Would you like to purchase real estate in Switzerland for residential or investment purposes? Since Switzerland restricts the acquisition of real estate by persons abroad, an acquisition must be carefully examined and prepared.
1. When is the acquisition of real estate subject to authorisation?
The “Lex Koller” or the “Federal Act on the Acquisition of Real Estate by Persons Abroad” applies throughout Switzerland. If the following conditions are met, the acquisition of real estate is subject to authorisation by the cantonal authorities:
- Purchaser is a “person abroad”
- Real Estate requires a permit
- Transaction is an acquisition of real estate
All other real estate transactions do not require authorisation and can be carried out without the restrictions of the Lex Koller.
2. Am I considered a “person abroad”?
A “person abroad” is defined as
- Nationals of foreign states resident abroad
- Nationals of EU/EFTA member states residing in Switzerland without a B residence permit, C settlement permit or L short-term residence permit.
- Nationals of other foreign countries resident in Switzerland without a C residence permit.
Conversely, this means that the following groups of persons are free to acquire real estate in Switzerland without restrictions:
- Swiss citizens/double citizens resident in Switzerland or abroad
- Nationals of EU/EFTA member states with legal and actual residence in Switzerland (B residence permit, C settlement permit or L short-term residence permit)
Nationals of other foreign countries with a C permanent residence permit and actual residence in Switzerland.
3. Can I purchase the property through my stock company instead?
Legal entities are also subject to the Lex Koller and thus to the permit requirement. A legal entity can only acquire a property without a permit if the company has its registered office in Switzerland and is directly or indirectly controlled by natural persons who are not persons abroad.
4. What is an “acquisition of real estate subject to authorisation”?
The acquisition of single-family or multi-family houses, owner-occupied apartments and building land intended for such buildings by persons abroad is subject to the authorisation requirement.
The acquisition is not only the transfer of the property in the land register, but also any legal transaction that gives a person abroad the actual power of disposal over a property subject to authorisation. For example, foreign financing or the acquisition of a usufruct can also trigger the authorisation requirement.
5. Are there exceptions to the authorisation requirement?
There are some important exceptions and possibilities for a person abroad to acquire real estate in Switzerland.
a) Main residence
The acquisition of a main dwelling is exempt from the permit requirement, provided that this dwelling serves as the legal residence of the person abroad and is actually occupied. This is closely dependent on the granting of a residence or settlement permit.
b) Second home
The acquisition of a second home by cross-border commuters in the region of the place of work is also exempt from the permit requirement.
The acquisition of a secondary residence by persons abroad who maintain an exceptionally close relationship with the place of the secondary residence that is worthy of protection is eligible for a permit.
c) Holiday homes
Some cantons allow the acquisition of holiday homes in certain communes in tourist areas: Appenzell Ausserrhoden, Bern, Fribourg, Glarus, Grisons, Jura, Lucerne, Neuchâtel, Nid- and Obwalden, St. Gallen, Schaffhausen, Schwyz, Ticino, Uri, Vaud and Valais.
d) Commercial real estate and business premises
The acquisition of real estate is exempt from authorisation if it serves as a permanent place of business of a commercial or manufacturing trade, another trade conducted in a commercial manner, a craft enterprise or a liberal profession. Examples include factory buildings, office buildings, hotels, restaurants, medical practices, etc. Flats in commercial real estate and business premises can only be acquired without a permit in exceptional cases, for example if they are necessary for the company’s operations.
e) Swiss real estate companies and investment funds
Indirect investments in real estate, such as the acquisition of shares in real estate investment funds and the participation in a real estate company, are exempt from authorisation if the funds are publicly traded or the company is listed on a Swiss stock exchange.
6. What happens if I do not comply with the authorisation requirement?
If you cannot rule out the possibility that the acquisition of the real estate is a transaction requiring authorisation, you must apply to the competent cantonal authority for authorisation or for a declaration that authorisation is not required. If no authorisation is available for a transaction requiring authorisation, the entry in the land register or the acquisition of ownership cannot be executed. Infringements of the provisions of the Lex Koller can have consequences under administrative law, civil law and criminal law.
LINDEMANNLAW advises private and business clients on all real estate related transactions including the analysis of the acquisition of real estate by persons abroad (“Lex Koller”) as well as on the change of residence/business domicile to Switzerland. Contact our lawyers, auditors, tax advisors or notaries – we look forward to hearing from you.