If you go to Zurich on a short-term trip which lasts fewer than three months and does not involve gainful employment, you do not need a work or residence permit. Depending on your nationality, you may not even need a visa. A valid passport, as well as sufficient funds and a travel insurance policy worth at least 30,000 CHF, is enough for expats from various countries.
Make sure to check the visa requirements listed by the Swiss Federal Office for Migration.
If you have to enter Switzerland with a visa for a short-term stay, you should apply for a Schengen visa (category C) at the nearest Swiss representation. It allows you to reside in Switzerland for up to 90 days and to travel freely within the Schengen area. For example, if you’d like to go from Zurich to Germany, Italy, or France for a few days, a Schengen visa is what you need.
Stays of more than three months, however, require a different kind of visa: the category D visa.
Regardless of how long you are planning to stay in Switzerland, if you want to move to Zurich for a new job or a paid project, you’ll need an Arbeitsbewilligung (work permit). Applying for the appropriate work and/or residence permit is part of your visa application. There are three general categories of permits for Switzerland, according to the duration of your stay:
So how do get an Aufenthaltsbewilligung (residence permit) complete with Arbeitsbewilligung (work permit) for your time as an expat in Zurich? We will briefly introduce the most common procedures below.
If you are a national of an EU/EFTA member state (except for Bulgaria and Romania), you mostly need to have a confirmed job offer. However, from 1 June, 2013, onwards, there are certain quotas for job-seekers from all EU countries. This measure is renewed every year.
You can only start working if the annual quota for new employees from EU-8 countries or EU-17 countries, respectively, has not yet been reached. To find out if this quota is nearing the annual limit, please get in touch with the local migration office of the canton where your potential employer has their office.
Moreover, when you have found a job that fulfills the quota requirements, you still need to get your Arbeitsbewilligung within the first three months of your stay. Go to the local migration office (Migrationsamt des Kantons Zürich) with your valid ID, employment contract, and rental contract.
You should obtain your permit without further ado. If you have a job contract for at least one year, you’ll normally receive a permit valid for up to five years.
Getting a work and residence permit is more complicated for people who are not from an EU/EFTA state. First, you need a job offer in Zurich. While you lodge your visa application (if necessary), your employer applies for your work permit at the Amt für Wirtschaft und Arbeit Zürich. The company needs to prove that there was no suitable Swiss/EU/EFTA candidate available and that your salary and working conditions adhere to local standards. They have to show your qualifications, too, which is why your employer may ask you for a CV, diplomas, references, etc.
If the local AWA issues a permit, they will send it to the Federal Office for Migration. They check the application again, in a national context. If it’s successful, they’ll contact the migration office in your canton, i.e. the Migrationsamt des Kantons Zürich. The latter then transfers your work and residence permit to the Swiss mission. You can collect it together with your visa. Make sure to check how long your permit is valid and to ask how you can renew it.
Unfortunately, entering Switzerland with all the paperwork at hand does not mean the end of bureaucracy yet. Within 14 days of your arrival, you have to register with the municipal authorities for your residence certificate. This also applies to EU/EFTA nationals!
Bring your passport, rental contract, alien ID card (if you have one), proof of health insurance, and work/residence permit to the Kreisbüro of your borough in Zurich City or to the local Einwohnerkontrolle (registry office).
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