Chemical engineer starting salary and imaginary budget review

I recently graduated with a master’s degree in chemical engineering from Finland. I’m single, have no children and am not part of a church. Even though I haven’t yet worked after graduating, I’ve accumulated about 2 years worth of experience in paper/pulp production during my studies. Most of that experience is from a position as a production supervisor, while 8 months are from standard blue collar work in operations.

JOB

I am planning on applying to positions in the chemical and pharmaceutical industry. Jobs I could imagine working in include process/development engineers in a factory environment, some operational consulting positions, or some R&D work. As it would be my first job in Switzerland, I’m not that picky. I’d just like to get my foot in the door and some relevant experience under my belt.

Anyone working in these fields? I’d appreciate any info on the current job market or tips on searching for positions.

LOCATION

In terms of locations, I’m most interested in Basel, Zurich and Zug as I believe they have the largest number of chemical/pharma companies. Additionally, I’ve studied german for 5 years before and during high school (it’s pretty rusty now though, but I will get back to it if I land a job) so I want to live in a mainly german speaking area.

SALARY

After comparing the salaries and taxes in different countries, I’ve really grown fond of the idea of working in Switzerland. In Finland, my starting salary before taxes would be around 40 k€ (45k CHF) per year, which would translate to about 28 k€ (31k CHF) net income annually. Marginal tax rates even at that level of income are close to 50%, which means that significantly boosting net income via promotions and job changes is no cake walk. After living costs, I’d probably be able to put aside around 15k€ (17k CHF) per year.

Then to salaries in Switzerland. Based a number or articles and forum posts as well as a couple of salary calculators, I’d expect a starting salary of around 6k CHF per month or 78k per year assuming the monthly wage is muliplied by 13. Based on the tax calculator on the website of the Swiss Federal Tax Administration, my total tax burden would be about 6,9k assuming I’m living in Basel-Stadt. Taxes for Zurich showed 8,5k while Zug had a mere 4,8k. This would mean that my monthly net income would be somewhere between 5300 and 5650 CHF .

Is this a realistic estimation or did I miss something?

BUDGET

Even though Switzerland has a notoriously high cost of living, this sum seems large enough so that I could save 2k+ per month. Seeing as I’m single with no kids, I’m planning on getting a small studio apartment and moving by foot, bike or public transportation. Therefore, I’d expect monthly living costs in CHF to be around:

Rent = 1000 (Basel seemed a bit cheaper, Zurich and Zug a couple hundred more)

Groceries = 350, I’m planning on doing some of my shopping in Germany

Healthcare = 350

Public transport = 75

Internet = 40 (Sunrise ADSL)

Phone = 20

Electricity = 35

Gym membership = 70

Total = 1940 CHF

If we assume that I’d land a 78k CHF/year job in Basel-Stadt, these costs would leave me with about 3500 CHF to spare monthly. Even if my rent or other costs would swell up a bit, it seems very plausible that I could put about 2,5k into stocks monthly.

Are there any angles that I’ve missed? Do these numbers seem realistic for a single dude with no offspring?

I think you are missing out on:

  • at least one other insurance; e.g. household, which you will probably be required to take out if you rent; not too much per month, maybe 250-300/year
  • probably some more for the apartment costs, for utilities (nebenkosten, electricity)
  • a bit more for food, at least 350 doesn’t sound very realistic to me (depends what kind of stuff would you buy/eat, and if you have canteen food at work, or cook at home)
  • spending time with friends outside of your home, if you plan to do any - dinners, drinks: maybe another 200/month
  • travel/leisure/sports?

But even with all that, I think at least 2000/month savings should be more than possible, with not going insane on frugality. :slight_smile:
If I am not mistaken, I was on a similar salary when starting in Basel (although 12 salaries, no bonus), shopping in Germany, and was able to put away ~2500/month (but my room was only 600).

Welcome to the forum, welcome to CH, and good luck on all your paths!

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Regarding salary depending on your past CV i think you could easily get something between 80 and 90k… At least all of my engineering friends started in that range but they were all from ETH (which is a plus here in CH compared to a not so popular uni)

I know companies may have limited places for permit C foreigners so they tend to pay slightly more the Swiss and slightly less the foreigners / European. But to be honest I don’t know for a fact. So what you read for the Swiss may not be the same amount they offer you, particularly in Basel region since a lot of German /French are driving salaries down. Having said that, 78k seems a reasonable expectation. Good luck!

Do not forget that there is a lot of chemical/pharmaceutical activity in the french speaking area and along the Rhone river: Visp (Lonza), Monthey (BASF Orgamol, Syngenta), St-Prex (Ferring), Nyon (GSK) and Geneva (Merck). From outside of Switzerland you have the feeling that Basel and Zürich offer good opportunities. Lake Geneva area is one of the area in Europe with the highest economic growth.
Good luck.

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C permit is a permanent residence permit. You probably mean B? If your answer is yes, no company makes any difference between B, C and a Swiss resident.

