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Residence permits: How EU and EFTA citizens can live, work and stay in Switzerland

For European Union and EFTA citizens, living and working in Switzerland is much easier. Here's what you need to know.

The city of Zurich, with Lake Zurich in the foreground, on a beautiful day. Zurich is a popular destination for foreign workers. Photo by Volodymyr on Unsplash
The city of Zurich, with Lake Zurich in the foreground, on a beautiful day. Zurich is a popular destination for foreign workers. Photo by Volodymyr on Unsplash

A small country with a strong economy, Switzerland is heavily reliant on its foreign workers. 

Approximately 25 percent of the country’s population is foreign, with the figure in some cantons as high as 50 percent. 

Switzerland has a dual system for allowing foreign workers in to the country: European Union (EU) and European Free Trade Association (EFTA) nationals are in one group and people from all other countries (third-country nationals) in a second group.

This means that citizens of the 27 countries currently in the European Union – along with the three EFA states other than Switzerland (Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) – have preferential access when it comes to living and working in Switzerland. 

While it is not as simple as just moving to Switzerland like you would in your own country, it remains much easier than if you come from a so-called ‘third country’. If you come from a country outside the EU/EFTA states, click the following link for more information. 

READ MORE: An essential guide to Swiss work permits

Here’s what you need to know. 

EU and EFTA nationals

Nationals from EU and EFTA countries are able to live and work in Switzerland under the terms of the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons (AFMP).

People from these countries only require a residence permit, which also doubles as a work permit. These permits are not tied to a single canton, but you need to inform the authorities if you change your address. You can also change jobs or take up self-employment.

Note that you will only generally be granted a residence permit if you have a signed work contract detailing the number of hours to be worked and the duration of the position.

A red train carves its way though the Swiss mountains on a snowy day.

The scenic route. This is the way at least some people get to work in Switzerland. Photo by Johannes Hofmann on Unsplash

However, people from EU and EFTA countries who are not economically active, such as retirees and students, may be entitled to a residence permit if they can prove they have sufficient funds to support themselves and that they have health insurance. There is more information here.

If you are an EU or EFTA national, you can also come to Switzerland and look for work for a period of up to three months without needing to obtain a permit. If your job hunt lasts longer than three months and you have sufficient funds, you can apply for a temporary residence permit that will allow you to continue looking for a further three months.

This can be extended for up to a year if there is sufficient evidence that your job hunt could be successful.

Here are the main types of residence permits for EU/EFTA nationals in Switzerland

L EU/EFTA permit (short-term residents)

This permit is usually given to EU and EFTA who are going to be resident in Switzerland for a period of up to a year.

According to the State Secretariat for Migration, EU and EFTA nationals are entitled to this permit provided they are in possession of an employment contract valid from three up to twelve months. 

Reader question: Does owning a second home in Switzerland give me the right to live there?

B EU/ETFA permit (resident foreign nationals)

This permit is issued to foreigners with a work contract of at least 12 months, or of unlimited duration. This permit can be extended after the five years is up. However, if the applicant has been out of work for more than 12 consecutive months in the previous five-year period, the permit will only be extended for one year.

EU and EFTA nationals who don’t have work, or who plan to work on a self-employed basis, can also be granted a B permit if they can prove they have enough money to be self-sufficient and that they have adequate health and accident insurance.

C EU/FTA permit (settled foreign nationals)

After five or ten years’ residence, some EU and EFTA nationals can obtain permanent residence status by being granted a C permit.

G EU/EFTA permit

This permit is designed for cross-border commuters who work in Switzerland (either employed by a firm or self-employed) but who live elsewhere. Holders of this permit can work anywhere in Switzerland but must return to their place of residence outside Switzerland at least once a week.

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LIVING IN SWITZERLAND

5 things foreigners need to know before getting married in Switzerland

Thinking of tying the knot in Switzerland? From paperwork and taxes to venues and Swiss traditions, here are some things you should know about.

5 things foreigners need to know before getting married in Switzerland
  • Get legally married first 

In Switzerland the state only recognises civil weddings as legally binding.  That means that the wedding must be performed by a local civil authority, traditionally at the registry office.  These are intimate affairs with a small number of guests, lasting around 10-30 minutes. It’ll cost you around 300-400 CHF. 

