Home Moving to Switzerland Visas & Immigration Getting citizenship in Switzerland
Last update on August 20, 2020
Gary Buswell Written by Gary Buswell

Thinking of becoming a Swiss citizen? Find out all about the process with our informative guide to getting Swiss citizenship.

Many expats find benefits in acquiring Swiss citizenship, especially if they are living and working in Switzerland long-term. This guide explains everything you need to know about the citizenship process in Switzerland, with sections including:

Wisler Legal

Wisler Legal is a Swiss law firm providing German and English services. Based in Zurich, they provide expat-friendly advice on a range of immigration matters, including work permit applications, naturalization, and tax advice. So, whatever your immigration needs in Switzerland, Wisler Legal can offer guidance and support.

Introduction to Swiss citizenship

Citizenship in Switzerland is open to various groups of people, including foreign residents who have lived in the country for the required length of time. However, it’s not a requirement for long-term residents and many expats prefer instead to opt for permanent residency.

A Federal Commission of Migration study in 2012 found that only around 2% of foreign residents (around 36,000) took citizenship in Switzerland, despite around 900,000 being eligible for it. This could be due to stricter criteria than in some other countries, as well as costs.

Swiss Citizenship

The State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) is the central Swiss authority responsible for immigration and citizenship. However, citizenship is largely administered at cantonal level.

Requirements for Swiss citizenship depend on your nationality and personal circumstances. Foreigners typically qualify for Swiss citizenship after 10 years of residence (recently reduced from 12). The paths to citizenship in Switzerland are generally through one of the following:

  • being a child – by birth or adoption – of a Swiss citizen
  • marriage to a Swiss citizen
  • naturalization after living in the country for 10 years (years between the ages of 8 and 18 count as double)

A new Swiss Citizenship Act came into force in 2018 making it harder to acquire Swiss citizenship. The most notable change was that applicants need to hold a settlement C residence permit to qualify.

Certain cantons may have their own specific requirements for integration into Swiss society. Enquire with your local cantonal authority for full criteria.

Swiss citizenship benefits

There are some benefits of becoming a Swiss citizen, including:

  • the right to reside in Switzerland even if you spend a period of time living elsewhere
  • right to vote in Swiss elections and stand for public office
  • the right to a Swiss passport, which is ranked third on the passport power index with visa-free access to over 150 countries.

However, there are also obligations with Swiss citizenship. One of these is mandatory military service if you’re an able-bodied male adult.

Citizenship by birth or descent in Switzerland

Unlike many countries, a baby born on Swiss soil does not automatically have the right to Swiss citizenship. The child will be Swiss is he/she is:

  • the offspring of married parents, one of whom is Swiss
  • born to an unmarried Swiss mother
  • born to an unmarried Swiss father, if the paternity is acknowledged before the age of 22
  • a foreign child under 22 years old who was not included in the naturalization of a parent and has lived in Switzerland for 5 years, including one year immediately prior to the application
  • a child of a parent who lost their Swiss citizenship but can show close ties to Switzerland. Read more on renaturalization
Living in Switzerland

A child born abroad who has another citizenship and at least one Swiss parent loses their Swiss citizenship upon reaching the age of 25 unless they notify a Swiss authority – either at home or abroad – that they wish to retain their Swiss citizenship.

In 2017, the Swiss passed a vote to make it easier for third-generation immigrants to gain citizenship through naturalization processes. See here for more information.

How to apply for citizenship through birth or descent

If you meet the criteria to apply for citizenship in Switzerland through birth or descent, you will qualify for the simplified naturalization process. The exact process for this will depend on your canton.

The application can take up to 12 months to process and can be done either through the SEM or your local canton. In addition to meeting the birth/descent criteria, you will need to show proof of:

  • having close ties with Switzerland (spending time in the country, speaking the local language, basic knowledge of Swiss society)
  • showing respect for public security, public order, and Swiss values.

You will need to submit an application form along with various declarations and questionnaires to demonstrate your eligibility. The application fee is currently CHF 600 for adults. Children under 18 can apply for free, unless they are making the application on the grounds of the applicant having a Swiss father not married to the mother. In this case, the fee is CHF 350.

You can find full information on the Swiss government website on how to apply for citizenship as a child of married parents or an unmarried mother and as a child of an unmarried Swiss father

Getting citizenship by naturalization in Switzerland

After 10 continuous years as a resident in Switzerland, those not eligible for simplified naturalization can apply for Swiss citizenship through regular naturalization. This is open to anyone who meets the residency requirements and has a C residence permit.

Years spent living in Switzerland between the ages of 8 and 18 count as double, meaning that those aged under 18 can apply to be a Swiss citizen after five years if they meet other requirements.

