Swiss Buyers' Info
Property Types in Switzerland
Are properties "freehold"?
Yes. Even apartments are ‘freehold’. You will have a share of the whole building and the communal parts and an exclusive right to use your own apartment.
All the apartment owners are bound together in a kind of residents association (known as a “co-propriety”), which sets out the rules of the house (e.g. the laundry room to be used only between certain hours). The owners have complete control over the building and at the annual meeting they will appoint an Administrator who will deal with the day to day running of the property. The annual meeting will set the budget for the forthcoming year, vote on suggestions made by the administrator and apartment owners, and review any problems.
Similar arrangements are often made for a community of several chalets which will often share costs for snow clearance and gardening.
Property Restrictions for Foreigners
Are there restrictions on what I can buy as a foreigner?
Yes, there are restrictions imposed at a national (federal) level, at the regional level (by the cantons) and even at a local level (by each commune). These restrictions limit where foreigners may buy, what type of property they may buy and even the size of the property is restricted.
It is worth noting that, foreigners living outside Switzerland (who do not have a Swiss Residence permit) may only buy a residential property which is in a tourist area. They are not permitted to buy in the cities such of Geneva, Basel and Zurich as these areas are for primary residences; not for holiday homes. Foreigners are permitted to buy chalets and apartments which are classed as second homes (holiday homes) in most Swiss ski resorts and also by the lake in Montreux as these are in tourist areas.
Some of the restrictions on foreign ownership of second homes are set by the Swiss Confederation and apply universally across all the 26 Cantons, and others are set by each Canton itself.
Details of the federal (national), cantonal (regional) and communal (local) restrictions on property purchase by foreigners are provided in the next two FAQs.
What restrictions are there at a national level?
Restrictions on the purchase of property in Switzerland were introduced in the 1960s and are now governed by two key laws; the Lex Koller and Lex Weber.
The Lex Koller established a permit system so only certain residential properties are eligible to be owned by a foreign buyer.
The Federal government issues only 1,500 permits annually for the whole of Switzerland and allocates these to the cantons. Touristic cantons such as Valais receive the most permits so it is easiest for foreigners to buy in those. Many cantons do not take any of the permits so it is not possible for foreigners to buy in cantons such as Geneva.
The Lex Koller restricts the total plot size that may be sold to foreigners to 1,000m2 and the habitable area of the chalet to 200m2 net (in practice this can be increased to 250m2).
Your Swiss notary will apply for a permit to the Cantonal authority where the property is situated before commencing the purchase procedure. This usually takes between 4 and 6 weeks but will be less if the property is already owned by a foreigner.
In 2012 the Swiss decided in a referendum that no new building permits will be given for the construction of second homes in communes where second homes already make up 20% or more of the total residential property stock. This is a federal law applying to the whole of Switzerland and to Swiss residents as well as to foreigners. As almost all ski resorts fall in to that category it is no longer possible to buy a plot of land and build a new chalet on it.
There are still some developments where building permits were secured before the rule change so there are still a few new chalets and apartments with second home status being built. We still have some developments where foreigners can buy a new chalet or apartment in Grimentz, in Saas Fee and in Andermatt (where there is a special exemption).
When these last properties are sold there will not be any more second home status properties. It will still be possible to buy a new build ski property in developments that provide a range of hotel style services and facilities. It must also be professionally rented when you are not using it. One example is the Saastal Village in Saas Fee.
What restrictions are there at a regional/local level?
Each of the 26 Cantons (member states of the Swiss Confederation) has its own constitution, legislature, government and courts, so it should come as no surprise that each canton has different rules on the purchase of property for foreigners. These even vary from one commune to another within the same canton.
Listed below are the all the major Swiss ski resorts where foreigners may buy in Switzerland and the restrictions which apply.
Buying a Ski Property in Canton Berne
Foreigners are permitted to buy property in Canton Berne in the famous resort of Gstaad, and in the popular traditional ski resorts such as Wengen and Grindelwald in the picturesque Jungfrau Region.
Foreigners may resell at any time (although they will pay a higher capital gains tax rate if they sell within 5 years).