Couples who want to have a religious ceremony or another symbolic ceremony are still required to have a civil ceremony first. You usually present the civil marriage certificate as proof to the priest or celebrant before your ‘official’ wedding ceremony begins. 

  • Get in early with the paperwork

Assuming you meet the legal conditions required to get married (for instance – being at least 18-years-old) there are several steps, in this order, that you need to take:

  • Notify the civil register office (the local Gemeinde or Commune) of either partner of your intention to marry.  The office will then send you a marriage form to fill out
  • As a foreigner, you will also be asked to provide certain documents, which can vary slightly depending on your residential status in Switzerland and the country you’re from. Generally, you’re required to provide proof of:
  • Identity (your passport, original birth certificate)
  • Residential status (residency permit and/or notarised proof of address)
  • Marriage status (an affidavit or similar documentation from your home country stating you are free to marry) 

Keep in mind that these documents will have to be translated into one of Switzerland’s official languages. Here’s a look at what the process looks like:

  • You and your partner will attend a short interview at the registry office where you declare that you meet the obligations to be married
  • Your marriage application can take up to five weeks to be processed. After processing, you will receive a marriage license (around 200 CHF) which is valid for three months
  • If your civil wedding location is NOT in the same area as the civil authority which issued the marriage license, you’ll have to send the license to the civil authority in the area where you’re getting married

READ ALSO: Revealed: The Swiss canton with the best tax rates for families

  • Incredible locations for a small price 

It’s worth mentioning that these days, most civil authorities offer a list of external locations (beyond the registry office) where couples can get legally civilly married.

For instance, Canton Bern offers couples stunning locations like the Harder Kulm above Interlaken, Schloss Spiez, Schloss Schadau in Thun and the Grandhotel Giessbach on the Brienzersee. You could also get married somewhere a little quirkier: at the Zoo in Zurich, a boat in Canton Vaud or even a circus in Canton Glarus. 

Spiez Castle in Bern.

Spiez Castle in Bern. Photo by Chris Kaeppeli on Unsplash

Keep in mind that you do have to reserve in advance for external locations, with reservations generally opening about 12 months before the wedding. You may also have to be more flexible with your wedding date, as usually only one or two days per month are available for civil weddings-and it could be only on Thursdays (for example). 

Summer is the most popular season for weddings in Switzerland, so those months book out fast. That being said, this is an amazing budget option for couples who can’t afford to splurge on a luxurious local; the price can be as little as 100 or 200 CHF more than the wedding at the civil office. 

  • Think about your taxes

Depending on your income, the tax system for married couples in Switzerland could either work for you or against you.  

Married couples must file their taxes together. Because those in a higher income bracket pay more tax, couples who both earn a lot can be taxed significantly more than if they paid their taxes separately. 

This so-called ‘Marriage tax penalty’, lead some to believe that it makes more financial sense not to get married.

On the other hand, if one spouse earns a low income or no income, then this system may work in the couple’s favour, pushing them into a lower tax bracket. 

This is of course, dependent on other factors such as the canton and municipality you live in. 

READ ALSO: Does marriage make financial sense in Switzerland?

  • Modern Swiss traditions

One playful Swiss wedding tradition to be aware of is, that it is not uncommon for the bride and groom’s close friends and family to ‘decorate’ their apartment, garden or car for the wedding night.  The decorations are designed to be funny and annoying but harmless.

A few years ago, Swiss Radio Station FM1 Today compiled a list of some of their listeners wedding prank experiences. These included changing the doorbell ringer to the tune of popular Swiss love song ‘Ewigi Liebi’, filling the bathtub with toilet rolls or with a goldfish and filling the bedroom with balloons. 

Another common tradition is for family and friends to organise sketches, skits or songs as part of the wedding party celebrations. I got married in Switzerland last August.  My husband’s Swiss cousins changed the lyrics of some Swiss and German songs to perform our love story, while at the same time throwing chocolate at the crowd.  

As in any country around the world, each Swiss family also often has their own unique wedding traditions. For us, that meant receiving a Swiss cow bell engraved with our names and the wedding date on it.  During the wedding festivities, guests could ring the bell in exchange for a coin donation. Anytime we heard the bell, no matter what else was happening, we had to kiss. 

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