If you are applying for citizenship as a couple, you will both have to meet the 10-year requirement. However, if one of the couple becomes a citizen before the marriage takes place, the partner is then eligible for citizenship after 5 years of Swiss residence and three years as a spouse. See the below section on citizenship through marriage for more information.

You need to make an application for citizenship through regular naturalization at three levels – confederation, canton, and commune. While requirements at federal level are the same for all applicants, they vary considerably between individual cantons and communes.

For example, some cantons or communes may permit short periods of time spent living outside Switzerland within the residency requirement period while others may not. Some may also apply different conditions for EU and European Free Trade Association (EFTA) citizens. You can read about your canton’s requirements for getting Swiss citizenship here.

Requirements for citizenship

The additional requirements for citizenship through regular naturalization in Switzerland at federal level are:

  • knowledge of a Swiss national language spoken to B1 level and written to A2 level (introduced as part of the 2018 Swiss Citizenship Act)
  • integration into Swiss life and familiarity with Swiss customs
  • compliance with Swiss rule of law
  • posing no danger to Switzerland’s internal or external security
  • no period spent on social welfare benefits within the past three years, unless you give back the amount received

How to apply for citizenship through naturalization

The application process, fees, and processing time varies across the Swiss cantons and communes. Typically it takes over a year and can cost over CHF 1,000. This is because of the multi-stage process.

You need to make your application through your local canton or commune. The exact process depends on the laws within your canton. Contact your cantonal naturalization authority for information or see here to find the addresses of federal, cantonal, and communal authorities in Switzerland.

You will need to submit:

Additional documents will depend on your Swiss canton or commune.

snowy Switzerland

Applications are first assessed at federal level by the SEM. If you meet the federal requirements, the SEM then pass the application to the relevant local canton or commune for further assessment.

You will then have to attend a personal interview at the relevant office of your local canton or commune where you will be informed of the subsequent steps to be taken.

Procedures can vary considerably. For example, some communes require applicants to take a verbal or written naturalization test while others leave the application decision up to the communal assembly. See here for more details on cantonal and communal requirements.

Getting Swiss citizenship is reportedly more generous in western Switzerland than elsewhere. If you move to another part of Switzerland during your application, the cantonal or communal authority where you made your application remains responsible for the decision.

Rejected citizenship applicants typically have no right to appeal.

Costs of naturalization application

Citizenship application costs are:

  • Confederation level: CHF 100 for an individual, CHF 150 for a married couple, CHF 50 for a child
  • Canton level: up to CHF 2,000 per person (depending on canton)
  • Commune level: CHF 500–1,000 per person (depending on canton)

In addition to this, there may be administration costs (e.g., to obtain criminal record certificates) and costs to take the necessary language tests (around CHF 250).

Getting citizenship by marriage in Switzerland

You can apply for fast-track (known as simplified or facilitated) naturalization if you are married to a Swiss citizen. You need to meet the following conditions:

  • living in Switzerland for a total of 5 years, including the 12 months immediately prior to your application
  • married for at least 3 years
  • knowledge of a Swiss national language spoken to B1 level and written to A2 level (introduced as part of the 2018 Swiss Citizenship Act)
  • integration into Swiss life and familiarity with Swiss customs
  • compliance with Swiss rule of law
  • being assessed as no danger to Switzerland’s internal or external security
  • no period spent on social welfare benefits within the past three years, unless you give back the amount received

You cannot apply for simplified naturalization if you are a registered partner rather than a spouse of a Swiss citizen. You must be married. Those in a registered partnership must apply for citizenship through regular naturalization after 10 years.

It is not possible to apply for simplified naturalization as a spouse if your partner has passed away.

Requirements and procedures for simplified naturalization in Switzerland may vary between cantons and communes, although not as significantly as for regular naturalization as things are mainly handled at the federal level. See here for more information on variations.

How to apply for citizenship through marriage

Because decisions about fast-track citizenship through marriage are made at the federal level, you need to make this application to the SEM. You can get an application form from the SEM office or from your local cantonal naturalization authority.

Along with the application form, you will need to submit proof that you meet the language requirements. Applications normally take 12-18 months. You can move within Switzerland during the application process and even move abroad as long as your Swiss spouse is able to report to the Swiss embassy or consulate in your new place of residence.

The cost of an application for citizenship through marriage is CHF 900. You need to pay this non-refundable fee in advance. However, applicants have the right to appeal rejected applications.

Citizenship by adoption in Switzerland

Under Swiss law, a child legally adopted automatically gains the nationality and citizenship of its parents. Therefore, if a Swiss couple adopt a child, it will become a Swiss citizen.

If a couple living in Switzerland who are not Swiss citizens adopt a child, then the authorities treat the child’s nationality the same as if it was a biological offspring.

