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Old 14.09.2020, 23:40
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Practical to retire in rural CH? UR, GL, OW?

My wife and I are 65-year-olds hoping to escape the U.S. for retirement to a, ahem, more civilized area. I'm just having trouble finding much on what a rural house on a small bit of land would really cost. We realize Switzerland is an expensive place to live and we aren't made of money, but figure we might be able to make it work.

We have lived in rural areas for most of our lives so would be looking at same in Switzerland. We now live on ~ 5 ha in western Colorado in a broad mountain valley next to my family's 40 ha of organic orchards. If we moved, we would just want a decent house and maybe only enough land to have a large garden, but in a quiet and relatively rural area (amidst farms?). We are surrounded by public lands here, which we use for hiking and nordic skiing and biking on the mountainy roads.

My research indicates the cheapest cantons that might fit the hiking/biking/skiing desires are Uri, Glarus, and Obwalden. I just can't find much on prices for houses and exactly how the land ownership and "zoning" works there. We could perhaps go as high as 500,000 CHF for small plot and house. Is it reasonable to find something in that range that fits our needs? We are looking for farming areas, not ski villages. Does anybody purchase land and then build a new house that suits them (like lots of solar gain and energy efficiency)? Would we have to buy an old farm house and fix it up? An outbuilding or room for a wood shop would be a huge plus. House sizes in CH seem to be about half of what we're used to here--our current house is about 200 m2 and that would be average in our area. Are they measured in the same way?

We are quite used to driving on mountain roads and can deal well with snow. But we don't want to be survivalists in the house--substantial comfort would be nice. I had quite a bit of German in college (long ago!) so that would be to go-to language. We are fine with lots of rules--that's one of the downsides of the "wild west" we live in--everyone insisting on their "freedoms" and forgetting about trying to get along with each other (or to just be *civil*).
Any and all advice will be welcome--its seems to be quite difficult to find out about living in the more rural areas of Switzerland.
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Old 15.09.2020, 01:30
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Re: Practical to retire in rural CH? UR, GL, OW?

Welcome to the forum Entrada.

Since the question will undoubtedly come up, I'll do the honors:

Your profile says you are from the US. Are you also Swiss or EU citizens?

The question goes to permits, as you hopefully have already researched the issue and know that an American (or any non-EU citizen) cannot move to Switzerland simply because you want to. Switzerland has very restrictive immigration policies - and in a few weeks another referendum will be held on making these restrictions even tighter.

If you are a gazillionaire, of course, that's another story. But for everyday average folks, the welcome mat is rarely rolled out for non-EU folks looking to live here without job sponsorship. (Which is not easy to get either.)

If you have CH/EU citizenship then this doesn't not apply. If that is the case you can stay as long as you can support yourself.


---

So with that out of the way:

First thing, coming from 5 ha in the US, is to get your head around how very small, and in many areas very crowded, this country is. A huuuuuuge piece of land is... wait for it... 1000m2. That's a whole quarter acre. And very rare at that. In fact, most homes are built on 300-500m2. Heck, even owning a single family home, no matter how small, is not common. This is a country where most people live in flats. There is truly is a different concept of space. We measure land and living space by the centimeter.

Most of us have no option but to live cheek-to-jowl with our neighbors. Even in rural communities houses are often built very close together in order to share infrastructure.

Yes, there are adorable chalets tucked away in the mountains. And everybody wants one.

Yes, you can get a small house for 500K. In less desireable areas you will get more for that money, in desireable areas you might get a tool shed if you are lucky. Seriously. And yes, houses tend to be quite a bit smaller than what we are used to in the US.

(When my US friends come to visit, they are shocked at the 'poverty' in which we live. Friends start asking probing question, thinking we must have fallen on very hard times to be living in such a tiny shoebox of a house.)



If you are looking at a farming community, you need also to understand the difference between buildable land (Wohnzone) and agricultural/other use properties. In many farming communities the land is zoned agricultural meaning it can't be built on, or the property might be burdened with a boatload of restrictions. These restrictions might make it very difficult to renovate if you wish to add on space.

There are also properties regulated by the BGBB, the law on farm properties, which make it almost impossible for a foreigner to buy.


