How to Get a Residence Permit in Switzerland?

If you want to work, study or generally stay in Switzerland for a longer period of time, you need a residence permit as a foreigner. Depending on your nationality and the purpose for which you want to stay in Switzerland, there are different types of residence permits. In this article we explain the differences, how to apply for a residence permit and what you have to consider.

How Do I Get a Residence Permit in Switzerland?

Depending on whether you are an EU/EFTA citizen or from a third country, there are different rules on how and whether you get a residence permit.

Swiss Residence Permit for EU/EFTA Citizens

Switzerland has an agreement with the EU and EFTA countries that also grants their nationals the free movement of persons in Switzerland. This means that an EU/EFTA citizen can settle in Switzerland even if he or she does not yet have a job with a Swiss company. EU/EFTA citizens are generally allowed to enter Switzerland for three months to look for a job without having a residence permit. For a stay of more than three months, a residence permit must be applied for. This is based on the applicant’s occupation or the duration of his or her planned stay in Switzerland.

Swiss Residence Permit for Non EU/EFTA Citizens

Those who come from a so-called third country (a country that is neither part of the EU nor the EFTA area) often find it more difficult to obtain a residence permit if they do not have a Swiss employment contract. Pensioners, private individuals or people working abroad must prove that they have sufficient financial means to finance their living in Switzerland. Those who come from a third country and wish to work in Switzerland may only do so if the corresponding position cannot be filled by the Swiss employer with a Swiss or EU/EFTA citizen. This means that you have the best chances as a specialist, manager or qualified specialist.

Swiss Residence Permit for UK Citizens

The United Kingdom has left the EU as of January 31, 2020. Until December 31, 2020, there was a so-called transitional phase in which the rights of UK citizens still corresponded to those of EU/EFTA citizens. Since the end of the transition period on January 1, 2021, these rights no longer apply. The UK is now legally a third country. For British citizens who want to settle in Switzerland, the regulations for third country nationals now apply.

Switzerland Residence Permit Types

Anyone wishing to settle in Switzerland must apply for a residence permit. There are three different types of permits for this purpose, depending on the duration of the stay.

Permit L

Permit L (also called short stay permit) is applied for if a stay in Switzerland of less than one year is planned.

EU/EFTA nationals are entitled to the L permit if they can prove a (future) employment relationship in Switzerland of between three months and one year. For a work period of less than three months, it is not necessary to apply for the L permit. The period of validity of the L permit is identical to that of the employment contract.

Third-country nationals also receive an L permit for employment limited to less than one year if the Swiss employer can prove to the authorities that the position can only be filled by the third-country national.

Permit B

In contrast to Permit L, Permit B (residence permit) is intended for stays longer than one year.

EU/EFTA nationals receive Permit B upon presentation of an employment contract for an indefinite period of time or for a period of more than one year. If there is no gainful employment, a B permit can be issued if it can be proven that the EU/EFTA national has sufficient financial means at his or her disposal, as well as proof of adequate health and accident insurance. The B permit is valid for five years for EU/EFTA citizens.

Third-country nationals receive a B permit upon proof of employment for a limited or unlimited period of more than one year. The validity period of the Permit B is only one year in each case.

Permit C

The C permit (settlement permit) can be issued to a foreign national living in Switzerland if he or she has resided in Switzerland continuously for a period of five or ten years. The regulation applies to both EU/EFTA nationals and third-country nationals.
After five years, the C permit can be applied for by persons who meet one of the following criteria:

  • Nationals of a state with which there is a settlement agreement or a settlement treaty: Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Monaco, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom, Vatican City, United States.
  • Spouses of Swiss nationals and of persons with a settlement permit
  • Spouses of persons from Germany, Austria and Denmark

In all other cases, uninterrupted residence in Switzerland for ten years is the minimum requirement. In principle, the prerequisite for the issuance of a C permit is that there has been a residence permit for the last five or ten years (regardless of the total duration during which the person concerned has lived in Switzerland). In addition, integration criteria (e.g. language competence) must be met and there must be no grounds for revocation (e.g. delinquency). The C permit is valid for an unlimited period of time, but a control period of five years applies.

How to Apply for the Swiss Residence Permit

Regardless of whether or not gainful employment is taken up in Switzerland, a foreigner must register with the registration office in his or her municipality of residence after entering the country. This applies to employees, self-employed persons, pensioners, students and private individuals. Registration must take place within 14 days of arrival. EU/EFTA citizens who will be staying in Switzerland for less than three months are only exempt from applying for a residence permit and registering locally. In all other constellations, applying for a residence permit and registering with the authorities is mandatory.

This Is How You Proceed if You Want to Register and Apply for a Residence Permit:

  • Presentation of a valid identification document (e.g. passport) is required for registration.
  • Upon presentation of an employment contract or a declaration of intent to work signed by your future employer, apply for an L or B permit, depending on the duration of the employment. If you take up a self-employed activity, you must, for example, provide proof of an entry in the commercial register and the deposit of start-up capital.
  • If you do not pursue gainful employment, you must provide evidence that you have sufficient financial means to finance your life in Switzerland.
  • If you are staying in Switzerland for longer than 3 months, you must also submit a confirmation of admission from a Swiss health insurance company.
    Your municipality of residence will forward all the documents submitted to the cantonal authority responsible for issuing the residence permit.

How Long Does It Take To Get a Swiss Residence Permit?

As a rule, processing takes one to two months after receipt of the mail, but depends largely on whether your submitted documents are complete or not. If the authorities have to make inquiries, the process will be protracted. Therefore, it is advisable to consult in advance either with the cantonal immigration office responsible for you or with an advisor as to which documents are required.

Benefits of the Swiss Residence Permit

With a Swiss residence permit (L and B permit), you have the same rights and obligations as Swiss employees, and are therefore entitled to the Swiss social security system. With a Swiss residence permit (C permit), you also have the advantage of an unrestricted right of residence in Switzerland and, with the exception of the right to vote and stand for election, exactly the same rights and obligations as Swiss citizens.

Swiss Residence Permit vs. Swiss Citizenship

Swiss citizenship gives former foreign nationals the right to vote in elections and referenda in Switzerland. With a residence or settlement permit, on the other hand, this is not possible. The settlement permit (C permit) comes closest to Swiss citizenship, as it comes with an unrestricted right of residence that is not subject to any conditions (such as gainful employment).