Visas for Switzerland

Visa requirements for Switzerland depends on a person’s nationality, as well as the reason and intended length of their stay in Switzerland.

As Switzerland is part of the Schengen area, the rules for citizens of European Union (EU) states and countries that form part of the European Economic Area (EEA) differ quite markedly to the regulations for foreign nationals from elsewhere.

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Citizens from the EU, the EEA, and countries on the Swiss government’s designated list are afforded visa-free entry and can stay for 90 days within a 180-day period, as long as their passport is valid for at least six months.

Foreign nationals of non-visa-exempt countries will need to apply for a Schengen visa. Applications can be made online or in person at their closest Swiss embassy or consulate.

Applicants need to provide paperwork including their passport, a completed application form and proof that they can finance their stay. In some situations, they may need documents explaining their reasons for travelling and a letter from a Swiss sponsor. Processing times vary, but it's best for travellers to apply as soon as they’ve confirmed their travel plans.

Expats who want to work or live in the country for longer than three months need to apply for a Swiss residence permit. This applies to all foreign nationals, but the process is much more straightforward for EU/EEA citizens.

Permits are issued by cantonal (state) immigration offices, so expats should contact the office where they hope to be based, as each canton has different quotas for non-European workers.



Residence permits for EU/EEA nationals

EU/EFTA nationals shouldn’t struggle to obtain a residence permit for Switzerland. They will receive a combined work and residence permit, and will need only their passport and employment contract to apply. The various permits available to EU/EAA nationals are the L, B and G permits. They will need to choose the one that suits their situation and apply accordingly.

Residence permits for non-EU/EEA nationals

Expats who are not from an EU/EEA member state may find it difficult to obtain a residence permit for Switzerland. The Swiss government has strict employment quotas to ensure that local Swiss workers, followed by EU nationals, are given priority when it comes to jobs.

Permits are mostly granted to highly-skilled and well-qualified expats. Once a canton’s quota has been met for any given year, applicants will need to wait until the following year to get their permit.

Most residence permits for Switzerland are linked to an employment contract, but many jobs require a residence permit. There is no easy way to sidestep this dilemma but finding a company willing to act as a sponsor isn’t impossible for those who are highly skilled in certain fields. That said, companies have to prove that the position can’t be filled by a Swiss, EU or EEA citizen if they want to employ someone from elsewhere.

After an expat secures a job, their employer will apply for a Residence Permit Assurance (Zusicherung der Aufenthaltsbewilligung/Assurance d'Autorisation de Séjour) with the local authorities. Once granted, the document is sent to the applicant, and should be presented with their passport upon entry.

After arriving, expats will have 14 days to register at their local Residents Registration Office. They will also have to apply for their residence permit at their canton’s migration office. The process differs between cantons, so expats should check the requirements beforehand.