Living in Switzerland

HomeInformationLiving in Switzerland

Overview of permits

The issuance of a permit to stay in Switzerland depends on the purpose of the stay and the nationality of the individual in question. The permits vary in terms of their eligibility criteria, duration of validity, inclusion of the right to work and possibility of family reunification.

The residence permits available to nationals of EU and EFTA countries

EU/EFTA permit B (residence permit)

An EU/EFTA permit is issued to individuals with EU/EFTA citizenship who reside in Switzerland for a longer period for a certain purpose, with or without employment. The residence permit for EU/EFTA nationals is valid for 5 years. This permit (EU/EFTA permit B) is issued to EU/EFTA citizens holding a contract of employment of at least 12 months or of unlimited duration. Nationals from all EU/EFTA member states without gainful employment are entitled to a B permit if they can prove they have sufficient financial means and adequate health and personal accident insurance.

EU/EFTA C permit (settlement permit)

This permit is issued to foreign nationals who have been granted a settlement permit after 5- or 10-years’ residence in Switzerland. The right to settle in Switzerland is not subject to any time restrictions or conditions.

EU/EFTA G permit (cross-border commuter permit)

EU/EFTA cross-border commuters are nationals of EU/EFTA member states who reside in an EU/EFTA member state and work in Switzerland (both freelancers and permanent employees). Usually, cross-border commuters must return to their main place of residence daily or in some cases, at least once a week.

L EU/EFTA permit (Short-term residents)

Short-term residents are foreign nationals who reside in Switzerland for a limited period, usually less than a year, for a certain purpose with or without employment. EU/EFTA nationals are entitled to this permit provided they are in possession of an employment contract lasting three to twelve months. L EU/EFTA permits without employment are granted to jobseekers from all EU/EFTA states. However, this practice does not result in entitlement to social assistance.

  • Further information can be found here:

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The residence permits available to third-country nationals (non-EU/EFTA countries)

Permit B (residence permit)

Following family reunification through a Swiss national or a person with a settlement or residence permit, the foreign national receives a residence permit for a period of one year. It is issued for a specific purpose and may be subject to further conditions. It will be renewed if there are no grounds for revocation according to Article 62, paragraph 1 of the FNIA and the integration criteria according to Article 58a of the FNIA are met.

Permit C (settlement permit)

According to Article 34 of the FNIA, foreign nationals may be granted a settlement permit if:

  • they have resided in Switzerland for a minimum of 10 years in total and have held a residence permit without interruption for the last 5 years;
  • there are no grounds for revocation as provided by of Articles 62 or 63 paragraph 2, FNIA; and
  • they are integrated into Swiss society.

Spouses and children of Swiss nationals or settled persons are entitled to a settlement permit after 5 uninterrupted years of lawful residence in Switzerland.

Further residence permits

Further residence permits are F permit for temporarily admitted foreigners, F permit for temporarily admitted refugees and N permit for asylum seekers.

  • Further information can be found here: 

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Becoming a Swiss national

There is a difference between ordinary naturalisation and simplified naturalisation.

Simplified naturalisation
Foreign spouses of Swiss nationals are entitled to early naturalisation if certain criteria are fulfilled. These criteria are:

  • Having a total residence of five years in Switzerland
  • Having lived in Switzerland for one year before submitting the application
  • Having been married to a Swiss national for three years
  • Being integrated into Swiss society and not endangering internal or external Swiss security.

Spouses of Swiss nationals living abroad are also entitled to simplified naturalisation if they:

  • Have been married for six years
  • Can prove that they have a close relationship with Switzerland and that they fulfil the integration criteria.

Simplified naturalisation is not possible for foreign partners in a civil partnership. If you are in a civil partnership with a Swiss national, you can become a Swiss national through the ordinary naturalisation procedure, though the residence requirement is reduced for you.

Following naturalisation, the formally foreign national becomes a citizen of the same municipality as their Swiss partner. Simplified naturalisation is also possible for children of Swiss nationals in certain cases.

