Wednesday, February 29, 2012


This is a post I've been meaning to write for a long time, but now I've been compelled to. Long before I moved to Switzerland, I knew it was an expensive place. Perth, where I'm from, is also pretty expensive; in fact, it lies just outside the top 10 of the world's most expensive cities. (Geneva is ranked 3rd.) So when I first moved, I didn't really notice too much of a difference.

But gradually, you do notice things. Rent for my nice, but very small, apartment is 30% of my decent salary. Public transport is pretty efficient and reliable - most of the time - but it comes at a price.

Meat - which I've discussed before on my Empress Eats blog - is also outrageously expensive. So expensive in fact, that people who live within 50 kilometres of a border will travel into France, Germany or Italy to stock up on it - and try not to get caught by Swiss customs on the way home to avoid paying the tax on it. People closer to the borders will regularly do their grocery shopping over the border as well, saving as much as 40%. I found it amusing when I read an article recently saying the major Swiss grocery chains are going to start closing stores because people are going elsewhere.

Travel abroad and you start to notice it even more. I've been to London a few times now and regularly stock up on goods at often half the price. Last weekend, I bought a pair of Doc Marten shoes in Paris for CHF 50 cheaper than I could in Switzerland. 

Better off buying Esprit in the US
The US is where you really notice the difference. Last year I went to New York on a bit of a shopping spree. Walking into Esprit, the vast price difference is there in black and white. The price tag has the prices of the same garment in different countries. Price of a shirt in the US - US$29.50. Price in Switzerland - CHF 49.90. So what, you say - they're different currencies. True - until you covert the price in Swiss francs to US dollars and realise that the same garment in Switzerland costs US$55.

So what compelled me to write now on a topic that's been bothering me for months? Health insurance. Private health insurance in Switzerland - unlike in Australia, where it's considered ideal to have - is obligatory. You don't have health insurance in Switzerland and you're in big trouble.

Thing is, health insurance here is expensive - really expensive. At home, we paid just over $100 a month for top level cover. It coved everything. Here, we pay four times as much for virtually no coverage at all. Our current premium is CHF 425 per month (roughly the same equivalent in Aus $). Late last year, I went to an ordinary doctor for a 15 minute appointment that wasn't covered under my insurance plan and received a bill in the mail three weeks later for over CHF 200. A month ago, I badly cut my finger and ended up seeing a doctor three times, including having stitches put in, and then later removed. I haven't received that bill yet and I think I'll need to make sure I'm lying down when I get it.

So I was apoplectic with rage when I opened a letter from my health insurer yesterday saying our premium is going up to CHF 836 per month, nearly double. Double! At least I can change insurers, but the reality is that I will still need to pay four times the price for one tenth of the coverage I get back home.

I understand that Switzerland is expensive. Salaries compensate for it. Or maybe it's a chicken and the egg thing; maybe prices are expensive because everyone is paid well and tax is low so there needs to be at least one catch.

Whatever it is, I've learnt over the last year to not get too caught up in the price of things here. I no longer compare things to prices back home. And I now automatically look outside of Switzerland for goods that I know will be expensive here.

Maybe Switzerland needs to take a look at itself and ask whether charging such exorbitant prices is justified. Either that, or legally change the country's name to $witzerland. At least that would serve a warning to people.

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