Permanent Tourist

A personal website by Mark Howells-Mead

The ups and downs of life with a foreign currency

To illustrate the precise depth of the devaluation of European currencies, I thought I’d share a few figures with you to explain how the fluctuating values affect me. As I’m British, and Britain still has its own currency (the pound sterling) instead of the Euro, I’ll compare the Swiss franc with the pound.

When I first came to Switzerland, my salary was good; approximately 20% better than what I’d been earning in the U.K. This was a simple result of the fact that the Swiss cost of living is higher than elsewhere in Europe, and residents are paid a correspondingly higher salary. Back then, the exchange rate between sterling and the Swiss franc was approximately 2½ francs to the pound. My “rainy day” account containing Fr. 1,000 would’ve gained me £400.

Since then, my salary and the cost of living in Switzerland has remained relatively constant, if one ignores the effects of career progression and age. An average flat in the area where I live still costs around Fr. 1,300 per month and food prices, in the main, have remained comparatively steady. Imports such as fuel and cigarettes are more expensive (although I no longer smoke) and so I’m glad of the extra salary I’ve achieved over the past ten years, so that supporting my travel habit remains feasible.

However, the big difference comes when comparing what my salary level translates to, when I convert it into sterling. My Fr. 1,000 holiday savings will today buy me £850, which equates to an increase of 212½ percent over the past ten years. I can buy twice as much in Britain with the same number of francs as I could ten years ago, despite the fact that my salary (in local terms) has only increased by 20% as a result of the aforementioned career progression.

This is great for us on one perspective, however it does make things pretty difficult for anyone travelling to visit us from abroad. While we can profit from much cheaper visits to the U.K. and to the rest of Europe, visitors coming to us now have to pay twice as much while there here as they would’ve done. There’s also the fact of inflation to take into account; prices have naturally risen on pretty much everything in the U.K. during the time I’ve been living away.

Time to translate some funds across the border into a foreign currency account, and wait until the Euro and Sterling recover.