Important for binational couples
Spouses are only entitled to simplified naturalisation if the marriage is intact (at the time of naturalisation). In the event of a separation or divorce shortly after naturalisation or in the case of a sham marriage, citizenship can be revoked retroactively, even many years later.

Ordinary naturalisation
All other foreign nationals who have lived in Switzerland for at least ten years (including a certain number of years spent in the same municipality) and who are in possession Permit C can apply for naturalisation in their municipality. It is important to note that the requirements under federal law, cantonal law and municipal law must be met.

Dual-nationality
Swiss legislation permits dual-nationality. In principle, this means you can retain your previous citizenship. However, you might lose your previous citizenship upon naturalisation as a Swiss citizen if this if your country of origin does not allow dual-nationality. The authorities in your country of origin can provide more information on this subject.

  • You can find out more either from the municipality in which you reside or here: 

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Work and education

Getting a foothold in the Swiss world of work can be difficult for many individuals who come to Switzerland. Technologisation and globalisation mean that the number of job openings for people with qualifications not officially recognised in Switzerland is constantly shrinking. Furthermore, some foreign degrees are not (fully) recognised in Switzerland.

Job search
If you are looking for work in Switzerland, you should be aware of the current requirements for an application. It is important to compile an application dossier that is as comprehensive as possible, including CV, diplomas, certificates and, if possible, references. These can also be sent digitally. Work certificates from the home country may be of use if work references are not customary there.

Nowadays, most positions are published online. There are a few different job search websites which display openings on the internet. It can also be helpful to tell friends, acquaintances and neighbours that you're looking for a job. They may have connections which could be helpful to you. Registering with a regional employment centre (RAV), which work to fill job openings, is advisable.

Inquire at your local municipality about local counselling centres for job search assistance, work integration services and other information.

Education
Having finished an educational course in Switzerland is advantageous for your job search. With a (recognised) degree, both your chances of finding a position and the wage you'll earn are much higher.

There are many options for those who wish to gain a subsequent qualification in Switzerland. In addition to university studies or attending another form of higher education, in Switzerland it is possible to complete basic vocational training for a profession (an apprenticeship). This is also possible for adults. There are also special training courses for migrants, though these vary from region to region.

  • Further information can befound here:

career counselling

  • or at your canton's careers guidance office.

If you're interested in entering education in Switzerland, it might help to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you meet the requirements for access to the training institution? (e.g., language skills, qualifications, etc.)
  • Can you finance the course?
  • Is the demand on the labour market for professionals in your chosen field high? i.e., will it be easy to find a job after you've finished the course?

Financing a course
In principle, every individual (with the support of their parents or spouse) is responsible for financing their own education. Scholarships and student loans are handled by the cantons. They decide who receives what bursary, and the necessary criteria. The individual's residence before they take up education determines where they can apply. In some cantons, only people with a settlement permit (C permit) can get a bursary.

  • You can find further information here:

scholarships

In addition, there are some private foundations and trusts that make partial contributions to the overall cost of a course.

Recognition of foreign qualifications
If you have already completed a course of education in your home country, it's worth checking if it’s recognised in Switzerland.

There is no uniform body responsible for the recognition of qualifications. The Federal Office for Professional Education and Technology (OPET) has compiled information on 'Recognition of foreign qualifications' which can be found at www.bbt.admin.ch . There you will also find the addresses of the offices which you can get in touch with.

Recognition of the qualification is required if the job in question is a regulated profession (e.g., doctor, nurse etc.). For non-regulated professions, the National Contact Point recommends having your skill level confirmed officially. Although recognition of your foreign qualification is not a prerequisite for working in Switzerland, confirmation of your proficiency level will make it easier for you to find a job. Since it is an official confirmation, it gives schools, future employers and authorities an idea of your skill level.

