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LIVING IN SWITZERLAND

‘The right decision’: Why foreign residents are moving from Swiss cities to the country

For some international residents surveyed by The Local, moving away from Switzerland’s urban centres is the right move — literally and figuratively. Here’s why.

‘The right decision’: Why foreign residents are moving from Swiss cities to the country
Off to the country: Many foreign residents are leaving cities for rural areas. Photo by PhotoMix Company / Pexels

The transition from town to country  is not a new phenomenon but it has grown significantly since the start of the Covid pandemic, when many people — Swiss and foreigners alike —  moved from cramped cities to smaller towns and villages.

To many people, this kind of relocation made even more sense given the work-from-home requirement that had been in place off and on during the pandemic.

“There was a Covid effect on a desire for the countryside. We can say that the coronavirus worked as a kind of trigger”, Joëlle Salomon-Cavin, lecturer at the Institute of Geography and Sustainability at the University of Lausanne (UNIL), said in an interview with RTS public broadcaster.

The pandemic, however, has not been the only catalyst at play. A study carried out jointly by UNIL and the Federal Polytechnic Institute of Lausanne found three major reasons for the move: the search for a better balance in life, the desire for a less urban and more ecological way of life, and the quest for personal well-being.

Foreign residents are no exception when it comes to a desire for a simpler, greener, and less stressful life — at least this is what emerges from the answers to The Local survey.

On January 25th, we asked our readers to share their experiences of moving from cities to countryside, including their reasons for doing so, and whether they are happy with the choice they made.

READ MORE: Have your say: What to expect when you move to the Swiss countryside

This is what they told us

Most respondents had mostly positive things to say about the move.

Stephen Farmer moved from Basel to Büsserbach in canton Solothurn because he wanted to buy a house with a garden “and get more peace and quiet”.

In hindsight, “it was absolutely the right decision and I’ve never been happier”.

Before he moved, “several people told me that rural Swiss don’t like foreigners and it would be difficult for me to be accepted. But the people in my village are friendly and I found it easier to make Swiss friends here than in Basel”.

Many foreigners prefer living in Swiss countryside. Photo by Tim Trad on Unsplash

Steve Fors relocated from Zurich to Remigen in Aargau “for more space and slower pace”.

“It was the best decision”, he said. “We love our flat and village. We’ve found great friends in our neighbours and I work remotely three days a week”.

No regrets either for another reader who moved from Zurich to Walensee in St. Gallen “in order to be closer to nature and enjoy three to four times more space for the same rent”.

Since making the move, he “found more time to read and focus on things I was passionate about”.

His conclusion: “I would never move back to a large city, especially after the past two years”.

Yet another reader relocated from Basel to Lenzerheide in Graubünden but rented out the Basel apartment “in case we want to move back one day”.

So far, however, there are no regrets or desire to go back. “Quality of life is much better here and taxes are lower. I can also ski for an hour at lunchtime or go for a hike”.

Das moved from Bern to Frauenkappellen. While he was surprised by the lack of non-Europeans in the village, “it was a good decision otherwise, both in terms of people and space”.

Sometimes, the readers are brave enough to move from one linguistic region to another, as was the case for John Aran, who relocated from Swiss-German Schaffhausen to Valais in the French-speaking part.

He found the people in his new home “much more friendly”.

“I hope I won’t regret it”

While most of the responses to our poll were positive, some readers were less enthused about their move away from larger cities.

Filip, who moved from Zurich to Wädenswil to be closer to his son’s school, said their new small town “feels lonely somehow. There is hardly anyone around during the day”.

Another transplant, Sandra Shibata, who left Geneva for Valais, found it harder to make friends in her new town. “I hope I won’t regret this decision”, she said.

One reader who also made the move from Geneva to Valais offered a more scathing review of her new home:  “Valais is super backward, sexist, and xenophobic, and job hunting is a nightmare here”.

READ MORE: Where do Switzerland’s foreigners all live?

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LIVING IN SWITZERLAND

Reader question: Does buying a home make financial sense in Switzerland?

