Schooling can be a major expense, particularly for parents who want their children educated in English or English plus the family’s language, for example Japanese or Swedish.
Switzerland and France both have a strong culture of education and so their systems are generally of a high standard. You must have a work permit or right to live in that country for your children to attend public school there.
Factors affecting your decision to go private may include your child’s age, the length of time you plan to be here, languages spoken at home and most importantly, whether your employer pays part of the fees.
Unless school fees are included in your employment package, you may have to budget from CHF10-25,000 for a private school, depending on a child’s age and the programme. Don’t forget to factor in all the extra expenses that many private schools require such as building fund payments, fees to join the waiting list, transport and canteen costs and ski trips, which can make the total bill significantly higher than the cost of public schools.
Catholic schools are often less expensive. There are three in Geneva and three in Lausanne. France has the École Jeanne d’Arc, primary and secondary, in Gex and the Ecole St Vincent (primary only) in Ferney-Voltaire.
The International College/Lycée in Ferney-Voltaire teaches some subjects in English for Anglophone students while they continue to follow the French public system. Students resident in Switzerland are permitted to enroll, but note that demand for places is high.
Facilities and costs can vary greatly depending on whether you live in Switzerland or France. Generally, working parents cannot rely on the Swiss public preschool system to assist them with childcare. Children don’t normally attend preschools for a full day, so you need to factor the cost of a nanny or a private childcare facility into your budget. The reality is that many women choose to work less than fulltime, as a halfway measure.Private centres are sometimes subsidized by their communes, but not always, so shop around and expect waiting lists.
In France, children can start going to public preschool from the age of 2, depending on their date of birth and level of development. Cost of after-school care is around €6/CHF10 a day. School in Switzerland starts at age 4-6, depending on the child’s birthday and the canton.
Cross-border shopping is a common part of life for those in or near Geneva. Sometimes the motivation is the quest for a particular product, but more often the incentive is frugality!
Although rows of Swiss licence plates can still be easily spotted in the car parks of the French supermarkets, some savings are no longer as great since the euro has appreciated against the Swiss franc. Bilateral agreements between the European Union and Switzerland in the past two years are starting to have an impact on prices: this is how Switzerland lives comfortably outside the EU while surrounded by it. The shopping goes in both directions, with many French residents shopping in Switzerland for household supplies like garbage bags and paper materials.
Recent price comparisons show that you will still save if you buy your beef, chicken, fish and some dairy products in France. There isn’t such a difference in the price of fruit and vegetables, although many shoppers find the quality superior in Switzerland.
Despite the sales tax (TVA) being lower in Switzerland (7.6%) than in France (19.6%), certain Swiss consumer goods, notably clothing and mid-range furniture, aren’t necessarily cheaper. Of course, for major purchases, you need to consider whether importing the goods is worth the hassle, especially when you factor in import duty. While Swiss electrical appliances have traditionally been cheaper, this is not always the case if you have to pay French import duty on top of the price.
And it’s not worth running the risk of sneaking your shopping across the border, although many do take their chances. If you are planning a cross-border shopping trip in either direction check with customs on the allowances for specific items. Meat, dairy products, eggs, potatoes and fruit juice have fairly small import limits into Switzerland that you can easily surpass in a normal household shop. You could really blow your budget if you are caught exceeding the limits: you must pay duty on the entire amount.
Supermarkets, outdoor markets, shops
- Switzerland and France, Migros, which also owns Denner’s low-cost stores (in France at in the Val Thoiry centre)
- Switzerland, Coop and for bulk purchases Aligro, with branches in Geneva and Chavannes-Renens
- Switzerland, Manor tends to be more expensive for basic supplies but each store works with its own group of local suppliers, so regional products are generally good. It also has the best collections of Swiss wines.
- France, Casino and Champion.
Price differences for certain products can be quite significant in different supermarket chains. Intermarché in Gex is one of the cheaper supermarkets in the region.
Beware the charm of outdoor markets, such as the one on Sundays in Divonne-les-Bains, said to be among the most expensive in France. For specialty items outdoor markets can nevertheless be worthwhile. In Switzerland the quality of the produce and artisanal products is often excellent. Prices vary greatly even within a single market, so carefully compare the price of, say, one seller’s pistachios or olives to another’s.
Try to delay major purchases until the big sales held twice yearly, in January and July. Prices at these sales are cut from 30-70%. This is an excellent time to buy household appliances, clothes and many other items.
Television license fees
Switzerland and France have obligatory license fees for television and radio to support their public broadcasters. In Switzerland you must legally register with Billag, which oversees the fee system. Every household with a television, radio receiver, MP3 player and/or broadband internet connection must pay. The annual fee for 2007: CHF462. The French licence fee is €116, which is added to your annual taxe d’habitation.