What makes one city more expensive than another? To a large extent surveys do. What you put in the cost of living basket can make all the difference and every survey has a different basket.
The recent Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) report places Singapore at the top and Hong Kong third. Another, based on price information contributed by volunteers on the ground, puts these two cities much lower down in 14th (Singapore) and 11th (Hong Kong) places.
Interestingly these two surveys both count Zurich and Geneva among the top five priciest. If you live in one these cities your wallet can run but it can’t hide. Or can it?
The recent EIU survey uses New York City as a base and places Zurich second and Geneva fourth in its cost of living ranking.
3. Hong Kong
7. New York City ( the base city)
The Expatistan cost of living index has no base city. Instead it computes an index based on the prices of goods across a number of cost baskets. They claim to have a database of 1,480,000 prices on 1,976 cities in 203 countries. This survey places Zurich top and Geneva third.
1. Zurich 297
2. Grand Cayman 295
3. Geneva 283
4. London 275
5. New York City 273
Drilling down into the detail of this second survey shows where Zurich and Geneva hit wallets most.
Taking New York City as a benchmark, here is where Zurich out and under prices its expensive west-atlantic cousin.
In the first category food, Zurich is pricey. The price of a basic lunch (including a drink) in the business district of Zurich is CHF 28, 75% higher than NYC. Downgrading to a Big Mac Meal doesn’t save much. One of these is CHF 14, 88% pricier than NYC.
Cook your own lunch? 500 grams of boneless chicken breast in Zurich is 110% more expensive than NYC, a litre of milk 57% more expensive and 12 large eggs 77% dearer. How about a home cooked raclette lunch then? The potatoes will set you back 45% more, and the cheese 38% more than in NYC (gherkins were unfortunately not included on the list).
The only things cheaper in the food department are tomatoes (-10%) and supermarket beer (-41%).
The main difference between Zurich and Geneva is the cost of bread – bread in Geneva costs 28% more than in NYC’s and 26% more than Zurich.
Some good news here. Monthly rent for a 45 m2 furnished studio in an expensive part of Zurich is CHF 2,116. This is 22% less than the CHF 2,713 you’d pay for the same thing in NYC. A larger 85 m2 place will cost CHF 3,278, 11% less in Zurich than NYC.
Furnishing it will cost more though. A flatscreen TV (+24%) and a microwave (+49%) will both cost you more in Zurich. In addition you will spend 19% more heating it.
Accommodation can cost less in Geneva. While an 85 m2 flat costs 2% more a 45 m2 one costs 8% less than in Zurich.
Filling your wardrobe in Zurich requires a lot more money. Jeans (+122%), summer dresses (+40%), trainers (+53%) and work shoes (+56%) are much pricier. Geneva has cheaper work shoes (+9% on NYC) and summer dresses (+17% on NYC) but is much the same on the other clothing on the list.
The cost of getting around in Zurich is a mixed bag. Public transport is cheaper (-20%) while driving (petrol +116%) and taxis (+122%) are uber dear. Geneva is even better on public transport (-40%), but much the same on the others.
Hair is dear
Letting your hair grow wild will save you a packet in Zurich. Haircuts, at an average of CHF 44 are 124% dearer than in NYC. Personal care in general has a high price tag in Zurich. Toothpaste (+67%), cold medicine (+122%) and deodorant (+38%) are all costly. Hair care is less costly in Geneva (+76% on NYC), but antibiotics will set you back more than in Zurich: +53% in Zurich and +63% in Geneva compared to NYC.
Any savings you might be tempted to make on haircuts in Zurich would soon be consumed on entertainment. The price of a basic dinner for two in a Zurich neighborhood pub costs CHF 75, 60% more than in New York. Two tickets to the movies CHF 38 are 30% more, a cocktail CHF 22 is 21% more, and a coffee CHF 4 is 24% more. The only thing cheaper is cigarettes: CHF 5 in Zurich and CHF 8 in NYC.
Theatre goers will save in Geneva where tickets are are around 22% lower than in both Zurich and NYC.
Given that rent is lower in both Zurich and Geneva there is scope to live more cheaply these cities than in New York. Going to the mountains instead of the pub, and choosing public transport over taxis and cars could save a lot of money. Taking packed lunches to work could also put you ahead if they don’t include too much of pricey items such as meat and cheese. And if you travel regularly, clothes and haircuts can easily be bought abroad.
So are Zurich and Geneva more expensive than New York? It depends. If you move only on public transport, bring the right sort of packed lunches to work, eat at home and drink supermarket beer before going out, avoid Swiss hairdressers and buy your clothes abroad, both Swiss cities could be cheaper.
Compared to New Yorkers, Swiss eat more meals at home. For many dining out is less of an every day activity and more something done once a week or on special occasions. While much Swiss supermarket produce is more expensive than in NYC, dining at home can still lead to big savings.
Swiss public transport is reliable and extensive. In 2014, an average Swiss resident covered 2,288 km by train, more than twice the distance of an average Brit (1,056 km). Living without a car in Switzerland is a viable option for some.
- Swiss are world’s train travel champions (Le News)
- Poke your head out of a Swiss train and it could get whacked by a broom (Le News)
At the same time New York City is a high benchmark, Expatistan’s fifth most expensive and the EIUs seventh.
Wallets can run but they probably can’t hide.