Your best bet (after making sure you are eligible to move here in the first place) would be to take an extended trip here to visit and research various areas. (In a post COVID world, of course. Travel restriction still apply, and are not likely to lift anytime soon given the utter shambles the pandemic response has been in the US.)

For 500K, you likely need to be farther out from a metro area. As in, out of commuting range. But those rural village also pose an issue for retirees: Infrastructure, especially health care. Once you find an area you like, check this aspect out carefully.


I could go on and on... but first before I do: Have you determined that you qualify for a residency permit?

Last edited by meloncollie; 15.09.2020 at 02:00.
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Old 15.09.2020, 07:10
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Re: Practical to retire in rural CH? UR, GL, OW?

Welcome to the forum.

As Meloncollie said, your first priority is to find out whether you'd be able to get a permit to live here. Permits can be granted to non-EU retirees, but it's down to the Swiss authorities to decide if what you think is enough to live on is the same as what they think it should be. If they don't think it is then they won't grant you a permit, simple as that.

https://www.ch.ch/en/retirement-or-study-switzerland

Contact the relevant cantonal authority and ask them if your finances would be likely to get you a permit or not.

Another thing to be aware of is that as US citizens you're still obligated to file US tax returns and could owe the US tax on top of any Swiss ones. This is because the US tax system is based on citizenship, not residency like the rest of the world. Start your research here

https://www.irs.gov/individuals/inte...g-requirements

Americans are also persons non gratis as far as most Swiss banks are concerned due to the US's FACTA law so your banking choices will be limited and to open an account here you'll have to agree to the bank sending your account details on to the IRS.

You'd also need to check what coverage, if any, Medicare may give you here. Health insurance coverage is mandatory here unless you can prove you have equivalent cover in some other form. I don't know how Medicare measures up with that so you may have to factor in health insurance costs into your monthly costs. Basic insurance coverage is very good and you can't be excluded by any pre-existing conditions, but if you have any then you may not be able to get any additional supplemental coverage you might want.

As far as house hunting goes you can look at the following sites to get an idea of what might be available (subject to permit approval).

www.immoscout24.ch
www.immostreet.ch
www.homegate.ch
www.home.ch

And do remember that, as MC said, it's not just a case of deciding to move and that's the same anywhere in the world. There are always some rules/regulations you need to check out so if you decide Switzerland isn't the place for you then your first point of research for another country is whether as a foreigner it's even possible to move to said country.
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Old 15.09.2020, 18:37
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Re: Practical to retire in rural CH? UR, GL, OW?

Thank you so much for the welcome! We really appreciate the details--it's been hard to find info that's not put out by relocation businesses or someone who has an agenda. The links provided are excellent resources--especially the taxation and housing. I have found plenty written about the urban areas, perhaps not as much about the touristy mountain resort villages, but very little about what I'm sure must be "less desirable" rural farming areas. My prior searches for houses in the smaller cantons has not turned up much. I clearly got the sense that we would be downsizing significantly in floor area.

We are US citizens and I realize gaining a permit is not straightforward, but it does appear possible. We are looking at a couple of years down the road, at least, so plan on spending several trips of longish stays to understand the situation and demonstrate our interest. Maybe it won't be possible--that's what we're trying to learn. We're too old to qualify for work permits. I have a PhD in geosciences and am a professor of mathematics, but that's not going to matter much I think.

The difference in regulations between cantons is difficult to penetrate, especially without a good grasp of German (another thing we will work toward if the move seems feasible). I identified Uri, Glarus, and Obwalden simply from a list of lowest combined costs of living.

No problem with being removed from a metro area--that's kind of the point. We are quite healthy and I'm aware of need to buy health insurance--just another piece of this complex puzzle we're investigating.

As far as land area, I long ago passed up the opportunity to be a real farmer, so it's not that I want a large plot of land to work. We'd be fine if we had enough for a large veggie garden. But the more important aspect is the surroundings--we much prefer being amidst open land than suburban houses. So here's the question--are the houses always clustered because of land use regulations, or can one be on a small plot yet surrounded by mostly farmlands? Does that imply lack of running water and such?
We most definitely don't want to be "ugly Americans"--we realize there will be big differences and we can accept that, if we are well informed about the situation.
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Old 15.09.2020, 19:15
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Re: Practical to retire in rural CH? UR, GL, OW?

