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PROPERTY

How can I buy a second home in Switzerland?

Thinking about buying a holiday home in Switzerland? Here’s what you need to know.

Zermatt in the Swiss alps. Photo by Gabriel Garcia Marengo on Unsplash
Zermatt in the Swiss alps. Photo by Gabriel Garcia Marengo on Unsplash

Whether as a holiday home or somewhere to live part of the year, Switzerland is a popular destination for those wanting a second home. 

But whether you are allowed to buy a second home in Switzerland will depend on a variety of factors, including where your main residence is, your nationality, the purposes of the home and other factors. 

The prevalence of second homes in Switzerland has led some authorities to putting in place restrictions on how many there can be in a particular community. 

The Lex Koller rules place restrictions, among other laws, on foreigners buying homes in Switzerland. 

This complicated quota system – explained below – places a premium on second homes in many parts of the country. 

Please keep in mind that this is a broad guide. With Switzerland’s federal system, cantons and municipalities have a lot of power – which can mean the rules are dramatically different in different areas. 

Here’s what you need to know. 

First things first, what is a second home in Switzerland? 

Whether your home is a second home as per Swiss regulations will depend largely on what purposes it is used for. 

There are two categories of second homes in Switzerland: second homes and second places of residence. 

A second place of residence, as the name suggests, is a place where a person lives while working or studying but is not their primary residence. 

Technically speaking, second places of residence are not second homes. 

These are common, for instance, with cross-border workers whose primary residence may be in a neighbouring country but who have a place of residence near their work in Switzerland. 

For more information on cross-border workers buying property please check out the following link. 

READ MORE: Can cross-border workers buy property in Switzerland?

A second home for the purposes of the law is therefore a second residence which is not uses for work or study. 

The official government definition is as follows: 

“In Switzerland, a second home is a house or apartment that is neither used by a person who is resident in the commune concerned nor used for work or education purposes. Second homes are often used either as holiday homes or are rented to private tenants.”

Can foreigners buy homes in Switzerland? 

One important consideration is whether a person is a Swiss citizen/resident or not. 

Generally speaking, foreigners are allowed to buy homes in Switzerland if they reside there. 

More information on that is available at the following link. 

READ MORE: Can foreigners buy property in Switzerland?

As for second homes, while residency will be taken into account, it is not the only factor. 

What are the rules for buying holiday homes in Switzerland? 

Swiss nationals and residents are by and large not restricted from buying a second home in Switzerland as the Lex Koller rules (see below) do not apply to them. 

The rules for buying a second home or holiday home are remarkably complex and are a product of successive efforts to prevent too many houses being owned by people from abroad. 

That said, it is still possible to buy a second home in Switzerland under certain conditions. 

The first and most important legal framework for second home owners is the Lex Koller rule. 

Passed in 1961 and subsequently amended a dozen times, Lex Koller basically means that non-resident foreigners can only buy homes – including second homes – under certain circumstances or based on a permit. 

Put simply, this basically means that if you are not a resident or a citizen, you will need to get permission from the canton or municipality in order to buy. 

However, several cantons are exempt from this requirement. 

In Appenzell Ausserrhoden, Bern, Freiburg, Glarus, Grisons, Jura, Lucerne, Neuchâtel, Nidwalden, Obwalden, St. Gallen, Schaffhausen, Schwyz, Ticino, Uri, Vaud and Valais, you will not need to get permission to buy a holiday home. 

There are rules on what kind of holiday homes can be bought though. The homes need to be under 200 square metres* and the plot itself must be less than 1,000 metres. 

*The 200 square metres includes all rooms, kitchen, bathrooms etc, but does not include stairwells, basements, balconies and other areas. 

What about quotas of holiday homes? 

The process has also been made more difficult due to the second homes ordinance – known as the “Stop the endless construction of second homes” ordinance – which passed in 2013. 

