Free movement of persons, settlement and residence permit, C permit, etc. When it comes to the formal requirements for entry into Switzerland, many foreigners are soon at the end of their tether. We will help you navigate the maze of laws, requirements and permits!

Entering Switzerland - Swiss flag
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Are you planning a short stay in Switzerland? Or perhaps you hope to stay longer and live and work here for several years? Is naturalisation potentially on the cards? Your residence status and the necessary paperwork will vary greatly depending on your goals. Of course, this partly depends on whether you are only staying in Switzerland for a short time or for longer. For foreigners, it makes a big difference whether you are entering Switzerland from a European country or from overseas.

Entry into Switzerland: status with the EU

Although Switzerland is not a member of the European Union (EU), it has concluded an agreement with the latter on the free movement of people. Generally speaking, citizens from the EU and EFTA (European Free Trade Association) enjoy significant freedoms under certain conditions. For example, they are free to decide where in Europe they want to live, work or study. This area now includes 30 states, including Germany, France, Poland and many others. Special transitional provisions currently apply to Croatia.

With or without a visa?

In principle, foreigners from the EU/EFTA can enter Switzerland without a visa (for a maximum stay of 90 days). Visitors from other countries, so-called “third countries”, are generally subject to visa requirements.

This means they need a valid C visa (a Schengen visa) or a valid D visa (national visa). “However, nationals of certain third countries are exempt from the visa requirement for stays of less than three months, such as the USA and Brazil,” explains Lukas Rieder, spokesperson for the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) in Bern. Before crossing the border, a visa must be applied for and then issued by the Swiss embassy in the visitor’s country of origin.

If you come from the EU/EFTA area, a basic distinction must be made between residing in Switzerland with or without gainful employment.

With gainful employment:

The prerequisite is a corresponding employment contract in Switzerland or a written declaration of employment. You must apply for this residence permit from the municipality of your place of residence in Switzerland, usually no later than 14 days after entering the country.

Without gainful employment:

Anyone who comes to Switzerland and does not work must apply for a residence permit from the competent cantonal authority. The prerequisites here are compulsory Swiss health insurance and proof of sufficient financial means for the duration of the applicant’s stay in Switzerland. The authorities will check at the border whether people who want to enter the country have the necessary financial resources to fund their stay. There is no hard and fast rule about how much money must be available. “The means of subsistence are assessed in accordance with the duration and purpose of the stay,” says Lukas Rieder from the State Secretariat. The amounts demanded are usually not too high. For students, a lower amount for each day of their stay is sufficient (for example, 30 instead of 100 francs per day).

Entering the country: special cases

In detail, there are also countless special cases and special regulations, which depend on the origin of foreign citizens as well as the purpose and duration of their stay. If, for example, the applicant submits a temporary employment contract, the authorities will issue a short-term residence permit (L permit). In the case of a longer period of employment, a B permit is usually issued; for citizens from the EU/EFTA area this permit is valid for five years.

The legal framework is consistent throughout Switzerland and applies to all areas of the country. However, its specific implementation and interpretation is left in the hands of each of the 26 cantons in Switzerland. The State Secretariat for Migration SEM provides a lot of information on this and, in particular, a list of the competent cantonal authorities here.

Residence: rules for third countries

Basically, you should be aware that the rights and obligations for citizens from the EU/EFTA area and third countries differ significantly. For people from third countries, the hurdles to living and working in Switzerland are higher. The respective approval procedures also take longer to complete. In addition to a contract of employment, the following stipulations usually apply…

  • A high-level professional qualification.
  • The employer must prove that no domestic worker is available for the same position (“priority of nationals”).
  • The employer must provide evidence of wage and working conditions that are customary in the industry.
  • Residence permits are limited in number (national or cantonal quotas must be observed).
  • Knowledge of the national language in the applicant’s future place of residence (German, French or Italian, as the case may be).

In addition, there are many variants, such as permits or an identity card for short stays, for cross-border commuters, etc. For particularly wealthy individuals or entrepreneurs, negotiating special rules is also an attractive option. The law also allows deviations or exceptions from the rules of admission in special situations, for example in cases of important public interest (e.g. cantonal tax interests) or hardship. In terms of the specifics, this is once again a matter for the individual cantons.

Extensions – but how?

Finally, it is important to know that all temporary permits will expire and need to be renewed at some point. The contact point for this is the municipality of residence. An application to extend a residence permit must be submitted at the latest two weeks before its expiry. Please note that the cantonal migration office will usually send you a so-called expiry notice in advance. You will usually need the following documents: the aforementioned expiry notice (if available), your foreigner’s residence permit and a valid passport (must be valid for at least three months after the expiry date of the residence permit). If a foreigner has lost their job in the meantime, their residency requirements may no longer be met.

B or C permit?

The assessment of individual cases and the associated requirements depend in turn on the applicant’s status and future plans. Under certain conditions, a Category B residence permit can be replaced with a permanent residence permit (C permit). For EU/EFTA citizens, this is possible if they have lived in Switzerland for at least five years and have integrated successfully into society (including language skills).

Naturalisation in Switzerland

Switzerland, like other countries, offers many different variants and paths for ordinary naturalisation. Most people become citizens of a country simply by virtue of their ancestry, or by being born into a family in that country (maternal or paternal descent). In addition, there is an increasing trend towards official naturalisation.

Are you a foreigner who would like to become a Swiss citizen? Foreign nationals are eligible for ordinary naturalisation f they have lived in Switzerland for at least 10 years (three of them in the last five years before submitting the application). A settlement permit (C permit) is also a prerequisite.

So-called facilitated naturalisation is also available, among other options, for anyone

  • who is married to a Swiss citizen
  • who is a third-generation immigrant born in Switzerland

Naturalisation in Switzerland:

Official websites for entering and working in Switzerland:

For more information on emigrating to Switzerland, click on the following links