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Why are Zurich and Geneva among the world’s most expensive cities?

Switzerland’s two largest cities are frequently ranked among Europe’s (and sometimes the world’s) priciest places to live. But what exactly makes them so expensive? We spoke to an expert to find out.

Why are Zurich and Geneva among the world's most expensive cities?
Geneva and Zurich are among Europe's most expensive cities. Photo: Claudio Schwartz on Unsplash

Quite a few studies in recent years have placed both Swiss cities at the top of the “cost of living” rankings. So it’s not really a surprise to anyone that Zurich and Geneva were placed in the top 10 of the most expensive cities in the world, and the two priciest in Europe, in the Economic Intelligence Unit (EIU) Cost of Living 2022 index released last week. 
But why exactly do the two cities keep getting these unenviable titles year after year?

The Local put this question to Daniel Dreier, a financial  expert at Moneyland price comparison platform.

He cited several factors why both municipalities are — at least in some cases — more expensive than many others.

Property prices/rents 

“The obvious reason here is supply in relation to demand,” he said.

Geneva especially has a complicated housing market — the tiny canton has suffered from an acute housing shortage for many years, with demand far outstripping supply.

One of the reasons for the shortage of apartments and, consequently high rents, have to do with Geneva’s geography and demographics. The canton is nestled in the southwest corner of the country, where it is wedged between France and Lake Geneva. The land for new constructions is limited, while the demand is growing steadily along with the population.

READ MORE: Why is Geneva’s rent the highest in Switzerland?

Zurich is the largest city in Switzerland. Photo: Pixabay

Zurich is the largest city in Switzerland. Photo: Pixabay

However, Dreier points out that  less expensive options also exist in both cities, and “residents of Zurich and Geneva can access affordable forms of housing, such as housing cooperatives”.

He added: “Low-income residents have access to government housing projects.”

Health insurance premiums
This is particularly true in Geneva, which has some of the highest premiums for mandatory health insurance in Switzerland, Dreier said.

“But Zurich also has relatively high health insurance premium,” he noted. “The reason for that is that Switzerland’s health insurance system is based on effective healthcare costs in individual premium regions. Urban dwellers generate higher healthcare costs, partly because of the more extensive healthcare infrastructure.”

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: Why do Swiss healthcare premiums vary so much per canton?

A view of Geneva.

A view of Geneva. Photo by Egor Myznik on Unsplash

High road taxes and car insurance costs.
In general, owning a car is more expensive in Zurich and Geneva than in many other parts of Switzerland, according to Dreier.

He  pointed out, however, that while the two cities are known for their high prices, “other costs, such as groceries, public transportation, petrol, childcare, education, and consumer goods, are largely identical to other parts of Switzerland, or cheaper in some cases”.

Also, it is worth noting that Switzerland’s large cities tend to have more subsidised offers for education, sports, culture, etc. than smaller municipalities,” which provides a cushion against the high costs, Dreier added.

Tax differences

From a personal point of view, Dreier made an interesting observation on why parts of life in these cities may not be as pricey as expected. 

“As a resident of Zurich, I personally don’t find [the city] exceptionally expensive compared to other parts of Switzerland,” he said.

“In fact, I live more cheaply here than my friends in a small-town in Bern with the same size family and standard of living, because taxes in Zurich are much lower for our household profile. But obviously a lot depends on your lifestyle.”

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Eight essential phrases you need to know to get by in Zurich

These key words and phrases enable you to greet and wave off a Swiss person, demonstrate basic social etiquette, and casually respond in Zurich's local dialect.

Eight essential phrases you need to know to get by in Zurich

Though the official language in the canton of Zurich is German and the Swiss make frequent use of Hochdeutsch (or Schriftdeutsch) both at school and work, standard German is very much regarded as a foreign language and only used outside one’s four walls.

Instead, the Zürchers use the – to foreigners intimidating-sounding – Züritüütsch with friends and family, a dialect they regard as an inherent part of their identity.

So, if you’re trying to make friends with locals and show them you are serious about your life in Zurich, it is always a great idea to learn a few essential words and phrases to get you started in your Zurich dialect learning journey.