See here for more information on adopting in Switzerland.

Getting citizenship as a refugee in Switzerland

It is possible for both recognized refugees and temporarily admitted persons holding the F permit to apply for citizenship in Switzerland. In 2018, the Swiss authorities granted citizenship to 724 refugees and 267 temporary admitted persons.

Both groups apply under the regular naturalization route. However, any years spent as a temporary resident with an F permit only count as half-years towards the 10-year residency criteria. This means that someone living long-term in Switzerland on an F permit has to wait 20 years before being eligible for citizenship, unless they become eligible for simplified naturalization through marriage or descent.

Temporary admitted persons will need to show evidence of an F permit rather than a C permit when making an application. Other than that, requirements and procedures are the same for refugee groups as they are for others applying for citizenship through naturalization.

Exceptions and special cases for citizenship in Switzerland

Since 2017, third-generation immigrants in Switzerland can apply for simplified naturalization if they:

  • have at least one grandparent who was born in Switzerland or has the right of residence
  • have at least one parent who has a residence permit and has been in Switzerland for 10 years
  • were born in Switzerland and have a C residence permit
  • have attended at least 5 years of compulsory schooling in Switzerland
  • meet the other requirements regarding language, integration, and respecting public order
  • are aged under 40

Costs for this are CHF 500 for adults and CHF 250 for children. You need to make the application through the SEM.

Find more information on the SEM website.

Citizenship test in Switzerland

Citizenship processes vary across the Swiss cantons and communes. Not all of the localities include a citizenship test as part of the application procedure, but many do.

However, the Swiss citizenship test differs across the cantons. Costs and application procedures also vary according to where you’re taking the test.

Some regions, such as the French-speaking canton of Vaud, have published their version of the questionnaire online. You can also use the Naturalisation Switzerland website which has information and sample questions used in the different cantons.

For more information, contact your cantonal naturalization authority.

Passports in Switzerland

If you become a Swiss citizen, you will be eligible for a Swiss passport. This will allow you to travel freely in and out of Switzerland, enjoying the benefits of being a Swiss citizen while overseas.

You need to apply for a passport either in person at your communal residents’ registration office, or in person, by phone or online at your canton’s passport office (depending on which canton you live in). Contact your cantonal naturalization authority for more information.

Since 2010, all Swiss passports issued have been biometric. Current costs are around CHF 150 for an adult passport and CHF 70 for a children’s passport.

See our guide to passports in Switzerland for more information.

Dual nationality in Switzerland

If you take on Swiss nationality you can keep your nationality of birth (and so have dual nationality) as long as your country of origin also accepts it.

Because of the ability to keep dual nationality in Switzerland, British citizens who qualify might consider taking up Swiss citizenship following the UK’s vote to exit the EU. Several cantons reported significant increases in citizenship applications in 2016.

Those with dual nationality are also able to enter diplomatic positions as of January 2017, revoking a previous ‘obsolete’ and ‘discriminatory’ ban and rejecting the view that such citizens are less loyal or patriotic.

Losing or renouncing citizenship in Switzerland

You can lose your Swiss citizenship if you:

  • acquired citizenship through descent because of parental links and these parental links are severed, unless losing Swiss citizenship will make you stateless
  • are a child adopted by a foreign national who doesn’t have Swiss citizenship
  • were born abroad to a Swiss parent but have not been registered as a Swiss citizen and don’t notify the Swiss authorities that you want to remain a Swiss citizen by the age of 25
  • have dual nationality and engage in conduct that compromises Switzerland’s security or international reputation, such as committing acts of terrorism
  • are found to have given false information or concealed important facts in your citizenship application

It is also possible to voluntarily renounce your Swiss citizenship, which you may need to do if you move abroad and want to become a citizen of another country that doesn’t permit dual citizenship.

If you have lost your Swiss citizenship, you can apply to have it reinstated with 10 years if you meet all of the citizenship criteria. However, if you apply after the 10-year period has expired, you will need to have been living in Switzerland for three years.

See here for more information.

Citizenship appeals and complaints in Switzerland

Because you apply for Swiss citizenship at various different levels, making an appeal against a rejected application can be complicated. If the SEM reject the application at the first stage, it can be difficult to get this overturned. You can make an appeal to the Federal Administrative Court, although this can take several months or longer.

If your application has been rejected at cantonal or communal level, you will need to check the appeals process of the individual canton. In certain instances, you may be able to take the case to the Federal courts if your constitutional rights have been violated.

Useful resources

State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) – office that deals with citizenship and immigration at federal level

Swiss Authorities Online – website of the Swiss federal government with information on a range of topics including citizenship

List of cantonal naturalization authorities

Naturalisation Switzerland – information on the Swiss citizenship exams