How to rent a flat in Switzerland

I mentioned how 70% of the population in Switzerland rents, but did you know that it is estimated that only .06% of the flats in Zürich are vacant? That’s not a typo. 99.94% of the flats here are taken.

TMLSS: It’s hard to secure a flat, especially for a good price.

zurich attic flat

This is a short (long?) guide about how to rent here based on our experience.

Step 1: Prepare your application documents (BEFORE looking for a flat)

A. Go to the local registry office and request a “Betreibungsauszug” if you have been in the country 6 months or longer. This is basically a piece of paper that says you don’t owe anyone any debts and without it, you are often very unlikely to get a flat. For newcomers who do not yet have a debt free history within the country, this can be especially crippling because without this paper… you may appear untrustworthy to a landlord.

B. Have a copy of your residence permit/work permit and passport or your ID if you are Swiss. Please note, residents with temporary permits (L) are also very unlikely to be accepted for a flat, but for some people this is their only option.

C. Copies of the last 3 months pay slips from work or a letter from HR stating your salary. In general, you are not allowed to rent a flat that is more than 33% of your salary.

D. If you have a letter from your HR or previous landlord, make sure you have copies ready. Also prepare contact details (phone numbers) for any references you wish to include on your application.

E. Start preparing a cover letter for your applications which you can modify for different flats. Write about yourself, why you want the flat and why you will be an excellent tenant choice.

F. It is not required, but I recommend including a photo of yourself as well.

Step 2: Look for a flat

Make a budget around 1/4 to 1/3 of your monthly salary, but not more. Landlords often will not rent to you if you earn “too much” or “too little”. Start looking for flats on sites like,, and the local newspaper. Tell everyone you know that you are looking for a flat and ask if they know anyone that knows anyone that knows anyone. Friend connections are still the best way to get the early scoop on a cheap flat up for grabs, but most of us have to do the legwork on sites like homegate and hope it works out.

Step 3: Visit

Almost no landlords here rent flats without meeting tenants first or knowing they have viewed the apartment in person. Either make an appointment with the current tenant, landlord, or show up for pre-scheduled flat viewings listed online.

During the visit it is important to ask all your questions about the flat. Here are some of our favourites:

  • Why are you moving out?
  • Is it a quiet neighborhood?
  • What are the neighbors like?
  • Is this a smoking building? Do you smoke?
  • Is there a cellar in the basement and may I see it? (Cellars or attics are pretty standard with flats in Switzerland)
  • What are the utilities like?

Now this step is crucial, so pay attention.

If you show up to a flat viewing, there may be 200 other people there. That’s truly happened to me before. 200. People.

It is important to show up to viewings exactly when they start and to post your application or turn it in immediately. This is why it is so important to prepare your paperwork ahead of time. If you like the flat and they have applications available there, fill it out and turn everything in together as soon as possible. Same day if possible. Your renting livelihood depends on it.

Renting applications generally ask for all applicants’ citizenship, age, gender, personal address, work address, phone number, reference numbers, how much you earn, if you have children or not, if you have pets, and even if you play an instrument.

If you hide the fact that you have a dog and you play the piano, the landlord will not be very happy later on and they may ask you to move out because you are violating their terms of agreement. Also, be prepared to have all your references checked up on. They are very keen to have a nice tenant with such a large pool to choose from.

Step 5: Wait for news

Most landlords have already made up in their mind what kind of tenant they want. They may be looking for a single male, single female, a couple without children, or a family, but you can be sure they will not tell you what kind of person they are looking for. That would be too easy!

Applying before anyone else gives you a small leg up because they often give flats on a first-come-first-serve basis if you meet their qualifications.

Points may be taken off if you are an unmarried couple because the landlord is wary about a possible breakup, families with small (noisy) children, roommate situations because again the landlord is wary of people moving out, and anyone with a pet or loud musical instrument is going to have difficulty finding a landlord that accepts them.

Step 6: Rejection

Kay looked for flats for six months after he finished university before he found one he liked that agreed to rent to him. When we moved in together, we searched together for 7 months before finding a flat that would accept us.

