If you plan on making Switzerland your home for more than 90 days and intend to begin working, then you need to apply for a Swiss residence permit (Ausländerausweis). The rules in Switzerland are different to other European countries as the rules for applying are set by the federal government.
Each Swiss county (canton) has full control over its immigration policy. Therefore, the specific requirements for applying may vary from place to place. It is always best to check the latest requirements with your local cantonal migrations office (Migrationsamt).
Who needs a Swiss residence permit?
Any non-Swiss national must have a Swiss residence permit in order to live in Switzerland for more than 90 days or longer than a visa. You also need a Swiss residence permit to be able to find a job in Switzerland. The requirements for applying for residency vary according to your nationality but is essential for you to live in Switzerland with your family.
EU and EFTA citizens applying for a Swiss residence permit
Switzerland has signed agreements with the European Union and European Free Trade Association which allows for the free movement of people. This gives EU and EFTA citizens the right to live and work in Switzerland - as long as they have a residence permit. EU and EFTA nationals must still apply for the right to live and work in Switzerland, but their residency applications will be given “preferential treatment”, meaning they have fewer hurdles to jump and are more likely to be accepted.
British citizens applying for a Swiss residence permit
Similarly, Switzerland and the United Kingdom have also signed a reciprocal agreement to guarantee British and Swiss citizens free movement between the two countries and the right to work. This means that British citizens can still apply for a Swiss residence permit in the same way as citizens from the EU and EFTA.
Non-EU and EFTA nationals applying for a Swiss residence permit
Nationals of other countries are not given preferential treatment and therefore have to contend with a strict quota system when applying for a Swiss residence permit.
The Swiss government sets this quota every year for non-EU, EFTA, or British nationals applying for residency in Switzerland. The number varies year per year but is usually around 10.000 permits.
50 percent of these permits are shared out between the cantons based on population size, while the other half are grouped into a pool that can be used by any canton that requires additional permits.
How to apply for a Swiss residence permit
The process of applying for a Swiss residence permit begins at the local council (Gemeinde) with registration. Registering with your council is the first step in applying for a Swiss residence permit. After you have completed all the steps needed to register, your local council will provide you with the permit that applies best to your needs, situation, and plans for the future, allowing you to become a resident and rent a house or apartment.
Receiving a Swiss residence permit
If your application is successful, your local council will provide a residence permit card for all members of your household. This will be sent to you in the post.
Swiss residence permit ID
The Swiss residence permit ID is given to all non-Swiss residents of Switzerland. It contains your official ID number, age, nationality, and basic details on your reasons for coming to Switzerland. It is a good idea to keep this card on you at all times when in Switzerland as it is also used by the emergency services. The card also functions as an ID and can be used for travel within the Schengen area.
Renewing a Swiss residence permit
Traditionally, your Gemeinde will send you a letter four weeks before your permit is due to expire. The letter will detail what you will need to bring to renew your Swiss residence permit. You will need to visit your local council in person to submit your documents at least two weeks before the expiration date of your residence permit. The Gemeinde appreciates you speaking in the language of the canton, so try to stick to German, French or Italian when renewing your permit or perhaps take a course from a language school to prepare.
Applying for a residence permit when retired
Currently, only EU or EFTA citizens are able to move to Switzerland after retirement. To apply for a permit to remain in Switzerland long-term as a pensioner, you need:
- Proof of accommodation in Switzerland.
- Proof of health insurance.
- Proof of financial means to support you and your household in old age such as your pension.
Types of Swiss residence permit
There are three types of Swiss residence permit. Each has its own benefits and comes with its own eligibility requirements:
The Swiss L-permit, or short residence permit, is the first permit you receive if your application is approved. It is only used for temporary periods of work in Switzerland or for EU and EFTA citizens that are looking for jobs in Switzerland.
What you need to apply for a Swiss L-permit
EU (including the United Kingdom) and EFTA citizens can apply for an L-permit if they are working or looking for work in Switzerland. This will likely be the permit you receive on your first registration.
Non-EU citizens can also apply for an L-permit. To receive one, you must register with your local Gemeinde. You will need to present proof of the following at your appointment:
- A time-limited work contract that will expire in 12 to 24 months, with regular working hours.
- The company employing you must prove that there are no available Swiss nationals that could do “comparable work” to you. Each canton defines this differently.
- Strong qualifications in your field of work such as a degree or professional qualification from a university or other higher education.
- The canton where you are applying hasn’t already filled its immigration quota.
- Your salary and payslip is sufficient and you will be given suitable working conditions.
