Moving to Switzerland: Swiss visas and permits
If you're moving to Switzerland, find out if you need a Swiss visa or permit to visit, live, study or work in Switzerland.
You may need to apply for a visa or other permit if you want to visit, live, work or study in Switzerland. This essential guide will help you find out which Swiss permit you need depending on your nationality and situation, as different rules apply for European citizens than those who moving to Switzerland from outside of Europe.
Immigration issues in Switzerland have been tense following a majority referendum to cap immigration from European Union (EU) countries, against the EU's freedom of movement policy. While the EU has not yet agreed to the caps, recent reports suggest Swiss diplomats are exploring a 'safeguard clause' that would let Switzerland cap immigration from the EU but once certain levels are filled. Check the latest ruling at the time of your application.
The information given here is for guidance only and you should seek specific advice from the Swiss embassy or consulate in your home country for your specific circumstances.
Who needs a Swiss visa or permit?
Switzerland is not part of the EU but together with Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway forms the European Free trade Association (EFTA). This is united with the EU through the European Economic Area (EEA) to create a free market between all the countries of the EU and EFTA.
Switzerland is also one of 26 countries making up the ‘Schengen' area: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden. They have one common visa and no border controls between them, so any of these nationalities can travel freely to Switzerland.
Under the Freedom of Movement Act, almost all nationals from the countries in the EU or EFTA have the right to move to Switzerland, although they have to register to work and apply for residence permits for stays of over three months. There are some special rules for newer EU members, however, including Bulgarian, Romanian and Croatian citizens. See our guide for EU/EFTA nationals moving to Switzerland for more information.
Almost everyone else needs a visa to enter Switzerland and a Swiss residence permit to stay longer than three months – for whatever purpose – and authorisation to work. The conditions outlined here are applicable to non-EU/EFTA nationals.
Types of Swiss entry visas
The requirements to enter Switzerland depend on the reason for your visit – as a tourist, to work or study, or for family reunification – and how long you’re staying. For information about specific requirements for your situation, you can also contact your home country’s embassy or consulate in Switzerland.
Airport transit visa
Some foreign nationals do need to get an airport visa to enter Switzerland. Click here to find out if you need a Swiss transit visa.
Otherwise, most airline passengers in transit to their destination via a Swiss airport don’t need a Swiss visa but must have:
- a valid passport/travel ID document;
- an airline ticket for the next stage of your journey;
- the relevant travel documents and visas for entering the next country.
You are not allowed to leave the transit area and must make your onward journey within 48 hours of arriving in Switzerland.
Short-stay Schengen visa
If you’re not from the EU or EFTA, and wish to come to Switzerland and stay for up to three months (but no more), make sure you first have a valid passport or travel ID document. This should have been issued within the last 10 years and have a minimum of three months to run after the end of your visit to Switzerland.
The visa for staying in Switzerland for less than 90 days/three months is the short-stay Schengen visa, which allows entry to the whole Schengen area, including Switzerland, for up to 90 days in a 180-day period. This visa is usually used for tourist purposes, business, taking part in sporting or cultural events or educational programmes. If you want to stay longer than this, you will need a long-term Swiss visa to enter the country (see below).
Some non-EU/EFTA citizens don’t need a visa to enter Switzerland under certain circumstances. For example Australians, New Zealanders, Canadians and US citizens are exempt from the Swiss visa requirement unless they are coming to work for more than eight days or work in certain occupations. Citizens of Japan, Malaysia and Singapore don’t need a visa to enter Switzerland but have to submit the same documents as if they did, when they apply for their residence permit.
However, most other nationalities will need a visa – you can click here to find out if you need one – unless you already have a long-term residence permit issued by another Schengen country, which is considered the equivalent of a visa. Although, these long-term residence permits do not give you the right to work in Switzerland. Temporary stay permits – permits L and B that are issued for periods of one year – are not considered the equivalent of a visa.
If you are employed by a business headquartered elsewhere in the EU/EFTA and the company sends you to Switzerland to work you can enter and stay in the country for up to 90 days but you should notify the authorities.
If you hold a Swiss B, C or L permit (see below), you do not need a Schengen visa as long as you travel with a valid passport or travel ID document and your residence permit.
If you wish to work during the time you’re in Switzerland you will need a work permit (see below).
Long-term national visa
If you wish to stay in Switzerland for longer than 90 days/three months you have to apply for a national (type D) visa which will be subject to authorisation, for example, if you have a job to come to, are enrolled on a university course or have family in Switzerland. You will have to apply for a residence permit too (see below). A list of visa requirements for each country can be found here.
Applying for a Swiss entry visa
Whether you are applying for a short-stay Schengen visa (C) or a national visa (D), you should submit your visa application to the Swiss embassy or consulate in your home country. Click on the map to find contact details of your embassy or consulate.
You’ll need to fill out an application form, which you can download here in the language of your choice.
You will also have to provide supporting documentation, such as:
- your passport or travel ID;
- proof of health insurance including accident cover;
- bank or salary statement to prove you have adequate financial resources.
You will also be required to present any other documents as requested by the embassy, depending on your personal situation and reason for coming to Switzerland, for example, you may be asked to provide a letter of invitation from an inviting employer or individual, setting out the contact details of both parties in one of Switzerland’s official languages. Students will be asked to show a certificate of enrolment from a recognised Swiss educational institution.
If there is any concern about your financial resources you may be asked for a declaration of sponsorship, signed by the individual or company who has invited you to Switzerland, and confirmed by the local communal authority or cantonal migration office, whereby the company/individual agree to pay any unrecovered costs up to CHF 30,000 in exceptional circumstances.
Your embassy or consulate will be able to give you more information about specific requirements and fees (usually around EUR 60). Allow between six and eight weeks for your application to be processed.
