For members


Work permits and wages: The most common questions foreigners have about life in Switzerland

Whether you are a newcomer to Switzerland or have been living in the country for a while, you may have many questions about life here. We answered some of the most common queries that foreign nationals wonder about.

Work permits and wages: The most common questions foreigners have about life in Switzerland
Countryside can offer cheaper rents and a lot of charm. Photo: Stefan Lemmerzahl on Unsplash

When you first arrive in Switzerland, your learning curve is likely quite steep.

It may take a while to understand all the complexities — from various laws and rules, to the practicalities of daily life.

Even some longtime residents who think they have learned everything there is to know, may find out that is not the case.

We have compiled the most common questions foreigners ask about various aspects of Swiss life.

Work permits

Can I work in Switzerland without a permit?

If you are an EU/EFTA national, you can be employed in Switzerland for up to three months without a permit.

However, if your job exceeds the three-month period, you must apply for a permit from the municipality where you live.

Citizens of non-EU/EFTA countries (also known as third countries), on the other hand, face much stricter conditions: they can start their jobs in Switzerland only after they have been granted work permits, which are subject to many restrictions.

How long is a work permit valid?

It depends on what kind of permit and passport you hold.

Here too, people from the EU / EFTA states are in a more favourable position than their third-country counterparts.

For the former, the B permit is valid for up to five years, after which it can be extended or switched to a C permit, which entitles the holder to permanent residency.

For non-EU/EFTA nationals, permits are valid for one year; whether or not they can be extended depends on whether their particular skills are in high demand on the labour market, and whether Swiss or EU/EFTA workers can be found to fill those positions.

EU passport trumps the one from a third country. Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

In case of job loss, is a foreigner entitled to unemployment benefits?

If you have a B or C permit, you will receive unemployment pay, as long as you have been working in Switzerland for at least 12 months in the last two years and have been contributing to the social insurance scheme (as every employee must).

As far as short-term permits L are concerned, which are issued for residency periods of three months up to a year, you are not entitled to collect unemployment benefits. 

READ ALSO: Which foreign workers are entitled to unemployment benefits in Switzerland?


What is a median income in Switzerland?

It is about 80,000 francs a year — meaning that 50 percent of people earn less and 50 percent more.

This link gives you a good overview of what the monthly pay is for various jobs. 

How can I know if I am making a fair salary?

There are ways to find out whether you are being compensated sufficiently for the kind of work and position you have, or whether your salary is lower than normal for your industry (a practice known as “wage dumping”).

If you want to know what a standard wage is for your type of job and industry you can do so by checking out the wage calculator created by UNIA trade union. 

You can figure out how much you should be earning. Photo: Pixabay

It is programmed with the latest salary levels from 72 different industry sectors and 36,000 companies in Switzerland, so it will give you a good indication of what a fair wage is in your case.

READ ALSO : How much do you need to earn in your Swiss canton to be well off?


Where are the rents highest (and lowest) in Switzerland?

Typically, housing is most expensive (and scarcest) in cities where most employment opportunities are — Zurich and Geneva.

The Zug area, Basel, and parts of Vaud along Lake Geneva, also have a tight (and expensive) housing market.

On the other hand, suburban and rural areas are not —at least so far — as impacted by the urban housing woes, and it is still possible to find affordable accommodations there.

READ ALSO: Should foreigners in Switzerland live in the city or the countryside?

Can a landlord refuse to rent to a foreigner?

Basically, owners have the right to pick the most prospective tenants for their properties —that is, the most financially stable candidates.

There is, however, evidence that some landlords turn down tenants who have foreign names, though this is by no means a widespread practice.

While there is no legislation pertaining specifically to the housing market, Swiss law does prohibit discrimination in all spheres of life “against a person or a group of persons on the grounds of their ethnic origin, race, language or religion.” 


How long must I wait to apply for naturalisation?

This depends on whether you are going through the ordinary or simplified procedure.

For the former, which concerns most applicants, the residency requirement is 10 years. You must also be proficient in the language of your canton , and be well integrated into Swiss society as well.

For a fast-track naturalisation based on a marriage to a Swiss citizen, the residency requirement is five years. However, note that the year up to applying must be spent in the country, and and you must be married to and living with your Swiss spouse for at least three years. 

What permit do I need to apply for citizenship?

