If you’re planning on moving to Switzerland, Herzliche Glückwünsche (congratulations)! Soon you’ll be able to enjoy the benefits of this beautiful, liberal country, which ranks as the third-happiest on Earth (World Happiness Report, 2021).

The birthplace of Lindt, Toblerone, and around 500 varieties of cheese, Switzerland is also home to the stunning Alps, glittering lakes, and glorious landscapes that are perfect for hiking, tobogganing, and ice skating – and, of course, skiing.

But before you join the 47,083 British expats (United Nations, 2019) enjoying life in Switzerland, you’ll want to understand what kind of healthcare you’ll have access to once you arrive.

And if you’re trying to choose a private insurance company that provides people in Switzerland with the mandatory level of coverage – and more – just check out our list of recommended healthcare providers.

From there, you can request free quotes from whichever company suits your needs.

Swiss healthcare: key stats

  • 0
    % of healthcare spending from extra private insurance
  • 0
    average life expectancy
  • 0
    doctors per 10,000 people
rhine falls

The stunning Rhine Falls is the most powerful waterfall in Europe

How does Switzerland’s healthcare system work?

Switzerland has universal health coverage, but not in the way you might be expecting.

Since 1996, Switzerland has legally compelled its residents to acquire private insurance, as well as a separate policy for dependents like children.

Federally approved insurers in each of the 26 country’s cantons (which is what Switzerland calls its regions) offer policies that cover all examinations and treatments, except any form of care that’s disputed by the government – for instance, faith healing.

These private companies are obliged by law to supply you with the basic level of healthcare cover, regardless of your age, medical condition, or any other personal attributes. If you apply, they must accept you.

You must then pay your insurer a premium, which is effectively the same amount for everyone.

However, if your premium is disproportionately high compared to your income, the government may give you a cash subsidy to help you pay for it.

These premium payments go into a central fund that’s redistributed among insurers.

The system is largely decentralised. The federal government regulates spending, promotes public health, and checks whether new treatments are safe, but most of the work is carried out by the cantons and local municipalities.

The great majority of people in Switzerland choose to stick with a basic policy, but 6.7% of healthcare spending is down to people buying additional coverage, according to the Commonwealth Fund.

The basic level of coverage provides access to the following services, which are free unless otherwise stated:

  • General check-ups
  • Inpatient treatment
  • Outpatient treatment
  • Accident and emergency care
  • Most specialist treatments
  • Antenatal classes, childbirth, postpartum care
  • Gynaecological screenings
  • Vaccinations
  • Abortions
  • Medically necessary long-term care
  • Glasses and contact lenses if you’re under 18 or have a severe visual condition
  • Emergency dental treatment
  • Mammograms and colon cancer screenings for over-50s
  • Physiotherapy
  • Alternative therapies (e.g. acupuncture), if the practitioner is accredited
  • Medical equipment like bandages, incontinence items, and inhalers
  • 50% of the cost of medical transport
  • 80% or 90% of the cost of medical prescriptions
  • Psychotherapy
  • Rehabilitation after an illness or operation

Is healthcare free in Switzerland?

No. The country's universal healthcare system ensures that more people receive important medical services for a lower cost than they would otherwise, but a healthcare system is never free.

It’s paid for with public contributions. In Switzerland’s case, this comes in the shape of taxes, premiums, copayments (where you pay part of the cost of a medical service), and the excess you have to hand over before your insurance kicks in.

Insurers are obliged to offer adults a minimum excess of CHF 300 (£235), while children are able to pay zero excess until they’re 18.

You can also choose to get a higher excess – up to CHF 2,500 (£1,960) for adults, and CHF 600 (£470) for kids – and pay a lower premium as a result.

You’ll also be charged a 10% copayment on almost all healthcare services, though there’s an upper limit of CHF 700 (£550) for adults, and CHF 350 (£275) for children.

If you’re set on getting brand-name medicine instead of the generic version, you’ll be charged a 20% copayment, and if you need to stay in hospital, you’ll have to pay CHF 15 (£12) per day.

In total, 28% of Swiss healthcare spending is out-of-pocket. This is one of the highest amounts in the world, and well above the UK’s 16.7% figure.