Occasionally properties for foreigners come on the market in the less known resorts such as Adelboden, and Meiringen and even on the lake in Interlaken, Brienz and Unterseen. There is a Cantonal rule that only 50% of apartments in any building may be sold to foreigners but that still leaves plenty of choice in most resorts. The communes apply other restrictions:
Grindelwald allows foreigners to purchase chalets or apartments but only over a threshold value of 750.000 Sfrs (so that cheaper properties are available only for locals).
Wengen and Lauterbrunnen do not have a minimum purchase price but foreigners may only buy apartments, they are not permitted to buy detached chalets. There is a good choice of properties available in Wengen but they sell quickly as this is one of our best sellers so check our Wengen stock frequently.
Mürren is open for foreigners but you simply will not get your hands on a chalet or apartment here as most are passed down through the generations. When they do come up on the open market (which is rarely) they are snapped up by locals. We have been selling ski properties in the Jungfrau region for 30 years and have never listed a property in Mürren!
Gstaad has many foreign owners and some chose to make it their primary residence and tax base and to semi-retire here.
Interlaken and other communes around the lake have given permission for some properties to be sold to foreigners.
Buying a Ski Property in Canton Graubünden
Home to the glitzy resorts of Davos, Klosters and St. Moritz, Canton Graubünden is one of the trickier Cantons in which to purchase a ski property.
There are very few opportunities for foreigners to buy in the St. Moritz area but Klosters decided in 2018 to allow foreigners to buy so contact us for availability in this premier resort.
All the other resorts in Graubünden such as Davos, Lenzerheide, Arosa Laax and Flims have some properties for foreigners but again they are rare. Generally it is much easier for foreigners to buy in Western Switzerland (Valais) than in Eastern Switzerland.
Buying a Ski Property in Canton Obwalden
Engelberg is the only major ski resort in Obwalden and although foreigners are permitted to buy there are few properties on the market.
Buying a Ski Property in Canton Uri
The redevelopment of Andermatt is such a major project that the Federal government gave it a special exemption from the permit system. Foreigners are permitted to buy in the Andermatt resort and are even allowed to buy in a company name (Swiss or foreign) - that is not permitted in the rest of Switzerland. Andermatt is a huge success story. There is range of new build property from studios starting at 300,000 sfrs to chalets for several million francs so take a look.
Buying a Ski Property in Canton Valais
Valais is home to most of the well-established Swiss ski resorts, especially those visited by foreign buyers and takes up to 330 of the annual quota of permits for foreign buyers.
Among the best known resorts in Valais are Zermatt, Verbier, Nendaz, Crans Montana, Grimentz, and Saas Fee and foreigners can buy freely in all of them except in Zermatt.
Zermatt is entirely off limits to foreign buyers. The are no exceptions or ways around it. Swiss nationals and foreigners who are resident in Switzerland (having a B or C residence permit and who are nationals of an EU country) may buy in Zermatt but some properties are reserved only for “locals” who are residing and paying their taxes in in Zermatt.
Saas Fee is open to foreigners. It is a good alternative to Zermatt as it is also a high-altitude attractive village with glacier skiing. Prices are about a third of what you would pay in Zermatt and we have a good range of apartments and chalets.
Verbier and the 4 Vallees Resorts – La Tzoumaz, Nendaz, Les Collons and Veysonnaz – are fairly open to foreign buyers with permits available to foreigners for both new and resale apartments and chalets.
Grimentz, St. Luc and Zinal in the Val d’Anniviers have permits for foreigners but most opportunities are in Grimentz where we still have some new build second home chalets and apartments.
Champery and Les Crosets are Swiss resorts in the Portes du Soleil ski area which straddles both France and Switzerland and foreigners may buy.
Leukerbad has a unique offering of thermal spa waters and skiing and is open to foreigners.
Crans-Montana has apartments and luxury chalets for foreigners and is good choice for a second home, as it is sunny and even has a golf course.
A Cantonal rule applying to all the resorts in Valais prohibits foreigners from selling their property within 5 years of buying. There are exemptions if you can prove ill-health or financial problems you may resell provided that you do not make a profit.