Unemployment
All non-freelance individuals who reside in Switzerland have unemployment insurance, regardless of their nationality, as long as they fulfil the following requirements:

  • Entitlement to welfare payment exists if, in the two years prior to the application, at least 12 months of employment can be proven (Citizens of EU and EFTA countries can have the periods accumulated in an EU/EFTA state considered if they have worked in a job subject to contributions after entering Switzerland).
  • In some cases, individuals may be entitled to welfare payments without having made any prior contributions. This applies to the following: divorce, separation, death of a spouse, discontinuation of a disability pension, if the event did not occur more than 1 year ago and the place of residence at the time was in Switzerland.
  • Further information can be found here: 

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Social integration and language

Migrating can be a huge personal challenge. Integrating in a foreign country requires a lot of openness and flexibility. Lots of people who arrive in a new country find the initial period especially challenging. They leave a lot behind: their home, family and friends, their job, their ability to communicate in their native language. In a nutshell, everything which had previously given them a sense of belonging in their society. Feelings of uprootedness, loneliness, social isolation and homesickness are all common during the process of integration.

Within the couple
This process can also be a challenge for any couple's relationship. There's often an imbalance at the beginning of a binational relationship. The native individual knows a lot more than their foreign partner about life in the country, has a better command of the language, often has more responsibilities outside of the home, might have a larger group of friends and perhaps lives close to their family. This imbalance can lead to difficulties if the couple is not able to find equilibrium in the long-term. Both members of a binational couple must work towards integration for this to be possible. Integration is a dynamic, long lasting and nuanced process. It's about binding and growing together. In this sense, integration involves reciprocity. Whether integration into a foreign country is successful or not depends on multiple factors. Not all of these can be influenced by the couple. The better the integration of the foreign partner and the more independence they gain through it, the more balanced the relationship will be.

Social integration
Social integration means gaining recognition and acceptance as a full and valid member of society from the host country. Social integration is based on interaction and reciprocity between immigrants and the native population. Being socially integrated means the ability to build networks with natives and other immigrants on both an individual and a societal level, to participate in cultural life, to orient oneself in society and its values, and to actively participate in shaping life together. In this context, neighbourhood, workplace, school, family and acquaintances are of central importance.

Active involvement in a local club is an excellent way to meet new people while practicing your language skills. It's also an opportunity to learn more about the social and cultural conditions of the country. Children often help to bridge the gap. Speaking to other parents, for example at the playground, or at your children’s gymnastics classes, can open doors. Successful migration and successful integration are important prerequisites for a happy binational relationship.

It's also important to build a network (as a couple) with other people from the foreign partner's country. You should find out about specific clubs or meeting points for persons from specific countries, or those who have a shared language.

Language
Learning the language spoken in the place of residence is crucial for successful integration. The faster you can communicate in your adopted country, the better. It makes daily life much easier. Having someone translate for you all the time is not pleasant for anyone in the long run. You will feel excluded and will be dependent on your partner. In addition, by acquiring language skills, you also increase your chances of finding a job.

Ask your local municipality or the integration office in your region about language courses. Language courses are offered by various providers, such as language schools, aid organisations, integration centres and associations. There are special courses for women, slower learners and illiterate persons. Evening and intensive courses are available. So-called integration courses for adults include language training as well as information about life in Switzerland.

One difficulty specific to Switzerland is the fact that the everyday language is Swiss German, not High German. This can be frustrating for those learning the language. Even once you've eventually grasped High German, you might still not be able to follow a conversation between colleagues or friends. Participation in a Swiss German course can help further your integration.

Prejudice and racism
In some cases, the foreign partner might be confronted with prejudice or racism. If you, or your partner, experience or witness racism or discrimination, you can contact the racism counselling centre in your canton for help.

  • All the centres are listed here:

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State requirements for integration
Not only does it make life as a couple easier and increase the chances of getting a job when immigrants to Switzerland are familiar with the country's customs and their local language, but integration is required by the state. Depending on the country of origin and type of Swiss residence permit, granting and/or extension of an identity card in Switzerland is tied to integration requirements.

