Nothing really prepares you for how tough it is to find a home to rent in Switzerland, especially in the large cities. For new-comers to Switzerland things are particularly difficult if they don’t speak the local Swiss language. It’s not uncommon for real estate agents to simply hang up the phone if you start the conversation in English.
Finding a home to rent in Switzerland will take between 3 – 6 months on average
You must apply in the Swiss language of your canton
You will need to move fast: have all necessary documentation ready and apply immediately
Psychological: be mentally prepared to compromise on your living standards (accept a smaller apartment or a less glamorous location). Also, the relationship with the real estate agents can be quite trying. It is not uncommon for applicants to approach them directly and even offer small gifts. Stay positive!
Logistical: you will need extensive online research, but also scheduling efforts. You will need to plan your visits to the selected properties in person. Putting together and posting the rental application needs to be done with no delays and frequent follow ups. Stay organised!
Financial: Make sure you can cover the requested security deposit (which can be between 3 to 4 times the monthly rent).
The first come first served principle does not apply. Real-estate agencies will filter candidates based on income, family situation and first impressions, amongst other criteria.
Simply fulfilling the salary criterion is not enough. Other filter criteria are nationality, length of stay in Switzerland, type of employment (diplomats for instance are not an ideal tenant as they tend to stay for reduced periods in Switzerland), a potential link to the area (is your workplace nearby? Do you have friends in the area?).
Answers from the agency can be expected within one week of applying. If you do not receive an answer from the agency within one week, follow up!
Start your online search 3 – 6 months prior to moving.
Define your must-haves and your nice-to-haves. What to consider:
cost of monthly rent should be one quarter of your income, public transport connections, easy access to stores and schools, impact on the level of taxes you pay.
Be aware that only candidates who visit in person will be considered.
When you find a suitable home, apply immediately, preferably in person.
When you visit the property, be courteous at all times, make compliments and make a positive impression.
Fill in the application in the Swiss language of your canton. If you apply in English, it will not be considered.
Follow up with the real estate agency, in order to show interest, but remain polite and patient.
Have a Plan B in case you do not manage to find a home in the timeframe you need it.
Once a lease is signed, withdraw any other pending applications to avoid being charged a penalty.
Passports/IDs of all adult occupants
Work contract and/or confirmation of salary from your employer
Work and residence permit
Lease request forms (download from the agency's web site or obtain at the agency)
Statement of absence of debt (e.g. Betreibungsauszug (DE), Extrait de l'office de poursuite (FR), Estratto del registro delle esecuzioni (IT) from cantonal website. This document is only required when moving within Switzerland and is not necessary for those relocating from outside the country.