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, New York’s living cost 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 goes to food, $1,712 to housing, and $1,064 on transportation. A family of four needs about $7,000 in the United States to live comfortably in any major US city.
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:
|Living, incl. utilities and electricity||1,300||1,600 to 2,200|
|Groceries, including food and drinks||434||1,015|
|Clothing and shoes||129||329|
|Health insurance and other insurance||400||1,000|
|Communication: landline, mobile, internet, TV, Serafe, etc.||145||249|
|Transportation: car, mopeds, bicycle, public transport, other means of transport, repairs, maintenance, amortization, fuel, etc.||513||800 to 1,100|
An example, of how much you need to live in the US depending on the size of a household.
|Family size||Monthly expenses||Yearly expenses|
|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:
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:
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 $15,90; see more in the table below:
|Canton||Average rent 1 bedroom apartment ($)||Average rent 2 bedroom apartment ($)|
|Apartment type||Rent per month|
The cheapest Swiss cantons for renting are:
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:
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.
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, translating 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, including buying groceries and occasionally eating out. The same family will spend between $800 and $900 in the US.
Below are the prices of common food in the two countries:
|Food item||Average price in Switzerland ($)||Average prices in the US ($)|
|Cheese per kg||24||11,5|
|Loaf of bread||3||3|
In both countries, eating out proves to be more expensive, but nothing can beat Switzerland. So if you want to save money on food, get the groceries and cook at home. Nonetheless, you will keep more money in the US, especially when shopping in bulk.
Read more on food and groceries prices in Switzerland.
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 five-minute traffic jam 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 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 monthly 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 $10,000 annually on healthcare.
Since 2018, it has been mandatory for every individual to have health insurance coverage or face penalties. The Affordable Care Act allows subsidies for low-income earners and permits parents to include children aged up to 26 years in the coverage.
Read this article about the cost of health insurance in Switzerland.
If you’re moving with your family, including children, you’ll need to evaluate the country’s education cost.
Public education is free in Switzerland unless you choose to have your children attend private or international schools.
As the children progress to universities, Switzerland offers competitive tuition rates compared to the US, as seen below:
Cost of living in Switzerland vs New York
Over the years, New York has consistently ranked as the best city in the US, while Zurich also ranks highly as the most favorable in Switzerland.
Let’s compare the two cities to understand the difference in the cost of living in Switzerland and the US. On some aspects, such as rent, New York is more expensive, while on others, like groceries, it’s cheaper.
Below is a comparative analysis of the two cities:
Housing in New York is expensive compared to Zurich. The high cost is driven by the increased demand for housing in the city, which doesn’t match the supply. Empty land in New York is hard to come by, worsening the housing situation.
New York has a vibrant job market, and the economy in the city is mainly on a boom that keeps attracting more people to the city.
Here’s a breakdown of how rent prices compare in the two cities:
|House Size||Average rent in New York ($)||Average rent in Zurich ($)|
|One-bedroom in the city center||3,900||1,900|
|Three-bedroom in the city center||7,600||3,600|
Your family’s size and lifestyle will determine the cost of living in either of these cities. While a single person can comfortably live in a one-room on the city’s outskirts, an average family will need a two or three-bedroom house, which is more expensive.
Overall, New York’s living cost is higher than Zurich’s 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 $8,000 for an easy life but not extravagantly.
The city you settle in will highly affect the quality of life you can afford. In the major cities within the country, rent takes a big chunk of your income.
Here’s how the different cities’ rent prices compare:
|City||Rent for an apartment ($)|
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 and 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 nationwide minimum wage; however, different cantons 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.