Buying a Ski Property in Canton Vaud
Canton Vaud has relatively few restrictions on property purchase for foreigners and there is a varied range of properties available.
Villars is the best known of the resorts and many foreigners have bought there as it is just 90 minutes from Geneva and is a pleasant all year round resort.
Chateau d’Oex and Rougemont are close to Gstaad but it is easier and cheaper to buy in these resorts than in their more famous neighbour.
Will new properties continue to come on the market?
Yes, but not many.
In 2012 in a referendum the Swiss decided that no new building permits should be given for the construction of second homes in resorts where second homes already make up 20% of total property.
There are still some valid permits for new builds which were given before the new law. When those are sold there will be no more new second homes permits given to any of the Swiss ski resorts. There is a special exemption too for properties in Andermatt.
It will be possible, however, for foreigners to buy apartments or chalets in developments which offer hotel style services and facilities provided also that it is professionally managed and rented when the owner is not using it.
So properties which have a spa and wellness area, a reception and concierge services, a restaurant or breakfast room, laundry service, or room service could be classified as “tourist” residences and could be bought by foreigners.
New developments of this type are already beginning to appear on the market, in the Valais in particular, and are selling well.
Many buyers appreciate these facilities and services (particularly cleaning, linen and laundry services) as this allows them to enjoy their family holiday to the full or gives them more time and better facilities to entertain friends. An increasing proportion of buyers like to rent their property when they are not using it so are attracted by a professional rental arrangement like this which is trouble-free. One example is the Saastal Village in Saas Fee.
Some developers have completely renovated old chalets and hotels so they are effectively “new” buildings but they have second home status so you are not obliged to rent them.
Can I buy more than one property in Switzerland?
No. Foreigners may only buy one property in Switzerland.
You are not permitted to buy a second property in the name of your husband/wife but if you have children over the age of 20 they may purchase properties in their own name.
If you already own a property as a foreigner then you may inherit a property.
Are there restrictions on reselling?
Some Cantons such as Valais and Vaud prohibit foreigners from re-selling their property within 5 years but the restriction will be waived if you have a good reason to sell (ill health, financial problems) and you do not make a profit.
Other cantons such as Berne and Obwalden allow you to re-sell your property immediately but you will pay a higher capital gains tax if you sell in the first 5 years.
Purchase Process and Costs
What are the purchase costs?
All the purchase costs are payable by the purchaser. The vendor does not pay. When you come to sell your property you do not pay notary fees.
Switzerland is one of the cheapest countries in Europe to buy or sell a property. The total purchase fees (which include the notary’s fee, land registry fees and taxes) are between 2.5% and 5% of the purchase price and vary from Canton to Canton. Notaries fees and buyer's taxes are set by the local authorities in Switzerland and will be determined on a charging scale depending on factors such as mortgage, purchase price. Approximate total costs are below:
Canton Bern (Lauterbrunnen, Wengen and Grindelwald)
- Total purchase costs are 3% of the purchase price.
- Total purchase costs are 2.5% of the purchase price.
- Total purchase costs for newbuild purchases in Andermatt are 0.4% of purchase price. This is split between buyer & vendor.
- Total purchase costs usually range from 2.5% to 3.8% of the purchase price
- Total purchase costs are 5% of the purchase price
This is charged on a sliding scale which varies in different cantons. In Canton Valais it is usually a sliding scale starting at 1% until 200k CHF, 0.8% until 500k and approximately 0.7% over 1m CHF. In Canton Vaud it is calculated on a sliding scale starting at 0.6% of the amount borrowed but decreasing to 0.44%. When buying a resale property you may take over the existing mortgage deed and avoid the charge for registration. You could borrow from the same bank as the vendor or they could pay the loan off and you can use the mortgage deed to borrow from another bank.
Canton Bern (Lauterbrunnen, Wengen and Grindelwald)
- Total purchase costs are 3% of the purchase price.
- Total purchase costs are 2.5% of the purchase price.
- Total purchase costs usually range from 2.5% to 3.8% of the purchase price
- Total purchase costs are 5% of the purchase price
Notaries fees and buyer's taxes are set by the local authorities in Switzerland and will be determined on a charging scale depending on factors such as mortgage, purchase price.
