Most EU/EFTA citizens – and their relatives or partners – can live and work in Switzerland without restrictions, but need to obtain a residence permit.
Can EU citizens live and work in Switzerland? Citizens of countries from the European Union (EU) or European Free trade Association (EFTA) (EU countries plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland) have the right to visit, live and work in Switzerland, although some restrictions apply for newer EU members and all EU/EFTA need a residence permit for longer stays. Different conditions apply for non-EU/EFTA citizens.
This guide explains the processes required for moving to Switzerland as an EU citizen, including information on Swiss residence permits for EU citizens and the conditions for whether EU citizens can work in Switzerland.
This guide includes:
- Freedom of movement: Can EU citizens live in Switzerland?
- EU citizens staying in Switzerland for up to 90 days
- EU citizens living in Switzerland longer than 90 days
- Swiss residence permits for EU/EFTA citizens
- Can EU/EFTA citizens work in Switzerland?
- Special rules for Romanians and Bulgarians coming to Switzerland
- Special rules for Croatians moving to Switzerland
- Relatives and partners of EU/EFTA citizens
- Getting Swiss citizenship or a settlement permit
Switzerland is not a member of the EU but has adopted much EU policy and has signed up to the EU’s freedom of movement agreement, which allows EU citizens to live and work freely within the EU and Switzerland. However, in February 2014, just over half of all Swiss voters backed a right-wing proposal to bring back strict immigration quotas and other restrictions for EU citizens – a move that goes against the principle of this agreement. The EU has said it will not accept this controversial decision, yet reports in January 2015 suggested that Swiss diplomats were exploring adding a ‘safeguard clause’ that would let Switzerland cap immigration from the EU but only once certain quotas are filled. This may lead to a standoff between the EU and Switzerland, so it’s important to get the latest update at the time of your move. In the meantime, the situation is as follows.
If you’re a national from an ‘EU-25’ country or EFTA state – Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Poland or Portugal – you can enjoy full freedom of movement and are free to move to Switzerland to live and work. However, you will still need to get a residence permit for stays of longer than three months.
All you need is a passport or valid travel/ID and to not be considered a threat to Swiss internal or external security (for example, not have a pending criminal record). You can enter the country freely and must register with the Residents Registry Office at the cantonal migration offices within 14 days of your arrival in Switzerland and apply for a residence permit if you want to stay for longer than three months.
There are special rules for Bulgarian, Romanian and Croatian citizens. They are free to enter Switzerland but Bulgarians and Romanian are subject to work-related restrictions up until 31 May 2016. Croatians must have a passport (not an ID card) to enter Switzerland and there are an extremely limited number of work permits available.
No permit or authorisation is required for stays of up to three months within a six-month period, but you must register your arrival with the Residents’ Registry Office at the cantonal migration offices within 14 days of your arrival in Switzerland, and if you want to work during this time you’ll have to register (see below).
If you come to Switzerland to look for work but haven’t found a job by the end of the three months, the local cantonal authority can grant you a short-term residence permit valid for a further three months. This can be extended for up to one year.
After three months of living in Switzerland, working or not, everyone needs to register with the cantonal migration office and get a residence permit (see below).
Any EU/EFTA citizen who wishes to stay in Switzerland for more than 90 days/three months must register with the Residents’ Registry Office in their Swiss canton, and apply for a residence permit within 14 days of arrival in Switzerland. If you will be working, the residence permit doubles as a work permit (see below). If you are coming to Switzerland as a student, with independent means, to retire, or to be with your family, you must apply for a residence permit for non-working purposes.
You have to show that you have enough money to support yourself while you’re in Switzerland and have appropriate health and accident insurance – by law you have to take out health insurance with a Swiss health insurance company. Students also need to have proof that they have been admitted to a recognised educational institution. Contact your cantonal migration authority for more information about specific requirements.
Swiss residence permits for EU/EFTA citizens
There are different permits:
- Type L EU/EFTA short-term residence permit: for up to a year. If you have a work contract for less than 12 months, the permit lasts as long as the contract. (Remember, if you’re from an EU-25 state you don’t need a permit if you’re working for less than three months.) This permit is often used when coming to Switzerland to look for work.
- Type B EU/EFTA residence permit: for those with employment contracts of more than 12 months, and the self-employed. You have to prove that you can support yourself financially and have adequate insurance cover. The permit is valid for five years and extendable. Students may be issued with this permit on a yearly basis, also extendable.
- Type G EU/EFTA cross-border commuter permit: for those who live in EU/EFTA member states but work in Switzerland. You have to return to your home outside of Switzerland once a week. If you have an employment contract of less than a year, the permit lasts as long as the contract; if the contract is for 12 months or more, the permit is valid for five years.
- Type C EU/EFTA settlement permits: allow you to stay in Switzerland indefinitely although your status needs to be confirmed every five years. Nationals from Belgium, Germany, Denmark, France, Liechtenstein, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Austria, Portugal, Spain, Finland, United Kingdom, Ireland, Iceland, Luxemburg, Norway and Sweden may be granted this settlement permit after living in Switzerland for five continuous years; nationals from other EU/EFTA states need to have lived in Switzerland for 10 continuous years.
- Type Ci EU/EFTA: (residence permit with gainful employment) is for members of foreign embassies/consulates and relatives of workers of inter-governmental organisations.
