Living in Switzerland – A Guide for PhD Students
Written by Chris Banyard
Switzerland is a cosmopolitan, multilingual country and a popular and high-quality destination to study for a PhD. You can sample the nation’s famous cheeses and chocolates whilst exploring its modern cities and picturesque Alpine scenery during your Swiss doctoral studies.
The guide covers everything you need to know about moving to Switzerland for your PhD. You can find information about student life, accommodation, living costs, work permits, setting up a bank account and getting around in Switzerland.
There is plenty to explore and experience in Switzerland during your PhD. The country is famously cosmopolitan with four languages (French, German, Italian and Romansh) and a welcoming and multicultural atmosphere. Around 50% of Swiss university students come from abroad, so there is a strong international atmosphere support for the country’s visitors.
With four spoken languages over three major linguistic areas, and neighboured by five other countries, Switzerland is a mosaic of many European cultures and its own unique heritage. There are many seasonal and traditional festivals and events to explore, and a modern arts scene with lots of cinemas, museums, music venues and film festivals.
As an Alpine nation, winter sports and activities are abundant and popular in Switzerland. Hiking, cycling, mountain-biking, skating and canoeing are fun ways to explore the beautiful mountains and countryside. The famous Swiss mountain lakes, including Geneva, Constance and the Vierwaldstättersee, are also great locations for sports and relaxing trips.
Switzerland’s cuisine has many influences, and as a result has a diverse variety of food and drink. Although the nation is rightly famous for its chocolate, fondue and muesli, each region of Switzerland has its own delicacies and specialities. You can experience potato rösti, bündnernusstorte (nut-filled pastry), saffron risotto and zopf (Swiss plaited bread).
The types of accommodation available in Switzerland for your PhD are similar to those in the UK. However, you may find that housing available is limited and is generally costlier.
During a Swiss PhD, you will normally stay in one of two types of accommodation:
- Student residence – shared student housing on campus, similar to UK halls of residence. However, at Swiss universities this accommodation is very limited.
- Private renting – rooms and flats available to rent from a landlord or letting agent.
Regardless of which option you choose, your university’s international office will be able to share more information about housing available in the area. There are also links to organisation and services for accommodation at the Rector’s Conference of Swiss Universities (CRUS). Because accommodation can be limited, it is recommended that you start your search early.
The cost of accommodation in Switzerland is relatively high, and you can expect to pay around €700 per month. However, this can vary significantly depending on your accommodation type and location.
The cost of living is relatively high in Switzerland, even compared to other countries of Western Europe.
In addition to tuition fees, you can expect to pay around €1,755 per month, budgeting €665 for accommodation, €570 for food, and €520 for miscellaneous costs.
The following table gives an indication of prices for some common expenses during a PhD in Switzerland:
Student Cost of Living in Switzerland - 2022
|Monthly Travel Pass
|Based on crowdsourced data published by Numbeo.
In Switzerland, international PhD students are able to work up to 15 hours per week during semesters and can work unlimited hours during holiday time. You will need to report your work to the relevant immigration authorities.
Additionally, non-EU / EEA students will require a work permit, applied for on your behalf by your employer. You may also need to contact the Swiss Immigration Authority or local Swiss embassy to check your rights to work while studying in Switzerland. Also, these international students are only permitted to work six months after commencing PhD studies.
Employment contracts with your university
Many Swiss doctoral students are considered university employees, undertaking teaching and administrative work. Therefore, you may be subject to foreign workers’ regulations and must apply for relevant immigration and work documents. Your university’s international office will be able to provide more guidance.
The Swiss currency is the Swiss franc (Fr. or CHF).
There are two main banking systems in Switzerland:
- Swiss national banks – these are major nationwide banks that offer standard banking services
- Cantonal banks – regional banks available in individual cantons (provinces) that often well-respected and offer good rates
Both types often provide banks accounts designed for students. In order to open a Swiss bank account, you will normally require the following documents:
- your passport
- your residence permit and / or student visa
- a recent bill with your Swiss address
- proof of student status
Its usually much easier to open a bank account once you’re living in Switzerland, but it is possible to open an account when you’re abroad. However, you will need additional documents such as an Apostille stamp and visit your local Swiss bank branch in person.
Public transport networks in Switzerland are famously reliable and efficient. Most students in Switzerland are eligible for the GA travelcard, which gives discounted rates and unlimited travel on many public transport options.
Swiss trains, like their clocks, are renowned for running on time. The rail network connects most major towns and cities of Switzerland to each other, and to other cities in Europe. Most main trains are run by Swiss Federal Railways.
The national airline of Switzerland is Swiss International Air Lines (SWISS). Based mainly in Zurich, Geneva and Bern, Switzerland’s airports have frequent flights to many of Europe’s other major cities and to destinations around the world.
Like Swiss trains, the bus networks in Switzerland are also extensive and reliable and offer quick journeys around and between cities. Many cities also have tram networks for convenient inner-city travel.