What construction guarantees are there?
- New properties: 5 years for visible construction defects, 10 years for hidden defects.
- Resale properties: there are no guarantees.
Do I need a lawyer?
An official Swiss notary of the district will act on behalf of both the purchaser and the vendor. You will pay the deposit and all payments to the notary’s account.
Are foreigner purchase permits ever refused?
Almost never. This is a formality and the permit is usually given in a few weeks. It would only be refused if you already own another property in Switzerland or the property does not comply with the rules.
What do I need to sign?
When buying a new property off plan you will sign a reservation agreement and pay a small deposit. Whatever you are buying you start by completing a civil status questionnaire giving your personal details to the notary who will then apply for a permit for you to buy the property.
Within 30 days of being allocated a permit you must sign the notary’s deed of sale and pay a deposit.
The notary will send you the deed of sale in French or German. Most of the notaries we work with will provide an English translation free of charge.
The notary will also prepare a power of attorney which authorises someone in the notary's office to sign on your behalf so there is no need to travel to Switzerland to sign the sales deed in person.
The notary will also liaise with the bank for the registration of your mortgage.
As a property vendor in Switzerland, when will I receive the sales proceeds?
Usually, the vendor will receive the sales proceeds to their nominated bank account 2 to 3 weeks after the contract is signed.
How does it work if I am buying off-plan?
You will put your money in first and then the bank will make the remaining stage payments as the construction proceeds. Each developer has a different payment structure but typically it would be a deposit of around 30,000 sfrs to reserve a property off plan, 10% when the notary’s deed of sale is signed and then stage payments when the foundations and roof are started. Final payment when the keys are handed over. If you take bank finance then you pay the first 30% and then the bank pays the remaining stage payments.
How much can I borrow from a Swiss bank?
Swiss banks will lend up to 70% of the purchase price. The loan is usually in the form of a current account overdraft secured on the property repayable over 25 years. We can introduce you to a bank which has all the documentation in English and is used to dealing with International clients.
If you are a United States citizen it is very difficult to borrow from a Swiss bank but we have found a bank which will lend on property in canton Valais – please ask us for details.
How much will the bank charge and what are the interest rates?
Swiss banks do not usually charge a setup fee or require any life insurance. The costs for registering the mortgage varies from one canton to another but will be a maximum of 1.6% of the amount borrowed.
Interest is payable every quarter on the capital balance outstanding over that period. The repayments will therefore be higher in the earlier years but will reduce as the capital is repaid. Swiss interest rates are the cheapest in Europe – they are currently around 1% variable rate or fixed at 1.5% for long term.
Can I pay in pounds or dollars?
The property must be paid for in Swiss Francs.
The best way to transfer money from other currencies into Swiss Francs would be to use a dedicated foreign exchange broker. The benefit of working with a specialist foreign exchange partner is that they offer better rates than the main banks and, as they are specialists, they can advise you on buying currency forward.
We are happy to recommend a number of good foreign exchange brokers with whom we have worked for many years.
Buying in the Name of a Company
Can I purchase in the name of a company?
No, a foreigner must buy in their own name except in the redevelopment of Andermatt.
This is such a large project that the Swiss Federal government gave special permission for foreigners to buy in the name of a Swiss or a foreign company – see properties in Andermatt.
Rental Income and Running Costs
How much can I expect to receive in rental income?
Across the French, Swiss and Austrian Alps, rental yields tend to vary between 3 and 5% depending on a variety of factors such as the resort, the location of the property within resort (ski in, ski out properties demand a premium), the property itself and the facilities.
A common misconception is that if you buy a property in a dual season resort you will generate a greater rental income. While your property will certainly benefit from rental throughout the year rather than just over the winter months, properties in dual season resorts tend to generate a similar rental income to properties in resorts where winter is the main focus. The two main reasons for this are that rental rates are significantly lower in the summer season and many dual season resorts are at a lower altitude meaning they have a shorter winter season.
How easy is it to rent my property?
