Studying as well as the preparations for it are expensive.
Here we provid some information about:
- The costs you might be faced with
- Ways for you to put together a budget and plan your finances
- Possibilities to fund your studies
Costs: What will it cost to study?
The costs for university study can differ and depend on some of these factors: Are you living at home? Where are you studying? How far do you need to travel?
These are the average costs:
- Living with your parents is cheaper. Your monthly expenses will average at around CHF800 – CHF1,500.
- If you are living away, your monthly costs average at around CHF1,500 – CHF2,400.
If you have children or other family members to care for, your expenses will evidently increase again.
These factors make up your costs and expenses:
Creating a budget
A budget contains an overview of the income available to you and the costs and expenses you are going to pay on a monthly basis. Knowing how much money you are able to spend will inform crucial decisions about work and leisure.
Here you find information and forms to help you put together your own budget (only in German, French or Italien).
What does it cost to prepare for university study?
The costs depend on your circumstances. We have listed some expenses you should be aware of. Use the checklist to clarify which costs apply to you.
- Language course(s)
- Language test(s) and/or certificate(s)
- Travel costs
- officially certified copies
- officially certified translations
- ECUS exam
- preparation for the ECUS exam
What are the fees for an officially certified translation?
Many translation service providers supply you with a quote beforehand. This means you are able to inquire what a translation or the process of having it officially certified will cost. Quotes are supplied in relation to specific documents. If you are requesting a quote via email, you should therefore attach a scan of the documents you wish to have translated.
A rough idea of translation fees:
An official translation starting at one page which has been certified by a notary will cost between CHF 150 and CHF 200 if it has been translated from a non-European language. There will be additional charges for each subsequent page.
Fees for an officially certified copy
An officially certified copy, i.e. a copy with an official stamp, will cost between CHF 10 and CHF 20. If you are submitting several pages as part of one document, you should expect a surcharge of CHF 5 for each subsequent page. You pay per certification. So the price increases if documents cannot be certified together (for example, if you need a certified copy of your bachelor’s degree grades and one of your high school diploma).
- What are the costs for language certificates?
- ECUS exam fees
Use sbb.ch to check prices for tickets and passes. This means you will be able to calculate the cheapest option for you. If social assistance cannot cover your transport costs, there are private trusts and funds which can be contacted for financial support.
Costs during your course
How much are tuition fees in Switzerland?
Tuition fees differ depending on the institution you wish to attend. Higher education institutions in the private sector in particular have higher tuition fees. Tuition fees are paid once a semester, this means you will pay tuition fees twice a year.
Tuition fees usually need to be paid before the start of the semester. You will receive an invoice upon enrolment which you must pay before the start of your course.
- overview of tuition fees provided by swissuniversities
Some higher education institutions set different rates for Swiss and foreign students. You should therefore ask to be charged the rate for Swiss students because your circumstances mean that you cannot study in another country.
Can you be exempt from tuition fees?
You can make a request to be exempt from tuition fees at some higher education institutions. This is especially the case if you are not receiving a bursary. Some institutions have even made these forms available online.
The easiest way to find the information is to google “tuition waiver” and the name of your higher education institution.
Other higher education institutions and their student unions have a social fund, i.e. support available for students who are experiencing severe financial difficulties. Check with your institution if this is a service they can provide.
Expenses for course materials: laptops, textbooks, photocopies
At some universities there are projects that provide used laptops at a reduced rate. Often there are also offers where you can buy a cheaper laptop as a student.
Students from previous years will often sell their textbooks. Have a look online, on noticeboards at your institution or check with the university library or at the department you are studying with.
If you are unable to pay for these expenses, you can check with your institution if the costs can be covered by social funds. Alternatively, get in touch with your municipality or a trust.
Health insurance is compulsory in Switzerland. If you receive social assistance, this is how your insurance will usually be covered.
NB: If you are no longer receiving assistance from social services, you will have to select a health insurance and pay for your premiums.
Being a recognised refugee means that you can claim a premium reduction. This means the canton will reimburse you for a part of your health insurance costs.
If you have limited or no income, you can make a request for a premium reduction with the compensation office in your canton.
Learn more about health insurance and premium reductions.
Rent and housing
Social services usually have funds to cover your living outside of accommodation provided for refugees as long as your costs do not exceed the maximum amount.
You can reduce costs for an apartment if you enter a flat share. There are specific flat-sharing projects for refugees. Some cities offer cheaper rooms for university students. The best way to find out about this is to contact the student union at your institution.
- Flat-sharing for refugees (in German)
- How much are tuition fees in Switzerland?
I receive social assistance. Which expenses will social services pay for me?
This depends on your status and your personal circumstances. The support you receive will also depend on the canton and the social service.
