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Living Well (Cheaply) in Switzerland

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How well-being in Switzerland is more affordable than I thought.

Switzerland is known for its high quality of living. Before moving here, I rubbed my hands at the prospect of clean streets, efficient public transport and a high salary.

Unfortunately, in a country with a considerable earnings gap between rich and poor, I’ve ended up somewhere near the bottom, having set up a business rather than continue struggling for jobs in a market that wasn’t on my side.  

I spent much of my first year in Switzerland feeling frustrated to be living hand-to-mouth when I expected to enjoy a life of relative luxury. (That is, having a disposable income, tackling my student loan and even accumulating some savings—not easy for the 26-year-old of 2019.) And then I had a think about the lifestyle laid-out in my colour-coded spreadsheet. (Yes, I’m one of those people). On Tuesday lunchtime, there’s a great big chunk blocked off for “swimming,” followed by Wednesday’s “rowing” and “read sth in German."

Without noticing, I’ve ended up creating a weekly routine littered with slots for wellness and self-improvement. How? Well, it turns out circumstances I saw as challenges may have been a blessing in disguise.

Turning freelance

Turning freelance ironically gave me the work permit I needed to get the part-time job that paid my rent—crucial during the early, uncertain days of starting a business. But it also meant I could structure my hours as I see fit, completing projects (mostly) at the time and place of my choosing.

Having little spare cash in one of the world’s most expensive countries has taught me what I really need in terms of material wealth to be happy.

Reluctant to remain holed up in the flat all day, I opted to carve out time within the week to get outside, move a bit, and speak to real people, which ended up morphing into an actual exercise routine in natural light and fresh air.

Swiss prices

Even with a discount travel card, Swiss public transport is good but expensive, and we don’t have a car. This means I usually walk or cycle around the city on a hand-me-down bike. Et voilà—more exercise and fresh air!

Plus, have you ever been round a Swiss supermarket? The cost of food forces me to deliberate over my shopping, weighing up which items provide the most nutrients for my money. With meals out even pricier, I usually eat at home, increasing my awareness and control over what I eat.


While there’s a lot about this place I’m still getting used to, I do recognize some of the benefits of living in Lucerne. Within 15 minutes I can be at (or in) the Vierwaldstättersee (Lake Lucerne), in the woods, or standing on the city’s historic Chapel Bridge.

Switzerland may be expensive, but many of its best assets are easy to get to and free to enjoy. Sightseeing becomes active living which, in turn, leads to well-being.

In conclusion

Having little spare cash in one of the world’s most expensive countries has taught me what I really need in terms of material wealth to be happy—and, to give you a clue, it’s not that much.

Certain things, like rent, health insurance, and food, must be paid for, of course. It’s a lot of money, and I can’t pretend I don’t worry about covering these expenses every month. But beyond that, a lot of the things that improve my well-being—fresh air, movement and social interactions—can be done cheaply or for free. And, because they aren’t draining my wallet like everything else, I savour them even more.

Everyone’s specific situation is unique, including mine. But I do wonder if there might actually be plenty of people out there whose moving abroad setbacks have inadvertently paved the way to wellness.

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Published in Work Abroad Blogs
Lucy Ferguson

Lucy Ferguson is a British freelance writer living in Lucerne, Switzerland. In her spare time, she can be found rowing on the Vierwaldstättersee or spying on dogs from her balcony. 

Website: @lucyinlucerne

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