Local agents can handle the administration, rental and management of your property if you wish to rent. Rental agencies charge around 20% for making bookings so some owners use international rental agents and portals such as Chalets Direct and others even make their own web sites.
Renting your property out when you are not using it will easily provide sufficient income to cover the annual running costs, particularly if you rent out some of the peak weeks (Christmas, New Year, all February, and Easter). In every resort there are companies which will clean and service your property in between rentals.
How much tax will I pay in Switzerland on the rental income?
If you do rent and you chose to complete a Swiss tax form (instead of being assessed on the notional fiscal value) then you will be taxed on the actual rental income received after deducting some expenses and interest on your mortgage. Tax rates vary but you will probably pay around 20% tax.
You may be liable to pay tax in the country in which you are resident but most countries have a dual taxation agreement with Switzerland so you do not pay your tax twice.
What are the annual running costs likely to be?
The annual running costs are not expensive in Switzerland.
The service charges for an apartment building are divided up proportionately between the owners, according to the size of their apartment. These expenses include, the caretaker, maintenance of the building and grounds (snow clearing and gardening), electricity and heating for the common parts. In addition are structural insurance (very cheap in Switzerland) and an allocation to the building’s renovation fund.
The service charge is usually payable annually. Apartments with swimming pools and facilities tend to be more expensive and also the charges vary from canton to canton. Typically they are around 0.5% of the value of the property per year in Valais up to around 0.75% in Vaud. As an example, you would expect to pay around 5,000 sfrs a year service charge for a 3 bedroom apartment.
Additional costs are your own consumption of electricity and water which are cheap in Switzerland as they have hydro-power. Contents insurance is also cheap in Switzerland (there is hardly any crime)!
Chalets are cheap to maintain (particularly if new) as very little maintenance is required.
Do any properties guarantee a rental income?
Such guaranteed are very rare. Currently we do not have any properties giving a guaranteed rental income in Switzerland or France.
Do I have to rent my property when I am not using it?
No. You are free to rent your property (or not) as you wish. The owner, or his friends, or family, are expected to use the property for at least three weeks of the year so the property may not be rented on an annual basis (maximum 11 months and one week). Some larger developments which do not have second home status may have a rental scheme.
Investment and Selling
Is Swiss property a good investment?
As the supply of new second home properties has always been strictly controlled and now the new rules will prohibit all future construction of second homes, Swiss property is a very safe investment. Prices do not increase dramatically but also in troubled times, they do not crash either.
The principal source of profit for foreign investors has been the Swiss Franc, which is one of the strongest currencies in the world. Swiss real estate has historically appreciated on a very steady basis and property in the best ski resorts always appreciates.
What taxes are applicable for property resale?
When you resell your property you will be liable to capital gains tax charged by the canton on the difference between the sales price and the purchase price. When calculating the tax you can deduct the purchase and sales costs (notary fees, sales agent commission) and any special renovations or improvements to the property. The rate of the capital gains tax decreases with each year of ownership, so for example, in Valais it starts at 30% (if you sell within a year) and decreases to 9% after 10 years and down to 1% after 25 years.
You may be liable to pay tax in your country of domicile but Switzerland has a dual taxation treaty with most countries so you will get a credit for any tax paid in Switzerland so you do not pay tax twice.
How does inheritance work on properties in Switzerland?
To manage how your property is devloved, we advise that you either execute a codecil to your existing will and send this to your Swiss notary or request a new separate will be prepared by a Swiss notary.
Inheritance tax is payable in Switzerland but is much lower than in the UK and most European countries. Inheritance tax is a cantonal tax and varies from one canton to another. In most cantons there is no tax between spouses and in Canton Valais (Verbier) there is zero inheritance tax if the property is willed to direct line descendants.
In Canton Vaud (Villars) the tax is progressive - starting at 1.8% for property valued at up to 500,000 Sfrs, rising to 5.068% if the fiscal value of the property is over 1m Sfrs. If the property is registered in the name of more than one person, then tax would be payable only on the share of the property owned by the deceased.
Your estate may be liable to pay tax in the country in which you reside but if there is a dual taxation treaty with Switzerland (as most countries do) you will be given a tax credit for any tax paid in Switzerland.