Frankly, with the money you mention that you may have for a house plus your interest in the "cheap" cantons, I think permits will be extremely difficult to get.

Also, you seem to have no relations to Switzerland, not sure you have ever been here? If you are looking for rural, space, outdoors, "more civilized" yet financially not totally suicidal, isn't rather Canada a place for you?
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Old 15.09.2020, 21:15
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Re: Practical to retire in rural CH? UR, GL, OW?

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I have found plenty written about the urban areas, perhaps not as much about the touristy mountain resort villages, but very little about what I'm sure must be "less desirable" rural farming areas.
Hello, welcome to the forum.

Well, I'm not sure less desirable rural farming areas even exist in CH. Maybe in the Jura mountains but the cantons you mention (Uri, Glarus and Obdwalden) have the majestic mountains, so a lot of people try to buy something there.

Obwalden is basically the Engelberg/Titlis ski resort. But, while driving to Engelberg I have seen a couple towns with houses a little bit less well-kept in Nidwalden. I think it's important to put emphasis that in Switzerland there's not a single place that you could describe as 100% town for ski tourists or 100% less desirable farming area. Even the most expensive ski towns have farms, around and what could be called the less desirable farming areas have more hotels and tourists than you'd expect.

If you want to take a look at the prices I remember 2 websites homegate.ch and immoscout24.ch But, the info on websites is not the whole story, lots of properties are sold without ever appearing online. Anyway, you get an idea of prices.

It is not common to buy an empty piece of land and build a new house. I guess getting a new building permit is hard enough to discourage everyone but the extremely rich. Renovating old houses is more common. People renovates 100 or 200 year old houses and furnish them with the most recent technology in windows, thermal insulation and heating.

One thing you don't mention is what's the link to Switzerland, children, relatives? This will be an important question when applying for the visa. Also have you lived in Switzerland before? Not a bad idea to spend a couple months in one those towns in the mountains.
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Old 15.09.2020, 21:31
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Re: Practical to retire in rural CH? UR, GL, OW?

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Hello, welcome to the forum.

Well, I'm not sure less desirable rural farming areas even exist in CH
Do you really live in the Aargau?

OP: What makes you want to move here over Germany or Austria? You'd get a lot more for your money there. If you can only afford 500k then the cost of everyday living might be pretty daunting. 500k is tbh a tiny budget here and would get you a small (1 bed) apartment in my village, which is hardly an urban centre. Looking for a large amount of land on that tiny is ambitious. Something would have to be wrong with the house.

Groceries are double or triple the price in the US. Here is good for high salaries and low taxes - which as a retired person and as an American you wouldn't benefit from.

Honestly it wouldn't be my pick for a place to retire to.

Last edited by HickvonFrick; 15.09.2020 at 21:45.
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Old 15.09.2020, 21:43
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Re: Practical to retire in rural CH? UR, GL, OW?

I would suggest the OP forget about Switzerland... 500k is not enough and if you have no ties to the country, you can shake it.

Have you thought about the Pyrenees mountains in the north of Spain ? Spain has a golden visa program where you get a free family 'green card' with every purchase of a house 500k or over....
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Old 15.09.2020, 21:45
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Re: Practical to retire in rural CH? UR, GL, OW?

OP, I would look at Canada or Portugal. You don't sound rich enough for this move. Maybe move to a better part of Colorado?
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Old 15.09.2020, 21:48
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Re: Practical to retire in rural CH? UR, GL, OW?

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OP. I would look at Canada or Portugal. You don't sound rich enough for this move. Maybe move to a better part of Colorado?
Aren't you the bloke looking for 350k rusticos up in the mountains?
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Old 15.09.2020, 22:00
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Re: Practical to retire in rural CH? UR, GL, OW?

Hmmm... There are many, many countries in the world that offer what you seek - space, rurality, quality of life etc.


Almost ALL of them are far cheaper to retire to than Switzerland.


SOME of them will even give you permission to live there.


A FEW will even welcome you, despite FATCA.


I love this place, there are many things to like about it and its people. But I sure as hell won't be retiring here.


You can live in pleasant luxury on modest means twice as long somewhere else.