I wouldn’t work as engineer for 78k starting salary unless I have no internship exerpience and bad grades. Fromm Swiss Engineering you can get a survey regarding salaries: https://swissengineering.ch/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=573&Itemid=284&lang=de

Unemployment is low in CH so you are in a perfect position to get more then 78k

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Well yes I meant B thank you. And yes in Switzerland there are limited number of position for foreigner
https://www.sem.admin.ch/sem/de/home/aktuell/news/2018/ref_2018-09-280.html
Is just for people outside EU though. But I know of a Colombian colleague whose hiring got delayed because of this allocation

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It is not only for people outside the EU. Here are some details: https://www.sem.admin.ch/sem/en/home/themen/fza_schweiz-eu-efta/eu-efta_buerger_schweiz.html

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Mind you that the calculator on admin.ch is for Swiss citizens or C permit holders. On B permit you pay withholding tax (Quellensteuer), which is the same for the whole canton of your residence. (unless you earn over 120k, then you still pay withholding tax but also have to send a tax declaration and then pay/get the difference).

For the 6000/month (12 months per year) in Basel Stadt I got the following result from lohncomputer.ch:

So a rough estimate of your relatively frugal life here would be:
gross salary: 6000
taxes and contributions: 1500
take home pay: 4500
living expenses: 2500
saved: 2000

1000 CHF for a flat should be achievable in cities if you are willing to share a flat with someone (called WG).

Thank you for the reply! I definitely forgot about home insurance… That’ll add some costs to accommodation.

In terms of food, I almost always cook at home and most of my meals are mainly vegetables and fish or meat. I do intermittent fasting so I usually only have a warm lunch and dinner with possibly some fruit or salad between them. I’ve read that meat is ridiculously expensive in Switzerland so I would probably tone that part of my diet down or try shop for it in Germany if I live close enough.

My free time is usually spent in the gym doing strength training (hence the gym fee), reading books on Kindle or via the library, or playing through the vast video game library I’ve managed to accumulate in Steam throughout the past ten or so years :smiley:

Switzerland is also much more conveniently located than Finland, so I’d definitely be doing some weekend trips around Central and Eastern Europe. That’ll add some costs, but they’re pretty hard to quantify at this point so I chose to leave them out of the bare bones budget.

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Thank you, that’s a great point! I started fixating on Basel/Zurich/Zug pretty early in my research since they have a strong expat presence as is and they’re in the German speaking part. When it comes to French, at the moment I don’t speak a single word of it and I’m terrified of trying to learn it as the pronunciation seems totally alien to me… It’s worlds apart from the flat and boring way you speak Finnish :smiley: But you still make a good point, I shouldn’t limit my options too much at this point.

I didn’t realize the taxation was different for the B license :frowning: That’s a huge deal if it cuts about a 1000 CHF from the net salary! Especially if you don’t get any of it back as tax returns at the end of the year.

No, taxation is the same for all Swiss residents. The difference is that as a permit B holder making <120k CHF / year you will be taxed at the source. You can also file a simplified return (just 1 single page in some cantons!) if you are taxed at source .

The Swiss do not pay their taxes until the beginning of the following year! I always like to imagine the shitshow that would ensue if this was introduced in countries (e.g., USA) that have more irresponsible relationships with consumer credit!

I see. I wonder if I made a mistake calculating my total tax burden then :thinking: I got 6,9k for the whole year whereas @Bojack got 1,5k per month, which would total to about 18k annually.

The other one includes more than just income tax (i.e., pension contributions, etc.)

Ah, well that makes sense. Thanks for your patience :smiley:

No they don’t. They pay based on the schedule of their Kanton. Some have a yearly schedule, some are every 4 months.

Interesting. Which cantons is every 4 months?

Moi Kokko!

try to give you a very fast answer. Freshly graduated (not swiss) can aim for 75K CHF per year, /13=5800CHF from which in basel city you can take away around 30% taxes/pension (my net salary is 71% of gross). That leaves around 4000 CHF per month. Single apartment is more realistic 1200 CHF month, Health insurance with some small extra 400 (Basel is one of the most expansive Cantons), most gym more around 100 (but you get the half back from extra health insurance). Groceries in France (better fish than germany) for a single can be around 50 € per week --> 240 chf monthly. Sunrise I think is 50 chf per month, then you have to add Nebenkosten for water / energy / trash (I bet around 500 per year). around 120 a personal liability insurance per year.

I think you can save a little bit, but is much more interesting what you can save within 5 years (not difficult to get jobs later in bigger companies that can pay around 120K/year plus bonus).

At the moment Basel has a very difficult work market for pharma / chemistry. Big companies are cutting a lot of jobs, closing production sites, and jobs goes 80% internally. For the rest 20% you have a worldwide competition, seems like everyone wants to come to Switzerland. HR told me when they open a position is not unusual that they get 200-500 applications. A lot of jobs are given through “vitamin B” (you have to know someone), and smaller companies hire mostly local people, or germans (because the language spoken is swiss german) and pay much less.

Regarding the fact that there are a lot of expats, I don’t know if this is an advantage. I live since 5 years here and I do not have any friend. I feel like everyone is here only to work (most do not live in the city) and have no time / interest in knowing other people.

Try to look in the Dottikon or Bachem webpage,small CMO that have always a lot of openings.

Hope I could help :slight_smile:

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@valarmorghulis Thank you for the very comprehensive comment :slight_smile: I really appreciate it!

Just take this with a grain of salt, and think of it more as an exception than a rule @Kokko. :slight_smile:
It depends a lot on yourself what kind of relationships are you going to build…

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