Social assistance is based around the principle of subsidiarity. This means social services will only pay out social assistance if there is no other way to cover your costs. Social assistance covers basic needs only.
If you have previously made arrangements with your adviser about the training you are pursuing and the type of career that would be compatible with your qualification, you will need to get in touch with them if you have had a change of heart.
Consider the following in order to convince your adviser that studying is the right choice for you:
- Have a precise idea of the subject you wish to study and the career you would like to subsequently pursue.
- Get an expert to assess your skills. Careers services or academic staff at a higher education institution as well as language teachers can give you a reference or assessment as means of knowing if your subject and language skills would allow you to fulfil the expectations of a degree course. This can help you make the case for studying.
- Put a budget together. Show how you would like to fund the course and how much money you are currently short of.
- Have a discussion with your adviser. They are well aware of the situation in Switzerland and will be happy to help you make a realistic plan.
Check what can be paid for
Have a look at the costs involved and check in each case if social services or yourself will be covering them.
Also make sure to check the following with your adviser:
- Will I continue to receive benefits/assistance whilst studying?
- Will it be the same amount? How much will I receive?
- Are there ways to avoid the amount being capped or reduced? Would it for instance help if a careers service confirmed that this training was sensible for me?
- How can I help ensure that a part of the tuition fees and expenses will be paid for.
- Can I apply for a bursary? How do I have to proceed?
List this information in your budget.
If it is decided by social services that you will not receive financial support at this point and are therefore unable to study, you can get in touch with your adviser to demand a copy of the decision made by the authorities. A written explanation will help you understand and move forward with your personal plans.
Parents in Switzerland are expected to pay for initial training or education if they have the financial means to do so. You should look into bursaries if yourself or your parents cannot cover the costs for your course.
If you receive social assistance and wish to apply for a bursary, you will have to consult your adviser in this matter. In some cases, the adviser is expected to submit the application on your behalf. Make sure you have made the necessary arrangements with your adviser.
There tends to be no financial support available for secondary training. If you already have a qualification, you will usually not receive a bursary, especially when your qualification has been recognised in Switzerland. Before making an application for recognition or recommendation of recognition, you should check with your adviser if this would change your circumstances.
If you are applying for a bursary, you need to submit a tax return form yourself and your parents. If your parents are not Swiss residents, you will have to declare that fact.
Addresses of cantonal bursary offices
Where can I apply for bursaries?
If you receive social assistance and wish to apply for a bursary, you will have to consult your adviser in the matter of your application. In some cases, your adviser might be making the application on your behalf. Make sure you have made the necessary arrangements with your adviser.
In Switzerland, bursaries are allocated by the respective canton. The amount of the bursary and the number of recipients eligible for a bursary depend on the canton. You need to apply for a bursary in the canton you are resident in.
If you are not eligible to receive a bursary from the canton of your residence, check with your municipality if they offer allowances.
What do bursaries amount to?
The amount you will receive as bursary will depend on the canton and your circumstances. NB: The amount is determined by the income currently available to you.
Not all students are eligible for bursaries. Bursaries alone will not cover your maintenance costs.
Recipients of bursaries cannot extend the duration of their course. You should expect to therefore study full-time.
NB: If you receive a bursary and work alongside, you should watch your earnings carefully. If you exceed a fixed amount, you may no longer be eligible for your bursary. Check with the responsible office at the canton administration how much you are entitled to earn whilst still being eligible for a bursary.
Who is eligible for a bursary?
Eligibility for bursaries depends on a number of different factors.
- Your residence status
- Your previous education (Have you already completed training?)
- Your income (and your parents’ income if they are resident in Switzerland)
- Your canton of residence
- The length of time you have been resident in the canton
Recognised refugees (B permit) are in principle eligible for bursaries. This means you can apply for a bursary if you also meet the other requirements.
Temporarily accepted refugees (F permit refugee) are in principle eligible for bursaries. This means you can apply for a bursary if you also meet the other requirements.
Some authorities might be unaware of your rights. Art. 5 of the Intercantonal Agreement on the Harmonization of Education Contributions (Scholarship Concordat) defines the persons entitled to contributions. Here you can find more information.
If you are a temporarily accepted person (F permit foreigner), there is no statutory right for a bursary. However, some cantons award scholarships to persons with F-foreigner status. However, there are sometimes waiting periods, so you must already have been resident in the canton for a few years (between 3 and 7 years). It is therefore worth asking.
Asylum seekers (N permit) have little prospects of receiving a bursary, though there are some exceptions. Check with the local authorities and retain the document stating that you have been unsuccessful. When you are seeking financial support, this will be proof that you have no means of funding your studies through a bursary.
