As a student in Geneva – How to survive horrendous housing costs

As you may know, Geneva is one of the most expensive cities in the world. And I have to admit, looking for a housing turned out to be an emotional and a maddening descent into hell. Before I start telling you exactly what happened, I would like to present you the outcome of the horror story “How to find a cheap accommodation in Geneva”: We won’t live in Geneva. 

But let’s begin at the beginning. 

I decided to go to Geneva together with a fellow student and a really good friend of mine. We both wanted to do Erasmus in a francophone country and we thought it might be a bit less complicated if we applied for a city where the number of applying people does not exceed the number of available places (as is the case with Paris, for instance). Therefore, we opted for Geneva.

Besides, we thought we might save some money if we shared a housing and we wouldn’t have to be “afraid” of not getting along with foreign flatmates.

To our great joy, our assumptions were right. Double rooms were by far cheaper than single rooms in the two main student housings in Geneva (Cité Universitaire de Genève and  Résidences Universitaires). Additionally, we would benefit from our own small kitchen and bathroom which we wouldn’t have to share with 500 other students.

We assumed we have to pay approx. 400 to 500 CHF monthly for the room, but unfortunately, the information on the homepage of the Cité is extremely confusing. The details written in the French version were completely different to those written in the English one, concerning the price and even room facilities.

English version:

Bildschirmfoto 2016-01-11 um 11.59.11

French version:

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Having to pay either 865 francs or 1200 is quite a difference, isn’t it?

Hence, I decided to call the reception of the Cité, but the woman on the phone was extremely impolite, telling me that I should simply go to their website where I would find any information I need in the FAQ.

Well, there aren’t even any FAQ (at least I couldn’t find any after having clicked on every single hyperlink on every single page). Nevertheless, we still had to apply for the Cité as we didn’t have many alternatives.

Since we applied for a room in March 2015 (our semester starts in February 2016), we were pretty confident of getting a room in the Cité. The email we received after we sent the application form said that they will let us know until the end of November whether or not our application was successful.

No email whatsoever until the end of November. We decided to send them an email, this is what they replied:

Les admissions sont en cours et les personnes reçoivent les réponses à fur et mesure.

Tous les candidats vont en recevoir. Nous pouvons déjà vous anticiper que les disponibilités sont très réduites pour la rentrée de printemps et nous n’avons pas de studio disponible pour le moment.

The distribution of the rooms is in progress and everyone will receive an answer. We can already tell you that the availability of the rooms for the spring-semester is extremely limited and at the moment, there is no double room available. 

One month later, we still haven’t had a room, so we started to look for private housings. There are great offers on Airbnb, but the prices are really, really high, as you can imagine. We also looked for shared flats on other homepages, however, it is not a good idea to pay rent for a room you don’t even know exists, as there are many hustlers who offer rooms for a reasonable price on Genevan websites.

So we kept on looking for rooms on Airbnb as the prices for rooms for two people were much lower again. Still, the average price was about 1200 francs per person and month.

Bildschirmfoto 2016-01-11 um 12.24.53

This was certainly too expensive for us. Plan B: looking for a room in the cities at the French borders, such as in Annemasse or Saint-Julien-en-Genevois. Here, the costs were much lower than in Geneva. My friend then found a really nice apartment in Saint-Genis-Pouilly, where we would both have to pay 940 francs monthly. We would have to share a double bed, though, which didn’t impress me much.

Bildschirmfoto 2016-01-11 um 12.26.09

After hours of discussing the pros and cons and comparing this apartment to hundreds of other apartments in Geneva and around, we came to the conclusion it would be the cheapest possibility to take the accommodation in SGP. The connection with public transport is good, the landlords seem to be really nice and the apartment itself looks fine, too. Another important point was the cost of living:

Bildschirmfoto 2016-01-11 um 12.28.59.png

Price for Geneva on the left, price for SGP on the right (in €)

Even though we do not live in Geneva and therefore have to pay more for public transport, the living costs are lower than what we would have paid if we lived in Geneva.

The fact that we would have to share a double bed was still my bête noire. In the end, we took this apartment after all and the nice couple even lowered the price a little more for us.

Accommodation search done? I wish…
Last week, we received an email from the Résidences, telling us there would be a double room available for us. For a monthly price of 300 francs each…  And everything started afresh. All these discussions about advantages and downsides, …

Eventually, we still decided to take the room in France, as we would have to pay less for food, we wouldn’t have to pay for every single wash cycle and we would have more rooms (in the Cité, there is everything from beds to kitchen in just one room).

In summary, if you want to live in Geneva cheaply, you’re limited to the least. We reckoned that, but still, looking for an accommodation was dreadful. In between, some other students even shared newspaper articles with us where they say that an unpaid UN-intern has to stay in a tent because he can’t afford a proper housing. Of course, that helped us a lot to stay positive and optimistic.

Anyway, we are happy that we found an affordable accommodation which is not too far away and which really exists! 😉

Have a nice evening,



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