Buying Swiss Property Abroad
For foreigners, certain rules around buying Swiss property can be tricky to understand. This is chiefly due to the unique way in which the country’s regions are divided, governed and administrated. If you consider Switzerland a favorite ski-centric option for buying property abroad, we’re here to offer some pointers.
We’ll mainly be focusing on property purchases in Verbier, Zermatt, and Crans-Montana - three leading resort towns in the Canton of Valais, arguably the most iconic of Switzerland’s Alpine ski regions. This is partly due to these areas constantly experiencing high demand from visitors looking to buy property abroad.
It’s also because the Federal Swiss government largely prohibits the sale of homes to foreigners in any of its main city hubs such as Zurich, Geneva and Basel. While these sorts of urban locations are essentially closed off to non-Swiss nationals in terms of buying houses, the Federal Council does permit overseas property investment in many of the country’s main tourist areas. This includes a majority of its classic Alpine skiing resorts.
However, would-be buyers should note that individual Cantons - and, in some cases, specific resorts within the same administrative region - can be subject to very different rules.
Buying Property in the Canton of Valais
Most overseas buyers looking to purchase a chalet or apartment property in Switzerland will be aiming to use it either as a second home, or for seasonal holidays. As such, you’re likely to be focusing your search on one of the main tourist hubs for skiing and winter sports.
If that’s the case for you, then the Canton of Valais will almost certainly be somewhere near the top of your list. After all, Verbier, Zermatt and Crans-Montana are all among Switzerland’s top seasonal destinations for international visitors in search of the classic Alpine skiing experience.
Verbier and Crans-Montana
Verbier (and likewise the nearby 4 Vallees Resorts of Nendaz, Les Collons, Veysonnaz and La Tzoumaz) is one of the more accessible Valais areas in terms of buying property abroad. Similarly, Crans-Montana is largely ‘open’ to overseas investors, with permits for buying property fairly readily available.
This is especially true if you happen to be a EU/EFTA citizen with a partial (grade B) or permanent (grade C) residence permit in Switzerland. If you don’t have any sort of residence permit, but are a citizen of a country covered by the Swiss bilateral agreement with the EU, then you’ll likely be eligible to purchase real estate as a holiday home on a quota system. This means you’re likely to qualify, provided there are vacant properties (or new development projects) available within the remaining capped quota for that year.
If you’re a non-EU citizen but you do hold a B-grade residency permit in Switzerland, you’ll generally be able to purchase a single property as a principal residence in either Verbier or Crans-Montana. And, if you’re a non-EU citizen with a C-grade permit, you shouldn’t run into any particular local restrictions when buying property abroad in these resorts.
Currently, real estate purchases in Zermatt are a rather different story for buyers from non-EU countries. The intense popularity of the region with foreign buyers over recent decades placed a degree of seasonal pressure on local economies, infrastructures and environments, which is now carefully managed and controlled.
As a result, it’s now far more difficult for some overseas property investors to get authorisation from the Canton than it once was. There are still options for non-Swiss buyers to obtain property in Zermatt, but they typically depend on you being resident in the country (grade B or C) and a national of an EU member country. In most cases, any property you do purchase will normally need to be listed as your main/permanent residence.
If you don’t qualify, there are very few ways around these regulations at present, and you’re unlikely to be offered a vacant chalet, apartment or development plot. Many properties in Zermatt are reserved solely for people based entirely locally, who live year-round and pay tax in the area.
It may be worth noting that, across most regions of Switzerland, there aren’t currently the same levels of authorisation required for buying commercial real estate - whether on an investment-only basis, or as a business you’re actively running. This can include rental businesses that generate annual income and are therefore subject to local taxes; you won’t normally need to gain a residence permit or purchase authorisation in this scenario, regardless of where you’re buying from.
Steps to Buying Swiss Property
Again, the particular steps for buying Swiss property will differ slightly from region to region, but on the whole, the workflow usually go something like this:
- Checking that the property is eligible for purchase as you’d intend to use it, i.e. either as a managed holiday home or only as a principal residence.
- Checking that you’re eligible to buy it, in terms of any necessary residence permits and citizenship rulings.
- Filing an application to buy with the relevant district authority, subject to any local quotas and restrictions.
- Submitting a letter of intent (or preliminary purchase agreement) between buyer and seller as part of the first step, and paying any required reservation fees.
- Applying for any necessary residence permits and authorisations required for the purchase to complete, provided they can be obtained and issued within the formal time limit on the transaction.
In addition to the above, you’ll generally need to submit all of the following documents via an appropriate notary in order for the contract to be made legally binding:
- Authorisation permit from the local Canton
- Residency permit where required
- Agreements for all necessary loans from a Swiss-based bank
- Passports and any other key citizenship documentation
- Authorised clearance for processing of any transaction fees or payable taxes directly associated with the transfer of ownership
- Formal agreements on the limited timeframe within which the purchase must be completed in full, and logged with the relevant local land registry
Visit our Buy Property page for a gallery of currently available real estate, and to learn more about chalets and new development plots available to overseas buyers in Valais. Alternatively, please feel free to contact a member of our team for more advice and information.