Navigating Switzerland as an International Student: 33 Tips

Switzerland is just as pretty as it is complicated.

Hi there! I spent 4 months in Winterthur in high school in 2020 and another semester at Uni Basel in 2022-2023. From Anmeldung, over different insurances, and ways to save money, to looking for a place to stay, here are some things I wish I’d known before leaving. A lot of these tips will be centered around the German speaking part of Switzerland, but I’m sure many are applicable in other parts as well.

Furthermore, I am an EEA citizen and I was in Switzerland only on a short-term stay, so some of the administrative tips might not fully apply if you are in a different situation. I will not delve into visa/permit requirements in this article.


  1. Registration (Anmeldung)

    After moving to Switzerland, you have 2 weeks to register at your municipality (Gemeinde). Make sure not to lose your registration confirmation (Anmeldungsbestätigung), as you will need it for various things before you get your residence permit. After registering (depending if there’s a chip shortage, this can take months), you will receive notice to go get fingerprinted and get your photo taken for your residence permit. Once you do that, you will receive it in the mail.

  2. Deregistration (Abmeldung)

    Before moving from Switzerland, you must deregister at your municipality (Gemeinde) in the last 30 days of your stay.

  3. Shared living (WG)

    If you are looking for a room in a shared apartment, try websites like,, or Also try looking for organizations like WoVe in Basel: a non-profit offering student accommodation. From my experience, WoVe are professional and it is very easy to get a room if you act soon enough (without having to go there in person beforehand).

  4. University Dorms

    Your university might offer dorms for a good price, make sure to do some research on those and act quickly if you want to get a room there.


  1. Revolut / Wise

    If you don’t need a Swiss bank account, Revolut or Wise are both great options. They offer free accounts and great exchange rates on the market. I personally use Revolut and am very happy with it — not just for my stay in Switzerland, but for traveling in general.

  2. Cantonal Bank (Kantonalbank)

    If you do need a Swiss bank account, try your local cantonal bank (Kantonalbank). They often offer free accounts for students.


  1. Don’t get Swiss health insurance (Krankenversicherung) if you don’t have to.

    Insurance is mandatory in Switzerland, but it is notoriously expensive, and chances are (if you’re in Switzerland temporarily) you can keep your insurance in your home country and have it recognized in Switzerland. If you’re from the European Union, just having the blue EHIC card is enough! You can apply for an exemption from the compulsory health insurance (Befreiung von der Versicherungspflicht) online.

  2. If you have to get Swiss health insurance, get the right one.

    Not any insurance is valid as the compulsory basic health insurance. This usually costs over CHF 200 per month, so make sure you’re not getting something like an “insurance for foreign students” or “expat insurance” for CHF 120 per month which actually most likely doesn’t cover this. You should be looking for a basic insurance (Grundversicherung). Priminfo is a neutral premium calculator provided by the government to find the right plan for you.

  3. If you’re getting Swiss health insurance, you don’t have to get it before you arrive.

    You have three months after your arrival to Switzerland to get insured (or apply for an exemption as mentioned above). However, you do have to pay for it from day one, so if you get insured 2 months after your arrival, you have to pay for these 2 months retroactively.

  4. Don’t get Swiss supplementary insurance (Zusatzversicherung) if you don’t have to.

    The basic insurance (or the one recognized from your home country) only covers the most basic, necessary stuff (and doesn’t cover 100% of transport costs, for example by ambulance). Therefore, it is often a good idea to also get a supplementary insurance (Zusatzversicherung) to cover extras. Again, though, these are often expensive in Switzerland and your home country might offer a much better deal on travel insurance for your stay in Switzerland.

  5. What is a Franchise/Selbstbehalt? (Only relevant if you’re getting insurance in Switzerland)

    Franchise, always between CHF 300 and CHF 2500, is the amount up to which you cover 100% of healthcare costs. A low Franchise will raise your monthly health insurance costs, a high Franchise will lower them. It is up to you to decide whether to take the risk of paying a low monthly cost, but having to pay more in case of a more serious injury.