  • See Overview of permits

Integration is a prerequisite for naturalization. Both simplified and ordinary naturalisation require successful integration into Swiss society, familiarity with Swiss habits, customs and traditions, and a certain level of proficiency in the local language.

  • See Becoming a Swiss national

Important for binational couples
Both the Swiss national and their foreign partner are responsible for the latter's integration. Both individuals must, if necessary, finance this, too.

Financial

Life in Switzerland is, relative to other countries, very expensive. For this reason, couples should start thinking about their financial situation early on. The foreign partner may not have an income when they first move to Switzerland. This would result in the couple having to live off one income. In addition, the process of integration can be costly. It makes sense to budget and record all earnings and expenses so that both partners are clear about their financial situation.

Household budget
Each person has their own unique way of dealing with money. This is often influenced by our socialisation and the cultural norms where we grow up. While some people lead frugal lives, constantly putting money to the side and thus building up substantial savings, others spend their earnings in a blink of an eye. Money, and how to deal with it, should be discussed early on in every relationship. Having a shared budget can help you figure out how you want to divide the money you have available as a couple. Binational couples often must deal with the cost of maintaining contact with the foreign partner's family and friends in their home country. Travelling and telephone calls can get expensive. It's not rare for the foreign partner to want, or have, to support their family in their home country financially. These needs must be considered in the budgeting process.

  • For further information on financial rights and obligations for married couples, those in civil partnerships and cohabiting couples see chapter Cohabitation and  Rights and obligations

The most important social securities in Switzerland
The Swiss system of social security is based on three pillars (Three pillar principle). The aim is to ensure maintenance of an appropriate standard of living in old age, in case of disability, sickness or injury. The social security system also offers financial protection for dependents in the event of death. Further insurances cover the risks such as sickness and incurred costs in the event on an accident or unemployment.

  • the first pillar includes old age and survivors' insurance (OASI), disability insurance (DI) and income compensation (EO). It is compulsory for everyone.
  • the second pillar is the occupational benefit scheme and is compulsory for employed persons.
  • the third pillar includes tied pension provision 3a, optional pension provision 3b and private savings. It is voluntary.

Old age and survivors' insurance (OASI), disability insurance (DI) and income compensation (EO) (1st pillar)
Everyone who lives or works in Switzerland are automatically insured by old age and survivor's insurance (OASI), disability insurance (DI) and income compensation (EO) and must pay contributions for these.

For employed persons, half of the premium contributions are paid by the employer and half by the employee. Non-employed persons must also the pay minimum contribution (CHF 503) to the OASI/DI and EO. To do so, you must register with your municipality's OASI branch office. There is one important exception: if one spouse pays at least twice the amount, currently CHF 1,006 per year (as of 2021) in contributions, non-employed spouses are also covered and must not pay their own contributions.

The occupational benefit scheme (2nd pillar)
All employees who are at least 18 years old and have an annual gross income of at least CHF 21,510 (as of 2021) must pay compulsory contributions to the pension fund. Employers must pay at least half of these contributions. If an employee changes jobs, the money paid in thus far can be transferred to the pension fund of the new employer. The amounts paid in are reserved for retirement benefits. Earlier pay-outs are only possible in the case of permanent departure to a non-EU country, when an employee becomes self-employed or for the purchase of residential property.

Unemployment insurance

  • See Work and education

Health insurance
All residents of Switzerland (those who live here for longer than three months) must have basic insurance with a health insurer. Those who are not employed can also get personal accident insurance through their health insurer. Employees are insured for accidents at work via their employer. This also covers accidents outside of work if they work more than eight hours a week.

Benefits
If your income doesn't suffice to cover your cost of living, you can apply for benefits at the municipality in which you reside. You should, however, be aware that claiming benefits may influence your legal status and/or rights as a foreigner, depending on your residence status. Claiming benefits also effects the process of nationalisation. If this concerns you, get in touch with a specialist agency for detailed advice.

