If you, too, have been spellbound by Switzerland’s romantic mountainous cities and glacial lakes, you may be wondering what it takes to make it your permanent home. From travel visas, to hiring a mover, to residence permits and citizenship, we’ll break it all down so you can spend less time translating immigration law and more time finding the best Swiss chocolate in Zurich.
How to Move to Switzerland
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How do I move to Switzerland right away?
You can relocate to Switzerland from the United States pretty quickly by obtaining a passport and travel visa. The type of visa you’ll need depends on what you plan to do while you’re in town. You can apply for a short-term or long-term visa in Switzerland.
In general, there are five types of temporary visas that you can apply for:
- Short-term visa. A short-term stay Schengen visa, allows you to stay in Switzerland for tourism or business for up to 90 days. These include: tourist/visitor visas, business visas, event or official visit visas, and short-term study visas.
- Non-immigrant visa. The national visa is for folks who want to stay in Switzerland for longer than three months but do not plan to stay permanently. You’ll also need to apply for a temporary residence permit if you go this route.
- Student visa. This is a good choice for students who want to study long-term in Switzerland. Once you get your acceptance letter from a Swiss university, you’ll get an acceptance letter required for the visa application. After six months, this visa will also allow you to apply for temporary work for up to 15 hours a week. (You can start immediately if you have a Master’s degree already, though!)
- Temporary worker visa. You can only obtain a work permit if you’ve already been offered a job in Switzerland. Additionally, the job has to be a fixed-term contract…meaning a start and end date.
- Non-immigrant family visa. If you want to visit a naturalized spouse or family member in Switzerland for a limited period of time that is longer than three months, you can apply for this type of visa, along with a temporary residence permit.
There are also three types of long-term (or long-stay) visas you can apply for:
- The Swiss Family Reunification Visa – which can be used if a US resident wants to join with a spouse or parent already living permanently (or temporarily) in Switzerland
- The Swiss Work Visa – which is given to US citizens who have already found employment in Switzerland before moving
- The Swiss Study Visa – which is provided to US citizens who are enrolled in Swiss educational institutions (colleges and universities)
There are a few other ways to immigrate to Switzerland that are a bit more rare, but may still apply, like applying for a retirement visa, or seeking asylum from persecution.
Residence vs. citizenship in Switzerland
Anyone who stays in Switzerland for longer than 90 days (or three months) will need to apply for a residence permit. However, residence is not the same as citizenship. As a resident, you may live and work in Switzerland freely, but you will not be able to participate in local government or policymaking. But as a Swiss citizen, you’ll be able to work as a freelancer, receive rights to public education and educational grants, purchase Swiss real estate without restrictions, and receive Swiss welfare benefits—among other perks.
So how do I become a Swiss resident?
Switzerland is divided up into 26 different cantons (or states), so you have to apply for a Swiss residence permit at one of the local cantonal migration offices—depending on which canton you decide to live in. There are also a few different kinds of residence permits:
L Permit – for short-term stays up to a year. This permit is non-renewable.
B Permit – usually for up to a year, but it is renewable.
C Permit – considered a settlement permit for permanent residence but is only available after five years of residence, if you’re coming from the US and Canada.
And some less-likely residence permits you could encounter:
- Ci Permit – specifically applies to relatives of workers of inter-governmental organizations and foreign embassies.
- N Permit – permit for asylum-seekers.
- S Permit – temporary conditional permit for other people in need of protection.
- G Permit – is specifically a cross-border commuter permit for those who work in Switzerland but live in another country.
It’s technically possible to become a citizen of another country without a lawyer’s help, but getting an expert on board is a great way to ensure you do everything right—despite the additional cost. And especially if you're immigrating with children or a spouse. You can usually locate the resources to find a reputable lawyer on your destination country's citizenship and immigration website.
What about Swiss citizenship?
In order to become a citizen of Switzerland, you’ll generally have to have been a Swiss resident for at least 10 continuous years. The only exception to this rule is if you are married to a Swiss citizen, in which case you will only need five years of residence to apply.
Another thing to consider: citizenship can take a long time and also be quite expensive in Switzerland, around $3000 for one individual. And while citizenship comes with all the benefits of naturalization, there is one important caveat: all able-bodied men between the ages of 18 and 34 will have to serve in the military.
Switzerland still requires men between the ages of 18 and 34 to serve time in the military. So it’s pretty common to see military training camps across the country, and you can bet Switzerland is prepared for political conflict—despite remaining one of the world’s most politically neutral nations.
How much does it cost to move to Switzerland?
It’s not cheap to move internationally, and certainly Switzerland is no exception. On average, it will probably cost between $3000-$5000 to relocate permanently to Switzerland—and that could be more depending on how much you want to bring with you.
In order to budget for this type of move, there are some things you’ll want to make sure to factor in:
- Cost to pack and ship your belongings
- Insurance fees
- Flights and transportation costs
- Customs and duty charges
- Visa and immigration fees
- Housing and storage costs
- Local utilities and phone plans
What to do once you’ve moved?
Once you’ve arrived in Switzerland, the first thing you’ll want to do is officially register your visit with the local residents registration office or online. Once that’s completed, there are some other things we recommend you take care of right away:
- Register for universal Swiss health care
- Open a Swiss bank account
- Find housing by renting a flat or serviced apartment
- Enroll your kids in the excellent public, private, or international school systems
- Apply for an international driving permit
- Learn any of the official Swiss languages: Swiss-German, French, Italian, or Romansh
- Try some cheese fondue and have a go at skiing the Alps
- Check out Switzerland’s most popular cities: Zurich, Geneva, and Bern (the capital)
Whether you’re in the process of choosing the right type of visa, or applying for a residence permit, you’ll likely find that becoming a Swiss resident may not be the easiest or cheapest process…and you’ll need to spend some considerable time in Swiss territory if you want to make it your forever home.
Hurdles aside though, Switzerland has so much to offer—from it’s beautiful geography to its incredible school systems and private universal health care—so citizenship in Switzerland may truly be worth the wait. Cheers! Or shall we say, Broscht!
Is Switzerland hard to move to?
Switzerland can be hard to move to permanently, but it’s pretty easy to move there temporarily. Swiss visas allow visitors to stay for long periods of time, sometimes over six months. You can also apply for temporary residency this way, depending on the restrictions on your visa. Permanent citizenship is generally only granted after 10 years of continuous residence in Switzerland.
Can I move to Switzerland without a job?
Yes, you can move to Switzerland temporarily without a job. However, in order to apply for long-term stays or even a Swiss residence permit, you’ll need a job, school program, or naturalized family member—especially for stays for longer than 90 days.
How much money do I need to move to Switzerland?
You’ll probably need between $3000-$5000 to move to Switzerland from the United States. While fees can vary, in general you can expect this amount to cover the cost for shipping, transportation, customs, and immigration.
Can foreigners live in Switzerland?
Yes, foreign nationals can live in Switzerland—whether from New York or New Zealand. The amount of time varies depending on individual visa and residence permits, but the Swiss are welcoming of tourists and immigrants, alike.
Do they speak English in Switzerland?
Yes, English is one of the main languages spoken in Switzerland, along with Swiss-German, French, Italian, and Romansh.
Is Switzerland a part of the European Union (EU)?
No, Switzerland is not a part of the European Union (EU), but Swiss nationals still have the right to live and work in the UK and other countries in the European Union. In other words, Swiss citizens and EU/EFTA nationals have the same rights.