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Visas & Work Permits in Switzerland
The Guide to Visa Types and Work Permit Requirements
Swiss visa types range anywhere from one to five-year residence permits, work permits for skilled workers, and self-employment visas. Regardless of whether you are an EU/EFTA citizen or not, everyone wishing to reside in Switzerland for more than 90 days must obtain a residence permit.
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If you want to know how to apply for a Swiss visa, you must first look into the requirements associated with your nationality. Citizens from the European Union (EU) and European Free Trade Association (EFTA) countries face less hurdles and are not limited by foreign worker quotas. However, nationals from countries recently admitted into the EU may face the same tight restrictions imposed upon non-EU/EFTA citizens.
When you apply for a Swiss visa, you are actually applying for a Schengen visa, which will allow you to move freely throughout all Schengen countries. Switzerland signed the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons (AFMP) in 1999 making it easier for EU/EFTA citizens to live and work in Switzerland. EU/EFTA residents do not require visas to enter or stay in Switzerland for up to 90 days. For stays longer than 90 days, however, they, and third-country nationals, will need a residence permit. Unlike other EU countries, Switzerland does not distribute the typical EU blue card.
Whether you are an EU/EFTA national or not, our guide walks you through the different visas available to live and work in Switzerland. We cover need-to-know information such as the Swiss visa application process, visa cost and fees, and the visa requirements for each.
Work Permits and Employment-Based Visas
Obtaining a work permit or employment visa in Switzerland has become increasingly difficult since 2015. Non-EU/EFTA nationals wishing to live and work in Switzerland should be aware that the Swiss government has permit quotas in place, which only allow a certain number of permits to be distributed every year. The Swiss government releases a report of these quotas every year. Each canton is allotted a certain number. When the quota has been met, expats must wait another year to apply for the permit.
Swiss Work Visa Requirements
Recently, the Swiss government raised the work permit quota for non-EU/EFTA nationals. However, they simultaneously increased the language requirement. Now non-Swiss nationals must speak and write, at minimum, at an A1 level in the dominant language of their Swiss canton. The longer you stay in Switzerland, the more fluency you will be required to have. If applying for a B-level visa and knowing none of the four official languages, you must provide proof of enrollment in a language course.
Visa Requirements for EU/EFTA Nationals
EU/EFTA nationals can legally live and work in Switzerland for up to 90 days without a work permit. However, your employer will need to register your employment either through the government’s online portal or with the local canton authorities. This must happen before your first day of work.
For work lasting longer than 90 days, you will need work authorization, which will be noted in your residence permit. Only for EU/EFTA nationals are a residence permit and work permit combined. Work authorization requirements vary slightly from canton to canton, but as an EU/EFTA national you should only need the following:
- valid passport or residency card
- employment contract
EU/EFTA nationals who wish to work in Switzerland will need to look into the following permits:
This permit is for short-term residents who will reside in Switzerland for less than a year. EU/EFTA nationals are entitled to this permit if they have an employment contract valid only for three to twelve months. The permit’s validity is identical to the term of the employment contract. The permit can be extended for a total period of less than twelve months.
Permit L can be granted to job seekers who do not yet have profitable employment.
This permit is for expats who wish to reside in Switzerland for longer than one year. It is issued if the foreign national is in possession of an employment contract of at least twelve months’ duration, or of unlimited duration.
This permit is valid for up to five years and can be renewed for another five years. If you are unemployed for twelve consecutive months when you first renew the visa, the renewal will only be good for one year.
Nationals from all EU/EFTA member states without profitable employment are entitled to a B permit if they can prove they have sufficient financial means and adequate health and accident insurance.
This is for cross-border commuters: EU/EFTA nationals who work in Switzerland but reside in another EU/EFTA country. The work can be with a company or self-employment. Cross-border commuters must return to their main place of residence at least once a week.
This permit is valid for five years unless the work contract is for less than a year. Then the permit is only valid for the duration of the contract.
