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Reader question: Does owning a second home in Switzerland give me the right to live there?

If you own a holiday home in Switzerland, what rights do you get? Here’s what you need to know.

A house painted in Swiss flag colours sits in the middle of a meadow in Switzerland.
If you have a second home in Switzerland, does it give you rights to live there? Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

For those who can afford it, Switzerland is a popular place for a second home. 

If you are lucky enough to have a second home in Switzerland – or if you are thinking about buying one – here’s what you need to know. 

What is the legal classification of ‘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.”

More information about the rules relating to second homes is available here. 

READ MORE: How can I buy a second home in Switzerland?

Are there any restrictions on renting, selling or otherwise using a home that I own? 

If you have full ownership of a second home, you may sell, rent or otherwise use it as an owner could (subject of course to residency restrictions). 

Some countries have put in place restrictions on how much time second home owners can spend there, for instance Austria where second home owners in certain categories can only spend a maximum of five weeks in the property per year. 

In Switzerland however there are no such restrictions, although be aware that the rules might change if your second home is deemed your primary residence. 

Does owning a second home in Switzerland give me a right to live there? 

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 an EU or EFTA national, you can also come to Switzerland and look for work for a period of up to three months without needing to obtain a permit. If your job hunt lasts longer than three months and you have sufficient funds, you can apply for a temporary residence permit that will allow you to continue looking for a further three months.

This can be extended for up to a year if there is sufficient evidence that your job hunt could be successful.

If you are not an EU citizen, then you will usually only be able to spend time in Switzerland under the 90/180 rule, with Switzerland being a part of the Schengen group of countries. 

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

More information about residence permits in Switzerland is available at the following link. 

READ MORE: An essential guide to Swiss work permits

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LIVING IN SWITZERLAND

Reader question: How can I find a good lawyer in Switzerland?

Although you hope to never need one, sometimes you might have to seek legal advice in Switzerland. This is how to find it.

Reader question: How can I find a good lawyer in Switzerland?

When you move to a new country, including Switzerland, you have to look for a whole new network of professionals.

You may or may not have immediate need for the proverbial butcher, baker, and the candlestick maker, but sooner or later you will have to find other professionals, with the most essential one being a doctor.

READ MORE: What you should know about finding a doctor in Switzerland

Chances are you will also need, at one time or another, a legal counsel. That should in principle not be a problem as Switzerland has an abundance of lawyers — 7,317 currently practicing in the country, according to European data.

The question of how to find one that best suits your needs depends on many factors — for instance, what kind of legal advice you are seeking (estate planning, inheritance, divorce, etc), whether you speak the language of your region or need an English-speaking attorney,  and whether you can pay (the often exorbitant) fees, or need free counselling instead.

Speaking of fees, the hourly rates vary widely from one lawyer or legal practice to another, with some charging as little as 100 francs or as much as 1,000.

Much depends on the lawyer’s location — with the ones practicing in large cities like Zurich and Geneva being more expensive than their counterparts in small towns or rural regions  — the area of specialisation and general reputation — the more prominent the attorney is with a roster of famous or well-heeled clients, the higher fees they will typically charge.

An important thing to know is that, depending on the advice you are seeking, you may not need a lawyer at all, but rather a public notary; in Switzerland, these professionals perform many tasks that only attorneys can do in other countries, such as drawing contracts and establishing other legal documents.

Here are some tips on how to find a lawyer or a notary that best fits your needs:

Word of mouth

As with any other services, personal recommendations from people you know and trust are best.

This will spare you the effort of “investigating” the person, such as researching their credentials and feedback from previous clients — the due diligence process that everyone should undertake before hiring any professional.

Professional associations

If you don’t know anyone who can recommend an attorney, do your own research.

Professional organisations such as the Swiss Bar Association (SBA) and the Swiss Federation of Notaries are good resources, as they both allow you to look for professionals in or near your place of residence.

English-speaking attorneys

Many Swiss lawyers and notaries, especially those practicing in large urban centres where many foreign residents live, speak English.

But if you want to make sure yours does, the UK government put together a list of English speaking attorneys in Switzerland, which should help you with your search.

‘Free’ legal advice

In principle, all legal assistance comes at a cost, except for exceptional cases, which are defined by each canton.

SBA has a canton-by-canton list, where the designation “GRATIS JUDICATURE” stands for “free legal advice”.

However, there is also such a thing in Switzerland as “legal protection insurance” (Rechtsschutzversicherungen in German, protection juridique in French, and protezione giuridica in Italian).

It covers attorney and other associated fees if you undertake court action against someone, are sued, or simply need legal advice.

There are two different types of legal protection insurance — one specifically for traffic accidents and the other for all other matters. Sometimes they are combined.

Typically, this insurance covers costs of legal representation associated with contract disputes, employment, loans and debts, healthcare, housing, retail purchases, and travel.

The annual cost of this insurance, which you can purchase from practically every carrier in Switzerland, is minimal, especially if you consider how much you’d have to spend if you hired an attorney yourself.

Another benefit of these policies is that a lawyer will be assigned to you by the insurance company so you won’t have the headache of looking for one on your own.

This article provides more information about this insurance:

EXPLAINED: Why you need ‘legal protection insurance’ in Switzerland

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