Switzerland has the lowest home ownership rate in Europe. Does it make sense to buy a house or apartment?

Reader question: Does buying a home make financial sense in Switzerland?

Less than 50 percent of Swiss residents own their home, making it the only country in Europe where more than half of the country rents. 

The reasons for this are many and varied, from high house prices to a large foreign population who live in the country on a medium-term basis. 

But for those who are thinking of buying a home in Switzerland – whether on a short or long-term basis, or as an investment – there are several questions to answer. 

Here’s an overview of the biggest issues and questions you should consider when thinking of buying a home in Switzerland. 

Do Swiss really prefer to rent than buy?

Approximately 59 percent of Swiss people rent – making it the highest percentage of renters anywhere in Europe. 

One misnomer in considering renting and buying is that in many cases people in Switzerland and other parts of Europe where rental rates are higher is that they “prefer” to rent. 

Successive studies have shown that high numbers – i.e. above 80 percent – of people would prefer to own their own home rather than rent. 

The high percentage of renters is instead probably more accurately described as people being ‘content to rent’, rather than actually preferring it.

Another factor is the number of foreigners who are only in Switzerland for the medium term. 

Around one quarter of the Swiss resident population is foreign. 

While it is difficult to determine how many of those do not see themselves staying long term, Switzerland’s strong employment sector and difficult naturalisation processes often act as a barrier to settling. 

COMPARE: Which European countries have the toughest rules for gaining citizenship?

With buying a home seen as a major sign of a long-term commitment, it is clear that this plays a role. 

Is buying a home in Switzerland a good decision?

Whether buying a home in Switzerland or anywhere is right for you will depend on your specific circumstances. 

One surprise for new arrivals – particularly those from English speaking countries – is the strength of tenants rights protection laws in Switzerland. 

In Switzerland, tenants are typically given long-term leases with significant permission to change and alter aspects of the house or apartment. 

There are also restrictions on rent increases in some parts of the country. 

READ MORE: What are The Local Switzerland’s reader questions?

Tax is another factor which can discourage people from purchasing a home. 

Despite its reputation, Switzerland’s income tax rates are not as high as some might expect. Other taxes are however quite high in comparison – and contribute to the Swiss being more content to rent than people in other countries. 

Some cantons allow rent to be deducted from tax, while cantons also provide subsidies for renters in some situations. 

Researchers Bourassa and Hoesli write that “income tax rules in Switzerland seem less favourable to home ownership” than those in the United States and elsewhere. 

This sometimes amounts to a high percentage of the overall cost (i.e. as high as 3.4 percent in Geneva). 

Swiss home owners on the other hand are often hit with taxes, including income tax, property tax and capital gains tax. 

Several Swiss cantons also levy a wealth tax, which disproportionately hits home owners. 

Will anything change in the future? 

One important factor to consider is whether you are buying a home purely as an investment, or whether you intend to live there. 

A consequence of the stronger tenancy laws and lower rates of home ownership is that property becomes a less attractive option for investors, which in turn means fewer properties are built. 

But while Switzerland may not be a property investor paradise, buying a home can still be a good investment in comparison to renting, as investing is not the sole purpose of the purchase. 

Recent interest rate rises haven’t quelled rising demand for properties, nor has the impact of the pandemic. 

Speaking with Swiss news organisation Tamedia, property expert Patrick Schnorf said demand is set to continue. 

“We assume that due to immigration, high birth rates and household divisions, demand will remain the same in the near future,” Schnorf said. 

“People have saved a lot (during the Covid pandemic), many have a secure income, these are the driving factors.”

In fact, the Covid pandemic has not dampened demand, but has channeled it towards a different type of property. 

Larger properties with more rooms and gardens have seen greater demand as a consequence of lockdowns and working from home requirements 

“The radius of the real estate search has therefore also extended to the surrounding rural regions,” explained Schnorf.

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

While lockdowns look to be over and the working from home rules have come to an end, experts argue that some of these changes are more than mere trends and are likely to be permanent.

Think we’ve missed something? Got something to add? Have you bought a place in Switzerland or are you thinking about it? Get in touch at [email protected].

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