Sunday, June 1, 2008

What is Billag? - TV & Radio License in Switzerland

The other day we got a letter in the mail from 'Billag.' Just from reading the return address alone Jace asked, "What did you buy now? That must be a bill...'

Funny that, because that's exactly what it was.

Billag is the branding or name that the Swiss government calls its TV and radio license program.

Basically, if you have a TV or radio within your presence you have to pay a licensing fee per month for the service.

Honestly, this blows my mind - so just to dull the blow for any newcomers to Switzerland, here are my own personal Billag FAQs.


Q: Is this know, just paying for cable?

A: Um, absolutely not! This is the basic license that you pay to use a tv or radio. Period. ON TOP OF CABLE! (If you get it - or you can live with the four or five stations you get without it...)

In the information we received, it says that it costs 13.75 CHF per month for radio and 23.84 CHF per month for a television (approximately 450.08 CHF per year). From reading the book Living & Working in Switzerland, I learned that one redeeming feature of this whole license thing is that it covers any and all tvs or electronics with a radio in your possession. Thank God.

Have three radios? They're covered with one license. Have two TVs? Covered. Have a TV at home and one in the country house? Hahahah...oh that's just too funny... um sorry, let me compose myself and continue...then this covers them both, too.

But, on the other hand, even if you do have one of these items and you NEVER use it, you still have to pay - hence some angst on the English Form.

(One bloke on the forums made a bit of a scene at the Billag office because he thought it was crazy that he'd have to pay the radio license because he had a car radio. So he said he was going to tear it out of the car - would he have to pay then!?!? To which the Billag customer service rep said, "Oh, ok.. well you have clock radio, yes? Then you still pay...sorry. Ah HAHAHAHHA!!!")

Q: What if I don't want to pay this?

A: Um, well tough nuts. As we understand it, you have to pay it... you can be fined heftily if a Billag inspector comes around and you don't have this license paid up. Actually, if my translation is correct, it's a 5000 CHF fine. Yes, that's right, three zeros there.

Also, the Swiss, a meticulous nation regardless, keep good track of who lives where and when and they'll come by to listen at your door to what shows you watch and return the very next week to interupt your favorite shows and charge you!!! (not really - but they do show up to do inspections I have read!). So... again, it's not worth it to try and work the system.

While it hurts me as much as it (may) hurt you, I don't want them interrupting my Gossip Girl or Ausgezeichnet Alaska (which I'm into now having never seen it when it was new - for all you foreigners that's what they call Northern Exposure here).

So that's Billag. . . Personally I think it's a bit weird and should just be part of some other tax that you have to pay that gets secretly rolled into something else... very descript, I know.

But who doesn't have a TV and radio somewhere... on the forums they go so far as to say that even if you have a radio in your phone you have to pay!? So just make EVERYONE pay and we can all pay a bit less. Right? ;)


val said...

Hi Jess - Australia had a TV/Radio license years ago but it was scrapped. Every now and then it raises its ugly head again but I think the outcry would be too much to reintroduce it.

Matt Morelli said...

Hey! Great blog! The TV license isn't just a Swiss phenomenon. Two-thirds of Europe and half of Africa use TV license fee money to fund public television. CHF450.55 is really expensive though. In Britain, it's around half of what you have to pay. Most are reasonably satisfied with paying it as it funds the BBC, which most Brits couldn't live without.

Jessica said...

Wow - I had no idea that it was so wide spread. I think that the advertisers probably pay for the license in the US because we have more ads. I read somewhere that only 8% of a show's time slot can be ads in Switzerland which I am sure is WAY less than the ad time in the States.

Either way - 450 CHF IS a lot!

Anonymous said...

Hi Jessica. Great blog. The strawberry man is my favorite. I went to the link you included about the license.. I think it was The moderators on there are really, really mean. I am surprised anyone posts on there at all. Can't wait to read more.

Jessica said...

You know, I admit that I haven't had the best experience on that forum either - some of the people are very helpful, but the die hards are kinda rude. You just gotta pick and choose what you do on there, I guess. It is a good place to go for a reference though - like what others have to say about Billag.

M'dame Jo said...

Everyone has to pay for the radio. If you have a walkman, a car, a cellphone. For the TV though, you can get the plug sealed - I did, I don't watch TV. And yes, a few months after you move in, an agent from Billag will probably get you out of your bed. I don't mind maying for the radio. I like not having ads on the national radio stations.

So, why this tax? There are 2 national TV channels in each of the three main languages. It costs quite a lot of money. But it is considered important that all the linguistic regions have their channels. It's considered a public service.

Jessica said...

M'dame Jo, thanks for the comment! I can't wait until the Billag man comes to check on me. I wonder what I need to show him - as I don't have any monthly bills or anything yet. I've only just registered with Billag for the monthly withdrawal. Can't wait!

I never thought about how the license would be used to support the three national languages (and all the English channels we get and those stations that can be changed between X language and English). Good point!

M'dame Jo said...

well, he'll look around the apartment and ask you if you have a radio, a TV. Thank you politely if everything's in order and leave.

Yes, the language/minority/consensus thing is very swiss and probably influence our way of thinking more than we're aware of.

Anonymous said...

Jessica, have you noticed that there are NO ads on Swiss TV or radio?? For me, this makes it all worth it, as I HATE adverts on TV and radio. Lucky for me, my husband works for Swiss TV, so we don't have to pay this anymore (yay perks!) but we have been paying for 3 years before this. I don't mind it, because I! haha. I am sad you didn't say hello at the AWCZ bazaar, I was set up at a table in the corner. -stacy

Anonymous said...

Switzerland is ok, Germany's GEZ is insane, you have to pay even if your TV is broken in your cellar, you have to pay for your PC, because you could watch TV and you have to pay more than once if you are unlucky. And their ads in the cinema are insane. Real horror and fright inducing, in their eyes everybody is a criminal.

Amanda said...

I know it has been a long time since you wrote this post, but I know that new expats do consult it for helpful tips, so I thought I'd mention what I just found out.

A friend of mine had the Billag people visit her recently (after living here over a year and no visit) and as she has no television or radio she refused to register. They asked her if she has a computer and she said yes. They asked if she listened to the radio on the computer and she said yes, but she streams music in English from the U.S. She explained that she doesn't listen to Swiss radio stations because she doesn't understand German. They left her alone after that; she pays no Billag and no fine. They really do visit you. YIKES!


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