For members


Why foreigners who land a job in Switzerland always ask about wages

People from around the globe flock to Switzerland in hopes of a better future and higher income. Yet Switzerland’s living costs are notoriously high and many foreigners are left wondering if what they are projected to make will suffice to live comfortably.

Pictured are office workers.
Why movers to Switzerland always ask about wages. Photo by Scott Graham on Unsplash)

Besides chocolate, cheese, and banks full of other people’s money, Switzerland is perhaps best known for being expensive – even for its (future) residents.

Various studies have shown time and again that Swiss consumers pay much more for basic goods and services than most of their European counterparts, and that, paired with inflation, has some people living in Switzerland second-guessing their salaries – even when they are as high as 180k francs a year.

READ MORE: Why is Switzerland so expensive?

A quick browse in an active expat Facebook forum reveals that the main question many have about moving to Switzerland surrounds what constitutes an appropriate salary? 

One poster looking to settle in Geneva asked other foreigners living in Switzerland: “Is a salary of around 180k francs gross enough for comfortable living for a family of 3 people?”

It’s a common question with many fellow potential movers asking about Zurich and Basel and quoting widely different salary offers.

In this case the individual received varying advice on the topic, with one respondent saying that the offered salary is “a hugely high salary – other people live with 50 percent less than that”.

However, a second responded disagreed, arguing that a salary of 180k “won’t be luxurious, but it will be comfortable” while advising the original poster to shop for groceries in France to save money.

READ MORE: Why cross-border shopping has become less popular in Switzerland

Yet another respondent said that 180k gross may just suffice in Geneva, but this will “depend on your lifestyle” and that living just outside the city would be an overall smarter money-saving move.

Another poster also asked a question what constitutes an appropriate entry level wage. Specifically, they asked whether an entry-level software engineering position in Switzerland would pay between 78k and 92.5k – as was estimated online.

One respondent commented that their partner with ten years’ worth of work experience in the industry received offers in the range of 100k to 120k in the canton of Vaud, “which in our opinion is not a lot.”

The poster was also advised by another user to look at the average market salary and “put a few sprinkles on top: health insurance, travel card, bonuses and then add 2.5 percent to the total which is the expected Swiss salary increase for 2023”.

They further recommended the jobseeker factor in whether they will be working from home or go to an office as this could affect their monthly expenses.

READ MORE: How to work out what salary you could earn in Switzerland?

Yet another person asked whether a net salary of 3,600 francs in the canton of Bern would allow them to save around 500 francs each month. They added that the health insurance had already been paid.

Even though its salaries are among the highest in the world, Switzerland is one of only five nations in Europe — the others being Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, and Norway — that has never introduced minimum wages nationally. Though some cantons, including Ticino, Neuchâtel, Jura, Basel-City and Geneva, have set fixed minimum wages, Bern has not, and this can severely impact employees’ monthly outgoings.

While some are concerned about their monthly savings potential, others are worried that their monthly wage will not be enough to successfully support a family.

In the same group, a poster enquired “Is a gross salary of 5,000 francs enough for a family of four to live on?”, and while many respondents said that this would largely depend on the canton, Switzerland’s statistics indicate that the family would be living above the poverty threshold.

In fact, recent figures from the Federal Statistical Office (FSO) indicate that about 8.5 percent of Switzerland’s population live under the official poverty threshold, which is defined at receiving 2,279 francs per month on average for a single person, and 3,976 francs per month for two adults and two children.

Obviously, this is much more of a problem for people living in high-cost cities like Zurich and Geneva where most foreigners settle, than for those in rural areas where money goes fiurther.

Despite this, one respondent said that with a family that size, earning around 4.500 francs “is going to be a tight budget – even if you are only meant to buy groceries. It’s doable but don’t expect much room in your finances.”

While some foreigners were lucky enough to land a job in Switzerland may have been offered a decent salary, some are left wondering whether their offered relocation package is fair.

One poster asked whether a one-off relocation package of 4,500 francs paid for by the employer will suffice to successfully move to Switzerland. The reply: some employers don’t pay towards your move at all.

But just how much salary is enough to live comfortably in Switzerland?

While wages are determined by various factors, including your education, experience, as well as the canton where you will work, there are ways to find out what salary to expect for the kind of work position you are seeking.

You can find out the general level of wages in your particular field from various sources, including in this article: What is the average salary for (almost) every job in Switzerland?

But, as the title states, these are averages that don’t necessarily take into account all the variables and factors mentioned above.

So, what is a reliable source of salary information?

The site of the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) has a national wage calculator which is quite specific.

It “enables you to calculate a monthly gross wage (central value or median) and the spread of wages for a specific individual profile,” SECO explains.

