Finding housing in Geneva

Since finding housing in Geneva can be extremely difficult, it is crucial to start arranging accommodation as soon as you get your letter of acceptance! The situation is complicated not only because Geneva is a rather expensive city (the 4th most expensive for expats in the world) but also because there is a serious shortage of rooms. The standard price for renting or subletting a room ranges from 800 to 1500 CHF per month depending on location, time of year, and luck.

Student housing is usually less expensive, ranging from approximately 500 to 800 CHF. While trying to find a flat to share with more people seems like a good idea it is generally difficult to make happen. A Swiss guarantor is often required and not everyone is willing to rent to students. Hence, you are more likely to find a room for one person.

The major housing options are living in student residences, other housing associations, or rooms/apartments rented by private individuals. Since it can be difficult to find a place in Geneva, many students also opt for living around Geneva – either further along the lake, usually between Geneva and Lausanne, or in France. Many independent municipalities such as Vernier, Meyrin, Troinex, or Lancy are effectively part of the town and commute to the Graduate Institute can take 20-40 min. Lausanne is connected by train, approximately 40 min away.

While living in France can be much cheaper, depending on your nationality you may need to arrange for French visa, residence permits, etc. and it may thus not be an option for non-EU or non-Swiss citizens.

Edgar de Picciotto Student Residence

The Edgar de Picciotto Student Residence is the Institute’s own building that is reserved exclusively for the Institute community (students and professors). It contains 135 furnished apartments that have a total of 234 beds; this represents about 30% of the Institute’s student population.

The rooms range from 700 CHF (shared apartments with shared bathrooms, often on lower floors) all the way up to a family apartment with two bedrooms on the top floor for 2,600 CHF. You can find all of the different types of apartments available in the Maison des Etudiants on the Graduate Institute’s website. That website also contains information on selection to the building, application, important dates, and more resources.

Student Residences

Most students live in one of the student ‘foyers’ (residences/dormitories). Usually, these offer furnished single rooms with shared bathroom (but often with sinks in the room) and kitchen facilities, both dormitory-style and apartment-style. Kitchens are shared and you are often required to provide your own cookware and utensils. All foyers are relatively close to the town center and thus to the Graduate Institute. The major student residences in Geneva are:

  • Cité Universitaire de Genève
    • Single rooms and studio accommodation for couples. Single rooms cost between 480 CHF and 580 CHF per month, while the rent for studios ranges from 840 to 865 CHF per month. There is some variation in style, size and quality of rooms. While rooms in buildings A & B are organised along corridors, rooms in buildings C & D are organised in flats. Building D is the most modern.
    • The Cité is by far the largest student accommodation. Many IHEID and UniGe students live here.
    • The Cité also organises the letting of apartments in the Résidence Simon Patiño, down the road from the main Cité “campus”.
    • The Cité is further from the town centre but well serviced by bus 3 (about 20 minutes to Gare Cornavin central station) and close to gym facilities, tennis courts, football (soccer) fields, and hiking trails.
  • Centre St-Boniface (CSTB)
    • Single rooms of varying sizes and a small number of studios in the Plainpalais town centre area. Rooms cost from 450 CHF to 805 CHF and the rent for studios is 1010 CHF per month. The rooms are in 2 buildings: A & B. There is one industrial-sized kitchen that is shared by all students (~150 in varying locations) in building A.
    • At St Boniface, you’ll find a mix of students from IHEID, UniGe, and interns.
    • Close access to tram lines, grocery and convenience stores, student bars, restaurants and pubs, movie theatres, Old Town, and the Uni-Mail library. The very convenient location comes with the tradeoff of noise from events on the Plainpalais square from time to time.
    • Be prepared to write a letter of motivation and make sure you can get a family member or a friend to write you a letter of recommendation.
  • Résidence Universitaire Internationale (RUI & Carlton)
    • Two-bedroom apartment-style housing and studios. Located in the Pâquis area close to Lac Léman, Gare Cornavin, tram lines, restaurants, bars and pubs, department stores, and just a few minute walk to the Graduate Institute.
  • Foyer International St-Justin
    • Single rooms, double rooms, and studios located in Pâquis close to RUI offers low-priced accommodation. Be aware that internet connection is a long-term problem and many students have unreliable or no internet access in their rooms.  Also, if you are accepted to St-Justin, wait before purchasing cookware since the kitchen has special stoves that require specific types of pots and pans.
  • Centre Universitaire Protestante (CUP)
    • Two major buildings in the Plainpalais region (one by the Cirque stop on the 15 tram line; one near the Plainpalais/Uni-Mail stops).
    • Shared 3, 4, 5, and 6-room flats featuring individual rooms and common areas (kitchen, living room, bathroom). Also a few number of flats for couples with or without children.

When applying to these options, stay on the ball! Respond quickly to communication sent to you by these residences. Do not expect to be told that you have not been allocated a room. Many residences only contact applicants that have received a room. Therefore, don’t think you work is done once you have applied for several residences. In the past asking multiple times to the same residences over a span of several weeks has proved to be a successful strategy. Since many of these residences simply fill places when a spot opens, and do not have a waiting list, your luck in timing may impact your success more than anything else.

Other housing options

Except for student residences there are other options ranging from student housing cooperatives, to housing announcements by various communities (expats, students, etc), and general announcements in newspapers.