Working for up to 90 days/three months
If you are going to be employed in Switzerland for up to three months per calendar year, you must register online at least eight days before taking up work. You don’t have to register if you’ll be working for less than eight days, unless you work in certain categories of work, for example, in construction or as an itinerant worker where registration is always compulsory.
You can register online here.
Working in Switzerland for longer than three months
If you’re going to be working for more than three months, then you don’t use the registration procedure. You’ll need to apply for a residence permit anyway, and that will double as your work permit. If you’re from Bulgaria, Croatia or Romania you need to get a separate work permit (see below), so you’ll need to either have a job organised or be looking for one.
You need to apply for your permit within 14 days of your arrival in Switzerland – and before you actually start work – through your cantonal migration and labour market authorities in your place of residence.
You’ll need to present:
- a valid passport/travel ID document;
- a copy of the lease/rental agreement for your home;
- a passport photo;
- other documents depending on your status, such as an employment contract (if you’re employed) or a set of accounts, business plan, etc. (if you’re self-employed).
Service providers/regulated professions
If you are going to provide a service in Switzerland – for example as a lawyer, a doctor or in another regulated profession for up to 90 days/three months – then you have to submit a declaration through SERI’s (State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation) online system. For more details on regulated professions and the declaration procedure, see this official information. If your profession is not regulated then you don’t need to make this declaration.
However, all service providers, regulated or not, working for up to 90 days must make a declaration for short-term work to the Federal Office for Migration, no later than eight days before starting to provide the service.
Unlike non-EU/EFTA nationals, you don’t have to come through an agency to work as an au pair in Switzerland but you do have to be aged between 17 and 30 years. You can get a residence permit after you have registered with the cantonal authorities and shown your work contract.
Working while you’re a student
You can take on work as soon as you come to Switzerland as a student. You can work up to 15 hours a week during term time and full time during holidays as long as the employer notifies the authorities. If you work more than this, you are considered to be employed and your employer will have to apply for a work permit.
If you lose your job or the contract ends
If you lose your job or the contract ends you can stay a further six months in Switzerland to look for another job but you have to get authorisation from the cantonal migration authorities to do so. Note: if you apply for welfare benefits, you will lose your right to stay in Switzerland (unless you have a settlement permit, that is).
If you want to come to live in Switzerland for reasons other than to be employed – for example to study, start a business, to be reunited with your family – you have the same rights as all other EU/EFTA citizens. However, if you want to work as an employee, certain restrictions will be in force until 31 May 2016.
Romanians and Bulgarians working in Switzerland
Until 2016, Romanians and Bulgarians will need a work permit whatever the duration of their employment is in Switzerland. Before you get a work permit you need to find a job and get an employment contract. The employer will then send the signed contract to the cantonal labour authority and request a work permit for you. Whether or not the permit will be granted depends on there being no Swiss person equally qualified for the job, the pay and conditions offered, and the number of work permits available under the quota. These restrictions only apply if this is your first job in Switzerland. In order to work in Switzerland you will also need to have a valid residence permit.
Switzerland has an international trainee agreement with Bulgaria and Romania whereby professionals aged 18–35 can work for up to 18 months in Switzerland in order to develop professional and language skills. This offers simplified access to a Swiss work permit. For more information, see Working in Switzerland: Swiss work permits.
As of 1 July 2014 Croatian citizens are subject to strict quotas. The Swiss government have issued 50 one-year B permits and 450 short-term L permits for Croatians to access the Swiss labour market, and have agreed to recognise Croatian vocational and training diplomas in healthcare, education, agriculture, construction and sport.
Family members – including spouse or registered partner, children or grandchildren under 21 years, or dependent parents and grandparents – can join you in Switzerland regardless of their nationality. However, if you are a student, only your spouse/registered partner and children are entitled to join you.
Relatives must have a valid passport/travel ID and not pose a threat to the country (ie. have no pending criminal record). They may also need a visa to enter Switzerland. Click here to find out if your relatives need a visa to enter Switzerland for either short-term stays of under 90 days in a 180 day-period, or long-term stays of over 90 days. If they have a residence permit from particular Schengen countries, they can also check here to see if it will be acceptable in place of an entry visa.
Once in Switzerland, they will be granted an EU/EFTA residence permit and are allowed to work but should inform the cantonal migration and labour market authorities beforehand.
Non-EU/EFTA citizens who have been granted a residence permit on the basis of family reunification and get divorced or their partner dies while they’re in Switzerland, their permit may be extended if they were living together for three years in Switzerland, are successfully integrated into Swiss society, or there’s an important reason why they can’t return to their home country. If they hold a settlement permit after five years’ continuous residence, then spouses and children over 12 retain the right to settle in Switzerland.
After five years’ continuous residence in Switzerland, citizens of EU-25 countries can apply for a settlement residence permit (C EU/EFTA permit). Bulgarian, Croatian and Romanian citizens can settle after 10 years.
For more information
Federal Office for Migration (FOM): the Swiss government’s official site for information on all aspects of immigration to Switzerland.
+41 58 465 11 11 | Monday to Friday: 9–11am and 2–4pm.
Cantonal authorities: Each canton has its own cantonal immigration and labour market authorities that issue permits and will be able to provide detailed information on the application procedures. Find the contact details of your specific Swiss canton for information. Click here for the addresses of all the cantonal authorities, for online access via their websites and for the details of the communal authorities.