We went through a lot of rejections. We weren’t sure if people were unhappy that we weren’t married or didn’t have kids or that we earned too much or too little. There’s never any feedback on why you are not accepted.

Repeat Steps 1-5 until you can make it past Step 6.

Step 7: Acceptance

Hallelujah! You thought this day would never come.

Usually when a landlord agrees to rent, you will meet with them or their agency to sign a contract after you agree on a move in date and give your deposit into a 3rd party bank account that neither of you have access to.

Deposits are usually 1-3X your monthly rent. If you are renting a modest 2500CHF one bedroom flat in Seefeld, your deposit just might be 7500CHF. (That’s over $8000 USD at this time.)

Rent is also due upfront, not at the end of the month… so when you move in you will usually be required to give either 3 or 4X your monthly rent unless you can negotiate a 1 month deposit. For a 2500CHF flat, this would be a whopping 10,000CHF!

But don’t worry… employers are often friendly and will loan you money to pay for your deposit if you are just moving here for the first time. And fret not, even people with dogs and pianos or unemployed fellows can find a flat. You just need to persevere. 🙂

I’ll get into taking over and leaving a flat in another post. 😉

How complicated is the rental process in your area?

*All photos are personal unless noted*

Want to catch up?


2013 Travel Destinations

I feel like a really lazy expat in Europe.

When I first came to Switzerland for a study abroad experience, all my other friends were traveling all over Europe for around one month before their terms started in Germany. I was the only one in my class heading to Switzerland so I chose not to join my friends traveling.

I had a paid internship in Ohio and while my parents were generously paying my school tuition, I had to foot the study abroad bill myself. I refused to go into credit card debt or take out a loan for study abroad, so I limited my travel to what I could afford and headed to Switzerland after a long summer working.

For three months on my visitors visa, I spent almost every weekend within Switzerland traveling to different towns, large and small, so I could feel like I really got to know Switzerland itself. After my stay was up and I needed to exit the country, I planned a train trip through Germany to visit all of my friends in their respective German locations. During my entire stay, I never needed to pay for a hostel or hotel!

It worked out well. My budget was happy and I felt like I got to see a fair amount of Switzerland and Germany during my stay, but I missed out on a lot of European biggies. France, Italy, England… I didn’t see any of them and when I returned to the States I really felt like I would have to come do a big European backpacking trip to make up for it.

Now I’ve been living here for four years and shamefully, I haven’t gotten around to doing a lot. In fact, it took me FOUR years to take a 4 hour train ride down to Italy. Blasphemy.

It seems that “There’s always next month…” has derailed my travel excitement. Between Kay’s flighty schedule and my laziness, I just haven’t gotten around to traveling around Europe that much. Since those university days I’ve been to Paris, Stockholm, Dublin, Madrid, Vienna (thanks to Kay this summer!), a few more German cities and finally Milan after I told Kay that I refused to travel to Germany again before we went to Italy.

Here are the top European cities I would really like to visit on a long weekend in 2013:

1. London

(Image Source)

Oh my God… I haven’t been to England yet. This is also blasphemous. I cured my Italy-visit status, but if I am to be a real member of European society, I must, must visit London this year and soak up all the English breakfast and tea I can get.

2. Venice

(Image Source)

Although I’ve been to Italy once now, it wasn’t nearly enough and I know there is still much more to explore. I’m really meaning to visit Venice before it sinks so that I can enjoy a coffee on the waterside.

3. Rome

(Image Source)

Yes, another biggie. I’ve been planning to go to Rome for a few years now, but it’s always a question of when and how as it can be very hot in the summer and uncomfortably cold in the winter. Autumn seems to fly by with Kay’s military time and spring is expensive with Easter. There’s never a good time!

I have a bunch of other cities and countries around Europe that I would like to visit, but I’m keeping this list short so that it remains somewhat realistic. We haven’t started planning our 2013 holidays yet, so there’s no telling where we’ll wind up.

Where would you travel in Europe?

Nobody buys a home in Switzerland

Allow me to explain why I spent the first four years of my time in Switzerland under the belief that I would never buy a home here.