Social security for EU and EFTA citizens
The Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons between Switzerland, the EU and EFTA member states regulates how the different social security systems are coordinated. The agreement regulates, among other things, in which country a person must pay social security contributions, to whom pensions are paid and how they are calculated.

Social security for citizens of third countries

  • With social security agreements:
    Switzerland has concluded international agreements with various states to regulate social insurance rights and obligations.
  • Without social security agreements:
    Individuals from countries without a social security agreement must clarify their entitlement in both countries individually.

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Important for binational couples
Foreigners from non-EU/EFTA countries who enter Switzerland as adults will have gaps in their OASI and pension fund because they have not yet paid contributions. Each missing contribution year results in a pension reduction. Insurance gaps can be closed with contributions from the 3rd pillar if necessary. Seek advice from a suitable specialist office.

Family allowances in Switzerland
Family allowances in Switzerland are regulated by the canton in which you work. They currently amount to at least CHF 200 per child. If you are employed or receive a daily allowance from the unemployment insurance fund, you are entitled to family allowances. Self-employed persons can apply for family allowances in some cantons. Unemployed persons are entitled to family allowances if their annual income does not exceed CHF 43,020 (as of 2021).

  • More information can be found here:

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Family allowances for children living in the EU and EFTA
If you're a citizen of an EU or EFTA member state, you will receive full family allowances – according to the bilateral agreements – in the country that you work in. However, if the other parent in the children's country of residence is also employed, entitlement to the benefits of that state takes priority. In this case, the other state will grant an allowance if its entitlement is higher than that in the children's country of residence.

Family/children

The joy parents experience when expecting a child comes with organisational, legal and emotional questions. How should the roles and chores as parents be divided? How will you manage to have enough time for yourself in addition to your responsibilities for your children and considering a potential return to work? Which legal issues need clarification?

Child recognition
If you are married and have children, the spouses are legally considered to be the parents. When 'Marriage for All' comes into force (expected on 1st June 2021), the following will also apply: if the mother is married to a woman at the time of birth and the child was conceived through a sperm donation in accordance with the provisions of the Reproductive Medicine Act, the mother's wife will be considered the other parent (Article 255a, SCC).

If you are unmarried and have a child, paternity is established via child recognition at the civil registry office. It is possible to have the paternity acknowledged before the child is born. The recognition of the child legally establishes the relationship with the child, which includes all rights and obligations of the father-child relationship. The competent civil registry office can tell you which documents are necessary for child recognition.

Important for binational couples
This process can be more difficult for binational couples. It can be complicated and time consuming for the foreign mother, or father, to obtain the necessary documents, e.g., birth certificate, non-marriage certificate, passport etc.

Parental custody/right of residence
Joint parental custody (Articles 296, 301-306, SCC) has been the norm since 2014. It covers responsibility for important decisions in the life of the child (education, place of residence, religion, health care, assets, and anything else that might shape the child's life and future).

Though joint parental custody is the rule for married parents, unmarried parents can submit a declaration for joint custody, at the same time as the application for paternity acknowledgement, to the civil registry office. The joint declaration can also be made later at the Swiss authority for the protection of vulnerable children and adults (KESB).

  • For more information on parental care and custody, see Separation and divorce

The right to determine place of residence in child custody and protection cases is particularly important for binational couples. A change in the children's place of residence therefore requires either the consent of the other parent, a decision by the court, or the child and adult protection authority (KESB). This applies if the new place of residence is abroad or if the change has a significant impact on the exercise of parental care and contact between the child and the other parent.

Particularly for binational couples, this can lead to one parent being forced to remain in the children's country of residence against their own will in order to be able to continue to maintain close contact with the children. A parent who moves abroad with the child without the consent of the other custodial parent is liable to prosecution for child abduction.

