This Expat Guide to Switzerland post is about child care in Switzerland. Expats usually are well educated and come to Switzerland to get a well paying job.
Either they already bring a girl friend or wife with them or eventually find love in one way or another and things eventually lead to a kid. And now the problem. Switzerland is kind of setup or optimized for the classic setup where the men earn the money and the mothers stay at home and take care of the children. This is reflected in the taxes where double income households pay significantly more and also in the child care costs.
So what to do with the little child? Dropping one of the careers, both reducing the work amounts or bringing the kid to a child care facility full-time?
Different options for child care
There are most popular different options for child care in Switzerland:
- KiTa (Kinder Tagesstätte – Child care facility): They usually take children from 6 months up, up to school age. Have qualified workers with education in child education/nursing.
- Tagesmutter (Day mothers): Women that volunteer to take care of a child and keep them busy with games and cook for them. Usually from 18 months and up. Some with education around child education/nursing.
- Au Pair (Full-time nanny): Often students from abroad living with the family full time and getting free food and stay and often some form of compensation. Usually no background in child education.
- Part Time: Usually popular with Swiss people (at least the ones I know) where the parents are reducing their working amounts to 60-80% and staying at home with the kid once or twice a week. Usually with either child care or a grand parent covering for the remaining day. Obviously not really an option for Expats which often don’t have any relatives in the country.
- Stay-home mom: I’d say about 50% of my Swiss friends go for this form at least for the first 12 months or longer (note regular maternity vacation in Switzerland are 18 weeks)
Child care costs
Here’s the caveat with child care. In most of the cantons the price for child care in official child care facilities (KiTas) are depending on the income. So assume you’re having a double income of a total of 200k CHF (e.g. 130k CHF and 70k CHF) you will very likely pay 500 CHF/day/months. So if you plan to both keep working you can expect child care expenses to be around 2500 CHF/month, that’s a whopping 30k CHF a year. Get a second or third child and you can multiply that amount, so very likely one persons income will just end up in the child care facilities. We used to have our son in a KiTa for two half days and we did pay 526 CHF/month for that. (It didn’t end up working out for my wife but that’s another story)
The mentioned prices are usually for very urban areas like Zurich or Zug, more rural cantons like Obwalden or Schwyz might have significantly lower prices for child care facilities.
Tagesmutter are around 50 CHF per day but usually only take the kids for 2-4 hours.
Au Pair’s might be the most affordable option if there is spare space in the apartment. A Chinese friend of mine got a 700 CHF/month pocket money plus all food and stay paid when she was working as an full-time nanny in Zurich for 3 months. There are caveats around employments of Au Pairs which need to be investigated by the hosts.
The Swiss school system consists out of the following steps:
- Voluntary early Kindergarden year
- Mandatory Kindergarden year
- 6 years of primary school
- Either: 3 years of ORST (secondary school) or 4 years of gymnasium
- After ORST: 2-4 years of apprenticeship (learning on the job with 1-2 school days)
- Optionally during apprenticeship: Berufsmatura (professional matura) (usually 2 years with extra school days)
- After apprenticeship: Higher education schools (enables for entrance universities to get a Bachelors degree if Berufsmatura was skipped)
- After gymnasium or Berufsmatura: Studying for a Bachelors degree (usually 3 years full time)
- After Bachelors degree (optionally): Studying for a Masters degree (usually 1-2 years full time)
- After Masters degree (optionally): Studying for a PhD degree (usually another 1-2 years full time)
Most Swiss people usually stop after either the apprenticeship or after the Bachelors degree. I will elaborate in a future post how my educational/professional career went.
What I also often hear from Expat friends is that they don’t want to send their children to the public school system. However one has to understand that kids learn English from the second grade on and French from the 4th grade on. So concerns about not keeping up with a useful language are usually not a valid concern. A bit different it looks with promoting of gifted children. A point I heard and which is valid is that teachers usually don’t have the capacity or the learning plans available to promote good students individually. However there are semi expensive options available like schools for gifted children or in the worst case private schools. Private schools again can be very expensive, a case I know with the International School of Zug the prices were at around 100k CHF/year (afaik including private transportation from/to the school). Schools for gifted children hover at around 25k CHF. The public school system is fully paid by the taxes and therefore for free. This includes secondary education like Bachelors and Master studies in universities.
Don’t underestimate the cost of having children in Switzerland if you don’t plan to take care of them by yourselves.
Let me know in the comments if you made different experiences or if you think my numbers are too crazy.