Residence Permits in Switzerland | A guide for Expats

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Over 6 years ago, when my husband told me that we were moving to Switzerland, I had a sudden rush of emotions. I had no idea about the city we were moving to, and I was curious to see what this move meant to ME, what this move meant to our family. So one of the first things I wanted to research was resident permits, in all honesty, I had no idea which one we were getting and what various alphabets in this context meant. So if you’re planning a move to Switzerland or have moved here recently, this article will help you break down this critical topic.

If you find the information in this article useful, bookmark it and share it forward. You could be helping a “soon to be” Swisspat!

First things first…

What is a Residence Permit?

A residence permit is an essential document or card which allows foreign nationals to reside in a country for a fixed or indefinite length of time. These may be permits for temporary residency, or permanent residency. The exact rules vary between countries and regions.

Residence Permits in Switzerland | A guide for Expats
Residence Permits in Switzerland | A guide for Expats

How does a Swiss Residence permit work: An overview

In Switzerland, all foreign nationals who remain in Switzerland for more than three months or want to stay in the country for work, must obtain a Residence permit. You must apply for the residence permit within 14 days of having entered Switzerland.

Swiss Residence permits are issued by the Cantonal Migration Offices. A distinction is made between short-term residence permits (less than one year), annual residence permits (limited) and permanent residence permits (unlimited).

The authorizations required for a stay of over three months in Switzerland are often dependent on the applicant’s nationality. Your chances of receiving a permit usually depends on existing work quotas, your educational background, your work experience and whether an EU/EFTA candidate is available for the position. If you’re moving for work, your employer usually submits an application to the local cantonal employment service. It is then reviewed and forwarded to the Federal Office for Migration for approval. Your permit is then granted to you once you arrive in Switzerland.

The Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons makes it easy for EU/EFTA nationals to enter and stay in Switzerland. The rules are more stringent for people from countries which fall out of the EU/EFTA regions. 

Residence Permits in Switzerland | A guide for Expats
My Swiss Story
Residence Permits in Switzerland | A guide for Expats

What are the different kinds of Residence Permits in Switzerland?

Work permits in Switzerland are broken down into different categories and are defined by letters. Let’s have a look at these:

Residence Permits in Switzerland | A guide for Expats
My Swiss Story

The above table consists of a very concise description of each residency permit for both, EU/EFTA and third-country nationals.

For more info on the permit for third-country nationals, click here
For permit info on EU/EFTA nationals, click here

However, if you’re looking to relocate to Switzerland for work, these are mainly the permits that you should look at if you’re moving from a third-country:

Swiss Residence Permits for working professionals:
L permit:

This is a short-stay residence permit and is valid upto one year and is usually renewable. It is tied to the term of the employment contract and can be extended, to up to 2 years if the holder works for the same employer.

B permit:

This one is a temporary residence permit. To EU/EFTA nationals, this permit is issued for five years, whereas for non-EU/EFTA nationals, for one year. However, it can be easily renewed yearly.

There are a limited number of these permits, and these are subject to quotas. It includes limitations on where the holder can live (in the canton that issued the permit) and is tied to the employer.

In my case, we moved to the canton of Basel in Switzerland on a B permit which is renewed on a yearly basis. It is a routine procedure, but if you lose your job, this can get tricky. B permits can either be tied to the employer who filed the permit for you (which means it is closed and is renewed as long as you continue in the same organization) or you have an open permit which is also applied by your employer but offers you more flexibility in terms of a job change. As I have always been on a local contract, things are just as they would be for another local employee.

C permit:

This one is a settlement permit for permanent residence. EU/EFTA citizens as well as other country nationals can apply for this after 5 years of continuous residence. A C permit holder can change employers freely and live in any canton. The application process, however, is not so straight forward and needs planning. I will share my own experience in the coming months, so that you have a step by step guide on the HOWs, the WHATs and the WHYs. So, stay tuned for that. 

How to apply for a Swiss Residence Permit?

When you arrive in Switzerland you have 14 days to register your stay at your local Residents Registration Office. Post which, you need to apply for a permit to live in Switzerland.

For application and more info, reach out to  the cantonal migration or employment authorities of your commune of residence.

The requirements you need to meet depend on your nationality and the duration and purpose of your stay. However, it’s best to keep your Passport, Visa and some passport size photographs handy.

Residence Permits in Switzerland | A guide for Expats
Residence Permits in Switzerland | A guide for Expats | My Swiss Story
Residence Permits in Switzerland | A guide for Expats

What to do post receiving your Swiss Residence permit?

If you’re a EU/EFTA citizen and are planning to live in Switzerland for more than three months and/or to work, you must notify the authorities in the commune you plan to stay within 14 days of arriving or before starting a job, whichever is earlier. The deadline is the same for third-country nationals too but you have to ensure a few extra steps . Generally, if you are coming to Switzerland to work, your employer will handle visa arrangements before you enter the country (It was the same case with me)

Once this is sorted via your employer, you have to send your passport off to the relevant Swiss embassy in your home country, which will issue your visa. Please note that is to be done before you leave for Switzerland. Post your arrival, first things first, you must notify the commune where you’re planning to stay. 

Embassy of Switzerland in India
Embassy of Switzerland in India | Source:

Those authorities will forward your papers to cantonal authorities, which will issue the actual residence permit – a small card much like a driver’s license. Only people from third states receiving permits L, B or C receive the permit in this new credit card format. Others receive the older, passport-style permit.

When registering with the local commune, you will need to bring passports, passport photographs, an employment contract and proof of health insurance. There are very specific requirements that must be met and it is well worth your time to contact cantonal authorities. 


How to extend your Swiss Residence Permit?

To renew your Swiss Residence Permit, you need to submit an application to your commune of residence along with the following documents:

  • Your current permit
  • Your passport (valid for at least three months after the expiry of the permit)
  • Notice of expiry of the permit if you have received one from the cantonal migration authority.

Please note:

You can apply to renew your permit no earlier than three months and no later than two weeks before it expires.

What to do in case of lost/stolen permits?

If in any case, you lose your permit, you need to report the loss of your Swiss residence permit to the police; they will issue you with a loss notice.

Post that, you need to head to the residents’ register office in your commune with your passport, a passport photo and the loss notice. You must pay for the duplicate or new permit. 

If a permit reported as lost is subsequently found, you must cancel it at the residents’ register office in your place of residence.

Hope this article helped you out with an overview of the residence permits in Switzerland. If you’re lucky enough to find a job before moving here (which is my recommendation, job first and move later), this is well taken care of by your employer but it’s always good to be aware of the things required and the renewal procedures. Stay tuned to more such expat living articles in our Expat living section.

To read posts from June, click here

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