Any foreign national who wants to stay longer than 90 days/three months in Switzerland also has to get a residence permit (see below).
On your arrival in Switzerland
You have 14 days after your arrival in Switzerland to register at your local Residents Registration Office and arrange to get your residence permit from the cantonal migration offices.
Applying for a Swiss residence permit
Every foreigner staying in Switzerland for longer than 90 days/three months needs a residence permit, even EU/EFTA citizens.
No non-EU/EFTA citizen has a right to residency, and each case is decided on individual circumstances. You have to apply to the local cantonal migration offices where you intend to live, before settling in Switzerland.
Switzerland is a federal republic consisting of 26 cantons or regions. Each canton has cantonal migration offices, which are responsible for issuing residence permits, and cantonal labour offices, which are responsible for work authorisation. Although all cantons operate under the same federal law, each canton has some autonomy over immigration into the region. Therefore, individual cantons are the first resource for information regarding requirements for work and residence permits.
You can find the contact details for your specific canton here. Click here find the addresses of all the cantonal authorities, for online access via their websites and for the details of the communal authorities.
Types of Swiss residence permit:
- Permit L (short-term residence permit) – a biometric card, valid for up to one year, which can be renewed but only up to 24 months in total. It is usually linked to a specific job/company, and you do not automatically get a new permit if you change jobs.
- Permit B (initial or temporary residence permit) – a biometric card, normally valid for one year, which can be renewed. You have to have a permanent work contract of at least a year or be on a university course. There are a limited number of these permits, which may be subject to work quotas. There may also be restrictions, such as having to live in the canton that issued the permit, or it may be linked to a specific job.
- Permit C (settlement permit) – allows permanent residency in Switzerland and can be renewed indefinitely. This biometric card is usually only issued after 10 years’ continuous residence in Switzerland. US and Canadian citizens only have to live in Switzerland for five continuous years. With this permit you can change employers and jobs as you wish, become self-employed, and live anywhere you like in Switzerland.
- Permit G (cross-border commuter permit) – this permit is for those who work in Switzerland but live in another country (not uncommon, especially as the cost of living in Switzerland is very high). This is an annual permit that can be renewed each year. It does not grant you any residential rights and cannot be converted to a residential permit.
- Other residence permits: Permit Ci (for relatives of workers of inter-governmental organisations/foreign embassies); F (for provisionally admitted foreigners – people who have been ordered back to their home country but cannot leave Switzerland for some reason); N (permit for asylum seekers); and S (person in need of protection).
Renewing a Swiss residence permit
You have to submit your application to renew your permit at the commune of residence no earlier than three months and no later than two weeks before the permit is due to expire. Take along the existing permit, a valid passport/travel ID (which must be valid for at least three months after the permit expires) and the letter informing you that the permit is soon to expire. Your commune will have more information.
Work in Switzerland
If you want to come and work in Switzerland as an employee, you have to secure a work contract before you can even enter the country. See our guides on how to find a job and apply for a job in Switzerland.
Your future employer will submit a request for authorisation to the Federal Office of Migration. This authorisation is generally only given to non-EU/EFTA citizens who are managers, specialists or otherwise highly skilled, if the quotas allow it, and if no EU/EFTA person is available to do the job.
You may be able to come to Switzerland to work as an au pair through an approved recognised agency or as part of an international traineeship.
See our guide on Swiss work permits for more information.
Study in Switzerland
To come and study in Switzerland you must first be accepted onto a course at a university or equivalent. Once you have confirmation of a place you can apply for a visa, if necessary, and organise a residence permit B. In most instances, you cannot bring your family with you.
After six months, you can work for up to 15 hours a week during term time and full-time during holidays. If you hold a Master’s degree and will be working at the university you can start work immediately.
After graduation you can remain in Switzerland for six months to look for work, on the same basis as Swiss graduates.
See our guide to studying in Switzerland for more information.
Joining a relative or partner in Switzerland
Those already in Switzerland who hold a residence permit B don’t have the right to bring family members to Switzerland, although the cantonal authorities may allow it so long as you can fulfil certain conditions.
Holders of a settlement permit C may bring family members to Switzerland under the family reunification programme.
In both cases, relatives may need a visa to enter Switzerland (see above) and you will need to contact the cantonal authorities to seek permission, or to apply to come to Switzerland to join your family member.
See our guide to joining a partner or relative in Switzerland for more information.
Applying for Swiss citizenship or permanent residence
After you have lived in Switzerland for 10 continuous years (less if you’re the spouse of a Swiss citizen and some other categories of people), you can apply for permanent residence and be granted a settlement permit C. With this permit, you can live indefinitely in Switzerland, change employers and jobs as you wish, or become self-employed.
After 10 years’ continuous residence in Switzerland you can apply to become a Swiss citizen. It’s only six years if you are married to a Swiss citizen. Citizenship allows you certain extra rights, such as the power to vote, but you would have other obligations, for example, all young Swiss men have to do military service.
See our guide to Swiss citizenship and permanent residence for more information.
For more information
Federal Office for Migration (FOM): the Swiss government’s official site for information on all aspects of immigration to Switzerland.
+41 58 465 11 11 | Monday to Friday: 9–11am and 2–4pm.
Cantonal authorities: Each canton has its own cantonal immigration and labour market authorities that issue permits and will be able to provide detailed information on the application procedures. Find the contact details of your specific Swiss canton for information. Click here for the addresses of all the cantonal authorities, for online access via their websites and for the details of the communal authorities.
The information given here is for guidance only and you should seek specific advice from the Federal Office for Migration (FOM) or the Swiss embassy or consulate in your home country.
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Updated from 2012.
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