Where’s the cheapest place to live in Switzerland?

May 29, 2011, 12 Comments

There’s nothing the Swiss love more that compiling and tabulating statistics, especially when they are about Switzerland. Barely a month goes by without some new report about road deaths, organic food consumption, or numbers of foreigners; last week it was the turn of disposable income, when Credit Suisse published its latest look at which Swiss cantons are the cheapest and priciest to live in. And the winner was…

Source: Credit Suisse, Geostat

Uri. If you’re reading this outside Switzerland, you may never have heard of Canton Uri, even though it was one of the three original cantons that founded the country back in 1291. That was perhaps its high point, other than being the home of the most famous  Swiss man ever, William Tell. It doesn’t have any big name attractions, so most visitors just pass through on their way over or under the Gotthard Pass. And it doesn’t take long to pass through – Uri is only 1076 km2 – but while we do that, here are some other Uri stats. Population: 35,335, with 9.4% foreigners; Languages: German (93.5% of the population), Serbo-Croatian (1.9%), Italian (1.3%); Unemployment rate: 1.4%.

None of that counted in the Credit Suisse survey, which looked at living costs in Switzerland, including rent, taxes, social and health insurances. All of those vary from canton to canton, even income tax; in Switzerland that is determined by where you live, not where you work, and communities can have hugely differing rates of tax. Health insurance is another fixed cost that is priced according to place of residence, even if the cover is the same. Tax cuts and low insurance helped Uri jump from 11th place last time straight to the top. The five cheapest places to live (in terms of lowest combined fixed costs) are:

  1. Uri
  2. Glarus
  3. Appenzell Innerrhoden
  4. Obwalden
  5. Thurgau

Which is all very well if you want to live surrounded by fields of cows or apple trees; too bad if you actually want something more exciting than watching cheese mature. For that you have to go somewhere more expensive. City life doesn’t come cheap in Switzerland; all the bottom places were taken by more urbanised areas, with Geneva by far the priciest place in the country, followed by Basel-Stadt, Vaud, Basel-Land and Zurich. My home, Bern, scraped in at number 20 (out of 26), just about at the national average. Funnily enough, all those places are the ones with the highest percentage of foreigners living there. Some might say that it is the foreigners who are pushing up costs, particularly in housing; others clearly have a brain and realise that foreigners just choose the more interesting places to live.

The whole report (which you can read here), includes some fascinatingly detailed data. Who knew, for example, that Jura and Neuchâtel have the highest tax burden but lowest housing costs? Or that Graubünden is the most expensive place to own a car? Or even that health insurance is half the price in Appenzell Innerrhoden compared to Geneva, for the same cover! Geneva loses again on rents, the highest in Switzerland.

Source: Credit Suisse

Perhaps the biggest surprise for me was that, overall, tax is less of a drain on household income than insurances or housing costs. Anyone reading this in Britain or Germany will find it hard to believe that tax only accounts for 11.7% of Swiss income. And that’s a national average figure. West is worst when it comes to tax, as this map shows. No wonder stars like Roger Federer and Tina Turner live in the dark blue areas.

Even after digesting all that, I don’t think I’ll be moving to Uri in a hurry. I might have to pay more to live in Bern but it’s worth every franc. There’s nowhere else in Switzerland I’d rather be.

12 Comments on "Where’s the cheapest place to live in Switzerland?"

  1. swisswatching Sunday May 29th, 2011 at 01:01 PM · Reply

    I agree to a certain extent, except for health insurance here in Switzerland. Not only are premiums not linked to income but vary wildly based on place of residence, so that it can be grossly unfair. It is sometimes means-tested, but in half of the health insurance areas, there is no help for people on low incomes. Eg, everyone in Lausanne has to pay the full premium, 2.5 times the rate for the same policy in Obwalden for those on lower incomes. Why should the less well-off in Vaud suffer extortionate premiums while the rich in places like Appenzell pay, in terms of percentage of their income, almost nothing? As the report points out: “This means that on average, less financially strong households in high-cost premium regions bear a high proportion of the health insurance premiums than similar households in parts of Switzerland where healthcare costs are lower.”

    At least in Britain the NHS is paid for by taxes & national insurance which are the same wherever you live and are based on income. No wonder Switzerland has the highest per capita health costs in the world after the US, and it’s a serious political problem with spiralling premiums and people dropping out of the system. But the pharma & insurance companies have so much political power that no-one will stand up to them, least of all Mr Burkhalter. At some point the system will break because it is bloated and overpriced, and the consumer is put last.

  2. Patrick Sunday May 29th, 2011 at 04:48 PM · Reply

    It doesn’t surprise me that Graubünden is the most expensive place to own a car, as cars were completely forbidden in Graubünden until 1925… (maybe you even mention it in your book, I don’t remember). By the way, I wish you all the best and a lot of success in your new occupation as a full-time writer! 🙂 – would have liked to meet you at Stauffacher’s, where I am an occasional customer, but it happened so that you always weren’t there when I visited the shop; well, at least I bought a signed copy of “Swiss Watching” 😉

  3. Kurt Tuesday May 31st, 2011 at 04:16 AM · Reply

    Having left Bern some 40 years ago (originally from Hettiswil) and not been back at all – it’s far from the end of the world – I quite enjoy your stories. So here is a big thank you!
    Spent my apprenticeship years as compositor – most of us dead now, I guess – in Bern and always remember the town with fondness.
    New Zealand is good to me: love its space and freedom. Still, I speak my Kiwi English slowly and with accent… probably always a Bärner.
    Thanks again. I look forward to the next installment. Best wishes for the writer’s career.

  4. Catherine Thursday June 26th, 2014 at 02:48 PM · Reply

    Hi Diccon,
    I think your coverage of all things Switzerland is excellent, educational and above all, so funny!
    I’m Swiss, but I grew up in Asia (yes, it’s complicated), so this is a great, comprehensive English-written guide for me.
    Not that I haven’t a clue about Switzerland at all, but as you know it is a somewhat complicated country to understand (let’s start with their politics) and you’re making it more of a treat to read and understand.
    Best, Catherine

  5. Dannie Sunday July 5th, 2015 at 05:28 PM · Reply

    I live in the u.s my family originated in Switzerland I was viewing some land its kinda expensive . wat will b a good place to start looking if I decide to re create my family back there ? I have 2 small girls they r very adventurous so I don’t want to b within a city and does anyone have info of Switzerland I just kno wat my family has created here

  6. Nirmala Monday November 23rd, 2015 at 08:49 PM · Reply

    am swiss canadian. thinking of returning to switzerland as i am retired.
    am worried about income. my pension would not be enough.


  7. Elisabeth Friday March 4th, 2016 at 02:36 AM · Reply

    We also live in Canada and would like to move back home. any info on cost of living would be greatly appreciated. We would like to consider Kanton Thurgau,Bern or Rheintal.
    Another question I would like to ask ,is there any employment available for my age 55?
    Thank you for any Suggestions

  8. Rubina Thursday March 30th, 2017 at 02:26 PM · Reply

    Hi friends,

    need your sincerely advise, I am planing to purchase small house in Basal, can some please advise me the cheeper city how approx how it will cost .


  9. LEE KS Friday January 25th, 2019 at 07:07 AM · Reply

    I visited Swiss in 2012. I stayed in Davis for skiing. Now, I want to move there. Any recommendations on property ok best entire?

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