    Selbstbehalt is what you pay for healthcare (10% of the total cost) once over your Franchise.

    Example: You choose a Franchise of CHF 500. Throughout the year, the total cost for your healthcare is CHF 2000. You pay CHF 500 because of your Franchise and 10% of the rest (Selbstbehalt: CHF 150), for a total of CHF 650 on top of your monthly health insurance payments.

  6. Household Insurance (Haushaltsversicherung)

    Some places (such as WoVe in Basel as mentioned above) will require you to get household insurance (Haushaltsversicherung). From my experience, AXA offers reasonable pricing and everything can be done online.


  1. Don’t eat out

    Rule number one for saving money in Switzerland is don’t go to restaurants and forget fast-food. Cook for yourself, or share cooking with your roommates for maximum savings. Spending CHF 20-25 for a meal at Burger King is not unusual.

  2. Limit Meat Consumption

    If you come from a region where meat is cheap (Central, Eastern Europe), you might want to reconsider your eating habits. Chicken is by far the most affordable meat in Switzerland, but still not necessarily cheap. I’m sure you’ll learn to appreciate rice, pasta, lentils, tofu, and vegetables — maybe you’ll even come back home as a vegetarian!

  3. University Cafeteria

    If you don’t want to make lunch boxes for yourself, your best bet for a warm meal is your university’s cafeteria. They often offer full meals for under CHF 10, an otherwise unbeatable price.

  4. Migros vs. Coop

    Much like the “does pineapple belong on pizza” question, Migros vs. Coop is a divisive topic. Many Swiss people call themselves either a Migros-Kind or Coop-Kind (Migros Kid / Coop Kid) and stick to their chain. Realistically, the differences are not stark. Migros is generally ever so slightly cheaper, but doesn’t sell alcohol and tobacco products. Coop sells alcohol and tobacco products to people over 18 years of age.

  5. Denner & Lidl

    Denner and Lidl are discount stores. They offer lower prices, but sometimes the range of products sold is smaller. The food is not low quality and these chains are a great place to shop if you’re looking to save some money.

  6. Shopping in Neighboring Countries

    If you’re staying close to the border (such as Basel), getting groceries in neighboring countries is a great way to save significant amounts of money. If you live in Basel, take the 8 tram to Weil am Rhein, Dreiländerbrücke and get your groceries in Marktkauf; make sure to get an export certificate (Ausfuhrschein). On your way back, make sure to stop at the border, go to the customs booth (Zoll) and present your receipt alongisde the Ausfuhrschein and your Swiss residence permit (without it, it will not work). This way, you will get your VAT (Value-Added Tax) back! The customs officer will stamp your Ausfuhrschein and the next time you go back to the store where you got it, you will get a VAT refund.

  7. Äss-Bar

    This amusingly named chain sells yesterday’s baked goods for a lower price. Check if your town has one — the pastries and cakes are often just as good as fresh ones.

  8. toogoodtogo

    toogoodtogo is a great option to save money: you can get food that’s about to go bad for a fraction of its original price. Download the app and try it out! I had the best luck with offers from Migrolino.

  9. Last Resort: Public Fridges

    There are many so-called public fridges around Switzerland, for example those operated by Madame Frigo. Anyone can come by and take food out of the fridge for free — usually on a first come, first serve basis. However, please be considerate: if you can afford to buy your own food, please leave these to those who cannot.


  1. Half-Fare Travelcard (Halbtax-Abo) and Other Subscriptions

    SBB (Swiss Railways) offers many different plans and subscriptions. For example, you will probably want to get the Half-Fade Travelcard (Halbtax-Abo) if you plan to travel at all — with it, you get up to 50% off most public transport around Switzerland. The GA Travelcard (Generalabonnement) offers mostly unlimited travel around the country. Check out the different options here.

