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Finding housing in Switzerland can be one of the biggest challenges to moving to the small, landlocked country. Nearly 60% of the population, both native Swiss residents and foreigners, rents. Those who own homes largely live in the countryside. Because of this, competition for housing is fierce and expats may want to look into booking a short-term rental while they look for a more permanent place.
As long as you are willing to put in the time and effort, expats should be able to find a suitable place in Switzerland. Although prices are high, and only getting higher, there are plenty of different types of houses to accommodate all needs. Whether you are moving to Switzerland solo or with a big family, Switzerland has the home for you. Properties range from one-bedroom apartments in the city center all the way to spacious villas in the countryside.
If you are looking for a house or apartment to rent, or if you want to buy a house, this guide will help you through the process of creating a new home in Switzerland.
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Renting a House or an Apartment
If you want to know how to rent an apartment in Switzerland, know that your choices are many, but you need to act fast. Nearly half of the housing market in Switzerland is made of rentals. Competition is stiff, and this competition is reflected in the high prices. Expats moving to Geneva, Zurich, Lausanne, or Basel should expect to pay more and take a longer time to find a place. See our section on short-term rentals for tips on how to find temporary lodging during your search.
Average Rent in Switzerland
The average rent in Switzerland fluctuates broadly between cities and countryside as well as from canton to canton. On the whole, Switzerland rent prices are expensive, and reasonably priced places can be snapped up within 24 hours. Across the country, the minimum housing rent rarely drops below 1,000 CHF (1,020 USD) per month. When negotiating your salary in Switzerland, it is best to look at the average cost of living in your particular canton.
If you want to know how much the rent is in Switzerland, here is a look at the average rent prices for one- and three-bedroom apartments in the most and least expensive cities.
One-Bedroom Average Rent
Most Expensive Cities One-Bedroom Monthly Rent CHF One-Bedroom Monthly Rent USD Geneva 2,000 2,400 Zurich 1,800 2,500
Cheapest Cities One-Bedroom Monthly Rent CHF One-Bedroom Monthly Rent USD Uri 1,400 2,500 Glarus 1,300 1,330
Three-Bedroom Average Rent
Most Expensive Cities Three-Bedroom Monthly Rent CHF Three-Bedroom Monthly Rent USD Geneva 3,720 3,790 Zurich 3,320 3,380
Cheapest Cities Three-Bedroom Monthly Rent CHF Three-Bedroom Monthly Rent USD Uri 2,600 2,500 Glarus 1,500 1,530
Renting in Switzerland as a Foreigner
As one of the most popular expat relocation countries, renting in Switzerland as a foreigner is easy. As a foreigner, your biggest obstacle will be the frustrating loop of needing a Swiss bank account in order to sign a Swiss lease, but also needing a lease in order to open a Swiss bank account. To learn more about opening a bank account, see our section on Banking and Taxes in Switzerland.
How to Find Housing
There are several ways to search for housing in Switzerland. Because housing options are limited and prices are sky-high, it is best to contact professionals that can find you the home of your dreams.
To find the greatest selection, you need to look online. Online housing sites used most by expats are:
Local papers print an ‘available properties’ listing once a week. You can find these at newsstands, grocery stores, or anywhere newspapers are sold. Ask a local resident on which day the property listings are printed, or visit a real estate office and ask them. You can also browse the online portals of some Swiss news sites such as The Local.
Real Estate Agents
Whereas in some countries it is more common to work directly with a property’s landlord, Switzerland’s rental market is run nearly 100% by real estate agents. Because competition for housing is so rampant, agents often will not advertise their property or services because they do not need to, and the properties get scooped up too quickly. Instead, when a property becomes available, agents contact those who have already made direct inquiries at their office. If you are looking for a real estate agent in Switzerland, contact our experts for more information.
As with anywhere that you move, you can often receive the most help from personal connections. Ask coworkers or your HR department for housing recommendations. Joining a local expat group such as InterNations is also a great way to network and see if anyone knows of any property vacancies.
Things to Know: Useful Tips
Two Rooms, but One Bedroom
Properties in Switzerland are listed according to the number of “living” spaces, meaning both the bedroom(s) and living room. For example, a “two-room” apartment will have one bedroom and one living room; a “three-room” apartment will have two bedrooms and a living room. A “1/2” (or “a half”) can refer to any type of extra room: an office, large entry way, or outdoor patio. For example, a property listed as having 2.5 rooms will have one bedroom, one living room, a bathroom and a kitchen, and an extra space that can be used for anything.
Furnished or Unfurnished
You can find both furnished and unfurnished apartments in Switzerland. Most long-term rentals will come unfurnished. This can include light fixtures and large appliances such as a refrigerator, stove, and dish washing machine. Be sure to ask for specifics when inquiring about a place. Also keep in mind that looking for a furnished place will limit your options and be more expensive.
