For members


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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For members


Can a non-EU / EFTA citizen live permanently in Switzerland?

Third-country nationals face strict rules to even get a job in Switzerland. Can they hope to ever live here?

Can a non-EU / EFTA citizen live permanently in Switzerland?

Unlike their counterparts from the European Union and EFTA states (Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein), who have an almost limitless access to Switzerland’s labour market and residency in general, people from third countries face more restrictions in this regard.

According to the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM), in order to even aspire to work in Switzerland, third-country nationals must be highly qualified — that is, be a manager, specialist or another skilled professional. “This means, essentially, that you should have a degree from a university or an institution of higher education, as well as a number of years of professional work experience.”

Also, “your future employer must prove that there is no suitable person to fill the job vacancy from Switzerland or from an EU/EFTA state.”

Only then can you be eligible for a limited number of work permits — 12,000 in all — set aside for third-country nationals, including UK citizens.

READ ALSO: Who do Switzerland’s 12,000 work permits for non-EU citizens go to?

If your permit is not renewed on yearly basis, you will have to leave the country.

Is there a way you can legally remain in the country permanently?

In fact, there are several. Whether you fulfil all the conditions to qualify for any of them is another matter.

For instance:

Your employment is so valuable to your company, and Switzerland’s economy in general, that your permit is renewed each year.

This is often the case with international companies — they routinely employ specialists from abroad (including from third countries), and they are able, after meeting the SEM criteria mentioned above, to extend their employees’ permits from one year to another.

If you manage to extend your stay in Switzerland this way for 10 years, you will be eligible for a C permit which, in turn, will enable you to remain in the country indefinitely (unless you are American or Canadian, in which case you can apply for a C permit after five years of continuous residence).

You are married to a Swiss or an EU / EFTA national

If you married a Swiss, you will be allowed to live with your spouse in Switzerland (first with a B permit and after five years with a C), and will be able to apply for Swiss citizenship (through simplified naturalisation).

If your spouse is a EU or EFTA citizen, you can stay in Switzerland for as long as your husband / wife lives here.

However, if you get divorced, you may, under certain circumstances, lose your residency rights.

READ ALSO: What happens to your Swiss passport in case of divorce?

You are (very) wealthy

The Swiss are very pragmatic people.

The little known Article 30 of the Federal Aliens Act enables foreigners from outside Europe to move to Switzerland — but only if they are sufficiently wealthy, which means they can prove that they have financial means to live in Switzerland without having to work or resort to welfare benefits.

Based on this law, cantons can issue B permits to these people, if local authorities deem that there is a “significant fiscal interest” in such a move.

What exactly does “significant fiscal interest mean?” 

This term is defined by each canton.

For instance, the lowest annual tax rate for a non-EU foreigner is 287,882 francs in Valais, 312,522 francs in Geneva, and 415,000 Vaud. 

Given the strict criteria, very few foreigners from outside the EU / EFTA actually move to Switzerland under this legislation.

In 2021, the last year for which statistics are available a total of 352 foreigners with this special permit lived in Switzerland. They came mostly from China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United States, and Brazil.

READ ALSO: How multi-millionaires are ‘buying’ Swiss residency permits