Image: UBS, Ailine Liefeld

Four percent of new pensioners currently use their retirement as an opportunity to move. In the study “Where to live in old age”(PDF, 6 MB) (in German), the UBS Chief Investment Office assumes that higher real estate prices and rents could cause this percentage to increase further in future.

To the mountains, Ticino or the neighboring canton

75 percent of those who decide to move on retirement remain in Switzerland. Five cantons are particularly popular: the mountainous regions of Wallis and Graubünden, sunlit Ticino, plus Freiburg and Thurgau. These last two cantons are particularly popular among people from the neighboring cantons of Vaud and Zurich.

Evaluation of the data gathered shows that the majority of pensioners remain living in a region where the same language is spoken when making a permanent move, and that they choose a canton with lower living costs.

Do you have questions about housing or retirement?

Even if you’re well prepared for your retirement and your future living situation, you may still have unanswered questions. We'll be happy to advise you.

Example: Peter Muster moves house

UBS has created an example case to illustrate the financial impact of a permanent move between cantons on retirement: Peter Muster is a homeowner, but the results would only be slightly different for someone who is renting. Peter is single, holds CHF 1 million in liquid assets, and moves at the age of 65. In his new municipality, he buys an 80-square-meter apartment finished to a high standard and finances half the cost with a mortgage. After his move, Peter withdraws all of his CHF 1 million in capital from pillar 2.

Big cities are expensive

Ten years after retiring, those based in east Switzerland, Ticino or in parts of north-west and central Switzerland have the highest overall assets. The people whose assets have reduced the most are those who chose to live in the canton of Zurich, one of the two Basel cantons or most places in west Switzerland.

Choosing Schaffhausen or Appenzell Innerrhoden over Zurich can result in a CHF 150,000 or ten-percent increase in assets. Someone who moves from the canton of Geneva to Wallis would save up to CHF 80,000 over ten years, equivalent to five percent more assets.

Four main factors account for the differences between cantons:

  • Real estate prices
  • Capital withdrawal tax
  • Income and wealth taxes
  • Cost of living

Avoid liquidity shortfalls due to high real estate prices

Real estate prices are also high in expensive cities like Zurich, Basel and Geneva. The same applies to Zug and popular vacation destinations in the Bern and Wallis Alps and Engadin.

In the highest-priced regions, buying a property of the same size will mean less money left over for living costs. Should a financial shortfall occur, this will reduce the value of the property, even though it is possible to economize on non-essential home maintenance. Under some circumstances, liquidity shortfalls could make selling your property necessary.

Pay attention to progressive taxation when withdrawing your capital

Someone who withdraws money from their pension fund as capital – rather than as a pension – pays capital withdrawal tax on the chosen amount. In our example and across Switzerland, this tax makes up around 12 percent of overall expenses over the 10-year period on average.

While the differences between cantons are modest when withdrawing CHF 1 million, the situation is very different for a withdrawal of CHF 2 million: in the cities of Zurich and Bellinzona, around CHF 100,000 more than the average for the rest of Switzerland will be owed solely due to progressive taxation. The amount of capital withdrawal tax can be partially reduced either through semi-retirement or, in the case of married couples, by spreading the capital withdrawals over several years.

Tax rates are a factor, depending on the situation

In the example, income tax in retirement accounts for an average of eight percent of total expenses, significantly less than when working. Capital tax accounts for five percent of expenses. Pensioners in French-speaking Switzerland and in the two Basel half-cantons tend to pay higher income and wealth taxes. Central Switzerland, Appenzell lnnerrhoden and parts of Graubunden on the other hand are very attractive from a tax perspective. Tax rates are especially relevant to those retiring with an above-average income and a lot of assets. In this case, living in central Switzerland would be beneficial.

Important: You can't move to another canton shortly before retirement, make a one-off pension fund withdrawal, then move back to your old canton, as the tax office would consider this to be tax evasion.

Living costs are the main expense

Along with health insurance premiums, “other living costs” account for two-thirds of all expenses – the biggest item by far. In this regard, the canton of Ticino is the cheapest place to live in old age. However, health insurance premiums tend to be lower in German-speaking Switzerland than in other parts of the country. The highest cost of living is found in several cantons in central Switzerland, Zurich and Geneva.

Costs are (just) one perspective

Where you live after retirement has a considerable influence on the proportion of your assets that will remain at your disposal. But not everyone who moves after retirement chooses their new home purely for cost reasons. Your personal situation, for example proximity to family members, also plays an important role.

It's a good idea to get to grips with the question of how to optimize your place of residence early on, especially as demand for housing suitable for pensioners increases. By the end of the decade, many baby boomers will reach normal retirement age, which will increase the number of new pensioners by 25 percent.