Grüezi, Salü, Hoi

If you’ve recently moved to Zurich, chances are it won’t be long before you’re off on your first Sunday stroll. Though the Zürchers may not have a queuing culture, they do place a great deal of importance on greeting one another when out and about – even if you’ve never met the person across from you.

So, if you encounter a stranger on walks, in lifts, or even in a taxi, a friendly (but formal) Grüezi will not only make you appear polite, but it will be greatly appreciated by the Swiss as foreigners tend to forgo Swiss German altogether.

However, you can take a more laidback approach with friends and family where a casual Salü and Hoi will suffice.

People walking in Zurich

Out walking in Zurich? Get these greetings ready. Photo by Hasmik Ghazaryan Olson on Unsplash


When learning a foreign language one of the main goals is to speak the lingo like a local. In order to do that quickly, it’s helpful to make using key slang words a habit from day one. In Zurich, the word ‘Imfall’ is often used as a – meaningless – filler word mostly by the Swiss youth.

However, if you’re familiar with standard German and happen to be an adult, ‘Imfall’ may also remind you of the German word combo ‘Im Fall’ (in case). Though similar sounding, in Swiss German ‘Imfall’ is often used to either stress the beginning or end of a phrase, or highlight a specific sentence. Whichever way you choose to use it, it’s sure to make you sound like a seasoned local.

READ ALSO: Is it better to learn Hochdeutsch or Swiss German?

Bin nu am luege, merci

Whether you’ve recently moved to Zurich or are a long-term resident, you are guaranteed to be bombarded by a slew of sales assistants when frequenting Zurich’s many shops on the weekends.

The easiest – and very Zurich – way to make them disappear in a jiffy and impress your new Swiss friends is to turn around and say ‘bin nu am luege, merci’, which translates to ‘I am just browsing, thanks’.

In Züritüütsch, ‘luege’ means ‘to look/watch’ and this phrase – which should always be accompanied by a smile and direct eye contact – is generally considered very polite.

Im Momänt isch guet, tanke

Living in Zurich you will no doubt want to make the most of its top-notch restaurants whether that be out on a date, with a friend, or a client.

A good restaurant not only serves great food, but it also delivers excellent customer service, which means that the odd server is bound to show up at your table to check you have everything you need, and while you may choose to quench your thirst once or twice, you’ll likely want to ensure your server that all is well for now, in which case you’d say: ‘Im Momänt isch guet, tanke’ (at the moment everything is fine, thanks).

If you happen to meet a friend for a pint at a pub, remember to say ‘Zum Wohl!’ before you take a sip to toast to health. 


Life in a city as hectic and crowded as Zurich can feel overwhelming at the best of times and you may find your patience running out by the time the clock strikes 5 pm. In this case, Zürchers use a handy little word to speed things along, namely ‘tuttswitt’, which means immediately.

So, if you’re feeling worn out after a long day’s work and need something done right away, let the person know that you’d like to be home ‘tuttswiit’ and call it a day.

READ ALSO: Seven things to know if you’re learning Swiss German

Es bitzeli

After getting comfortable with a few basic words in Züritüütsch, you may want to branch out slowly and try stringing two words together – especially if the idea of a whole sentence still scares you.

A good way to try this out is by making replying with ‘es bitzeli’, which means ‘a little bit’, an everyday habit. You can respond with ‘es bitzeli’ to pretty much any question, be it ‘Are you liking this movie?’, ‘Are you nervous about your job interview?‘, or ‘Are you happy to live in Zurich?’. Well, es bitzeli.


Granted, not the easiest word to pronounce, however, you will hear the Swiss brush past you with a rushed ‘äxgüsi’ on the regular. The word simply means ‘excuse me’ and is borrowed from the French excusez-moi.

So, if you’re trying to walk past someone and not come across as rude, a well-meant äxgüsi is your best bet to avoid a disagreement.


When leaving a shop, client meeting, or doctor’s appointment, you may find yourself questioning just how one says goodbye the Zurich way.

Well, you’ll be happy to find that a long-winded ‘Auf Wiedersehen’ is not what’s commonly said when parting ways in Zurich. Rather, use ‘Adie’ when leaving a formal setting. With friends and family, you’d use a simple ‘tschüss’.