Whatever you need, be prepared to spend a lot of time assembling your documentation and waiting for responses. Since some permits have to be applied for from your home country, you should start this process well in advance of your move to Switzerland.
For many foreigners, Swiss immigration laws are complex and confusing (the Swiss often think so too!) In this section, we give an overview of the most important legal aspects and application procedures to consider. As this is a complex subject, we cannot provide detailed information about every regulation or different personal circumstances. Nevertheless, this guide should help get you started and move in the right direction.
If you’re not familiar with European politics, Switzerland is one of the few European states that is not part of the European Union. However, in 2002 a bilateral agreement with the EU has changed considerably the laws on work and residency permits. In reality, this means things are now easier for EU-citizens and more difficult for citizens from other countries.
When coming to live Switzerland, you will probably need some or all of the following documents and registrations:
- Visas: EU citizens and some other nationalities don’t need a visa for visits to Switzerland. If you do need a visa, you have to apply for it in your home country (visas are never issued in Switzerland). This is also the case if you later apply for a residency permit in Switzerland. More information on this subject can be found in our chapter on visas.
- Residence permits: Foreigners living in Switzerland receive a residence permit ( Aufenthaltsbewilligung/autorisation de séjour), which is issued in a plastic cover printed with ‘foreigners permit’ ( Ausländerausweis/livret pour étrangers). There are different types of residence permits according to length of stay, status (i.e. student or work permits) and other rights.EU citizens can look for work in Switzerland for up to three months without a residence permit. Non-EU nationals are required to obtain pre-authorisation for a residency permit ( Zusicherung der Aufenthaltsbewilligung/assurance d’autorisation de séjour) before coming to Switzerland. This documents states that you will receive a residency permit after arrival. You need to apply for pre-authorisation before coming to Switzerland and applying for the actual residence permit.
- Residence registration: Within 8 days of arrival in Switzerland and before starting to work, you must register ( anmelden/s’inscrire) in the local town hall ( Gemeinde/commune) where you’re living. Residency registration is obligatory for both foreigners and Swiss citizen. If you get a residence permit, the commune will pass on your documents to the cantonal authorities who will process your request and send you your permit.
Preparing your trip
The Swiss love documents, so be prepared to be asked for many of the below. When still at home you should prepare and obtain:
- a passport valid for the entire period to be spent in Switzerland (preferably yours!)
- a healthy supply of passport-size photographs
- For students, a notification of admission or confirmation of application (i.e. from your university, college, etc.)
- For professionals, an employment contract or job offer letter
- For non-EU citizens, your pre-authorisation for a residency permit
- proof of financial resources
- visa (not a tourist visa), if applicable
- originals and certified (!) translations of your birth certificate, secondary school leaving certificate
- marriage certificates and birth certificates of all your family members (if applicable)
- possibly your academic qualifications and your insurance documents. Certifications abroad can be obtained at Swiss diplomatic and consular missions
- possibly confirmation of health insurance cover in your home country
- book of vaccination certificates, if you have one. Check at the Swiss missions whether you need any vaccinations
- possibly an international driving license
Also note that regulations are subject to frequent change. Information can be obtained from Swiss embassies, consulates, immigration offices and the Swiss ministry for foreign affairs. Information can also be obtained from the Bundesamt für Zuwanderung, Intergration und Auswanderung (IMES – www.auslaender.ch). If your legal situation is complex, you might want to consider hiring a lawyer or legal expert who is specialized on immigration issues and will represent your interests.