While the B permit is sufficient to live and work in Switzerland, it does not make its holder eligible for naturalisation.

The only ‘stepping-stone’, as it were, to citizenship is the C permit. 

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For members


Is a job offer enough to work in Switzerland as a non-EU/EFTA citizen?

If you come from a non-EU/EFTA state and would like to work in Switzerland, you will need to meet a range of admission requirements to be granted access to the Swiss employment market.

Is a job offer enough to work in Switzerland as a non-EU/EFTA citizen?

When it comes to hiring talent from outside its borders, Switzerland follows a dual system which favours workers from EU and EFTA states under the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons.

Each year, Switzerland admits only a limited number of highly qualified employees from other countries – known as third states – to the labour market.

According to the State Secretariat for Migration, experience has shown that workers with a degree from a university or an institution of higher education with several years of professional work experience under their belt have better long-term professional and social integration prospects than those with lower qualifications.

But does a job offer alone suffice to work in Switzerland as a non-EU/EFTA state citizen?

In short, no.

As exciting as the prospect of a new life in Switzerland may be, a job offer itself is sadly not enough to make you eligible for a work permit in Switzerland if you are a citizen of a non-EU/EFTA country.

In Switzerland, the admission of non-EU and non-EFTA state nationals is limited with the Federal Council determining the quota for permits on an annual basis. in 2023, the government has issued 8,500 permits for third-country employees (with the exception of UK nationals — see below).

Your employer will need to respect the principle that Swiss and EU/EFTA workers enjoy precedence when it comes to employment.

Your employer will need to apply one for you by showing that your qualifications and experience are in the best interest of the country’s economy.  in addition, they must prove that work  salary conditions are met prior to you being granted a permit.

What if I am a UK citizen?

Since January 1st, 2021, UK nationals are no longer citizens of the EU and are therefore subject to the same rules that apply to third-country nationals, including quotas.

However, they have a separate quota contingent — 3,500 permits set aside just for them. 

Are there any exceptions to the admission requirements?

Yes, in some cases legally regulated exceptions can be made that may allow you to work in Switzerland even if all admission criteria are not met.

For instance, senior managers or specialist staff being transferred by an international company may be allowed to work in Switzerland.

Similarly, employees in training as well as those are hoping to move for an internship or further education may also be allowed to work in Switzerland, so long as they work for a multi-national company (knowledge transfer) or are placed there (compulsory placement) while studying.

Those pursuing doctoral and post-doctoral studies in Switzerland may also seek employment in the country, though whether or not they can remain here after graduating is still being worked out on the legislative level.

Additionally, au-pairs and from non-EU/EFTA states between 18 and 25 years old may also move to Switzerland for up to 12 months.

What if I am a family member hoping to work in Switzerland?

If you are a family member of a Swiss national or an individual with a residence permit, you will not need to go through an additional permit process to take up employment or become self-employed.

Do I need a visa and residence permit to work in Switzerland if I already have a permanent residence permit for an EU/EFTA state?

If you are a citizen of a non-EU/EFTA state and hold a permanent residence permit for that state, you will still need to meet the admission conditions as everyone else who enters Switzerland directly from a third state country.

In Switzerland, being in possession of a permanent residence permit for an EU/EFTA state as a non-EU/EFTA citizen does not automatically grant you entrance to access to the Swiss employment market.

Generally, all non-EU/EFTA nationals will need an entry visa which can be obtained from Swiss authorities in your country after you have been granted a residence permit.

Although there are a couple of exceptions to this that are worth knowing about.

Can my employer second me to Switzerland for an indefinite period?

No, your employer may not second you to a job in Switzerland for an indefinite period.

However, if you are an employee of a corporation that has its registered office in an EU-27/EFTA state, your employer can in fact second you to a job in Switzerland for up to 90 days per calendar year.

In this case you will need to have previously been integrated long-term in the regular employment market of either an EU or EFTA member state, that is you must have a temporary or permanent residence permit for at least 12 months.

Your placement in Switzerland will then be governed by the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons (AFMP) between the EU and Switzerland and must be reported to the Swiss authorities.

If you are seconded to work in Switzerland for up to 90 days from a non-EU/EFTA state on the basis of the AFMP, you will not need a visa for your stay.

You will, however, be required to have on hand a valid, recognised travel document as well as a valid residence permit that has been issued by a Schengen member state.