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Moving into a new city is always a struggle. From the paperwork to establishing your base, Geneva can be hard, especially when you’re foreign or don’t speak French.

I hear you! In this guide of living in Geneva, I will provide actionable tips on the first steps you should do to settle in Geneva, including finding a place to stay, opening a bank account, and setting up your health insurance and liability insurance.


Finding your place to stay

To make the process of finding apartments and houses a lot easier, I suggest that you look into these following websites to find the latest available places at your price range:

The first three aggregate rental properties from Swiss real estate agencies. Quick tip: set daily alerts on these websites to get the latest available places of your liking. The Facebook marketplace also has available places listed now and then.

Group visits are quite frequent in Geneva because of high demand. Don’t panic if there’ s a dozen of you visiting the same place during a Thursday lunchtime.

Between Swiss locals, there’s an open secret on how it pays to know your real estate agencies because sometimes, great properties are not syndicated in the above websites. As a blog that tackles real estate, I suggest that you subscribe to Urboxed’ s newsletter to get more familiar with the real estate situation in Geneva and Switzerland.

Once you’ve presented your interest, the real estate agent will then ask you to fill in a rental form, and to submit some files, which should include the following:

  • Your employment contract, which should include details on your salary (most agents prefer that your net salary is 3x your rent).
  • Motivation letter on why you want this place.
  • Identity documents (e.g. passport, residence permit, carte de légitimation etc.)
  • Work permit or proof that you’ve claimed for a work permit (this process is notorious for getting delayed, after all).
  • Une attestation de non-poursuite, if you’re already a Geneva resident and have registered to the canton. 
  • A certificate of your liability insurance

Good to have:

  • An extract of your criminal record (grim, I know, but agents will find a way online to audit this).
  • CV
  • Reference letter from past landlord.
  • Copy of past rental contract

Once the agent has accepted your application, you will have to fill in un bail à loyer - French for rental agreement. Here’ s an example of one. This will include your terms of rent, from the size of the place to the duration of your contract. If you do not speak French, have this document translated, because there might be surprising details behind the fine print.

If you want to hire a real estate agent, because you don’t have time to look for a place, yourself, expect to pay them one month’s worth of rent.

If you’d prefer to live in neighboring France because it’s cheaper, as a frontalier you’ll have to pay additional taxes and be under a different health insurance law regime. So better do some research.

Opening a Swiss bank account (including from abroad) 

Now, you need to open a bank account to get your salary. Next to finding your place, getting a bank account is your second-most important step. 

In Switzerland, there are cantonal banks, national banks, and private banks. These include UBS, Credit Suisse, Raiffeisen and the Swiss post office. You might want to open an account with Banque Cantonale de Genève (BCGE), but when you leave Switzerland, they will want to close your account as soon as possible. In any case, you get an individual account manager you can email at your disposal. 

Expect to present documents, including your:

  • Identity documents
  • Your employment contract
  • Permanent address 
  • Bill history

There is a way to open a bank account from abroad, but it’s not as easy as in other countries like the UK. Contact your preferred bank online or via phone and ask for an application package. The conditions are stricter for Swiss banks, so expect to send authenticated documents via post (not email). This is an excellent option for people arriving in Geneva without a permanent address because many banks require a permanent address to open an account. It’s a catch-22 situation that can cause endless headaches!

Choosing your health insurance 

Health insurance is mandatory if you’re living in Geneva in most cases. You have three months upon arrival to select one for yourself. Once this period has elapsed, the canton will set you up with an insurance provider, if you haven’t done this yet. 

I suggest that you choose one after your first month because the canton won’t choose a health insurance for your specific needs. Couple with this, even if you’ve chosen during your third month in Geneva, you will have to pay for the two previous months, anyway, so the costs will end up being the same. 

There’s a lot of providers to choose from - 60 of them, in fact. So I suggest that you go into a comparison website like Comparis to get one to fit your needs. 

In a nutshell, there are two things you pay for:

Deductible - the amount of money you pay out of pocket for your healthcare costs before your insurance sets in. 300 CHF is the minimum and 2500 CHF the maximum. 

Premium - The amount you pay per month depending on your deductible. 

The higher your deductible is, the lower the premium will be. The Swiss government website has a premiums calculator in French, German and Italian. Once your insurance kicks in, too, you will still need to pay for the retention fee, which acts as an additional deductible and comprises 10% of your annual costs above your deductible, but this is capped at 700 CHF. 

You can also add supplements for additional benefits to your health insurance. 

If you live in France as a frontalier, you won’t need to apply for Swiss health insurance but one for frontaliers specifically. 

Taking out a liability insurance

When you’re looking for apartments or houses, agents will look for your liability insurance. This insures your personal belongings against theft and damages in your household. This could also include repairing issues on heating and electricity. 

Living in Geneva is expensive, and this is no more than 20 CHF -  at most. It’s a no-brainer to get one. Again, you can go to Comparis for comparison.

When you sign up to one, specify the amount of time you want to be insured. Sometimes, these insurance companies register you to up to 10 years, by default. But signing up for several years means that they can’t increase your premiums. It’s also so cheap that the deductible is not worth it.

When you leave the country, you can also cancel the contract for the day you leave. You won’t be asked to pay for the non-used years. 

To wrap it up, moving to Geneva is a whole process that can be quite difficult if you have no one to help you. Here, I’ve taught you the first things that you need to do to set your base in Geneva. 

As part of the series Living in Geneva, sign up to the Urboxed newsletter to get the next pointers about living in Geneva. After all, there’s still a lot more to learn about taxes, the transport system, or even being part of the local culture!