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Can foreigners buy property in Switzerland?

Can foreigners buy property in Switzerland?
Photo: AFP
Switzerland’s foreign population is around 25 percent, while tens of thousands make the move Swiss-wards each year. Can foreign nationals buy a home in Switzerland?

Despite the uncertainty that abounds in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, one major constant in the Swiss economy has been property prices. 

As we reported earlier this year, while many experts feared that real estate market in Switzerland would collapse during the health crisis, the opposite has happened: rents, as well as purchase prices for houses and apartments have risen.

READ MORE: What does the coronavirus mean for Switzerland’s property market?

So with buying becoming a more attractive option for whoever can afford it, can foreigners in Switzerland buy property? 

And what are the rules? 

Here’s what you need to know. 

Can foreigners buy a home in Switzerland? 

The short answer to the question is ‘yes’, but a lot will depend on your legal status with regard to residency, the type of property you want to purchase and the country – and canton – in which you reside. 

Generally speaking, foreigners who legally reside in Switzerland will be allowed to purchase property, whether that be as an investment or for somewhere to live. 

READ MORE: Eight reasons why buying a Swiss home is easier than you think

Foreigners who live abroad are must abide by certain rules – popularly known as Lex Koller rules – when purchasing property in Switzerland. 

Can foreigners living in Switzerland purchase property? 

First things first, check your residency status. 

If you are living in Switzerland as an EU/EFTA citizen or have a C permit, you can purchase property – indeed you have the same rights as Swiss citizens when it comes to purchasing property. 

You do not need a permit or any additional permissions that a Swiss citizen would not require to purchase property. 

What about ‘third-country nationals’ who live in Switzerland? 

OK, so you might not be an EU/EFTA citizen, but you live in Switzerland from a non-EU country – making you a ‘third-country national’. 

If you have legal residency here (i.e. a B permit), you can buy property in Switzerland – provided you plan to live in the property (i.e. an owner-occupied flat/condominium, build on land which you own or a move into a family house). 

According to Swiss government information, in order to satisfy the residency requirement this will usually be a B Permit for foreign nationals. 

You will also need to continue living in the residence for the time you live in Switzerland. If you are building on land you own, you will need to do so within a year of purchasing the land. 

Where will third-country nationals need a permit? 

If the above does not apply – i.e if you will not live in the property and want to use it as an investment or if you do not have sufficient residency – you are likely to need a permit to buy property in Switzerland. 

According to the Swiss government, third-country nationals looking to own a holiday apartment, housing unit in a building or hotel or a second home will need to get a permit in order to do so.

This is where the ‘Lex Coller’ comes in. The Lex Coller is the set of rules for people to buy flats, houses or apartments in Switzerland who do not satisfy the above criteria.  

OK then, so how do I get one of these permit things? 

Cantons, baby.

This is regulated by the canton – so get in touch with your cantonal land registry office or inspectorate to get more information. 

Contact details can be found at the following link – you’ll just need to put in your municipality number and you’ll be redirected. 

The Lex Coller itself is complex and difficult to explain, with any number of exceptions and conditions. While some information is available at the following link, the best idea is to chat with a lawyer or property advisor about the matter. 

What about commercial real estate? 

Alright then Mr Big Bucks, that’s a whole other kettle of fish. 

Generally speaking foreigners are not restricted from acquiring commercial real estate provided it is non-residential, although the legal situation is a little shaky. 

The Legal Affairs Committee of the Swiss National Council recently banned the purchase of commercial real estate in Switzerland by foreign nationals in some cases. 

I bought a flat in Switzerland – do I now get a residency permit? 

No. This is emphatically ruled out by the Swiss government. 

“Owning real estate in Switzerland does not confer any entitlement to a residence permit,” says the official guidance. 

READ MORE: How wealthy foreigners can ‘buy’ a Swiss residence permit

Is the law likely to change? 

The status quo has remained for some time in Switzerland despite efforts to change it, therefore it doesn’t appear there will be changes anytime soon. 

In early 2017, the Swiss government proposed changes that would have made it more difficult to foreigners to buy both property and blocks of land in Switzerland.

The proposals also envisaged tighter restrictions on the purchase of commercial property and on investment in real estate firms as a way to close loopholes in the current legislative framework.

READ MORE: Switzerland snubs tougher rules on foreign property ownership

Supporters of the changes had argued foreign investors were pushing up property prices and rents in Switzerland.

But opponents said the restrictions would harm the country’s economic growth. They also argued population growth and a desire for more square metres were pushing up prices, and not foreign investors.

After a consultation process, the Swiss government has said there is no need for further action at this time. It will, however, look at the possible limits on foreign investment in Swiss firms in specific circumstances.

 Note: As with all of our guides, please keep in mind that this is intended as information only and does not constitute legal advice. For more specific advice to your set of personal circumstances, please contact a lawyer or property advisor. 


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