After three months of residence, it is also mandatory for all applicants to prove that they have at least basic health insurance. It is a good idea to set this up at the same time as you apply for your permit.
How long is a Swiss L-permit valid for?
The period of validity for the Swiss L-permit depends on your nationality.
For EU and EFTA citizens, the period of validity for a Swiss L-permit varies depending on your personal circumstances. If you have a fixed-term employment contract, your L-permit will usually expire at the same time as your contract. If you are looking for work, then the length of the permit will be determined by the answers you gave for your reasons for coming to Switzerland during your registration appointment. This could range from three months to a maximum of 24.
For non-EU and EFTA citizens, the Swiss L-permit is valid for up to 12 months and then 24 months after the first renewal.
Renewing a Swiss L-permit
EU and EFTA citizens can extend their L-permit for up to 12 months total before it must be renewed. If you wish to extend or renew your permit and you are still looking for work, be sure to provide the following:
- A full update on all the jobs you have applied for with proof of application.
- Proof of financial stability while still looking for work.
- Plan of what you are going to apply for next and where you are applying.
- Proof of full private health insurance.
For EU and EFTA citizens that have a fixed-term contract, as well as non-EU and EFTA citizens, the L-permit is renewable for between 12 to 24 months. If your work contract is longer than a year and you apply to renew your Swiss residence permit, you will likely receive a Swiss B-permit.
The Swiss B-permit, or residence permit, is the most common type of permit given to non-Swiss nationals. You can receive a B-permit if you have a Swiss employment contract lasting more than a year. This type of permit gives you the freedom to stay more permanently and comes with other benefits, for instance making it possible to buy a house.
Requirements for applying for a Swiss B-permit
Citizens from the EU / EFTA can receive a Swiss B-permit if they can provide:
- Proof of contract for more than a year or sufficient financial means to support themselves.
- Proof of health insurance.
Non-EU or EFTA citizens must meet further criteria in order to receive a B-permit:
- You must be employed for more than one year in a position of “public interest” (the definition of this varies by canton, but usually means highly skilled professionals like doctors or lawyers) - you can demonstrate this with an employment contract.
- You must have strong qualifications in your field of work.
- Your chosen canton must not have filled its quota for B-permits.
- You must present proof of a standard salary for the type of work and stable working conditions.
- You need proof of basic knowledge of the language spoken in your region of residence (such as a language certification).
Swiss B-permit length of validity
For EU and EFTA citizens, the length of a B-permit is up to five years. For non-EU and EFTA citizens, the length of a B-permit is one year.
How to renew a Swiss B-permit
All individuals that remain employed in Switzerland can continue to renew a Swiss B-permit freely. EU and EFTA nationals can renew their Swiss B-permit every five years and non-EU and EFTA nationals can renew theirs every one to two years.
If you become unemployed, EU and EFTA nationals must renew their B-permit every year until they find gainful employment. This is not the case for non-EU and EFTA nationals, who must be employed to remain in Switzerland. If you become unemployed, you may lose your residency status - unless you fulfil the eligibility criteria to apply for Swiss citizenship.
Swiss C-permit or settlement permit
The settlement permit or Swiss C-permit is regarded as the next step towards full Swiss citizenship, as it allows for people to remain in Switzerland long-term, without the need for an employment contract. It is the start of the process towards full naturalisation and citizenship.
How to apply for a Swiss C-residence permit
The criteria for qualifying for a C-permit is relatively straightforward. You must have been resident in Switzerland for more than 5 years, including at least five years of consecutive residency.
Officially, you also must be able to show that you have "integrated into the Swiss community," which for most cantons mean that you can sufficiently speak the language of the area where you are a resident. As of 2019, this has meant at least an A2 level of spoken language and an A1 level of written language. For more information on what language requirements are needed for B and C-permits, you can check out the official government website.
You also need to prove that you have no outstanding criminal record.
The Swiss C-permit has unlimited validity and only needs to be renewed every five years.
Swiss cross-border working permit (G-permit)
If you intend to work in Switzerland but live in a neighbouring country, you must apply for a Swiss G-permit. The permit allows for limitless cross-border travel and the right to work in Switzerland.
How to get a Swiss G-permit
To get a Swiss G-permit for cross-border working, you must prove that:
- You have residency in a neighbouring country to Switzerland.
- You have signed a contract to work in Switzerland.
- Your contract fulfils salary requirements and gives proof of suitable working conditions. Your employer must prove that there is no Swiss resident that is available and qualified to do comparable work.
The G-permit is closely associated with the border regions, so please check with your employer and the canton you will be commuting to as to whether cross-border working is suitable in your situation.