To find out, you have to fill out your personal information, such as the industry in which you are seeking employment, your age, years of experience, education, how many hours each week you want to work, as well as the canton where you are looking for a job.

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For members


What are your rights to time off in Switzerland if your child is ill?

Certain countries are more generous than others when it comes to allowing workers to take time off if their child is ill. What does Switzerland allow?

What are your rights to time off in Switzerland if your child is ill?

Under Swiss law, employees working in Switzerland with care responsibilities are entitled – under certain conditions – to take time off work and fulfil their duties towards their children or relatives.

According to the Swiss Code of Obligations the general rule is that a parent is entitled to up to three days of paid leave per incident to look after their sick child and up to 10 paid days each year in total.

What do I do if my child falls ill?

It is important to bear in mind that even with the Swiss law on your side, you will need to follow a few simple steps before taking time off work to care for your sick child.

In principle, taking time off to care for a sick child is no different from taking time off when you are ill yourself.

In either case, you must notify your employer as soon as possible. If you present a doctor’s certificate to your employer, they must grant you up to three days’ paid leave to look after your ill child.

Because of Switzerland’s rather formal working culture, you will usually need to give your boss a ring to let them know your child is ill, but this can vary from workplace to workplace and some companies may be okay with an e-mail instead.

In some workplaces, employees may be allowed to work from home, so if your child’s illness doesn’t prevent you from working altogether, you can ask if this is an option for you (but don’t strain yourself if a lot of help is required).

However, while you shouldn’t be put off from taking a leave when you need it, for minor sicknesses – such as the cold or a flu – most companies will expect to be notified every morning whether you will be working that day.

If you are absent for more than three days due to your child’s illness, you must present additional doctor’s certificate stating the date of the examination (after the initial three days) but not the diagnosis. The latter is subject to strict medical confidentiality in Switzerland.

READ MORE: What to do if you need a sick day in Switzerland

Do I run the risk of losing wages?

If you are employed and unable to perform work due to your child’s illness, then your employer will be required to pay your salary for a period of time based on the duration of your employment and whether your company has a sickness benefit insurance for employees – just as they would if you yourself were to fall ill.

Swiss employment law only mandates that employers offer basic paid sick leave: generally, three weeks in your first year in the job, rising with each additional year to around four months maximum, depending on the canton.

However, many Swiss employers take out insurance that covers a more generous sick pay deal. Individuals can also take out such insurance for themselves, including if they’re freelancers or unemployed.

But while most employers in Switzerland have this insurance, some don’t. If you happen to work for the latter kind, you will continue to get your salary but for a very limited period: three weeks in the first year of employment, with increases for every additional year, up to a maximum of four months.

This period does, however, vary depending on the canton.

Could I be fired?

Employees are protected against dismissal during their entitlement to care leave for a maximum of six months.

READ MORE: Reader question: Does my Swiss employer have a right to fire me when I’m sick?

What happens if my child falls ill several times in a row?

If a child is sick several times in a row or if several children need to be cared for, one parent can stay at home for up to three working days per case of illness and per child.

Parents are required to organise care for their child during this time if the illness lasts longer or, alternatively, take vacation days until their child recovers.

What happens if my child has a chronic illness or is severely ill?

Parents whose child has a serious health impairment and needs more care are entitled to care allowance and paid leave for a maximum of 14 weeks if certain conditions are met.

To classify as a serious illness, the child’s health must have deteriorated dramatically — in other words, a severe physical or mental illness, which doesn’t include broken legs or arms for example.

The care leave must be taken within a period of 18 months after receipt of the first daily allowance and can last a maximum of 14 weeks. Employees can take the care leave either all at once or on a weekly or daily basis.

The daily allowance amounts to 80 percent of the average gross income before the start of the care leave, but is capped at a maximum of 196 francs per day.

READ MORE: How sick leave pay in Switzerland compares to other countries in Europe

Care leave is also granted if one parent works or if one or both parents work part-time. If both parents are employed, each parent is entitled to seven weeks of childcare leave.

However, you can also agree on a different distribution of your care leave. It is also possible for the parents to take their share of the leave at the same time. The employer does not have to approve the change in distribution, but must be informed about the childcare leave arrangement.

Two sum up, these are, per government, general rules:

“A worker may be absent to look after a sick child on the condition that they provide the employer with a doctor’s certificate. The period during which the worker is unable to work may be up to three days, depending on the age and health of the sick child. Some circumstances however, require a longer absence. In that case, the salary is due for a limited period, according to the same rules as those applicable in the case of a worker not covered by insurance (see above). However, parents must try to find alternatives, barring exceptional cases.”