And 11.88% of Switzerland’s GDP is spent on healthcare – the highest proportion of any highly developed nation apart from the US.

This takes money away from other areas of public and private expenditure, but it seems to be working extremely well for Switzerland.

Quality of healthcare in Switzerland

Switzerland’s healthcare system ranks 7th in the world, according to a 2018 study published in The Lancet and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

That puts the country above much wealthier nations like China, Japan, and the US – and 16 spots higher than the UK, which places 23rd.

The average life expectancy in Switzerland is 83.4, which means the 18th-richest country in the world ranks 2nd in the world, behind Japan. The UK ranks 25th, with an average exactly two years lower than Switzerland’s.

It’s also home to 4.6 hospital beds per 1,000 people – one of the highest amounts in the world, and well above the UK, which only has 2.5 beds per 1,000 people.

There are also 17.5 nurses and midwives in Switzerland per 1,000 people, which is more than all but three other nations, and more than double the UK’s 8.2 figure.

This may be one reason why Switzerland’s maternal mortality rate is also one of the lowest in the world. If you give birth here, you’ll be 28.6% less likely to die in the process than you would be in the UK.

When it came to COVID-19, Switzerland was also much better prepared than the UK. The government backed its healthcare system, and has suffered one-third fewer deaths per person as a result, according to Our World in Data.

Healthcare in Switzerland for foreigners

Within three months of arriving in Switzerland, you must purchase basic healthcare coverage from one of the approved suppliers in your canton.

You must also ensure any dependents you have, including children, are insured in the same way.

You may also choose to buy supplemental private insurance to protect you and your loved ones against the costs of treatment not covered by your basic plan.

6.7% of healthcare expenditure comes from people purchasing this additional coverage.

If you want to join them and receive peace of mind, check out our list of recommended healthcare providers.

From there, you can request free quotes from whichever company suits your needs.

Do I need health insurance in Switzerland?

Yes. It’s the law, and it’s inescapable.

If you don’t choose an insurance provider yourself during your first three months in the country, your canton will – and it may be more expensive than the one you would’ve chosen.

That provider will then send you a bill, backdated to your arrival date.

Whether or not you get additional coverage – which you can buy from the same provider, or a different one – depends on the extent to which you want to protect yourself and your loved ones against the costs incurred by serious illness and injury.

The basic level of insurance will cover you for most eventualities – but a supplemental policy can lessen the burden, if and when disaster hits.

Benefits of additional private medical cover in Switzerland

  • The highest level of care available, across a wider spectrum of conditions
  • Peace of mind
  • Access to more technologically advanced medical equipment
  • Fewer unexpected out-of-pocket expenses means you can budget your healthcare in advance
  • A private hospital room
  • Full dental coverage
  • All specialist treatments

How much does health insurance cost in Switzerland?

For an individual

You should expect to pay around £810 per year for private cover in Switzerland, which comes to about £68 per month.

It’s worth getting a few different quotes though, as prices can vary massively.

For a family

To cover a family of four in Switzerland, it’ll cost you around £3,240 per year.

That means you’ll pay about £2.20 per day, per person to secure peace of mind – and the best level of care in the country, ready if you ever need it.

If you want to protect yourself and your family with private medical insurance in Switzerland, check out our list of recommended healthcare providers.

From there, you can request free quotes from whichever company suits your needs.

Advice for expats moving to Switzerland

  • You’ll get by fine with English, but learn the most common local language – French, Italian, or most likely German – to truly immerse yourself
  • Don’t be late, as the Swiss are generally punctual
  • Explore your natural surroundings; they’re incredible
  • Get a Travel Pass and tour the country
  • Join a club; it’s a great way to make friends
  • As with many European countries, the people can seem aloof or cold at first, but don’t be put off
  • Get a gift for your new neighbours, as it’ll start you off on the right foot
  • Switzerland is expensive, so make sure your salary matches the cost of living
  • Don’t expect anything to be open on Sunday
  • The pace of life is slower, which is lovely when you get used to it

If you’d like more information, please check out our guide to moving to Switzerland.