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.
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 stay longer than 3 months, then you must apply for a residential permit. If you aren't an EU citizen and do need a visa, you have to apply for it in your home country between 3 months and 1 week before your departure (visas are never issued in Switzerland). This is also the case if you later apply for a residency permit in Switzerland. This website easily shows you if you require a visa to visit Switzerland.
- Residence permits: Foreigners living in Switzerland receive a residence permit (Aufenthaltsbewilligung/autorisation de séjour), which is issued with a ‘foreigner's 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, although this period can be extended to 6 months if they can show that they are actively looking for a job. 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 document 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. To request a residence permit, you should contact the cantonal migration authority accountable for the area you will reside in.
- 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 citizens. 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. While still at home you should prepare and obtain:
- A passport valid for the entire period to be spent in Switzerland.
- A healthy supply of passport-size photographs.
- For students, a notification of admission or confirmation of application 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 and secondary school leaving certificate.
- Marriage certificates and birth certificates of all family members (if applicable).
- Academic qualifications and your insurance documents, however certifications abroad can be obtained at Swiss diplomatic and consular missions.
- confirmation of health insurance cover in your home country may be required.
- Book of vaccination certificates, if you have one. Check at the Swiss missions whether you need any vaccinations.
- An international driving license may also be required.
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 State Secretariat for Migration SEM. 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.