  • If you are concerned about potential child abduction, get in touch with the International Social Service:

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Intercultural and/or interreligious upbringing

Becoming a parent is a major change in a couple's life. You must take on a wider range of responsibilities and tasks and long-forgotten memories and emotions from your own childhood might crop up. Depending on your individual backgrounds, your ideas about raising children may differ to those of your partner. Furthermore, the status of a child is different in different societies. Therefore, it's helpful as parents to have an open discussion about the basics of family life. It's important to discuss both partner's values and ideas about education. What values are important to you in relation to your children? What type of education do you want for your children? How do you envisage the roles of mother and father? What should the future division of tasks within the family look like? Which traditions do you want to continue with the children? What importance should religion have in the children's education? What role should the extended family play?

Successful intercultural parenting requires constant reflection on one's own values and those of the other parent. Based on this you must develop a common intercultural parenting model. This process is continuous and is, so to speak, never complete. For children of binational parents, cultural diversity within the family is an enrichment. They have the unique opportunity to get to know two cultures through their parents. Contact with the family abroad, or with both cultures, is particularly important. In this way, the children get to know the customs of life in both countries and can take from both cultures what they need for the development of their identity.

Many couples want to raise their children bilingually, or perhaps multilingually. Usually, children can learn both languages effortlessly. It is important that each parent speaks to the child in their mother tongue. Culture is conveyed through language. A bilingual, or multilingual, education strengthens self-confidence and the bond between parent and child. It also enables the child to communicate with relatives abroad.

Intercultural couples

A binational relationship is not fundamentally different to a mono-national relationship. There can be, however, additional problems that may arise. It's worth thinking about what these might be and, if necessary, working on them.

Dealing with unequal distribution of power
Especially when one person moves to their partner's home country, it can be important to think early on about ways to keep the balance of power equal in the relationship. The individual who is in their home country can unintentionally increase the imbalance of power in the relationship if they take on too much responsibility for, or give too much support to, their partner. For a balanced relationship in the long term, everyday responsibilities must be equally distributed. Migration is also an internal process that is often underestimated. It takes a lot of time and energy. This process can be supported by the native person who, on the other hand, can involve themselves with their partner's culture (e.g., by learning the language; thus, the couple can communicate in the newcomer's language, they can both understand people from both cultures, they can visit and get to know their partner's home country, etc.). Furthermore, the native person should be prepared to question and reflect on their own values, norms and ideas.

Dealing with conflict
When it comes to conflict, the issues that binational couples must deal with are not fundamentally different to those of non-binational couples. Miscommunication is one of the most frequent causes of conflict; this is even more so in a binational couple. The couple must learn the meaning of words, gestures and actions in each other's other culture. This is a demanding process, but it can also be exciting. A healthy dose of curiosity, a lot of self-reflection and, often, humour are all helpful.

Furthermore, the way binational couples deal with conflict can vary greatly depending on the customs, milieu and culture within their families. How directly, or indirectly, does one address a conflict? Who would you discuss family problems with, and who would you never dare mention such a thing to? Who is responsible for resolving the conflict? Who can help?

Your own 'binational culture'
If both members of a couple are rooted in very different values, tolerance is required. In order to combine the most important concerns on both sides, you must both be willing to develop and change. This is the only way that your new, unique 'binational culture' can grow.

Many binational couples find that they must justify this binational culture, and thus a change in their own values, to outsiders. Some are confronted with prejudice or even racism. Standing together as a couple is particularly important in such cases. If you are affected by racism or discrimination, you should contact the contact point against racism in your canton.

  • You can find the relevant addresses here:

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In Switzerland, you can turn to a couple or family counselling centre if you're having trouble in your relationship. They will help you to recognise conflict and work out solutions. If one or both partners conclude that continuing the relationship no longer makes sense, it is worthwhile to find out the legal consequences of separation at a counselling centre. Doing this at an early stage can be especially helpful.

  • Further information on this topic can be found under Separation and divorce