Although accommodation in Switzerland is in line with the country’s reputation for being highly developed, housing is pricey and competition is stiff, even by European standards.
Most people, including locals, rent their homes, which limits the number of available properties. This drives housing prices up, but also leads to apartment hunters spending money on hotels and hostels.
If they can, expats should try to negotiate a housing provision into their employment contract. Some employers even assist their expat employees in securing suitable apartments.
Types of accommodation in Switzerland
Apartments are the most common type of accommodation in Switzerland in large cities such as Geneva or Zurich as well as in smaller towns. Freestanding houses are available but are usually expensive or outside urban areas.
Expats will find that property in Switzerland typically comes unfurnished. Unfurnished can often mean that the place is without light fittings, curtains or even a sink. Expats should budget for the necessary labour if required. In some cases, apartments are equipped with a stove and a refrigerator, and sometimes there is a joint washing machine for the whole apartment block in the cellar.
Expats should note that the inclusion of such amenities does tend to push the price of accommodation up. Additional costs also include rubbish disposal, street and house cleaning, water and heating. Most apartments in Switzerland are equipped with central heating.
Finding accommodation in Switzerland
For those without any support from an employer, resources such as online property portals, local newspapers and real estate agent brochures are good places to start looking for somewhere to rent. Budget-conscious expats may want to use the internet to look for house-sharing and subletting options.
If the internet route doesn't turn up any adequate results, the next option is to use an estate agent. These professionals have intimate knowledge of the property market and are best placed to find new arrivals a home that meets all of their requirements. They can also alert renters to properties that haven't yet been advertised publicly.
Whether expats find a new home directly through an agency or via an advert, they should find out about the rental conditions – there may be extra requirements, like needing a Swiss guarantor.
If the conditions are reasonable, expats can arrange to view the apartment and fill in an application form once they're there. Prospective tenants need to provide a lot of information including proof of employment, identification and finances. This can also include a certificate that proves the applicant isn’t facing legal proceedings for unpaid debts, which can be applied for at a local debt collection office.
Applicants usually hear back from the landlord or their agent within a month, and if they haven’t heard back, they can follow up before the lease starts. Unsuccessful applicants aren’t always contacted.
Renting accommodation in Switzerland
Expats need to act fast after they find a suitable property, as the rental market turnover is fairly high. Apartments in sought-after parts of Switzerland rarely stay on the market for more than a couple of weeks.
Making an application
Prospective tenants usually need to provide proof of employment, ID and bank statements to secure a lease. In some cases, expats may also need a Swiss guarantor to act on their behalf – this will usually be the employer.
Accommodation in Switzerland usually isn't secured on a first-come, first-served basis. Landlords and rental agencies carefully review applications before choosing a tenant they think is the best fit.
After the application is accepted, a handover day is arranged where the tenant usually signs a 12-month lease. This also gives them an opportunity to inspect the property and do an inventory. Rental contracts in Switzerland can begin on the 1st or 15th of a month.
Leases and deposits
Leases in Switzerland are usually for a minimum period of 12 months. Once a tenancy application is approved and signed by both parties, the next step is to carry out an inspection of the property and do an inventory.
Renters are generally required to put down a security deposit that is equivalent to three months' rent. The first month's rent is also required to be paid upfront.
Tenants are usually required to give at least one month's notice if they wish to terminate a lease early.
Properties in Switzerland are usually unfurnished, and the rental price can include extra service charges such as rubbish disposal. Electricity and water bills may or may not be included in the rent price; expats should be sure to enquire which utilities are for an expat's own account when searching for a place to rent.
►For more on local property markets, see Accommodation in Zurich
"Housing in Switzerland is generally very good, but also expensive and difficult to find. There is a housing shortage in Geneva, but it seems most people figure something out."
Read our interview with Melissa for insights into an expat's experience in Switzerland.
Are you an expat living in Switzerland?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Switzerland. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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