Home Moving to Switzerland Visas & Immigration Student visas in Switzerland
Last update on August 18, 2021
Gary Buswell Written by Gary Buswell

Find out all you need to know about the Switzerland student visa, including who needs one and what the requirements are.

You may need a Switzerland student visa if you want to enroll in further or higher education in Switzerland. This guide explains the key aspects of this visa including information on what to do if you need one. Read up on everything you need to know about:

Studying in Switzerland

Switzerland has one of the best higher education systems in the world, with four of its universities among the top 100 in the 2021 Times Higher Education World University Rankings.

Many overseas students are attracted to studying in Switzerland, with university courses available in four different languages. Around 26% of university students in Switzerland were foreign in 2020/21.

University students in Switzerland

However, standards are high and getting into a Swiss university or higher education institution isn’t easy. You will need an offer for a recognized course. Additionally, you may need a Swiss student visa if you are coming from outside the EU.

The State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) in Switzerland oversees all visas and immigration to the country, although much of the administration is done by the local cantonal migration offices.

Who needs a student visa in Switzerland?

Residents from the European Union (EU) and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) (Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway) do not need a visa to take up studies in Switzerland. You will only need to prove that you have been accepted onto a course with a registered institution. If you are staying in Switzerland for longer than 90 days, you will need to apply for a Swiss residence permit from your local canton. Read more in our guide to EU/EFTA citizens moving to Switzerland.

If you are not an EU/EFTA citizen, you will need a Switzerland student visa to study in the country. Residents of certain non-EU/EFTA nations can come to Switzerland for short study courses or training without a visa, as long as they don’t stay in the country for more than 90 days. You can find information on individual countries on the SEM website.

Types of student visas in Switzerland

There are two types of Switzerland student visa:

  • The Schengen “C” visa – allows you to stay in Switzerland for up to 90 days so it is perfect for short courses, seminars, summer schools, or language schools.
  • The National “D” visa – a long-term study visa that can be used for anything lasting longer than three months, such as degree courses or PhD studies.

Short-term C student visas in Switzerland

If you plan to study in Switzerland for three months or less, you can get a Schengen C visa to cover you for the duration of your stay.

Requirements

You will need to be accepted onto a recognized study course in Switzerland. In addition to this, you will need to purchase health insurance coverage and show that you can support yourself financially during your time in Switzerland.

Two women studying in a Swiss university classroom

How to apply

You should apply for a visa through the Swiss embassy or consulate in your home country. You’ll need to complete an application form and submit supporting documentation, in French, German or English, so you may need to translate your documents.

You will need to provide the following along with your visa application:

  • Valid passport/travel ID
  • Proof of adequate financial resources to cover your costs while you’re in Switzerland
  • Healthcare insurance
  • Confirmation of booked courses, including fees paid
  • If you’re under 18, a birth certificate and authorization to travel if coming to Switzerland alone, or copies of parents’ visas if they will be accompanying

The visa takes around 10-15 days to process.

Visa costs

Switzerland student visa costs are CHF 88. You may have to pay extra (up to 50% above the standard price) if you need the visa fast-tracked or outside of normal working hours. You’ll have to pay along with the application.

Visa length

The C visa is valid for a maximum of 90 days within a 180-day period. As it’s a Schengen visa, it normally allows the holder to travel around the Schengen Area for as long as it is valid.

You cannot come to Switzerland on a C visa and change it to a long-stay visa after you’ve arrived. Even if you are from a non-EU country exempt from needing an entry visa, you will still need to apply for a residence permit before you arrive if you plan to stay longer than 90 days. If your circumstances change once you are in Switzerland, you should contact your cantonal immigration office.

Long-term D student visas in Switzerland

This Swiss study visa entitles you to come and study any course that lasts for longer than three months.

Requirements

You will need to have an offer to study at a recognized University or educational institution. You can find links to Swiss universities through CRUS (German website for the Rectors Conference of the Swiss Universities). In addition to this, you will need to show that you have the necessary qualifications and attributes to undertake the course you are applying for, sufficient means to support yourself financially, and health insurance coverage for your stay.

University of Geneva library

For some courses, you may also be asked to sit a language test to make sure that you will be able to follow lessons.

How to apply

You should apply for your Switzerland student visa at the Swiss Embassy or consulate in your home country once you have been accepted onto a study course. Processing times for the D visa are typically 8-10 weeks, so it’s advisable to give yourself 3-6 months to apply.

In addition to submitting the visa application form, you will need to provide:

  • Valid passport/travel ID
  • Proof of adequate financial resources to cover your costs while you’re in Switzerland, such as copies of bank statements or a letter from the bank
  • Proof of healthcare insurance which includes cover for accidents
  • Personal study plan with information on the purpose of your studies and your motivation for doing them
  • Confirmation of enrolment at a recognized Swiss educational institution and of any course fees paid
  • Your CV
  • Copies of previous educational certificates and diplomas
  • A signed letter confirming that you will leave Switzerland at the end of the course

Visa costs

Your Swiss student D visa will cost you CHF 88. You may have to pay extra (up to 50% above the standard price) if you need the visa fast-tracked or outside of normal working hours. You’ll have to pay along with the application.

