How to Obtain Permanent Residency in Switzerland

How to Obtain Permanent Residency in Switzerland

Switzerland stands as one of the world's most developed, secure, and affluent nations, boasting an enviable work-life balance. The country eschews crowded metropolises, offering instead vibrant urban centres like Zurich, Geneva, and Basel, full of exciting events. Swiss airports facilitate global travel connections and you can easily hop on a high-speed train after work to go on a trip to visit waterfalls. In this guide, we outline the process of obtaining Swiss permanent residency.

Three Types of Permanent Residence Permits in Switzerland

You can enter Switzerland using a Schengen visa or a passport from the US, the UK, Japan, the EU, the EFTA (which encompasses Switzerland, Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway), and other countries with specific visa agreements in place with Switzerland.

However, to stay in the country for extended periods, whether for work or study, obtaining permanent residency is necessary. There are three types of permits available:

  • “L” Permit: This one-year permit can be extended once for up to another year.
  • “В” Permit: Initially valid for one year, this permit can be extended indefinitely as long as you have valid reasons to remain in the country.
  • “С” Permit: This permit affords rights akin to those conferred by a Swiss passport.

Zurich. Photo: Hem Poudyal (Unsplash)

Who Is Entitled to Obtain a C Permit?

Obtaining permanent residency in Switzerland does not offer shortcuts, such as through investments. On the contrary, only individuals holding a C permit (excluding EU and EFTA citizens) are eligible to establish businesses, purchase or lease non-resort properties. Those with a B permit can acquire personal residential properties, but only with approval from local authorities.

Swiss society warmly welcomes tourists and readily grants L and B permits to those who work, study, or reside with their spouse/parents in the country. However, progressing to higher levels of residency is a more intricate process. Acquiring permanent residency, and especially citizenship, in Switzerland requires a significant amount of patience.

It's worth mentioning that one of the most famous comedies about the country is the 1978 film "The Swissmakers" (Die Schweizermacher), directed by Rolf Lyssy. This film humorously depicts nitpicking government officials meticulously examining the naturalisation process for candidates.

To apply for permanent residency in Switzerland, you must reside in the country continuously for 10 years with a B permit. However, citizens of the EU, EFTA, USA, or Canada can apply for permanent residency after five years.

Spouses of Swiss citizens and their children aged 12 to 18 years can also apply for permanent residency after five years. Only children under 12 years of age with a Swiss parent can obtain a C permit quickly, without any waiting period.

Ticino. Photo: Paolo Feser (Unsplash)

Swiss Permanent Residency and Citizenship: Similarities and Differences

The process of obtaining a type C residency permit is similar to acquiring citizenship. In both cases, you must reside continuously in the country for five to 10 years, have sufficient income, demonstrate language proficiency, and be well-integrated into Swiss society.

Both permanent residency and citizenship grant the rights to:

  • Openly work or change jobs.
  • Freelance.
  • Purchase property and start a business.
  • Study, including educational grants.
  • Travel without restrictions and live in any part of the country.
  • Receive social security benefits (this can limit your right to acquire citizenship in the future)

You cannot leave Switzerland for long with the C permit. You can leave for up to 30 days per year, but if you leave the country for six months, your permit will be cancelled. 

Fourcapass. Photo: Nigel Tadyanehondo (Unsplash)

A Swiss passport grants the right to:

  • Live in Switzerland as a full-fledged citizen, enjoying all social security benefits.
  • Vote.
  • Run for any elected office.
  • Leave the country for any period of time without any restrictions.

Note that in Switzerland all able-bodied men between 18 and 34 years old are required to serve in the military as a civic duty.

You will be able to get a Swiss passport only after a long-term residence in the country with the C permit. This applies even if your spouse is a Swiss citizen.

Most expats are satisfied with a permanent residence permit and do not apply for a Swiss passport. According to the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM), only 2% of C permit holders apply for citizenship.

Melchsee-Frutt. Photo: Ricardo Gomez Angel (Unsplash)

C Permit Requirements in Switzerland

Kina S., a physicist from Geneva, notices that locals value good neighbourliness, mindfulness, and politeness down to small nuances. If you live in an apartment complex, taking baths or showers after 10 PM and before 7 AM is considered disturbing the peace. Locals also are wary of those who are disinterested in local culture and cannot carry on a conversation about a grand exhibition in Winterthur or a Fasnacht carnival in Basel.

Every canton has its own rules, but, Kina says, the Swiss community will only accept an expat as one of their own after a long, conflict-free naturalisation process.

To get a C permanent residence permit, the candidate must:

  • Reside in the country for five to 10 years;
  • Know an official canton language spoken to B1 level and written to A2 level;
  • Integrate in Swiss society and appreciate its traditions;
  • Have a clean criminal record both in Switzerland and abroad;
  • Pose no danger to Swiss society, have no conflicts with neighbours or colleagues;
  • Be economically independent and have no need for social welfare benefits.

Alpe di Neja. Photo: Claudio Carrozzo (Unsplash)

How to Apply for C Residence Permit

Switzerland has 26 cantons. Every municipality has its own permanent residency application process. It is best to check the information for the exact canton. You can find a list of the cantonal offices on the SEM website. Most of the required documents are the same. You will need:

  • A receipt for payment of the state fee for the C permit. This fee typically amounts to around 95 CHF ($107) for adults and 35 CHF ($39) for children. The specific amount can vary depending on the canton. For instance, in Ticino, it might reach up to 147 CHF ($165). The fee may also differ based on the applicant's citizenship, often being lower for EU/EFTA citizens.
  • An application form with the candidate’s personal information. This form serves as a personal identification document issued to all long-term residents in Switzerland. It includes information about the applicant's address and provides evidence of a valid B residence permit.
  • Proof of language proficiency in the official language of the canton.This language is typically either German or French. In certain cantons like Grisons or Ticino, proficiency in Italian may be required.
  • Proof of integration into Swiss society. This documentation usually encompasses employment records, an employer's recommendation, and a certificate of a clean criminal record. Additionally, be prepared for the possibility that officials might request character references from neighbours or colleagues.

You should submit all the required documents by mail. Upon a successful application, you will receive a C residence permit in the form of a plastic card equipped with a biometric chip. This card grants you the ability to travel freely within the Schengen area.

Obtaining Swiss permanent residency is always a time-consuming process. Processing times can vary among different canton offices – some may provide quick responses, while others could take 10 days or more. Therefore, it's advisable to be patient throughout the process.

Photo: Chris Henry (Unsplash)

In a Nutshell

Obtaining permanent residency in Switzerland requires a significant period of residence: a minimum of five years for citizens of the EU/EFTA, Canada, or the USA, and 10 years for citizens of other countries. Even when applying for permanent residency through family reunification, the process will not be expedited. The only exception applies to children below 12 years of age. The candidate must have a command of the official language of the canton they reside in and be thoroughly integrated into society. Swiss permanent residency cannot be acquired as a mere formality; you must actually work, live or study there.

Cover photo: Marco Meyer (Unsplash)

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