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Are you looking to move to Switzerland soon? Probably the first thing to action on any to-do list is sorting out somewhere to live. Around 60% of people in Switzerland rent their accommodation and the big cities of Geneva, Zurich and Lausanne have the highest percentage of people living in rented properties with 9 out 10 people in these cities renting.

In most EU member states however, owning is rather more common than renting – with 70 % of the EU population now living in their own home (2019), and the remaining 30 % renting. Romania has the highest share of own home ownership at 96 %, while in Germany, the split between renting and owning is almost equal with 49% of the population renting.

There are several reasons why the majority of people in Switzerland choose to rent rather than buy, including the fact that many apartments are built to a very high standard, and it is therefore not a hardship to rent. But from a purely financial perspective, real estate in Switzerland is very expensive and mortgages are only available for those with a 20% deposit – so as a result, most people just rent.

If you are moving to Switzerland soon and already know that you have to be in a specific city or area location, it is worth checking out the surrounding areas first before making a final decision. City centre rents are usually much more expensive than those in smaller towns and villages 20 or 30 km away from the city centre. And with excellent transport links in Switzerland, it may be worth considering a short train commute in the morning to save on accommodation rental.

If you have still not decided on where exactly to live and do have a choice of which area, the following information should help:

  • It is often recommended that accommodation rent should not exceed one third of gross income, in order to ensure a good work-life balance.
  • The average rent for an unfurnished  2-3 bedroomed apartment (known as a 3-4 room apartment in Switzerland as the kitchen also counts as a room) is CHF 1’322 (2017 Federal Statistic Office).
  • The highest rents were recorded in the wealthy, low tax cantons of Zug, Zurich and Schwyz.
  • The cheapest rental accommodation can be found in the cantons of Jura and Neuchâtel (both in the French part of Switzerland) as well as in the eastern Swiss canton of Glarus – which is approximately 1 hour from Zurich by train.
  • Swiss tax rates also vary depending on several factors including the canton of residence, marital status, whether your spouse is earning, and how many dependent children you have. Check out our tax calculator to learn more.
  • Searching for a place to live can be made easier through looking at the following web-portals homegate.ch and www.immoscout24.ch
  • Most apartment owners will require a deposit. Working with organisations such as Swisscaution can enable the person renting to organise a deposit easily and without providing the funds themselves.
  • The information you will be required to furnish when renting an apartment in Switzerland can be found on Immodating.
  • Finally, assuming you do opt to live outside one of the main cities, information on public train transport prices can be found on Swiss railway portal.

Many international companies are located in or near the major cities of Geneva, Lausanne and Zurich. This is logically where many of the expatriate jobs are found. There are some alternative towns and villages within commuting distance of these growing centres.

Although not the capital of Switzerland, Zurich is considered by many to be the main city. It is the leading financial hub of the country and home to the internationally renowned ETH University – ranked sixth in the Global University Rankings in 2021.

According to the Mercer Cost of Living Survey, Zurich is the 4th most expensive city in the world to live in, and average apartment rents in Zurich are some of the highest in the country. There are many comparison websites out there, but as a rule of thumb in the city centre expect to pay around CHF 2’000 per month  for a one-bedroom flat, and CHF 4’000 or more per month for 3 bedrooms.

However, living just a short commute outside of the main city of Zurich can literally save thousands of Swiss francs over the course of a year. Some alternative towns within a relatively short commute to Zurich are:

  • Wädenswil, Thalwil, Kilchberg, Küsnacht and Zollikon all with good transport links into the city centre.
  • Another great place to live and within a short commute to Zurich is Winterthur. This is a vibrant town with many ex-pats and foreign communities there.
  • A little bit further out of the city, but still within approximately 1 hour commute of the centre of Zurich are the towns of St. Gallen and Chur (1hour 14 mins) which is also near the Ski areas of Flims, Laax and Lenzerheide.

In the French part of Switzerland, Lausanne is also home to a prestigious university: the EPFL was recently ranked 14th in the Global University Rankings and is home to many of the most successful Swiss tech. start up’s.

  • The median price of a 1-bedroom apartment in Lausanne is reportedly around the CHF 1’000 mark with a 3-bedroom apartment costing on average approximately CHF2’600.
  • Medium sized towns such as Nyon or Morges along the lake are generally less expensive than in Lausanne city centre and sites such as immomapper can help the searcher locate a suitable rental apartment.
  • Away from the lake and more in the country are the quieter villages of Aubonne (25 minutes to Lausanne) and Gimel (30 minutes to Lausanne). However, both these areas require a car to get to.

Geneva – which is probably known as being the most French city in Switzerland is also one of the most expensive places to live in Switzerland and now ranked seventh most expensive city in the world according to the Economist.

Many expatriates on “average” wages find Geneva too expensive to live in, and the temptation to live in nearby France is hard to resist.

  • Towns such as Annemasse – 8 kilometers from Geneva located in the Haute Savoie by car and Ferney Voltaire only 6 km north of Geneva Airport are two towns popular with workers from Geneva.
  • One useful website to look for rental accommodation in these areas is the Housing Anywhere site.

Moving can be exciting and to Switzerland should be no different. With its unique and beautiful scenery, world class services and exacting standards, life in Switzerland can best be described as being very comfortable. But all this comes at a price: the cost of living is high and one of the main components of living is accommodation. Finding the right accommodation at an affordable price is challenging but not impossible. We hope this brief insight will prove useful to those of you about to move to Switzerland!

As Switzerland’s most trusted payroll provider, Accurity GmbH has over 20 years’ experience providing clients  with the best advice about their payroll, pensions and social security and living options ensuring they make the right decisions. If you would like to speak with one of our team of experts, simply contact us now. If you are  looking to move to Switzerland soon, contact our team today to see how we can make Switzerland easy for you!