Swiss Residence Permit: Categories, Requirements and Validity Periods

Swiss Residence Permit: Categories, Requirements and Validity Periods

Any foreigner planning to live in Switzerland for more than three months in a row must obtain a residence permit. This rule even applies to citizens of the European Union, as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, who do not need a visa to enter the country.

There are several categories of residence permit in Switzerland. For example, in the case of a short stay in the country for up to one year, you need a Swiss residence permit L. We will describe the other types of residence permit, what they offer and the eligibility requirements.

Who Will Find It Easiest to Move to Switzerland?

Switzerland's migration policy differentiates between two types of foreigners. The first includes the nationals of the European Union and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), the second includes the citizens of third countries. The requirements on European nationals relocating to Switzerland are less stringent.

The European Union consists of 27 countries, while EFTA consists of Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. On a separate note, United Kingdom left the EU on 1 January 2021. As a result, now it is considered a third country and British citizens are included in the second category. However, under a bilateral agreement, any British citizen who obtained a Swiss permit before Brexit will retain it.

Wengen, Switzerland. Photo: Alev Takil (Unsplash)

Main Types of Residence Permit in Switzerland 

There are three main types of residence permit in Switzerland - categories L, B and C. They give the right to short-term, long-term and permanent residency in the country.

Permit L

To obtain a category L residence permit, which is usually issued for no more than one year, you must submit an employment contract for a period of three to 12 months to the migration service. It goes without saying that the employer must be registered in Switzerland.

The validity period of this permit depends on the time for which the applicant is hired by a Swiss company. Where necessary, such a permit can be renewed for another year

Permit B

A category B residence permit is valid for five years. It is available to applicants who were hired by a Swiss company for at least a year or under an employment contract for an indefinite term. To obtain a positive decision, it is important to have a medical policy and accident insurance.

This permit can be renewed for five years if the foreigner is still employed. However, if the foreigner was dismissed and has not had an official job for the past 12 months, it is highly likely that the residence permit will be renewed for only one year.

A B permit is also available to people who do not work in Switzerland. In this case, you must have confirmed sources of income or sufficient funds on a bank account which guarantee your financial independence without employment.

Permit C

Only foreigners who have been living in Switzerland for 5 to 10 years are eligible for a C (settlement) permit. The decision on whether to grant a permanent resident permit to an applicant is made by the State Secretariat for Migration.

EU and EFTA nationals are granted settlement permits pursuant to the Federal Act on Foreign Nationals and Integration or bilateral agreements. Switzerland has signed such agreements with 17 countries, including its closest neighbours Germany, Italy and France.

Switzerland, Bern. Photo: Victoria Prymak (Unsplash)

Other Types of Permits

The following individuals are also eligible for a residence permit in Switzerland:

  • Spouses and children (under the age of 25) of the employees of embassies and intergovernmental organisations
  • Citizens and residents of the EU and EFTA who regularly commute to Switzerland for work (this also applies to the self-employed)
  • Individuals who have been ordered to leave Switzerland but are unable to do so for a good cause
  • Asylum seekers
  • Individuals in need of temporary protection

Where to Get and Renew Your Residence Permit

Switzerland is a federal republic consisting of 26 cantons. Each canton has its own office of the migration service which issues residence permits. You need to apply to the office of the canton where you live. There they will also tell you about the procedure in detail. The list of offices and addresses can be found on the official website of the Secretariat.

Your permit can be renewed at the same office. To renew the permit, you will need to submit together with your current valid permit:

  • A valid identity card or passport (must be valid for at least three months after the expiry of the permit)
  • A notice on the expiry of the permit if you received one

You can apply for a renewal of your permit no earlier than three months and no later than two weeks before it expires.

If your Swiss residence permit card has been stolen or you have lost it, you must duly notify the police. They will issue you a loss notice. Then you should go to the residents' register office in your commune (or to the cantonal migration authority) with your passport, a passport photo and the loss notice. There, you will receive a duplicate of the lost card or a new permit.

What You Need to Know as a Foreigner Who Goes to Switzerland to Work

EU and EFTA Nationals

Residents of the EU and EFTA can work and live in Switzerland without restrictions. However, in 2023, a quota was introduced for the number of L and B permits for Croatian citizens.

Anyone working in Switzerland for less than three months does not need a residence permit. in such cases the employer must notify the Swiss authorities of the short-term hire of a foreign employee: this can even be done online.

Anyone hired for more than three months must obtain a residence permit before starting work. The permit is valid all over the country and enables you to change jobs.

On arrival in Switzerland, the self-employed need to register and apply for a residence permit within two weeks.

European citizens can come to Switzerland first and look for a job later. They have six months to find one. They do not need a residence permit for the first three months, but must obtain a permit for the next three months.

Third-Country Nationals

Only highly qualified professionals can come to work in Switzerland from third countries. In addition, the company hiring a foreigner is required to prove that it is doing so in the economic interests of the country and cannot find a similar professional in Switzerland, the EU or EFTA.

Such employees need to get a work permit even if they are going to the country on a short-term project. The self-employed obtain the document themselves. In the case of hired staff, the employer is responsible.

You do not need a work permit if you are married to a Swiss citizen or a permanent resident with a type C permit.

A work permit does not give you the right to enter the country: you may need a visa. Anyone coming to Switzerland to work has 14 days to register.

Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland. Photo: Alev Takil (Unsplash)

What You Need to Know as a Foreigner Who Does Not Go to Switzerland for Work

You do not have to find a job to move to Switzerland. Students and the wealthy, including pensioners, can also get a residence permit. In the second case, it doesn't even matter where you come from, from the EU or EFTA or from a third country. The main requirement is to prove your financial solvency and take out insurance so as not to place a burden on the Swiss social security system.

Students from third countries also have to submit:

  • A certificate of enrolment
  • A study plan
  • Biographical information
  • A letter of their intention to leave Switzerland on completion of their studies

Students from the EU and EFTA only need to submit the certificate of enrolment.

In a Nutshell

To stay in Switzerland for more than 90 days, foreigners need a residence permit. The country has several types of permits, the most common being L, B and C permits. They are valid respectively for one year, five years, and indefinitely. You need to apply for a residence permit at the migration service office in the canton where you live.

Cover photo: Daniel Cox (Unsplash)

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