  • GHI: Free weekly Geneva newspaper, published every Wednesday that contains the many listings regarding accommodation.
  • Ciguë: A housing cooperative that rents affordable (sometimes incredibly cheap) non-furnished rooms to students and other individuals receiving education or training. The cooperative is self-administered and slightly chaotic but well worth the effort. In order to be put on the mailing list announcing available rooms, one has to come in person to register. New offers come as rooms open and the current residents choose the replacement, which can be a very competitive process as there are many candidates and relatively few rooms.
  • Glocals: A community of friendly international minded expats & locals who also organize cultural and sporting events. Make sure to be quick when replying to posts.
  • Homegate: A consolidated listing of flats and houses for rent by local property management companies. A good place to find six-bedroom flats to share, for example. Renting through property management firms can sometimes take longer, require a one-time (non-refundable) reservation payment, and contracts may need to be signed for 2-4 years. It differs from one situation to another.

Practical information

  • Beware of Scams!: Finding a place, which is not part of a student residence, without being in Geneva often proves very difficult. Be very careful with room offers posted on facebook or flatshare websites. Do not pay any money (for deposits etc) before seeing the place, signing a contract, and receiving the keys. These types of scams are extremely common.
  • Attestation d’immatriculation: Many foyers will ask for a copy of your Attestation d’immatriculation when you apply. Go ahead and apply anyway by sending in a copy of your acceptance letter, indicating that your ‘immatriculation’ is in progress.
  • Keys and Deposits
    • If you obtain a place in a UNIGE residence, make sure you arrive in Geneva during Bureau de Logement working hours (Mon-Fri 10h-13h, 14h-16h), to pick up your key. You will also have to make a security deposit equal to one month’s rent. UNIGE housing requires the deposit to be made in the Banque Cantonale de Geneve (BCGE) before you can obtain your key.
    • The same goes for other foyers – check their individual office hours and ask in advance about their procedure for making deposits, as some are more flexible than others. Some even restrict arrival to a 2-hour window.
    • If there is a chance that your transportation to Geneva could be delayed, and that you may not get your key on the same day, we recommend booking an alternative accommodation in a hostel or cheap hotel (see below) for the first night. Note that hostels are very busy at this time of year, so it is best to book in advance if you think you may be arriving outside of key-pick-up hours.
  • Subletting vs Leasing: Subletting may be the best initial option since long term rentals with rental agencies often require a residence permit, proof of income, and sometimes a police record check (‘attestation de non poursuite’). Unless you have a Swiss guarantor or more than solid proof of income it will be very hard, if not impossible, to lease an apartment, which is why subletting a room or living in student residence are more viable alternatives to leasing and why renting apartments in groups is difficult.
  • Apartment Description: In Switzerland, unlike in some other countries, every ‘room’ of the apartment (such as the kitchen, living room, and sometimes even the bathroom) counts in the description provided. Hence, 3-pièce apartment contains only one bedroom, 4-pièce two, etc. There can also be 5½-pièce apartment but then the kind of rooms counted tends to be specified.

Still homeless?

If you did not manage to get any accommodation, you should try to sublet for a week or two while you look for something more permanent. Among other short term options you can try:

  • Second years: Sometimes second years sublet their current accommodation for short periods of time. Lots of announcements are made on this or this facebook group, or in the group for incoming students. You may also find useful offers in the facebook groups by the Geneva Interns Association and Geneva Expats.
  • Foyers: You can arrange short term accommodation at many of the foyers – even if they turned down your application for long term accommodation – they usually have some place for short term accommodation for approximately 1-2 weeks. Also, try emailing them or showing up in person to speak to the receptionist. Don’t be afraid of insisting! Students sometimes cancel their accommodation and if the receptionist remembers who you are, or if you show up at the right time, you may be offered the room on a short or long term basis.
  • Hostels: You could also stay at one of the youth hostels such as Geneva Youth Hostel (Hostelling International) or Geneva Backpacker Hostel.
  • CouchSurfing: For those of you who feel comfortable with the option, you can try to get by the first few days by finding host(s) on CouchSurfing.
  • Airbnb: Many student also choose to rent an Airbnb for the first few days in Geneva.

To connect with other students in a similar situation visit the facebook group of the incoming group of students. While this may not solve your problem, there will definitely be someone else in your situation and not being alone in this can be a source of relief.

Not afraid of commuting? Live in France!

Swiss prices are significantly higher than French prices, for housing and food. So if your visa situation allows you to live in France, it can be a solution to find a cheaper place.

The main options are:

  • Ferney-Voltaire: The closest French town from IHEID. A bus from Nations takes you in the center of the town in 20min. There you can find plenty of useful services (bank, bakery, shops, even a bio grocery shop called Satoriz).
  • Annemasse: Three times bigger than Ferney, Annemasse is on the other side of the Canton of Geneva so you would need about 50 min to commute to the Institute with a change at Cornavin (less by bike). Annemasse is a more lively town with a shopping mall and a train station.
  • Saint Genis Pouilly: Close to the CERN, this town is similar to Ferney but less connected to the Institute. You will need 45min with 2 changes to reach the centre of the town. The advantage of St Genis is that a huge number of CERN interns share flats in this town so if you want an international shared flat for a good price, this is an option.

You can find flats or rooms in shared houses in those towns through French website such as Le bon coin, seloger.com or pap.fr. The disadvantage of living in France is that transports to Geneva are not very frequent, especially after 9pm and during the weekend.

GISA Emergency Housing

If you have arrived in Geneva and do not have housing, it is a possibility that GISA can assist you in finding a place to sleep on a couch until you find a place to live. Contact us at gisa@graduateinstitute.ch with all details about you (programme, arrival date, nationality, etc) and your housing situation (where have you searched, do you have any leads, how long would you need to stay on that couch, etc).

Good luck!

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