How to save money in living in Zurich – Europe’s most expensive city

Zurich has once again been named Europe’s most expensive city, but you don’t have to flash the cash – here are our top tips for saving money.

Eat out for less
While cooking at home is always the cheaper option, there’s no need to forego dining out completely. Try Äss Bar in Zurich old town, which sells coffee and sandwiches starting at 2.50 francs thanks to its concept of using baked goods ‘fresh from yesterday’. 
The department stores are also worth a try. “Jelmoli and Globus have lovely top-floor restaurants that offer a good view and great value for money thanks to being self-service,” says local yoga teacher Susan Andreou. 
If you like to eat out regularly, the Easy Dining app, which costs 95 francs per year but offers a free trial, claims to cut your bill by half with its discounts at restaurants across the canton. Zurich resident Raquel Luzi Steiner says: “I’ve been using it for two years now and it’s great. It pays for itself after two restaurant visits.”
Buy second hand
Nothing beats crossing the border to find bargains on clothes. However, Zurich has an excellent secondhand scene, allowing you to source desirable pieces for a snip of the cost.
Tsitaliya Mircheva, who founded the fashion and style website Mums in Heels, says: “I got my hands on a limited edition Stella McCartney, an almost new Bally bag and some classic pieces in perfect condition for really reasonable prices.” 
Her favourite place to find bargains is the Burkliplatz market on Saturdays from May to October, but other good options include Flohmarkt Kanzlei, Switzerland’s largest year-round flea market, and Razzo 2nd Hand, an all-round shop in the city centre. 
A helpful guidebook to secondhand outlets is Nicht Neu.
Leisure for less
Great days out don’t have to cost a fortune. The Wildnispark Zurich, a leafy space between the Sihlwald Forest and Langenberg, is home to 16 species of animals, including bears and bison, and costs just six francs for adults or 14 francs for a family ticket – a fifth of the price of Zurich Zoo. 
Meanwhile, adults and kids alike will be fascinated by the earthquake simulator at Focus Terra, a free-entry museum dedicated to geology. Or why not take up a hobby that will save money down the line? Veg and the City offers beginners urban gardening classes starting at 95 francs.
Go local for groceries
Which brings us to saving money on household essentials. Carina Scheuringer, founder of Switzerland’s travel and leisure magazine Spot, recommends looking for the best quality-to-cost ratio locally. She says: “I try to support the local economy where possible. I like shopping at local farms, farmers’ markets or picking up local produce in places like Farmy, an online farm shop.” 
She adds that coop@home regularly offers attractive deals that can be very cost effective.
Get active on the cheap
There’s nothing much cheaper than going for a walk, and Zurich boasts miles of hiking trails, whether you fancy a gentle lakeside stroll or a panoramic Nordic walking session. 
Meanwhile, in summer, some lakeside Badis offer free entry – among them, the Katzensee north of the city has a picturesque sunbathing meadow in a nature reserve. 
Fitness classes don’t have to cost the earth, either. It can help to look for independent teachers out of the city centre. For example, Susan Andreou’s Move Body Mind in Kloten Balsberg and Uster offers yoga and trampolining starting at 180 francs for 10 classes.   
Share books
The price of books in Switzerland never ceases to shock. But thankfully Zurich has excellent secondhand bookshops including Bücher Brocky, which sells paperbacks from two francs and hardbacks from five francs. 
Alternatively, try public library Pestalozzi Bibliothek, which offers books in 11 languages and costs the price of a couple of paperbacks for a year’s membership, or the English Book Swap Zurich, which meets once a month to get a “regular influx of fresh reads without paying a rappen”.   
Plan your travel ahead
Purchasing an annual Halbtax pass brings the best economy when travelling in Zurich, but keep an eye out for special deals too. RailAway Kombi offers up to 50 percent discount on day trips by public transport, while municipality day train passes are another economical option. 
“For around 45 francs (prices vary), you get one full day of unrestricted travel on the entire SBB, RhB and PPT networks as well as several local networks,” says as Spot Magazine’s Carina. She warns that the number of passes available are restricted and there is usually an online reservation system, so it is important to plan ahead.
Don’t forget the free stuff
And don’t miss everything that is available for free. You can help yourself to water – Zurich has around 1,200 clean-water fountains; visit Zurich University’s Botanical Garden, which houses some 9,000 species of plants; and hire bikes through the Züri Rollt scheme, which simply requires a 20 franc deposit.
This article was first published in 2017

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


Can I get financial help in Switzerland if I’m struggling to pay the bills?

Can foreign residents who are struggling to get by receive the same financial help from the state as the Swiss do, and under what circumstances?

Can I get financial help in Switzerland if I'm struggling to pay the bills?

Say you are a foreign resident in Switzerland and find yourself short of funds, and are unable to pay your monthly bills.

Can you count on your canton’s public coffers to help you out?

Much depends on your status in the country.

If you have a residency permit, have been working in Switzerland and contributing to the social security scheme, then you can receive financial assistance, in form of subsidies, from your local authority.

This is how it works

For instance, if the obligatory health insurance premiums exceed 8 percent of the household income, then you are eligible to receive this help.

However, your canton of residence will look not only at your earnings, but at any other financial assets you hold as well.

So if your income is low but you have plenty of money in the bank in the form of savings or other investments, you will not qualify.

Generally speaking, any resident who is a low earner or has a large number of children — regardless of nationality — could be eligible for subsidised premiums, though criteria, as well as amounts, vary from one canton to another.

READ ALSO : How do I apply for healthcare benefits in Switzerland? 

What about housing?

Low-earners (again, regardless of nationality) are entitled to have their rents subsidised, under certain circumstances — the conditions as well as the income threshold is determined by cantonal authorities.

Generally speaking, in order to claim this help, you must prove that you live in the cheapest available housing in your area. (Needless to say, if you reside in a luxury apartment, you can’t ask for rent subsidy.)

If you don’t fulfill this particular condition, you will be told to move to cheaper accommodations before claiming any benefits.

Exceptions to this rule include situations such as a large number of minor children living in the household, which may make relocation — that is, finding a sizeable apartment at a cheaper price — unrealistic.

The amount of rent reduction will be set by the authorities.

Is any other help available?

If you can’t afford anything in Switzerland which, admittedly, is an extreme and rare situation for anyone working full-time and already receiving either health insurance or housing subsidy (or both), then your only other option is applying for welfare.

This, however, should be the absolute last resort if you want to remain in Switzerland and eventually apply for naturalisation, or even have your work permit renewed.

That’s because being on public assistance is grounds for refusal of citizenship — unless all the money is repaid in full in advance of your application.

READ ALSO: Can I still get Swiss citizenship after claiming social benefits? 

What about disabilities?

This falls under the general social security scheme, so if you are working in Switzerland, then you are eligible to receive these benefits.

The only exception may be people from outside the EU /EFTA — unless your country of origin has concluded a social security agreement with Switzerland.

This link provides additional information about these countries.

If you qualify for disability (and medical records confirm this), you can apply for these benefits at the social security office of your canton.

There are some other things you should keep in mind as well:

Not all foreigners who have a residency permit can apply for financial assistance.

If you came to Switzerland on a temporary permit (L or B), then you don’t have access to any benefits.

And if you ‘bought’ your Swiss residency, you can’t resort to any public help either.

The condition of your stay in Switzerland is that you should be self-sufficient enough to live here without having to work or resort to welfare benefits.