(To echo the post above, I'd choose Canada over CH).


Kind regards




Ian
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Old 15.09.2020, 22:32
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Re: Practical to retire in rural CH? UR, GL, OW?

If you really value 'open land' as you say, I would really think again about Switzerland. It is nothing like the vast open spaces of US west, and land is very expensive, if you can find it. And even if you find it, buildable land is very hard to come by and sells at a premium. I think every house in CH you will be in sight view of anorher except perhaps an isolated farm that most likely is not available to forigners or a primitive mourain hut/barn only livable certain months of the year and likely only hikable to (no car access). Most of this has to do with strict zoning, at least in comparison to US standards which means dwellings are concentrated in cities/villages, precious agricultural land remains so and in the hands of the Swiss, and the rest is mostly mountains of which most has already been built on where possible. On the positive side, you won't have to go far for a café, gas station and public transport stop.

Another point to consider is if you want to go rural, you might be very isolated socially. Please read some of the threads here on making swiss friends, integration and the like. It is very difficult to start from scratch at 65 plus in a rural place where the rest of the village is in-bred for generations and all the friendships were made in kindergarten. At least in the more urban areas you will meet other expats, have films in English, and have more social circles and activities available to you. And I wouldn't even attempt this without a solid understanding of the language.

I also think that you have a peculiar list of cantons being considered. These are some of the smallest cantons in area and not really known for vast farmlands. If I wanted cheap open spaces, Neuchâtel and Jura come to mind. But these are also known as high tax cantons and are French speaking, so may not fit your criteria. There is usually always an inverse relationship between land/housing costs and taxes.
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Old 15.09.2020, 22:41
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Re: Practical to retire in rural CH? UR, GL, OW?

Yes Jura would probably be the most realistic option in Switzerland. Cheap property, close to France for cheap groceries. Still probably going to have to tone down expectations of large amounts of land.
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Old 15.09.2020, 22:57
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Re: Practical to retire in rural CH? UR, GL, OW?

You should google the requirements to move to Switzerland.

As retirees you will need to prove you can support yourselves, not be a potential burden to the state and also pay for obligatory medical care.

IMO you will need funds running into millions to buy a set-up you are seeking and support yourselves for the next 25 years and pay taxes here...

Sorry!
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Old 15.09.2020, 23:03
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Re: Practical to retire in rural CH? UR, GL, OW?

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Aren't you the bloke looking for 350k rusticos up in the mountains?

Trying to keep it around 300k

Seriously though, I have C-Permit, EU, been here many years and will marry a Swiss lady soon

Last edited by Talk to you later; 15.09.2020 at 23:59.
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Old 15.09.2020, 23:14
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Re: Practical to retire in rural CH? UR, GL, OW?

Entrada, as so many posters have said, it is difficult for a non-EU citizen who is not seriously minted or seriously connected to retire to Switzerland. Do not underestimate this point.

It's not a question of whether your assets will be sufficient to provide for you here, it's that the entry bar is set high. While Switzerland rolls out the red carpet for the UHNW - provided one is ready to leave a great deal of that NW in Swiss coffers - it tries it's best to keep the door shut to most everyone else.

Look at it from the Swiss perspective - if you are not contributing to the Swiss economy, why should Switzerland allow you in? What do you bring to the table? If you decide to pursue this move, keep this attitude in mind.

Currently anti-immigrant feeling is running high. One constantly hears 'The boat is full'. Around my village when you hear the word "Auslander' it's almost always preceeded by the adjective 'blöde'.

One thing about that 500K small house in the boondocks: You might be able to afford it, but as a foreigner you might not have sufficient 'Vitamin B' to hear about such a property coming up for sale. Especially in the areas you are talking about.

I understand the desire to leave the US, we are on the brink of something very very ugly. I shudder at the thought of going back... but despite our 20+ years here, chances are we must go back. Or at least somewhere else.

Wishing you all the best.
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Old 16.09.2020, 00:00
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Re: Practical to retire in rural CH? UR, GL, OW?

Language will be an issue too. Specially outside large cities.
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Old 16.09.2020, 00:37
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Re: Practical to retire in rural CH? UR, GL, OW?