In addition to this, you will need to pay for your Swiss residence permit which you will require to stay in Switzerland for longer than 90 days. Costs are around CHF 160.

Visa length

Swiss student visas are initially valid for one year, however, they can be extended for the duration of your study if you are enrolled for a longer course such as a degree. You can apply for a visa extension at your cantonal immigration office. Typically, you’ll have to provide evidence that you are still enrolled in the course and haven’t dropped out.

When you arrive to study in Switzerland

You have 14 days after your arrival in Switzerland to register your arrival at your cantonal migration office. If you have a long-stay category D visa, you will also need to apply for your residence permit at the cantonal migration office within the first 90 days of your stay. To do this, you will need your ID, details of your Swiss visa, and proof of Swiss address.

You will be issued with a B residence permit which is valid for a year but renewable multiple times. This can take a few weeks to arrive. During this time, you won’t be allowed to leave the country.

Other things you will need to sort out within your first few weeks are:

Study grants and scholarships in Switzerland

Switzerland has a number of different types of scholarships available to foreign students. You will typically need to demonstrate both academic excellence and financial need in order to be eligible.

Swiss scholarships can be broadly split into the following types:

You can find detailed information on student scholarships in Switzerland here. Additionally, you can check the list of the most affordable universities if you are looking to study overseas on a limited budget.

Transferring foreign qualifications in Switzerland

If you come to Switzerland to study, you’ll need to have your existing overseas qualifications recognized as well as any official documents translated into one of the national languages. This also applies to EU/EFTA students that don’t require a visa.

Swiss universities and federal institutes of technology are responsible for their own high school diploma recognition regarding admissions. You can find information out about individual country requirements on the Swiss Universities website.

For postgraduate studies, vocational training and work-based diplomas, the recognition process depends on your profession or field. You can find full details through the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI).

You can also find out general information about recognition and translation of foreign academic and professional qualifications in Switzerland on the ENIC-NARIC website.

Working while studying in Switzerland

You can work up to 15 hours per week during term time as a foreign student in Switzerland. During holidays, you can work full-time. However, you will have to inform your cantonal immigration office about your work.

Students from outside the EU/EFTA can only take up employment in Switzerland after living there for six months. Additionally, your employer will need to get a work permit for you.

If you already hold a Master’s degree from a foreign university and you’re in Switzerland working for your Swiss university or institute, you don’t have to wait six months but can start work straight away.

You can find out more in our guides to Swiss work visasfinding a job in Switzerland, and Swiss CV and job application techniques.

Family members joining on a Switzerland student visa

Although EU/EFTA students can bring spouses/registered partners and dependent children with them to Switzerland, those from outside the EU/EFTA on a student visa cannot bring any family.

Family reunites, Switzerland student visa

This is because the Switzerland student visa only entitles you to a temporary B residence permit. If you are granted the right to stay after your studies and obtain a C settlement permit, certain family members can join you.

Cantonal migration offices can grant discretionary Swiss family visas in certain instances. Contact your local office for information. Standard exceptions are for those holding Confederation grants, doctoral students, visiting professors, post-docs, and other academics.

After your study finishes and your Switzerland student visa expires

After you’ve completed your studies in Switzerland you can extend your temporary residency permit allowing you to stay for a further six months to look for a full-time, permanent job. During this job search period, you can work for up to 15 hours a week. This permit cannot be extended after six months.

To apply, you’ll need to go to your cantonal migration office and provide:

  • A certificate or other proof that you have finished your course
  • Evidence that you can support yourself financially during this time
  • Proof you have somewhere suitable to live
Swiss students work on a group project in a library

If you find a job in Switzerland, your employer must submit an application to the cantonal authority where you’ll be working. While foreign graduates from Swiss university-level educational institutions are treated the same as Swiss graduates in terms of entering the job market – that is, the job does not have to be offered to Swiss or EU candidates first – the employer will still have to prove that the job (or you) is of particular economic or scientific importance before you will be issued with a Swiss work permit.

If you want to continue your studies as a postgraduate at a Swiss university, you can apply to extend your residence permit but you must already have an offer of a place. The maximum extension period is two years.

Appeals and complaints about student visas in Switzerland

You can appeal any decisions to refuse you a student visa within 30 days of the refusal. Contact the Swiss embassy or consulate in your home country and explain why you are unhappy with the decision.

If you are still not satisfied, you can contact the SEM, the Swiss authorities who deal with Swiss visas and permits. You will need to pay an advance on costs of CHF 200. 

If SEM rejects your appeal, your final avenue is the Federal Administrative Court. You should file your appeal within 30 days. Send your appeal along with any supporting evidence to:

Federal Administrative Court
P.O. Box/Postfach
9023 St Gallen

See information about submitting your appeal electronically here.

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