First, let’s take a look at a few of the buying prospects:

1) 4 Bedroom flat, 138m2 / 1500 sq ft, CHF 2,490,000

Urbanes Leben im Hürlimann Areal via

2) 2 Bedroom flat,  85m2 / 914 sq ft, CHF 1,050,000

Neuwertige Stadtwohnung mit hervorragender Infrastruktur via

3) 1 Bedroom loft flat,  81m2 / 870 sq ft, CHF 970,000

‘Architekten Loft / Wohnatelier’ in Zürich-West via

4) 3 bedroom house, 145m2 / 1560 sq ft,  CHF 2,250,000


5) 5.5 bedroom house,  200m2 / 2150 sq ft,  CHF 5,600,000

Liebhaberobjekt via

Now maybe the pretty pictures above were distracting, or maybe you think we’ve got crazy inflation with CHF*, but I’m hoping you noticed that these digs are all crazy expensive.

*At the time of writing this, $1 = .93 CHF, so all those prices are even more expensive in dollars.

A one bedroom flat can easily cost one million dollars and you can forget about buying a normal house. As I write this, there are only 10 single family houses listed for sale in the city of Zürich. Half of them are 2.5-5 million francs.

If you are lucky enough to find a house or flat available, chances are that you cannot afford it. Why not?

One scary word: Deposit.

The general rule in Switzerland is that you need a 20% deposit on a house in order to get a mortgage. How does that work on on that 1 bedroom flat above?

Holy shite. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have 200k in my pocket, let alone 500k for flat #1 up there or 1.12 million for house #5.

When I figured out HOW much buying in Zürich would cost a couple years ago, I simply wrote it off in “the impossible” list and didn’t think anymore about buying for a long time. I had forgotten then that where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Although over 70% of the population here rents, someone has to be buying houses somehow and it cannot be the billionaires alone, can it?

A History of Long Distance

Here I was almost forgetting what long distance is like when it strikes again. I should say I have it lucky compared to some gals, but I can’t help missing the man when he’s gone.

When we started our relationship in 2008, we had over 3 months where we didn’t see each other before Kay visited me in America and it took me 5 months to secure a job and residence permit in Switzerland. We started off like any “normal” couple where I lived at my host family’s house, working as an au pair and I would see Kay on the weekends.

With his first job out of university, Kay worked hard to find a flat before I moved over so that when I visited him on the weekends we wouldn’t be shacking up in his parent’s house. (Awkward.) During the week we talked on instant messenger or he would phone if he was out of the country. He had acquired a job that would require some traveling when he was trained up.

When I started my German courses in early 2009, the train connections to class brought me half way to Kay’s flat, so I would often jump on a train in his direction instead of heading home. I would either spend a couple hours with him and head home or spend the night and take a very early train back to my host family in the morning so that I could still take the kids to school. Pretty soon with class, I was seeing Kay every single day whether it was for a long time or not. I started doing wife-like things like completely reorganizing the kitchen (I asked first!) and buying pots and appliances here and there.

In the summer of 2009 I finally secured a design position, but it required me exiting the country for the duration of the visa process. Naturally I used the 2.5 months to spend time with family in America and Kay even traveled with me for two weeks, but it was another long summer apart. When I arrived back in the autumn, Kay’s job had developed into a full-force 50% or more traveling gig.

For the first months of our relationship, I felt like it worked out well to have him travel because although we had decided to move in together rather quickly, we still had a lot of time on our own with his traveling. For us, it didn’t make sense for him to have a flat he would only be in 50% of the time and for me to acquire a flat if I would be at his place every time he was in town. I went home for Christmas while Kay stayed. It was the most depressing Christmas after we’d spent the last one together and I vowed not to take holiday without him again if I could help it.

But as 2010 wore on and my visa troubles reemerged, Kay’s traveling started to wear on us. It was especially upsetting when he would find out he needed to travel with less than 24hrs notice or when he would unexpectedly need to stay longer even when he was at the airport coming home. Nobody likes saying goodbye to their man in the morning only to receive a phone call during the day that he won’t be coming home that night. We could barely plan any activities to do at home with his flighty schedule.

