The stars like our lakes
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Construire, January 2, 2001
Jean-Luc Wenger

a jpg version articlePatricia Kaas decided to live on the shores of Lake Zurich. Like other celebrities, she enjoys the calm, the security, and undoubtedly the moderate tax system of our country.

A few days before Christmas, the paparazzi were getting excited: Patricia Kaas had finally found the place of her dreams in Zurich—a loft renting at an estimated 11,000 francs per month. For quite some time she had not hidden her interest in the region. Was it her addiction to fondue? We are more inclined to believe that her family and her roots are what brought her back ,since she was born 34 years ago in Forbach, in the region of Lorraine.

So she finds herself a stone’s throw from her «country», and in more prestigious company. In fact, from her patio on the lake, she may be able to catch a glimpse of Tina Turner’s house, on the other shore, which is much more chic. The real estate brokers that the Blick daily newspaper consulted estimate the American star’s rent at 60,000 francs a month. A drop in the bucket for someone with a revenue of 80.2 million and who topped the list of artists with the highest ticket sales in the United States last year.

Is it possible that the Swiss-German regions will be the next El Dorado for rich foreign residents? «Not according to Mr. Micheloud, on the hunt for large fortunes seeking to immigrate to our country. These are the exceptions.»

Moreover, a large majority of the wealthy foreign residents prefer to live in the French-speaking area in Switzerland. The shores of Lake Geneva are actually well suited to celebrities. Alain Prost lives in Yens (VD), Peter Ustinov in Bursins (VD), Phil Collins in Hermance (GE). In addition, French tennis players such as Arnaud Boetsch and Cédric Pioline live in Geneva, as have Yannick Noah and Henri Leconte in the past. Is our blissful countryside enough to explain this attraction? The language, the peacefulness, and the quality of life also play a part, but the «tailor-made» tax arrangements also help.

Alain Prost openly confided to L’Illustré a few years ago that «Switzerland offers a rare quality of life where your privacy is respected. And there is also the matter of taxation. I don’t see why I would work like a madman to give up most of what I’ve made to the government when I can live in another country and save a small part of my income.»

In Neuchâtel as well
The canton of Vaud is the leader of flat-rate taxation—or, more precisely, taxation on spending. «The canton has between 1,100 and 1,200 taxpayers that are taxed according to their expenditures», explains Pierre Curchod, head of the legal department for the cantonal tax administration. In Geneva, 550 people benefit from this arrangement, but there are only about ten in the canton of Jura.

The rate of taxation is negociated with the canton and is generally calculated in the following manner: the rent paid over the course of a year is multiplied by five to give you the taxable income. For example, if you rent a modest cottage in Gstaad for 4,000 francs per month, your taxable income will be 48,000 multiplied by five, or 240,000 francs. At an average rate of 30%, you would pay 72,000 francs.

But fiscal dumping is prohibitted in the canton of Vaud. For Pierre Curchod, «the canton’s geographical appeal is the prime factor ». Although it is the last canton in the French part of Switzerland not to have taxation based on expenses, Neuchâtel rectified the situation by creating a law on direct contributions that came into effect this year. However, one law is not enough to encourage wealthy people to reside in our region, although others are already taking advantage of this niche.

Myth sellers
Mr. Micheloud
is the young boss of a company of the same name based in Lausanne. For him, taxation is not the primary motivation for potential foreign residents. «It would be more advantageous for people (except for the French) to go to Monaco, Andorra or the Bahamas. You have to realize that these people are going to leave their country in any case and if they come here it’s for the quality of life and serenity. We don’t realize how lucky we are here. Children take the bus or walk to school. This would be unthinkable in many other countries!»

Mr. Micheloud continues: «People who come here know Switzerland and have very specific criteria to fill: language, private schools, etc. We give them a list of places that might be of interest to them.»

Micheloud & Co. looks after everything from the moment contact is made with the client, generally through a foreign-based Swiss bank. The first thing is to get a residency permit. Remember that this is granted only if certain conditions are met: you must be more than 60 years old and cannot be involved in any money-making activity in Switzerland. But, special consideration may be given to artists or athletes.

However, Mr. Micheloud will also look after finding a house, school, getting a licence for your car, getting your place furnished, etc. «Recently a client imported his guns for his favourite sport and it was up to us to get the necessary authorization and to him find a house with a shooting range.»


Written for the largest weekly journal in French Switzerland. Edited by Migros Cooperative in Zurich with a set distribution of 471,000 copies.

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