Rental Process and Rules
The requirements for a rental contract and deposit in Switzerland are fairly uniform throughout country with only a few minor differences from canton to canton. A standard long-term rental contract is good for twelve months, but can also be signed for up to three or five years. If you have a multi-year lease, be sure that it mentions whether or not you will be subject to annual rent increase.
It is common for leases to start on the 25th of the month. In some cantons, yearly contracts are renewed in March, June, September, and December. The lease should list the rent of the previous tenant. If it does not, it may be considered invalid.
Unless noted in the contract, the lease cannot be terminated by the tenant. Should you wish to terminate your lease early, tenant laws allow you to do so only if you find a suitable tenant to take over the lease. This tenant must abide by the same rental contract that you originally agreed to. The rental contract can be terminated by the landlord, but not easily as housing laws in Switzerland are incredibly pro-tenant. The benefit of that is that you cannot be easily evicted.
A condition report is considered part of the lease agreement. This report lists the condition of every item in the property upon moving in: the walls, electrical sockets, windows, doors, etc. Be sure to go over this report with your landlord and take photos of anything that could come into question when you move out. When corresponding with your landlord, always do it in formal writing and keep documents for yourself.
A Rental Deposit in Switzerland
A deposit in Switzerland cannot exceed more than three months’ rent. This deposit should be returned to you at the end of the contract unless the apartment needs to be cleaned or repaired. A fee for these items should be listed in your rental contract.
It is also important to note that utility bill payments are usually included in your rental contract, and it is common practice to simply switch the old tenant’s name to the new tenant.
Requirements and Documents for Renting in Switzerland
Rental applications in Switzerland may be more comprehensive than what you have experienced when renting in other countries. In addition to a Swiss bank account, other information you will need to provide to rent in Switzerland includes, but is not limited to:
- personal information such as your age, marital status, and number of children;
- employee contract;
- letter of reference from your employer;
- document stating your salary;
- your residency or visa status;
- copy of your passport;
- document stating you are not being pursued for outstanding debt or legal prosecution (in Switzerland’s different official languages, this may be called an extrait du Registre des poursuites or Auszug aus dem Betreibungsregister or estratto del registro dell’Ufficio delle Esecuzioni e Fallimenti).
There may be some slight differences from canton to canton.
Many expats choose to stay in a hotel when they first arrive in a new country and need to search for a more permanent home, but in Switzerland this is inadvisable. With the limited housing available, your home search could easily last a month or two (or longer if you are in a city like Geneva or Zurich). Even when you find the perfect place, securing it is not a guarantee as you may be competing against many other applicants.
Because the cost for a hotel could get quite expensive and can feel too cramped after a month or more, expats may want to consider the option of a short-term rental. The average price for a short-term rental is often cheaper than a hotel’s daily rate and most come fully furnished. In addition to the usual sharing economy apps, expats can consider serviced apartments, sublets, or scroll through UMS for temporary rentals.
Short-Term Rentals: What Documents do I Need
If you find a monthly furnished rental with a lease contract, you will need the same documents as you would for a long-term lease: passport, employee contract, proof of no outstanding legal prosecution, etc. If there is no lease needed, then all you should need is your original passport.
Short-Term Rentals: Things to Know
Although staying in a short-term rental is ideal while looking for a more permanent place, you should still begin your search for a short-term rental at least one month prior to your arrival in Switzerland. This is because, just like long-term rentals, short-term rentals can be slightly limited and the earlier you start looking the more likely you are to land a prime location without having to pay an exorbitant fee.
Buying Property as a Foreigner
Just as with renting an accommodation, those interested in how to buy a house as a foreigner in Switzerland will find the process easy, but limited. With over half of the housing market being dominated by rentals, owning a home is not common in Switzerland, especially in the cities. However, expats can still find viable options if they have the time and money. Read this short guide to buying a house in Switzerland to learn more.
Switzerland House Prices
Like the rental market, the housing prices in Switzerland are steep and have been gradually rising over the past decade. Expats moving to Zurich will face the steepest costs, as the city continually lands amongst the ten most expensive cities in the world.
Average Housing Prices for All Property Types
City Price Per Square Meter (CHF) Price Per Square Meter (USD) Zurich 12,500 12,760 Maloja 11,750 11,990 Geneva 11,250 11,480 Lausanne 9,750 9,950
If where you live in Switzerland does not matter, the best deals can be found away from the cities in towns like Neuchâtel and Valais, where prices are as low as 3,500 CHF (3,570 USD).
Types of Property Available in Switzerland
Depending on where you live in Switzerland, you can find nearly every type of property to suit any sized family and lifestyle. Housing varies from apartments to standalone homes, farms, and even exquisite chateaus. However, keep in mind that the majority of homeowners find their homes in the countryside.
Requirements to Buy a Property in Switzerland
As a foreigner, you will face few restrictions in Swiss home ownership. Some restrictions may be imposed at the local level only, so check with your specific canton for more details.