Annual Property Taxes
What are the annual property taxes?
Foreigners owning a property in Switzerland pay taxes to three bodies - the Federal Government, the Canton, and the Commune. The Canton and local commune taxes vary. Owners have a choice of completing a tax declaration disclosing their worldwide assets or being assessed simply on the fiscal value of their Swiss property. Most owners elect to be assessed.
The tax is calculated on notional rental value of the income which could be derived from the property. That is based on the fiscal or “tax value” of the property (about 60% of the market value). Using this calculation, the total annual taxes are around 0.5% of the market value of the property in Valais but in Vaud taxes are slightly higher at around 0.8%. Canton Valais does not re-assess the fiscal value of properties so you will probably pay the same tax in 10 years’ time as you do today but Canton Vaud revalue properties about every 5 years.
As an example, you would expect to pay total taxes of around 5,000 sfrs a year for a 3 bedroom apartment in Valais and you will pay almost the same annual tax if you decide to rent your apartment or if you prefer to keep it exclusively for your own use.
Staying in Switzerland and Swiss Residency
How long can I stay in Switzerland?
UK citizens - From 1 January 2021 (Brexit) citizens of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland will be treated as “third-country” nationals but they are exempt from visa requirements when entering Switzerland. They are permitted to stay for up to 90 days in any 180 days period (as tourists without working).
Citizens of Schengen (EU) countries - Switzerland has been a member of the Schengen Area since 12 December 2008 so applies the same rules as all Schengen countries – citizens may stay for up to 90 days in any 180-day period.
Citizens of “Third countries” – do I need to apply for a visa?
That depends on your nationality. For stays of up to 90 days many third country nationals do not require a visa but for a full list see offical guidance.
Can I stay longer if I own a property in Switzerland?
Owning a property in Switzerland does not give you any additional rights to enter and stay in Switzerland for longer than 90 days.
Anyone who wants to work during his/her stay in Switzerland or to stay for longer than three months requires a permit. Residence permits are issued by the Cantonal Migration Offices. A distinction is made between short-term residence permits (less than 1 year), annual residence permits (limited) and permanent residence permits (unlimited).
Can I become a resident of Switzerland?
It is much easier for EU passport holders to work and/or reside in Switzerland than other nationals. There are two types of permit - a B permit which gives you the right to reside in Switzerland (but not to work) or a permit which gives both the right to work and residency. When you have obtained a Swiss residence permit you may buy a property which would otherwise not be available to purchase by a foreigner. A useful book if you are considering retiring or working in Switzerland is ‘Living and working in Switzerland’ by David Hampshire (available from Amazon).
Working in Switzerland - you will need a contract of employment from a Swiss company or you could establish your own company or be self-employed but you will need to show that you are creating employment for Swiss nationals have an annual income of over 50,000 Sfrs.
Retiring in Switzerland - you can obtain a B permit if you are over the age of 50 and you can show that you have sufficient financial means and have a private Swiss health insurance cover (it costs around 120 sfrs per month). You must also pay tax in Switzerland. This is known as a “taxe a forfait” and is a fixed 5 year tax deal which your advisor will negotiate in advance with the local tax office. Resorts such as Crans Montana in Valais offer very good tax arrangements and this is a lovely, sunny dual season resort with a golf course so it is also a good choice for retirement.
EC residence permits are valid for five years and will automatically be renewed if the requirements are still satisfied.
NON EU Passport holders – applications are reviewed case by case but generally the requirements, if retiring, are to have reached retirement age (60 years old), not to work in Switzerland, to prove one has sufficient financial means to live in Switzerland without working and to have personal ties in Switzerland.
Square Metre Calculations
How are floor areas calculated for Swiss properties?
Unfortunately there is no law in Switzerland that prescribes how to calculate the living area. As a result there are cantonal differences in how the floor areas of properties are calculated.
In the Canton Vaud - generally speaking - the key figure is the net floor area (net living area plus interior walls and outdoor areas).
In the Canton Valais the gross floor area is applied as the benchmark. Usually this involves taking the square meters of all rooms and the surface of all walls (carriers, non-loaders and facades).
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