When he arrived home from Brazil after traveling three weeks longer without me, he proposed. But for the rest of the summer it seemed like I hardly saw him. We got married less than three months after he proposed because of the residence issues and Kay managed to fly home a few days before the wedding, marry me and take me to Amsterdam for a minimoon before he was off the next week.

Now for the past couple years I’ve been rather spoiled. Kay changed jobs and he hasn’t been traveling nearly as much. Maybe a week or two here and there. But there is still always his annual army time. Last year it was almost “easy” to have him leave for three weeks before our religious wedding in the States. I was so busy with last minute details and DIY projects I honestly didn’t miss him that much.

In fact, it was so easy that over the year we’ve talked more increasingly about what will happen when he wants to go to school for an MBA in a few years. Kay is planning roughly to go to school in 4-5 years and we are not sure which country he will be in and if it would be worth it for me to quit my job and travel with him for 1-2 years before we return. It is not exactly easy for me to find English-speaking jobs in Switzerland so for the moment I’m pretty set. But I wonder how I could endure a whole year or two of long distance. If he would move to America for instance, weekend trips would not really be possible. If he moves to London or Paris, flying or taking a train for the weekend is much more realistic and affordable, although still a sizable drain on finances.

He’s even requested at work if he can do an extended trip for 10 weeks to build up sales, which would be a mini-test to see how we do with long distance again. Honestly, sometimes when he is abroad is not so bad as long as we send regular emails, skype or instant message when possible, and when I know for sure when he’s coming home. When he’s in Switzerland in the army… it’s another story.

This week he left for the army and he told me he would come home on the weekend, but on Friday he unexpectedly found out that he would be required to stay over the weekend and today he told me he won’t be able to call me until Wednesday. He can’t do anything about it, but it upsets me, because I didn’t plan anything for the weekend thinking he would come home and in Switzerland everyone plans their social life two weeks in advance so most of my friends are busy.

I thought I was doing fine with him gone, but honestly finding out he’s not coming home is such a disappointment that it depresses me about his absence. I start thinking about the little things like sleeping next to him and putting my arms around his neck. Just having his presence in the flat. Then I start thinking about how I’m 25 and this is maybe the best physical time of my life and my husband is gone. Why can’t he go on trips when I’m 50 and sagging? (Kidding, I probably won’t want him to leave then either!)

So I thought about my pros and cons of long distance:

Long Distance Pros:

  • I can hog the entire bed
  • Stay up as late as I want
  • Have as many girls nights I want
  • Full control over music in the house
  • The house is so much cleaner! (Sorry Kay, it’s true!)
  • Time to chill alone, which I really appreciate sometimes
  • Eat whatever Kay hates

Long Distance Cons:

  • I get lonely in the house
  • We can’t plan weekend activities together
  • I get used to living alone and it’s hard to go back to normal when he comes back (this is maybe the worst part!)
  • I have to carry all the groceries home myself… ugh heavy!
  • I loathe cooking for just myself so I eat a lot of crap instead of cooking
  • Sometimes I get upset if I don’t understand something important in German and he’s not there to explain

I also find it really hard to communicate long distance sometimes. I’m much better about writing lengthy emails about the banal things I did that day, whereas Kay views his daily activities as boring so he just writes that he loves and misses me. When we speak on the phone during his army stints or via Skype, it’s even worse. We are both pretty bad about talking on the phone and usually our phone calls last 5-10 minutes max.

Sometimes if he’s busy in the army I’ll only get a 5 minute phone call and it’s just not enough time to say everything I want to… but every time we talk on the phone my mind goes blank, so even if we have a whole 10 minutes, I can’t think of anything to say until he hangs up. It’s always during the day or later in the evening I realize I forgot to tell him something important that I want to talk about. Take today for example… I wrote our building manager (auf Deutsch!) about the electricity in our flat and he asked me if I want to go to an appointment during October. I can’t go because it’s a work day, but Kay could possibly go if he takes a day off and I completely forgot about asking him because I was too preoccupied with his news about not coming home! I just sat there on the phone whimpering.