Pursuant to this ordinance, municipalities which have more than 20 percent second homes (of their entire housing stock), can only approve the construction of second homes under certain conditions. 

There are also annual restrictions at a national level. Only 1,500 holiday apartments can be sold to non-Swiss nationals. 

This is imposed on a cantonal basis, meaning that larger cantons have more than 300 homes per year while smaller cantons can have as few as 20. 

Zermatt in Switzerland is one of the most scenic places in the world.

Zermatt in Switzerland is one of the most scenic places in the world. Photo by Morgan Thompson on Unsplash

What about non-residential property? 

Keep in mind that this all relates to homes for the purpose of residence, rather than commercial properties or places with other economic use. 

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. 

What rights do I get as a second home owner in Switzerland? 

Unfortunately for non-citizens and non-residents, buying a home does not generally confer any additional rights with regard to residency. 

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

If you are an EU citizen, then you will be able to live in Switzerland under freedom of movement rules. 

If you are not then you will usually only be able to spend time in Switzerland under the 90/180 rule. 

This means that you can spend a maximum of 90 days in Switzerland out of 180 consecutive days. 

Please note: This report is done up as a guide only and should not take the place of legal advice. If you are thinking of buying a second home, then you probably already have enough money for a lawyer, so just use this report as a guide. 

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For members

LIVING IN SWITZERLAND

REVEALED: The Swiss cities turning off their lights for weekend meteor shower

The Perseids is one of the best annual meteor showers, showing their fireballs on warm summer nights in the northern hemisphere. In Switzerland, some towns want to make the event even more special by turning off their lights.

REVEALED: The Swiss cities turning off their lights for weekend meteor shower

Every year, skywatchers get ready for the Perseid meteor shower, which in 2022 is going to peak in the early hours of Saturday, just before dawn. At its peak, it will be possible to see about 200 shooting starts per hour if the conditions are optimal.

The Perseids, as this particular meteor shower is known, are fragments of the comet Swift-Tuttle. Its small dust particles (not actual stars) burn up when they enter Earth’s atmosphere at high speed. They can be observed worldwide but are best viewed in the northern hemisphere.

READ ALSO: Five beautiful Swiss villages located near Alpine lakes

And they may be in large parts of Switzerland. Despite the full moon blocking some of the views (don’t worry, the moon should set at around 2 am), the skies should be clear of clouds during the early hours of Saturday, according to the Swiss meteorology agency MeteoSchweiz.

Some cities also want to remove another major obstacle to stargazing: the artificial lightning that hides most of our stars, the Milky Way, and many shooting stars. The Projet Perseides invites Swiss towns to turn off municipal lights and incentivise stargazing.

The project, created in the French-speaking cantons, has gathered support mainly in western Swiss, but, according to the organisers: “Ultimately, we are targeting the whole of Europe”.

Which cities are participating?

You can find the complete list of municipalities here. The communes include Champagne, Grandson, La Chaux, Lausanne, Neuchâtel, Provence, Yverdon-les-Bains, Fribourg, and more than 100 others.

The project invites the municipalities to turn off their public lightning and convince citizens and businesses to do the same – all voluntarily.

READ ALSO: Travel: What are the best night train routes to and from Switzerland?

Projet Perseides started in Orbe in 2019 when the non-profit association convinced the town and surrounding municipalities to turn out the lights. In 2020, nearly 120 Vaud cities joined the project. The following year, they were joined by cities in Valais, Fribourg and Neuchâtel, according to the site.

What if my city is not among them?

Even if your city is not a part of the project, it is still possible to watch the phenomenon. The best time would be between 2 am (when the bright full moon sets) and pre-dawn hours, so until around 5 am.

The association says: “to enjoy the night, don’t look at light sources. Let your eyes become accustomed to the darkness”. This includes ditching your phone for a few hours.

If you can visit a part of town with little artificial light, perhaps going up a mountain, for example, you also improve your chances of seeing more of the shower.

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