What a great forum. All good points. Just to clarify--the 500k is what we figure we can spend for a house. We also have savings, pension, etc to live on that is probably at least double that and we aren't spendy people. But I appreciate the comments about cost of living--not a surprise and it is a big concern.
Also to clarify--we aren't looking for a large piece of land--it's just what we're used to. We do like to have a large garden and that would be enough. It's the surroundings that are just as important. My wife (and me to lesser extent) really values quiet. We're just used to not having a lot of activity around us.

Canada?--yes, that was high on our list. But somewhat ruled out for an odd reason. My wife is highly allergic to poison ivy, and our stays in Canada have been marred by that. I know it sounds trivial, but we really like to get out to hike and camp, and that's not so great when you have to avoid vegetation. I also think the climate in Switzerland is somewhat nicer--true? Both of us have lived at least a dozen years in Minnesota so we have some idea of what farther north is.
We are really optimizing for somewhere where we are comfortable with the politics and have available nordic skiing and mountain hiking. Our area of Colorado is wonderful, but is deeply in-your-face conservative. Climate change denial, science denial, guns on hip in Walmart, big expansions of oil drilling on public lands, etc. I don't want to start political discussions; it's just not us. Places that sound nice, like Portugal or Uruguay, don't have the winter sports. Maybe Germany or Austria. My sense is that Austria politics are more problematic.
My wife spent a couple of weeks in Kanderstag and thought it was nirvana. That's as a tourist, of course, but it highly colors our choices. Me?--I've been 100 yards into CH as a side trip while on a bike tour over the Stelvio Pass . We certainly will get to Switzerland again for extended stays before we make any decisions. We've spent substantial time in Italy on bike trips. Scenery and food was superb, but not so sure we want to live there--how can I describe it?--maybe respect for rules is not so great. I'm not good at gaming the system, and it seemed like there's a lot of that there.
Sure--it all depends on whether we can get in the door. We're still learning about that. The decision may be made for us, but we haven't given up yet.
Thanks so much for all of the input! Very valuable to hear freely from people with direct knowledge.
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Old 16.09.2020, 04:03
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Re: Practical to retire in rural CH? UR, GL, OW?

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Our area of Colorado is wonderful, but is deeply in-your-face conservative. Climate change denial, science denial, guns on hip in Walmart, big expansions of oil drilling on public lands, etc. I don't want to start political discussions; it's just not us. Places that sound nice, like Portugal or Uruguay, don't have the winter sports. Maybe Germany or Austria. My sense is that Austria politics are more problematic.
I'm afraid that there might be few surprises waiting for you here. Switzerland is not really a liberal and progressive country, specifically in rural regions which you mentioned. If conservative politics are enough for you to leave the USA, then there's a decent chance that you won't find happiness here either.

I would recommend multi-day hiking trips in rural areas to get at least a bit of feeling how the villages function there. While there are many small communities, it might not be easy to integrate there. Since you travelled to Europe before, you should alreay know how different rural areas are from the US. Thus, you're very likely to have a house with garden while still having neighbors around you, lone houses that belong to neither farmers nor rich people are not common here.

While I understand your life goals, there's a significant disadvantage of living outside of the major cities. And it's not even the case of integrating with 100% Swiss community. Many rural cantons are very small, thus even canton capitals have limited services. How likely is that you will be able to find a family doctor speaking English? Are you prepared to commute longer distances to a nearest English speaking specialist? When you find a bank accepting American customers, where will be the nearest branch that you can use in case of need? While many Swiss people have a very good English level, it's not guaranteed that your small Gemeinde will have many clerks speaking decent English. And villages add difficulty due to presence of local dialects - please remember that Swiss German is difficult for Germans immigrating into Switzerland, native speakers might need few weeks to properly understand it, let alone update their vocabulary.
Many services work wonderfully online, as long as you don't become a rare or unusual case.
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Old 16.09.2020, 06:16
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Re: Practical to retire in rural CH? UR, GL, OW?

yarpen--Can you briefly elaborate on the "...in a few weeks another referendum will be held on making these restrictions even tighter." ?

Obviously the immigration regulations present a barrier for us. The question is how insurmountable? --and how much worse is it getting? I gather that it varies by canton and there also appears to be discretion. How the heck would we investigate that? Do we just start floating inquiries to the local authorities?
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