Also, sometimes I get paranoid that something terrible will happen and the Swiss government is going to deport me because my husband is away. I know this is all in my head, but I worry nonetheless and I always feel more validated when Kay is here. The worst is if I get a letter in German about my residency while he’s away. Even if I totally understand the letter and what to do, it makes me feel all upset when he’s gone. Maybe I’m just crazy. Kay thinks so.

I’m still so grateful we’ve never had to do a year or more apart like some couples, but long distance seems to be a part of our relationship that is not going to be over for awhile. I’ll take all the Kay time I can get in the mean time.

Have you ever been in a long distance relationship? What are the pros and cons for you?

Graziella Going Out of Business

Uh oh… look what bag is making a return:

Danger, danger! This bag first made an appearance  in my house when a friend convinced me to spend 420CHF on my wedding shoes.

Yeah… didn’t think I was ever going to be bringing another one of these bags home with prices like that, especially after I noticed in the summer that the shop had gone bankrupt!

But this afternoon Kay sent me this ad he saw in the newspaper:

I may not be fluent in German, but I immediately knew what this meant: LIQUIDATION SALE! W00t.

I headed over to Graziella straight after work to catch the sale before it ended at 18:30. The shop was busier than I had ever seen it when it was in business (duh) but most of the women there were pretty old. I mean, this shop sells shoes that are 200-900CHF. What do you expect? It’s not H&M.

There weren’t any signs posted saying what the actual liquidation discounts were, so at first I began walking around the store just to see if there was anything I even liked (in my size) that I wanted to inquire about. I was mainly looking for my beloved Fernando Pensato shoes because they are so comfortable and unique!

I was looking for either some funky colourful shoes like I tried on last year when I was looking for my wedding ones or the white or black version of my wedding shoes to use for dress shoes. I think the ones above are originally 380CHF and the ones below are around 420CHF like my wedding shoes.


I didn’t find exactly what I was looking for as lots of the Pensato shoes were already gone or not in stock and I was noticing that most of the prices still were crazy high on the boxes… like 380CHF, 500CHF, etc. I was thinking I might not get anything when a little old lady came up to me and told me everything was 40%.

I had to ask her to make sure I really understand… she meant 60% off, as in you pay 40% for any item.

YOU GUYS. That is like the best sale I have EVER seen in Zürich ever! Sales are practically nonexistent here!!! After that… I started re-looking at everything and became fairly certain I wanted to buy one pair of shoes. I searched all over the store and had three contenders. One was a black pair that would actually be useful on a daily basis, but they were almost 800CHF… and 40% of 800CHF is still a hell of a lot of money for shoes. No thanks.

The second pair (that I almost got) were fairly high but still pretty comfy from what I could tell, and they had these badass gold pineapples for heels. I should have taken a picture. I’m sorry I didn’t. But they were 500CHF and I wasn’t sure about the height, so I went with these ones in the same style as my wedding shoes because they were only 150CHF on sale! 150CHF is a heck of a lot better than what I paid for my wedding shoes, don’t you think??

This was the only style of Pensato that they had that I was really searching for and I was a bit unsure about the color at first. They are extremely girly.

I don’t usually go for pastels, but I happened to be wearing a pastel multicoloured blouse and I thought “Why the hell not, they match my shirt perfectly!” I may not be able to wear them with my entire dark, muted wardrobe… but I will be able to wear them from time to time when I don white or pastels!

Also… how am I supposed to amass a larger collection of Pensato shoes if I don’t take advantage of 40% off sales??

I really love all the lace and trim and crafty feminine features on these shoes. I can’t wait to wear them to the office tomorrow!

They had many other Pensato shoes at the store but I’ve figured out that basically anything besides their pumps suck. (oh the irony…) But really, their wedges are pretty nasty with some crappy soles, the flats are in my opinion VERY old fashioned and matronly, their closed-toe heels are very uncomfortable and stiff, and all the low heels look pretty “blah” and don’t do anything for large feet.

They hit it right with their sling pumps though! And they are such a comfy heel. They support me in all the right spots.

Do you have a shoe brand you would splurge for unexpectedly?