When do I apply for a bursary?
It usually takes several months to find out if you are eligible for a bursary. This is why you need to submit your application at the earliest convenience. Your application with a higher education institution needs to at this point have been successful. Have a look at what the deadlines are for submitting your application.
You may be able to submit incomplete documents. Make a list of documents you still require and note down when you think that you will have access to these documents. Hand in this list with your application. Make sure to submit the documents as soon as you have received them. This will allow the authorities to start assessing your application.
- Where can I apply for bursaries?
- What is a loan?
Is a loan suitable for you?
Loans are allocated less frequently than bursaries. Loans create debt which you have to pay back at the end of your studies. Only take out a loan if there are no other means of funding your studies and once you are certain that you will be able to make repayments.
At the end of your course, there will be interest on top of the loan. Different loans offer different interest rates. Expect this to be in the region of 3 to 5%.
Could I fund my studies through part-time work?
Working alongside your studies tends to extend the length of your course. However, depending on the type of work you are doing, this experience could help you find a job after graduation.
How many hours should I be working?
The following options are generally conceivable: You could work part-time during term time or full-time during the vacations (some people will combine the two options).
Most subject areas will allow you to take on a workload of 20%, i.e. one day a week.
Bear in mind that if you are still working on your skills in the language of instruction, it will take you longer to prepare and complete follow-up tasks than those who are studying in their mother tongue.
Your job should ideally allow for some flexibility. If your course entails a significant number of compulsory lectures or seminars, then you should expect your workload to be more difficult to manage. Part-time work is thus not compatible with every course. You might be able to start your minor subject at a later date. NB: This will extend the duration of your course.
Recipients of bursaries cannot extend the duration of their course or work too much alongside. Above a certain income (salary) you have to pay back the scholarship. Watch what you are earning as a result of part-time work and check if you have the time for it.
As a temporarily accepted refugee (F permit) or asylum seeker, you and your employer are subject to meeting certain requirements. It is important you are aware of them before proceeding with a job application. This way you can show your employer that it’s not that difficult to hire you.
Ask your adviser if they have further information for your employer or if they could even contact them.
Swiss Refugee Council: Legal status
What salary can I expect?
A salary of CHF 20 after tax and a workload of 50% (20-21 working hours a week) will get you a monthly salary of CHF 1,600. This only allows for a simple lifestyle and your time studying will roughly double.
The hourly rate for student jobs lies between CHF 17 and CHF 25. Jobs with a better hourly rate (e.g. tutoring or admin duties) usually require you to be competent in a national language.
Student jobs are advertised by student unions or feel free to use the websites below to kick-start your job search:
- students.ch: This website (available in German) for students has a section with job opportunities and work experience.
- Studentenjobs.ch: This page (available in German) advertises jobs for students and graduates.
- semestra.ch: This student portal (available in German) contains a section with job opportunities.
- nebenJOB: This website (available in German) advertises part-time and vacation work.
- Could I fund my studies through part-time work?
Private trusts and funds
As well as bursary and allowance schemes run at canton and municipality level, you might also have access to bursaries or scholarships through private trusts and funds.
Private trusts often support groups of a certain background, e.g. students with exceptional achievements, single-parent students, orphans, etc. There are trusts who are specifically advocating the refugee cause.
Look at the aims and objectives of the trust and seek help from native speakers when writing your application.
NB: Websites such as stipendium.ch, a directory of trusts and funds, charge a fee for their services. However, they do not guarantee that your search will be successful.
You can search for foundations using keywords in the following directories:
Stiftungsverzeichnis des Bundes (in German)
SwissFoundations (in German)
Donations and crowdfunding
Be careful! If you receive donations, this is considered a type of income by social services. They need to be notified even in the case of small cash gifts and donations. These are technically part of your income and might be deducted from the social assistance you receive.
Be cautious! If you fail to notify authorities about your income, you can be reported on the grounds of a criminal offence. It is possible to be expulsed from Switzerland on the basis of two criminal offences. Make sure to always notify authorities about your income.
Anyone wishing to support you should always contribute towards a specific purpose. Ideally, the money is not directly paid out to you. Instead, they cover the costs on your behalf, e.g. pay for your language classes. They can also reimburse you for expenses: They might pay your travel costs or donate textbooks you will require on your course. Make sure to get a receipt for your language classes or train tickets. Get your supporter to give you a written confirmation to prove what the money has been spent on.
Crowdfunding is associated with a number of difficulties, mainly that the money is not tied to a specific purpose. There is no control as to why the money has been donated and what it has been spent on. You will therefore have to declare this as a source of income and the amount might be deducted from social assistance. If you are involved in a project of this kind, make sure to discuss this with your adviser.