Need expat info for Switzerland?
Tackling the First Hurdle: Swiss Visa Regulations
At a Glance:
- Expatriates from EU/EFTA countries do not need a visa for Switzerland, as is the case for citizens from a range of other countries with which Switzerland has visa-waiver agreements.
- As Switzerland is a member of the Schengen Area, there are two main types of visas: the short-term Schengen visa and the more long-term national visa. Airport transit visas (ATV) are obligatory only for a comparatively small number of nationalities.
- Swiss representations abroad typically handle visa applications. However, in some countries online applications are also possible for Schengen and transit visas.
- When applying for a visa, the documentation required varies depending on the length of and reason for your stay.
- National visa applications require a residence permit assurance from the respective cantonal migration and labor market authority.
Who Needs a Visa to Enter Switzerland?
Citizens from a number of countries, including but not limited to member states of the Schengen Area, the EU, or the EFTA, do not need a visa in order to enter Switzerland. You can check if this is the case for you on the website of the State Secretary for Migration (SEM).
This overview also includes further information on accepted travel documents and possible exemptions. So-called third-country nationals — i.e. citizens of countries that are not member states of the EU or EFTA — who are in possession of either a long-term residence permit or a valid national visa of another Schengen state are typically one such exemption.
Regardless of whether or not you are obliged to get a visa, your travel documents need to be
- valid for at least 3 more months after your planned departure date;
- issued no more than 10 years ago.
You also need to take into account that for stays of over 90 days or when taking up employment (including self-employment), a residence permit is required. Note that this is almost always the case, regardless of visa obligations, with short stays of EU-27/EFTA nationals one of the few exceptions. You can find out more about the different types of permits in our article on Swiss residence permits.
What Are the Different Types of Visas?
Switzerland joined the Schengen Area in December 2008. As such, there are two main types of visa that apply depending on the reason and length of stay:
- Schengen visas (category C) for stays of up to 90 days in a 180-day period
- National visas (category D) for stays of more than three months
Please note that the 90-day rule applies to the sum of any and all stays in the Schengen Area, not just Switzerland. You can use the short-stay calculator as provided by the European Commission to check how your time spent in Schengen member states adds up.
If you are planning on working in Switzerland during your three-month stay, you will generally need to apply for a national rather than a Schengen visa. An exception to this rule applies to companies with headquarters in an EU/EFTA member state: if they send an employee who is originally from a third country but in possession of an unlimited residence permit for another EU/EFTA state to work in Switzerland for up to 90 days, the aggreement on the free movement of people applies.
Just Passing Through: Airport Transit Visas
Citizens from a small number of countries whose final destination is a non-Schengen country but who are changing planes at a Swiss airport need to get an airport transit visa (ATV, category B). This visa allows them to wait for their connecting flight in the international transit area of the airport. Please note, if you are planning on leaving the international transit area, to spend the night at a nearby hotel before an early connecting flight for example, then you need to get a Schengen visa (category C) instead.
Where to Apply for a Visa?
Applications for the category D visa must be made through the nearest Swiss representation. For Schengen and transit visas, on the other hand, you can check on the website of the Federal Department of Justice and Police whether you need to file your visa application with the nearest embassy or consulate, a third-party representative, or online. Available options depend on the current country of residence.
What Documentation Is Needed for Schengen Visa Applications?
In regard to the application process, airport transit visas (ATV) fall into the Schengen visa category. For both, ATVs and Schengen visa applications, you are required to provide at least the following documents:
- completed application form for short-term stays
- valid passport / travel document and copy thereof
- copy of any visas valid in the past three years (if requested)
- two recent passport photos in color
- confirmed flight reservations or other travel details
- visa/permit for the (next) destination country (if requested)
- proof of minimum medical insurance cover (not required for the airport transit visa)
In addition to these and any visa fees, you also need to provide further documentation depending on the reason for your stay in Switzerland.
- invitation of host company
- letter from current employer, stating your job position, salary, reason & duration of trip, and guaranteeing that your expenses will be covered
- proof of employment and financial means
- copy of tax return, bank statements, and business license/registration (if self-employed)
- proof of accommodation reservations for each night
- proof of sufficient financial means
- travel itinerary
- letter of invitation from Swiss host, including their contact information and details on the length of your stay
- proof of sufficient financial means or official guarantee signed by the host
- travel itinerary
As a general rule of thumb, 100 CH per day and person are considered sufficient financial means. For students with a valid student ID, this threshold is lowered to 30 CHF.
Check with your nearest Swiss embassy or consulate for more details on requirements and how to submit your documents. Letters from employers or hosts, for instance, may have to be sent to the Swiss representation directly. Your application may also include a visit to the embassy in order to record biometric data.
How to Apply for a National Visa?
As mentioned above, category D visas — i.e. national visas — are always applied for at your respective Swiss representation. If you are planning to work in Switzerland, either you or your future employer will first have to file for a residence permit which includes a work permit (Aufenthaltsbewilligung mit Arbeitserlaubnis) with the respective cantonal migration and labor market authorities in Switzerland. You can read up on this process in our article on Swiss residence permits.
For students or those hoping to simply join their spouse or parent in Switzerland, the embassy will forward the request for residency to the respective authority. A national visa is generally only granted once assurance of a residence permit exists.
For your application for a national visa, as well as visa fees you will need to provide the following documents, with further requirements depending on the reason for your stay:
- completed application form for the national visa (in triplicate)
- valid passport or travel document and two copies thereof
- four recent passport photos in color
- residency authorization by cantonal authority
- employment contract / assignment letter
- recent police check certificate (original and copies; no older than six months)
- registration confirmation letter from school/university
- tuition fees payment confirmation
- proof of sufficient financial means
- school certificates and diplomas
- assurance that the applicant does not intent to stay beyond their studies
- letter of motivation / brief essay on applicant’s plans for the future
- partner’s/parent’s travel document and Swiss residence permit (if applicable)
- for kids: certified copies of birth certificates
- for spouses: certified copies of marriage certificate
- for spouses: recent police check certificate (original and copies; no older than six months)
- written request from partner/parent that visa applicant should join them in Switzerland, including contact details
As requirements can vary, check with your respective Swiss embassy or consulate for more details on the necessary documentation and the number of copies you should bring (typically at least three). In case of official paperwork, such as birth certificates, you may have to ensure your copies are certified. Similarly, should they be in a language other than English or one of Switzerland’s official languages, you will need to provide certified translations.
Keep in mind that processing national visa applications can take around eight to twelve weeks. You may also be asked to come in for a personal interview at the embassy.
What Is the Next Step After Arriving in Switzerland?
Once you have made your way to Switzerland, make sure to finalize the process of getting a Swiss residence permit if you are traveling under a national visa. This needs to be done within the first two weeks after your arrival and prior to taking up your job.
We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete.