and having your car as the cost of gas has escalated in the last few years.

Healthcare

Healthcare insurance coverage is compulsory for everyone residing in Switzerland. The system includes a public, subsidized private, and purely private structure. 

An adult in Switzerland spends between $4,000 and $7,000 annually on health insurance to cover premiums and the minimum deductible amount.

Generally, you will pay about $350-$500 per month for basic health insurance. It includes a deductible of $300. Optionally, you can take out expat health insurance.

Healthcare in the US is also expensive. In 2020, for instance, the annual spending on healthcare hit the $4 trillion mark, which means that individuals spent more than $10,000 annually on healthcare.

Since 2018, it has been mandatory for every individual to have health insurance coverage or face penalties. The affordable care act allows subsidies for low-income earners and permits parents to include children aged up to 26 years in the cover.

Read this article about the cost of health insurance in Switzerland.

Education

If you’re moving with your family, which includes children, you’ll need to evaluate the cost of education in the country. 

Public education is free in Switzerland unless you choose to have your children attend private or international schools. 

As the children progress to universities, Switzerland offers competitive tuition rates compared to the US, as seen below:

Source: studyinswitzerland.com

Cost of living in Switzerland vs New York

Over the years, New York has consistently ranked as the best city in the US, while Zurich also ranks highly as the most favorable in Switzerland. 

To understand the difference in the cost of living in Switzerland and the US, let’s compare the two cities. On some aspects, such as rent, New York is more expensive, while on others, like groceries, it’s cheaper.

Below is a comparative analysis of the two cities:

Source: livingcost.org

Housing in New York is expensive compared to Zurich. The high cost is driven by the increased demand for housing in the city, which doesn’t match the supply. Empty land in New York is hard to come by, making the housing situation worse. 

New York has a vibrant job market, and the economy in the city is mainly on a boom that keeps attracting more people to the city.

Here’s a breakdown of how rent prices compare in the two cities:

House SizeAverage rent in New York ($)Average rent in Zurich ($)
One-bedroom in the city center3,9001,900
Three-bedroom in the city center7,6003,600

The cost of living in either of these cities will be determined by the size of your family and your lifestyle. While a single person can comfortably live in a one-room in the city’s outskirts, an average family will need a two or three-bedroom house which is more expensive.

Overall, the cost of living in New York is higher than in Zurich due to the high rent prices.

How much money do you need to live comfortably in Switzerland? 

A single person living in Switzerland should earn between $4,000 and $6,000 to live comfortably. A family of four will need approximately $8,000 to have an easy life but not extravagantly.

The city you settle in will highly affect the quality of life you can afford. In the major cities within the country, rent takes a big chunk of your income. 

Here’s how the different cities’ rent prices compare:

CityRent for an apartment ($)
Zurich2,100
Basel1,450
Geneva2,100
Lausanne1,600

Assuming you earn a net salary of $4,000 in Zurich, here’s how you’d have to breakdown your income:

  • Rent: $2,100
  • Food and groceries: $500
  • Clothes: $400
  • Sports: $100
  • Eating out and entertainment: $300
  • Utilities: $200
  • Savings: $400

The assumption is that you are a single person who resides within the city center. This means you’re close to your workplace, so you don’t have to incur recurrent transport costs.

Luckily when living in Switzerland, the pay in different fields is attractive, so you’ll be able to afford the high cost of living. 

The country doesn’t have a set-out nationwide minimum wage; however, different cantons in the country have since passed their minimum wage rate law. For instance, in 2021, Geneva set the rate at $23.61, considered the highest rate in Europe.

Check out our guide on Swiss salaries.

Anna

Anna is an enthusiastic expatriate with experience of living in Germany, Austria and Greece. She shares her passion for living abroad on this website.

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