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Visas and Permits for Zurich, Switzerland

There are plenty of reasons for moving to Zurich! Switzerland’s largest city attracts numerous expats due to its booming economy and high quality of life. Our guide to Zurich introduces you to the Greater Zurich Area, Swiss visas and permits, as well as housing for expats.
For brief stays in Switzerland, a so-called Schengen visa may suffice.

Short or Long Stays: Visa Requirements

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 to see if this is the case for you.

If you require a visa in order to enter Switzerland for a short-term stay, you should apply for a Schengen visa (type 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.

Stays of more than three months, however, require a different kind of visa: the type D visa, also referred to as a national visa.

You can find more information on how to apply for a visa in our in-depth article on Swiss Visa Regulations.

Various Permits for Switzerland

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). Whether or not you have permission to work is then noted down in your residence permit. There are three general categories of residence permits for Switzerland, according to the duration of your stay:

  • The Kurzaufenthaltsbewilligung (category L) is a permit for those who’d like to stay in Switzerland for up to one year, e.g. expats on a short-term assignment or interns (stagiaires) between 18 and 30 years of age.
  • The Aufenthaltsbewilligung (category B) is the most common sort of permit. If you move to Switzerland to start working in Zurich, this is typically the permit you need.
  • The Niederlassungsbewilligung (category C) is an unlimited settlement permit. You must have lived in Switzerland for at least five years (or ten, depending on your specific circumstances) before you are able to apply for it.

If you require a visa, applying for the appropriate work and/or residence permit is typically part of your visa application.

For more information on Swiss visas and residence permits, please refer to our respective in-depth articles.

How to Get a Work and Residence Permit

So how do you get an Aufenthaltsbewilligung (residence permit) complete with Arbeitsbewilligung (work permit) for your time as an expat in Zurich? The procedure and requirements heavily depend on your nationality. Read the respective section below for more details.

EU/EFTA Nationals

If you plan on working in Switzerland for more than three months, you will need a work permit. Your employer must apply for this on your behalf. EU/EFTA nationals usually do not have any problems obtaining a work permit thanks to the freedom of movement. Citizens from the youngest EU member states face some restrictions though:

  • Croatia: Limited number of available permits; further restrictions may apply (e.g. regarding salary)
  • Bulgaria and Romania: Limited number of available permits; full freedom of movement starts on 1 June 2019

In conjunction with your work permit, you need to get your Aufenthaltsbewilligung (residence permit) 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 (category B).

Third-Country Nationals

Getting a work and residence permit is more complicated for people who are not from an EU/EFTA member 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 (AWA). 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 your nearest Swiss representation, where 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.

The Final Step: Local Registration as a Resident Alien

Unfortunately, entering Switzerland with all the paperwork at hand does not mean the end of bureaucracy. 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).


We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete.

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