Visas, residence permits and citizenship in Switzerland
In Switzerland, visas and residence permits are regulated by the federal law “On foreigners” (Loi fédérale sur les étrangers). About eight million tourists visit the country every year. International celebrities like Tina Turner and Michael Schumacher hold Swiss residence permits. Citizenship is highly valued and very hard to obtain.
Switzerland is a member of the Schengen Agreement so citizens of certain countries need a passport with an appropriate visa (Type A, B, C or D). More information about Schengen visa requirements and rules can be found here.
How to get a residence permit
There are several types of residence permits in Switzerland.
- L: stays up to 364 days
- B: residence permit that requires employment for at least one year.
Non-EUcitizens must renew this status annually
- F: employment permit for foreign citizens
- G: residence permit for residents of border regions of neighbouring countries who work in Switzerland
- N: political asylum
- Ci: spouses and children of foreign embassy/consulate/intergovernmental organizations staff
- S: foreign citizens under the protection if Swiss government
Ways to obtain a residence permit
Establish a company: the company must engage in actual business activity and provide employment for Swiss citizens, pay income tax and contribute to the economic development of the region. Each of Switzerland’s 26 cantons has its own criteria for the investment sum (reaching several million Swiss Francs, CHF) and number of employees (up to 10). Geneva, Lausanne, Zug and Zurich require higher investments than Graubunden, Neuchatel and Jura for example.
Buy an established business: the value of the acquired business and the number of jobs required for a temporary residence vary by canton.
Employment: foreign citizens legally employed in Switzerland can get a residence permit.
EU citizenship: citizens of the EU can get a residence permit if they are employed or have a business or sufficient capital allowing them to live in Switzerland. In this case temporary residence permit is issued for five years with the possibility of prolongation.
The petition for temporary residence is considered for six months to one year. After getting temporary residence, the holder must live in the country for over 181 days a year and pay Swiss taxes.
Permanent residence in Switzerland
Citizens of EU countries can obtain a permanent residence permit after five years of living in Switzerland.
Citizens of other countries have the right to obtain permanent residence after 10 years if residence was continuous during the final five years. However, if the holder is fluent in one of the state languages, complies with local regulations and demonstrates a high level of integration, permanent residence may be granted after just five years.
Foreign spouses of Swiss and EU citizens are granted permanent residence after five years. This status gives them the right to work on the whole territory of Switzerland. Permanent residence must be renewed every five years.
How to get citizenship
Swiss citizenship is regulated by the federal law “On acquisition and loss of Swiss nationality” (Loi fédérale sur l’acquisition et la perte de la nationalité suisse) dated 29 September 1952.
According to this law, renewed and enacted by the Swiss parliament in June 2014, foreign citizens must have lived in the country for 10 years or more in order to apply for naturalization.
There are two grounds for citizenship:
- Right of blood allows applicants with one parent of Swiss nationality (there is no right of birth in Switzerland).
- Naturalization allows foreign citizens that have lived in Switzerland for 10 years.
For children who have legally resided and were educated in Switzerland between the ages of 10 and 20, each year of residence is counted as two when the petition for citizenship is considered. This is possible if the parents also live in Switzerland and the child plans to stay in Switzerland after studies are finished.
Applications for citizenship take 365 days to 547 days (1.5 years) to be processed, sometimes longer.
One important aspect of citizenship is the obligation to serve in the Swiss army for men aged 18 to 34 years. Swiss citizens with dual nationality that have served in another army are not drafted. Dual citizenship is allowed in Switzerland.
A residence permit or citizenship is mandatory for property purchases in many cantons. In some cantons, it is even impossible for foreign citizens to buy property. In addition, there are limited real estate purchase quotas for foreign citizens that vary by canton and year. Potential buyers should pay special attention to this question before choosing their desired property. If there are limitations, the simplest solution is to obtain a residence permit and then citizenship.