Brexit: What you need to know about acquisition of real estate in Switzerland by a UK national - Tax and Legal blog

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Real estate transactions in Switzerland by UK nationals are subject to new conditions which are in force as of 1st March 2021 with retroactive effect from 1st January 2021. Knowledge of the legal protection of the acquired rights and particularities of the applicable framework are crucial to plan residential real estate investments.

The purchase and retention of real estate by UK citizens in Switzerland is contemplated by the agreement on “acquired citizens’ rights” signed on 25 February 2019 by the governments of Switzerland and UK to maintain continuity of rights and benefits for their nationals. As a consequence, the Federal Law on the Acquisition of Real Estate by Persons Abroad and its ordinance (so-called Lex Koller) was modified and the modifications entered into force on 1st March 2021.

Lex Koller application

Foreign real estate investments in Switzerland are subject to the fulfilment of the restrictive conditions laid down in Lex Koller. While the acquisition of residential real estate by persons abroad is possible only in limited cases, the acquisition of business premises is possible without limitations. “Persons abroad” are EU/EFTA nationals with no legally constituted and effective Swiss residence and nationals of other states with no permanent Swiss residence permit. In the specific case of EU/EFTA cross-border commuters, the acquisition of a secondary residence in the region of their workplace in Switzerland is not subject to the authorisation regime.

Following Brexit, UK nationals are no longer citizens of the EU. As a consequence, their real estate investments could fall within the scope of the Lex Koller requirements. If during the transition period ended 31 December 2020 UK nationals were still treated as EU citizens from a Lex Koller perspective, their regime has now changed.

UK nationals benefiting from the acquired rights

Since 1st January 2021, UK nationals are not considered “persons abroad” if their domicile was settled in Switzerland prior to this date and is effective.

Hence, these UK nationals are treated as EU/EFTA nationals and the limitations set up by Lex Koller do not apply to them, notably when acquiring their residence or a second property, selling their main residence, or investing in real estate in Switzerland.

With regards to UK nationals who were already cross-border commuters in Switzerland prior to 1st January 2021 and intend to maintain this status thereafter, the acquisition of a secondary residence in the region of their workplace in Switzerland will be possible without authorisation.

UK nationals becoming a “person abroad”

Other UK nationals, immigrating to Switzerland from 1st January 2021, will be subject to a different regime, as they are considered “persons abroad”. As a consequence, the limitations provided for by the Lex Koller requirements in relation to the acquisition and sale of residential property in Switzerland will be applicable to them. For example, the acquisition of residential property will be allowed only for their main residence, under certain restrictive conditions, and will need to be authorised. The acquisition of a second residence will only be possible in tourist areas, as designated by cantons, and could also be subject to restrictive conditions in terms of duration of ownership and the area of the property.

Deloitte’s View

While real estate investments in Switzerland remain attractive, compliance with the Lex Koller requirements applicable to UK nationals will be closely observed by the authorities. To ensure the efficient planning of a future real estate purchase or to consider an investment, it will be essential for a UK national to obtain the relevant advice needed for a project of this kind.

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Jürg Birri blog- 1

Jürg Birri - Partner, Deloitte Private

Jürg leads the legal practice at Deloitte in Switzerland. He joined the firm as a Partner in 2019. Jürg is an Attorney-at-Law and a Federal Tax Expert and advises clients in the financial services industry on a wide range of tax and regulatory issues. He is in charge of a large team of lawyers and experts who specialise in business, corporate, M&A, employment, as well as private client and financial market law.

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Paul de Blasi - Director, Deloitte Legal

Paul is a Swiss qualified Attorney-at-Law with over 15 years of professional experience. Since 2017 he has been leading the legal practice of Deloitte in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. His practice focuses on domestic and international merger and acquisition transactions and all aspects of general corporate and commercial law, including assistance to management and boards of directors, assistance to shareholders, family members and private clients. Paul is a member of the board of directors of his own family business and a member of the Family Business Network Switzerland and International (FBN).

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Melania Sirbu - Manager, Deloitte Legal

Melania is a Swiss qualified Attorney-at-Law with over 6 years of professional experience as a business legal adviser in Switzerland. She specialises in commercial transactions and M&A legal services, contracts and corporate law, focusing notably on real-estate investments, private equity and commodities trading across a number of industries. Melania is used to working in multidisciplinary and international teams.

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