  2. Regional Subscription

    Your region will probably have a monthly plan. For example: TNW’s U-Abo in Northwestern Switzerland (Basel and surroundings). You might save on it over buying individual tickets if you use public transport regularly.

  3. Bikes

    Much like the Netherlands, a large part of Switzerland is suitable for riding a bike. If you can’t bring your own, consider getting a cheap bike at the beginning of your stay; try asking previous tenants who are moving out if they have one they would like to sell or gift.


  1. Swiss Bureaucracy: Resolving Catch-22 Situations

    It is not unlikely you will encounter what appears to be a Catch-22 situation during your stay. Navigating Swiss bureaucracy can be challenging, but with proper communication, it’s usually possible to find a way out of difficult situations. Don’t be afraid to send e-mails or make calls asking questions — you will most likely get a helpful answer.

  2. You don’t need to learn Swiss German (Schweizerdeutsch / Schwiizerdütsch).

    …but it’s probably a good idea. You can get around with just standard German, if not English, but if you can, try to learn to understand the dialect, even if you answer in High German. All Swiss people understand and speak High German, but prefer to speak the dialect. If you struggle with it, don’t be afraid to ask people to speak standard German (Hochdeutsch) with you.

  3. Sidewalk Libraries (Öffentliche Bücherschränke)

    Switzerland is full of sidewalk libraries. If you need something to read, try your luck and one of those before spending money on books. Wikipedia offers a non-exhaustive list of sidewalk libraries in Switzerland (in German).

  4. Ordering stuff online is often cheaper than buying it in person.

    Books being a great example, some things are much more expensive in Switzerland than elsewhere. Therefore, it is often a good idea to check online (for example German Amazon, if your moral compass allows it) for better prices.

  5. Stuff on Sidewalks

    In Switzerland, you will often find books, kitchenware and more in front of people’s houses with signs saying Gratis, zum Mitnehmen or something similar — help yourself, their owners will throw them away otherwise.

  6. Flea Market (Flohmarkt, Flohmi)

    Flea markets are very common in Switzerland, many towns have them weekly. They are a great way to get second-hand stuff such as kitchenware for low prices. Websites such as Flohmarkt24 or Flohmarktkalender show listings for flea markets around the country.

  7. Tutti / Ricardo: The Swiss Craigslist

    Tutti and Ricardo are great websites to find cheap (or free) stuff. Ricardo takes a cut of the sale and requires an account with a Swiss phone number, Tutti has neither of these requirements. Spend 5-10 minutes on your daily commute browsing through CHF 0 listings on Tutti and you might find a gem!

  8. Recycling

    Recycling is very important in Switzerland. With your Anmeldung, you will most likely get a “waste calendar” (Abfallkalender), detailing when and how different kinds of waste are collected. For general waste, you need special trash bags (Gebührensäcke), otherwise your trash will not be collected. They cost more than plain trash bags; this is how general waste collection is financed in Switzerland. Recycling is mostly free (tax-funded), so the more you recycle, the less you pay. For more detailed information, consult

  9. Cellular Plans

    Cellular plans are expensive in Switzerland. Make sure to consider all options before making a purchase: compare plans from providers in your country, plans from standard providers such as Sunrise, and plans from online providers such as Yallo. Make sure you understand your contract and you’re not signing a 2-year one if you’re only staying for a semester.

  10. Erasmus Student Network (ESN)

    Your university will most likely have some local students organizing events for international students. Ask around, and don’t let the name scare you — they are open to everyone, not limited to Erasmus students.

  11. Serafe: The Radio and TV Fee

    You might get hit with the Serafe fee (unless you’re deaf-blind, which I’d wager you’re not) — it is a per-year, per-household fee, so work it out with your roommates. Don’t try to dodge it.

This list is by no means exhaustive — if you’d like me to add something or have any questions, feel free to reach out at!

Navigating Switzerland as an International Student: 33 Tips
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