The biggest restriction is your residency. Besides Swiss nationals, the only people able to buy property in Switzerland are EU/EFTA nationals with Swiss residency or foreigners with permanent residency or Permit C (see our section on Visas and Work Permits for more information). If you fall into one of these two categories, you may purchase property for investment, commercial or residential use, or as a holiday home.
However, you do not have to be a permanent Swiss resident to buy a house. You can be a temporary resident as well, with a permit B or L, yet that limits your choices. As a non-EU/EFTA citizen and a holder of permit B or L, you can only own one property in Switzerland and it can only be for residential purposes. You will also need to make a special case for buying a property that is larger than 3,000 square meters.
Can I Buy a House in Switzerland for Citizenship?
It is not possible to buy a house in Switzerland just to get citizenship. It is also not a requirement to buy a house in order to get a visa: temporary or permanent.
Process and Steps for Buying a House in Switzerland
This process of buying a house in Switzerland is fairly standard as what is found in most western European countries. Once you have found a place you like, there are two main steps:
Step One: Get a Mortgage
Before you make an offer on a house you must have a mortgage. Given how expensive Switzerland is, it may surprise you to learn that mortgage rates are fairly low, hovering around 4 to 5%. To get a mortgage, you must have a Swiss residency permit. How much you borrow will determine the offer you can make on your new, Swiss property.
Step Two: Offer and Escrow
Once your offer has been accepted, you may need to pay a deposit. This will then be held in escrow until the housing agreement is signed by all parties.
Property transfer in Switzerland is handled by a notary public official. This person works on behalf of the buyer and the seller, whereas estate agents may work more on the behalf of the seller. Typically, the buyer chooses the notary. Contact InterNations if you need assistance finding the right one for you. The notary will create the housing contract, hold the buyer’s deposit until everything is finalized, and register the change of ownership.
When setting up utilities in Switzerland, you will mainly need water, electricity, TV, and internet. Gas is not common throughout Switzerland. There are plenty of utility companies to choose from, and it is usual practice to stick with the companies used by the previous tenant.
If you are renting an apartment, water and electric should be included in the rental contract. The only thing you will need to do is call the utility companies and have them switch out the previous tenant’s name with your name. They will create a brand-new contract for you. However, if you rent a house, you may need to set up all new utilities on your own.
As with nearly everything in Switzerland, utilities are handled at the cantonal level. If you are just switching the names on utility contracts, you should only need to provide your name, new address, passport or residency information, and your landlord’s contact information. If you are setting up the utilities for the very first time—meaning without simply switching the name—then you may need extra information such as a bank statement. Extra documents, however, are a canton by canton basis.
Important Things to Know
Swiss residents are responsible for paying a garbage collection fee. The monthly fee varies by canton and size. The most expensive fee is in Zurich, which ranges from the lowest, 17 liters for about 1 CHF (1 USD), to the most expensive, 100 liters for about 6 CHF (6 USD).
TV and Radio Licensing Fee
Whether you want to watch TV shows on an actual television or on your laptop, you will need a Billag license. Billag is the Swiss government’s TV and radio licensing program. It is not the same as paying for cable and it will cost about 15 CHF (15 USD) per month.
Many expats take issue with paying this licensing fee as it is not common in other countries. However, not paying for Billag is rarely an option. Even owning a car with a car radio requires you to pay for Billag. Streaming any content on your laptop requires Billag. Furthermore, Billag has been known to do drop-in inspections and not having paid the monthly fee can lead to a nearly 5,000 CHF (5,100 USD) fine.
Internet and Mobile Phones
As with other home utilities, setting up the internet and your cell phone will be one of the first things you will want to do upon arrival in Switzerland. One of the easiest ways to set up the internet is by switching your name with the previous tenant on the utility contract. A mobile phone plan, however, will have to be started completely anew.
If you want to know how to get a phone number or a Swiss SIM card, the process is standard. As with most countries, if you are moving to Switzerland long-term, you will want to sign up for a monthly plan. You can get a Swiss SIM card that allows for a monthly plan if you have a temporary visa. However, you can only sign up for a permanent cell phone plan if you only have a permanent visa.
Swiss telecommunication companies offer an array of packages from pre-paid plans to premium packages that include unlimited minutes and texting.
You will be asked to sign a 12- or 24-month contract. Most 12-month contracts come with the offer of a new phone, free of charge, but check with your chosen company before ditching your old device.
To get a long-term plan, and not just a tourist plan, you may be asked to submit these documents:
- proof of Swiss residency
- passport and/or Swiss visa status
- work permit or employee contract
- Swiss social security number
- Swiss bank account
How to Watch your Home Country’s TV in Switzerland
Switzerland welcomes foreigners from across the globe and because of this Swiss television already offer many international TV stations and viewing options. However, if you cannot find your favorite shows and channels from back home, you may consider buying a VPN to watch your home country’s TV in Switzerland.
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