A move to Switzerland often takes expats to one of the three largest cities: Zurich, Geneva, or Basel. Zurich, the capital of the canton of Zurich in central Switzerland, has a metropolitan area with roughly two million inhabitants.
Most foreign banks have set up branch offices in Zurich, one of the world’s leading financial centers. Many of the country’s influential research and development centers are also based in Zurich, making it a favorite destination for scientists and analysts. As one of the wealthiest cities in Europe, Zurich offers a great quality of life to expats in Switzerland.
Geneva, the “Peace Capital”, hosts several intergovernmental organizations, attracting huge numbers of international employees. It is the second largest UN base in the world and the home of the International Red Cross, the WTO, and the International Labour Organization.
Geneva is also an important financial hub and the destination of choice for many hedge funds and asset management companies. Despite its high cost of living, Geneva’s great location on the south-western tip of the country, in between the Alps and the Jura, contributes to making it a popular destination for new arrivals in Switzerland.
Basel is situated right on the border between Switzerland, Germany, and France. Its tri-national metropolitan area with about 830,000 inhabitants creates an international flair in a rather small city. On Swiss territory, the Basel metropolitan area stretches across several cantons: Basel City, Basel Countryside, Aargau, and a tiny bit of Solothurn.
Basel is not only an important financial center, but also home to Switzerland’s chemical and pharmaceutical industries. With three major train stations — one for each country — Basel has excellent high-speed connections to the rest of Europe. Due to its location on the Rhine, it also boasts the country’s only cargo port.
Take a look at our article on the best places to live in Switzerland for more popular expat destinations.
Switzerland signed the so-called “Agreement on the free movement of people” within all member states of the EU. This means that EU nationals have the right to enter, live and work in Switzerland mostly without formal restrictions. However, in 2013, the federal government temporarily introduced annual quotas for new employment candidates from EU member states.
Switzerland also signed a number of visa waiver agreements for short-term stays (less than three months) with countries outside the EU. Please click here for a detailed list, or consult the nearest Swiss Embassy or Consulate in your country of residence.
Switzerland effectively became a member of the Schengen community in 2008. As a result, holders of a Schengen visa have the right to enter Switzerland and remain in the country for three months within a period of six months. The Schengen area includes all but six EU states, plus Norway and Iceland. (The exceptions among the EU member states are Bulgaria, Ireland, Romania, Cyprus, Croatia and the UK, which do not belong to the Schengen area.)
A Schengen visa does not automatically grant its holder the right to work. The latter must be obtained separately. All non-EU nationals who wish to stay in Switzerland for more than three months must apply for a national visa (type D). These long-term visas are usually only granted in conjunction with a work permit.
Documents required in support of all visa applications include the applicant’s passport, which must contain a photograph and at least two blank pages, travel/health insurance cover for the entire period of stay, and proof of sufficient financial means to support the applicant during their time in Switzerland.
All visa applications must be submitted to the nearest Swiss Embassy or Consulate in your country of residence. The Swiss Federal Office for Foreign Affairs provides a PDF with links and contact details of all representative Swiss authorities abroad.
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