Real estate in Switzerland? Searching for property isn’t exactly easy for people from abroad, and the “rental system” is considered complex even for insiders. There is a housing shortage in cities like Geneva, Basel or Zurich. You often need a more than a little bit of luck to sniff out a house or a flat. The following are instructions for how to find your new home.

Switzerland is considered a country of tenants. Around 70 per cent of the resident population does not own their own home and rent instead (low ownership rate). It is also typical of Switzerland that high surcharges are normal for good locations in cities, locations with a nice view and in particular at attractive lake locations. Anyone who arrives from abroad to Switzerland for the first time will usually look for a house or flat near their place of work. But real estate prices in the economic centres of Zurich, Basel or Geneva, for example, are generally high. Geneva and Zurich in particular are considered expensive places. When it comes to renting, this is in a similar league to London, Paris or Berlin.

Real estate search on newhome

Regardless of whether you want to rent a house or just a furnished room at first: By far most offers are advertised on major real estate platforms, such as It’s worth getting a free search subscription to stay up to date on the new offers.

Anyone coming from abroad and starting a job here will usually not buy, but rather rent property at first.

Anja Beck, managing director for residential properties at Engel & Völkers in Zug

The formal hurdles to buying property and real estate in Switzerland are much higher for foreigners. The simple principle applies here: When renting rooms, flats or houses, Swiss and people from abroad are equal when it comes to the law.

Rent property: Profile of the “ideal renter”

But in practice who is awarded a house or a flat? Especially when 100 or 200 applicants apply to an advertisement, as very often happens in Zurich or Geneva? It’s pretty obvious in and of itself which criteria management uses to choose renters: Age, origin or type of household do not play a major role. But what is important: Most prefer reputable, quiet, solvent and reliable renters. If the interested party is from abroad and does not have any address in Switzerland yet, ensuring the rental payments takes an high priority. In this case, it is not uncommon that many real estate administrative offices require a higher deposit or security. If someone is looking for a new home, but does not yet have a “history,” sometimes six or twelve months of rent are required up front.

Landlords usually ask for proof of creditworthiness, whether this is an employment contract or a certification from your employer.

Anja Beck, managing director for residential properties at Engel & Völkers in Zug

It does not matter which from this proof comes in. Proof from your employer is ideal. However, a certification from a fiduciary or a bank may also be considered. As a prospective tenant, you are not legally obligated to provide all of your details here. But in practice it is common that interested renters from abroad to submit proof of employment and detailed proof of their income of their own free will. Of course a confirmed, if possible, longer-term employment with an employer is ideal. The documents should also show that your income is sufficient. Anyone arriving as an entrepreneur or freelancer must also prove they can afford the contractual rent. The rule of thumb is that the rent should not be more than one-fourth of a maximum of one-third of your gross income (before taxes and social deductions).

Rental agreements are usually concluded in writing. The most important elements are the description of the rental property, the contractual partners and the amount of the agreed rent. Today the standard is that ancillary costs are added to the net rent (for heating, hot water, janitor, cleaning, etc.). Tip: Anyone looking on very short notice who hardly has any contacts and also very little command of the language should get help! Consider utilising a real estate broker or relocation specialist. An interesting alternative are also the different forms of temporary housing (fully furnished flats, which are ideal for expats, for example).

Insider tips regarding real estate

Every country has its special characteristics and Switzerland of course is no different:

The majority of the nearly three million rental flats in Switzerland are not furnished, but most are ready to move in with a bathroom and ready-to-use kitchen.

The kitchen, adjoining rooms, halls, etc. are not counted as rooms, but rather as living rooms and bedrooms. Area specifications matter, such as 100 m2 living area (calculated without cellar, stairs or balcony).

Especially in older rental buildings, there is a joint laundry room in the cellar, which is available to renters on a certain weekly schedule. Depending on the age of the building and the price, the flats have individual washing machines with dryers (called a ‘tumbler’ in Switzerland).

A surprisingly high number of flats in Switzerland are privately owned (private persons, families, joint heirships). So it is not always a large professional administrative group who will be your contact.

If an agency of broker office is involved: In Switzerland, it is common that the landlord takes care of these costs in case a rental agreement is reached. The renters do not have to pay broker commissions.

Tips for the search: No one has time to view hundreds of ads every day, not to mention visit them in person. The search is much more efficient with clear criteria (location, size, price, number of rooms) and, as mentioned, with search subscriptions! Direct contact with administrative offices or brokers helps even more. Anyone arriving in Switzerland from abroad will usually visit the flat in person before signing a contract. Visualisations in the ads or, if need be, a virtual tour via FaceTime or 3D views, etc. are also very helpful. To be able to check the exterior condition and the living location thoroughly, it is worth visiting in person – in any case before you sign the contract for your new home.

Renting checklist – What documents do you need?

Anyone who is interesting in finding a home in Switzerland first needs to fill out an application form. As a future renter, you should provide information about your personal details, profession, employer, nationality, children, income, pets, need for car parking, etc. and also about your residence status. When renting a property, questions about the type of residence permit and its expiration date are allowed. At a minimum, you need the following documents to apply:

  • Passport or personal Id/identity card
  • Copy of your employment contract or certificate from the employer
  • Proof and information regarding income and, if possible, the duration of the employment
  • Residence or work permit for Switzerland (depending on permit L or B, etc.).
  • General references (previous employers or previous landlords).
  • Current extract from the Swiss debt collection register (document regarding creditworthiness, for people who have already been in Switzerland for more than six months).

For more information on emigrating to Switzerland, click on the following links: