Expat Diaries: 8 Steps to Renting that perfect Apartment in Switzerland

Guys, I have lived in Switzerland for round about 4 years and in these years, we’ve had a little bit of a misfortune of changing apartments (time and again). Add to that the complexity of living in 2 cities, and you have the perfect guide on your hand. 😊

I’ve lived in the beautiful cities of Basel and Vevey during this journey but have had to research the rental market scenes is other major cities of Switzerland as well. It wasn’t the sweetest of experiences but here are a few of my tips that will help you, especially if you are new to Switzerland:

1. Do NOT select an apartment in a hurry

I cannot stress enough on this part: Make enough applications and select the apartment which every member of the family agrees to. I say this because the process of “moving” in Switzerland is very tedious, complex and expensive! Line up a lot of apartments and try to go as a family to see them, the more apartments you see – the better your perspective and understanding become. Either you LIKE it or you don’t, if there is something in the middle, take the leap of faith and skip it!

Selection of your apartment is largely dependent on the kind of area it is (peaceful, noisy, neighbors, neighborhood, the overall vibe in the surroundings, safety etc.), how far or close public transportation is, proximity of a COOP/Migros and reviews of the local school, in case you have children who go to the local school.

Expat Diaries: 8 Steps to Renting that perfect Apartment in Switzerland

The overall vibe of an apartment is one thing but have a couple of selection criteria defined: how big or small should the apartment be (in m2), how many rooms, natural light in the house, airy, layout, size of the rooms, equipment in the kitchen, parking, lift, is there a washing/drying machine inside the apartment or the communal kinds? All these pointers are dependent on personal preferences and your budget. But the idea is to know these things before hand to avoid feeling overwhelmed.

Having said all that, I am pretty sure that you will get an 8/9 or a 7/9 prerequisites that work for you; it’s the kind of compromise you are willing to make vs. the absolute “NO-GOs”

2. City living vs. the Outskirts

Now this is an important point and a lot of new comers need to be aware of it. I have always lived downtown or close to the city center – while this is quite expensive it is also quite convenient. It ticks the boxes of reaching everywhere quickly and by the tram, it allows shopping and walking around by foot and I generally like the societal feeling, isolation isn’t for me – unless am on a particular kind of holiday.

Expat Diaries: 8 Steps to Renting that perfect Apartment in Switzerland

Having said that, living a little away from the main city, for instance living in Basel land as opposed to Basel Stadt; allows for larger houses with similar rents, lesser tax, peaceful and “swiss” surroundings and options of more adventure. So, it really depends on your taste, my only advise is to have a car or a plan to buy a car – so that you have the freedom to not rely completely on public transport especially in the cold wintry months.

Switzerland has an excellent PTS, so usually everything is very well connected but staying in the outskirts as compared to the city has its own pros and cons. Everything is not for everyone.

3. Paperwork

Paperwork is important especially when your application has been selected and the lease is going to come into your mailbox. The entire lease document is written in the native language of the canton you are residing in: German or French or even Italian. It is a good idea for a friend/acquaintance or a translator to help you read it followed by clarifying any points in the document with the agency. It is often underestimated and rightly so – however, it is important to read a document you sign on.

4. Making the perfect Application

This step is crucial, your chances of getting an apartment you really like are never a 100%; it is common for your application to be rejected if there are too many applicants for 1 property. Hence, make as many applications as possible (of course to the apartments of your liking); but don’t put all your eggs in the same basket – have options.

Expat Diaries: 8 Steps to Renting that perfect Apartment in Switzerland

Your application includes the form, usually attached with your employment contracts, monthly pay slips and “extrait du Registre des poursuites / Auszug aus dem Betreibungsregister / estratto del registro dell’Ufficio delle Esecuzioni e Fallimenti” which is your debt report usually available for a fee at the nearest “Office des poursuites / Betreibungsamt / Ufficio delle Esecuzioni e Fallimenti”. This form is very important for all rental applications and gives proof to the agency that you are not a “defaulter”.

With these mandatory forms, what I always did was also attach a cover letter illustrating a little bit more – details about the family, employment and reasons of the move thereby making your application stronger. Treat this as a job application, after all, the place you stay in, the place you call “home” is one of the most important aspects of your being.

5. Useful Apps or Websites

Apps I use: HomeGate, ImmoScout24, Flatfox (all of them have their web versions)

Set up your filters and finding the “perfect apartment” can take up to 3-4 months on the upper side. I can also recommend the FB market place, and FB groups local to the city. Sometimes, your chances of finding a great apartment/house through direct contact with leaving tenants are higher.

6. Do you need a relocation agent?

I do not think so. But on expat contracts, this is a service your employer usually provides – if this is FREE, why not? But I wouldn’t put my money on it, if you are moving into your second apartment – by no means. Following the steps in this guide should be helpful.

Expat Diaries: 8 Steps to Renting that perfect Apartment in Switzerland

7. Utilities

As soon as you move into your apartment, start making notes of things that are damaged or are not working as desired. You have up to a month to get these fixed by reporting them to the agency – take this seriously. In our current apartment– there were quite a few issues which had gone unnoticed. I had to follow up with the agency, but this is something which is included in your contract.

Apart from that, your mobile service provider and your fiber (home internet and TV) connection could be the same, I recommend this option – since there are several bundle discounts. We use Sunrise, however there are always good packages you can find through UPS, Salt and Swisscom. Be sure to compare plans and then choose.

Get your address changed/updated, this can be done on the Swiss Post website or you can walk up to any of the post offices. It’s a mail forwarding service for 30 CHF for the year and I find it quite useful.

8. Furnishing your humble abode

This is really a bonus point, but I want to give this tip. The designer/up market stores for furniture in Switzerland are quite expensive and here are a few of my cost-effective options:

Expat Diaries: 8 Steps to Renting that perfect Apartment in Switzerland
  • If you’re moving from your home country and have a relocation package – go ahead and use it. The nice quality furniture in your home country can be shipped, this will allow reasonable prices for unique pieces as compared to coming here and realizing that a sideboard costs somewhere around 2000 CHF. (I wish I was kidding)
  • IKEA – Great looking, not the best quality and everyone has the same thing 😉 Nevertheless, IKEA usually has simple stylish designs which can complement other furniture from your home country or other designer/unique pieces/finds.
  • Second Hand pieces – Places like Basel, Zurich and Geneva are expat hubs, people move in and move back all the time – hence, you will always find second hand deals on FB. If you have a car, you can pick up pieces for low costs much easily or else look for the “man-with-a-van” ads on FB local groups. There are always great deals on local groups!

Another Bonus Tip for a Local Move

If you’re moving from one apartment to the other locally – it’s going to be hard, but it isn’t impossible. I have done this twice! Ouch! Pack the boxes on your own, get cartons, packing paper and tape (IKEA, Ottos and Jumbo for the win!) and get started a month in advance. Hire a local “man-van” option to help transport, dissemble and assemble in your new apartment. Also, the final cleaning – a very big myth which is super overpriced, either hire someone locally or invest in the right products and DIY. Moving locally or within CH is a challenge, but you can if you just must!

This was such a long article, but you won’t believe how much more I can talk about this topic – if you are new to Switzerland/Basel or are undergoing a move, feel free to ping me below and ask me questions. I will be happy to help!

How was your experience when you moved houses the last time around? Tell me in the comments section below.

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