Special Note for Croatian Nationals
Each time a new country joins the EU, it is given an annual quota for how many of their citizens can live and work in other EU countries. Croatia joined the EU on 1 July 2013. As of May 2019, Croatia’s annual quota was still in effect in Switzerland. When it comes to residence visas and work permits, Croatians nationals will face restrictions similar to non-EU/EFTA nationals.
Please see the Swiss government website for more information.
Visa Requirements for Non-EU/EFTA Nationals
Whereas EU/EFTA nationals need only to apply for work authorization in Switzerland, non-EU/EFTA nationals will need to apply for a residence visa before they can be authorized to work. You may also not enter Switzerland on a tourist visa and take up employment. If you find work while visiting Switzerland, you must leave the country and return with the intention to work.
As a third-country national, you will face more restrictions and requirements when applying for a Swiss work permit. Because Switzerland has quotas in place for the number of work permits they distribute to non-EU/EFTA nationals, the requirements for securing one of these visas is high.
To qualify for a Swiss work permit you must:
- Be a “highly qualified” worker. This means you are a manager, specialist, or other skilled profession.
- Possess a university degree, or an equivalent degree from a higher education institution.
- Have several years of professional work experience.
- Have proof that you will improve your professional and social development while in Switzerland. Things taken into consideration are your age, knowledge of the local language, knowledge of other languages, and your plans to adapt to the Swiss way of life.
In addition to these requirements, your employer must also prove that there is no Swiss local qualified to fill your position. They will also need to explain why they have the job vacancy as well as proof that the vacancy was advertised to Swiss citizens. They will need to list your expected salary and social security contributions, and compare it to what is common in your canton and your job sector.
Besides your overall qualifications and proof thereof, you will also be asked to present the following documents:
- completed application form (see more below)
- two passport photos
- your original passport and copies of previous visas
- two blank passport pages
A Note About Brexit
If the UK leaves the EU, British nationals will be relegated to the same rules and quota restrictions as no-EU/EFTA nationals.
Swiss Visa Cost and Application Form
Switzerland leaves a lot of government decisions to the discretion of each individual canton. Because of this, the cost for a Swiss work visa depends on your canton as well as your originating country. On average, the cost should not be more than 100 CHF (100 USD). The work permit application form will also come from your specific canton authority, and can best be found on your specific canton’s website.
To apply for a Switzerland business visa, you will apply for a Schengen business visa. General requirements include:
- completed application form
- two passport photos
- travel itinerary
- travel insurance policy
- proof of accommodation
- hotel booking,
- rental agreement, or
- letter of invitation from your host
- proof of financial means
- bank account statement, or
- sponsorship letter
- brief description of the intended workplace
In addition to these documents, you will also need to provide a cover letter stating your purpose for entering the EU. If you are in Switzerland to work for or you are traveling with a company, the employer will also need to submit a cover letter stating the type of work and your purpose as an employee or business partner. The employer will also be required to submit a proof of financial means.
The cost for the Schengen business visa should be around 70 CHF (70 USD).
Family members of both EU/EFTA and non-EU/EFTA citizens can come to Switzerland only if their sponsoring family member has either Swiss citizenship or a permanent residence visa (see our section on this below). If your sponsoring family member holds a B or L permit, then they can only sponsor other family members with the approval of their canton. When the sponsored family member arrives in Switzerland, they are only allowed to stay for the same duration as the sponsoring family member.
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While there is no official self-employment visa for Switzerland, both EU/EFTA and non-EU/EFTA nationals will require authorization to work and live as self-employed people. Only those with Swiss residency may establish themselves as self-employed.
Switzerland Self-Employment Visas: Requirements
Anyone wishing to be self-employed in Switzerland must first register their company. Since 2017, it is most common to register your company online through EasyGov. Companies can be registered as:
- sole proprietorships with an annual turnover in excess of 100,000 CHF (100,160 USD)
- general partnerships
- limited partnerships
- limited companies
- limited partnerships with share capital
- limited liability companies
- associations running a commercially managed business
- foundations (apart from family and religious foundations)
- branches of foreign and Swiss companies
Switzerland Self-Employment Visas: Cost
Depending on your company type, the basic cost to register ranges between 120–600 CHF (120–600 USD). Other administration fees will tack on about an extra 300 CHF (300 USD).
Switzerland Self-Employment Visas: Process
In addition to your application form registering your company, you must also petition with your local canton as to why you wish to be self-employed. The process generally requires you answer the following questions:
- Do you have sufficient financial means to support yourself and your company, and will you continue to have sufficient funds?
- Are you in direct competition with any pre-existing Swiss companies or products? If so, how do you plan to conduct your business?
- How will your business benefit Switzerland? For example: will it add to the economy by producing more jobs?
You may also be asked to present the following documents with your visa permit application:
- business plan
- proof that the company has been correctly registered
- proof of a professional workspace
- proof of contributions to the Old-Age and Survivors’ Insurance Fund (OASI) or the Swiss Accident Insurance Fund (SUVA)
- proof of a steady income
- bookkeeping data
Self-Employment Permits for EU/EFTA Nationals
EU/EFTA nationals wishing to work in Switzerland as a self-employed worker may do so. In order to obtain a self-employment work permit, you must register with the proper cantonal authorities within 14 days of your arrival to Switzerland.
Keep in Mind
As Switzerland already has high standards for foreign worker employment, obtaining authorization as a self-employed worker may be difficult. In many cases, only those who have already resided in Switzerland for five to ten years are given self-employment status. Be sure to do plenty of research and look into the laws and regulations concerning your specific canton and self-employment before making your move.
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Residency Permits: Temporary and Permanent
No matter whether you are an EU/EFTA national or not, everyone remaining in Switzerland for more than 90 days needs to know how to apply for temporary residence permit. Expats from any country can look into how to become a permanent Swiss resident; however know that requirements for continuous residency within the country fluctuate depending on your nationality.
Although also associated with a work permit, EU/EFTA nationals may live in Switzerland without gainful employment under Permit L, but only if they are actively searching for a job. All other temporary residency visas must be in conjunction with employment for both EU/EFTA and non-EU/EFTA nationals. The application for this temporary resident permit is the same whether you are employed or not. The requirements and fees vary from canton to canton.
Be advised that to remain in Switzerland without gainful employment, even temporarily, will require adequate proof of financial means as well as health insurance coverage.
If you have a temporary residence visa and wish to bring a family member or fiancé to Switzerland, you may only do so with the permission of your cantonal authority. There are no specific family or fiancé visas in Switzerland.
Expats interested in permanent residence will want to apply for Permit C. Permit C allows for ten years of residency in Switzerland.
Swiss Permanent Residence Requirements
Permit C is issued after five years of continuous living in Switzerland to:
- spouses of Swiss citizens
- spouses of residents already in possession of permit C
- citizens of Germany, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Spain, France, Greece, Italy, Liechtenstein, Netherlands, and Portugal
For everyone else, you must live in Switzerland for ten continuous years. Exceptions can be made for certain professions and children under twelve years of age. Check with your specific cantonal authority for more details.
In addition to the continuous, permanent residence visa requirements also involve proof of integration into Swiss culture. This includes proven knowledge of Swiss laws and traditions, and a proficiency in the national language. You must contact your specific cantonal authority to acquire a permanent resident application.
Fees for Swiss permanent residence vary by canton, but the overall cost should be somewhere between 1,000–5,000 CHF (1,000–5,030 USD).
Swiss Permanent Resident Benefits
Holders of permit C can move freely from canton to canton. They may change employers and jobs, become self-employed, and move freely throughout Switzerland. This permit can be renewed indefinitely. However, if you leave Switzerland, the permit will expire after six months.
Permit C holders may also sponsor family members to join them in Switzerland.
Foreigners are eligible for Swiss citizenship after twelve years of continuous living in Switzerland. However, expats should be aware that the process is difficult. It takes three stages, which includes the examination of whether applicants are integrated into the Swiss way of life, are familiar with Swiss customs and traditions, comply with the Swiss rule of law, and do not endanger Switzerland’s internal or external security. The examination is based on cantonal and communal reports. Because of this, many expats opt instead to continually renew their permanent residency visa.
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