The rules for entering and living in Switzerland change based on your nationality.
But one thing that applies to everyone, regardless of nationality, is that you need a Switzerland residence permit to remain in the country for longer than three months.
However, even the residence permits for Switzerland have different rules and conditions for EU/EFTA and non-EU/EFTA citizens.
Switzerland Residence Permits for EU/EFTA and non-EU/EFTA citizens
One of the first things that are considered when issuing a Swiss residence permit is the applicant’s nationality.
Switzerland has imposed strict limitations as to how many non-EU/EFTA citizens they will issue residency permits to on an annual basis.
There are no such restrictions to EU/EFTA citizens, with the exception of the newer EU-countries, Bulgaria, Croatia, and Romania.
How to apply for a Switzerland Residence Permit?
If you want to stay in Switzerland for longer than three months, you have to apply for a Swiss residence permit, whether you are from the EU/EFTA or not.
You must apply for the residence permit within 14 days of having entered Switzerland. You have to initially register at your local Residents Registration Office, and then arrange to receive your residence permit from the migration office of the canton you want to live in.
Switzerland is a federal republic consisting of 26 cantons which reserve the authority to decide which immigrants they will welcome.
The 26 Swiss cantons each have their own cantonal migration offices that are in charge of issuing residence permits, and cantonal labour offices which issue work authorisations.
You must apply for a residence permit at the cantonal immigration office of the canton you want to live in. The different cantons may have different and specific requirements. They are the first point of contact and information when you want to apply for your Switzerland residence permit.
You can find the addresses, webpages, and information about each cantonal immigration office here.
What are the types of Switzerland Residence Permits?
The most common types of Switzerland residence permits available are:
Permit L for short-term residence
This permit is valid for up to one one year, and can be renewed to a maximum of 24 months. People who move to Switzerland to work in a specific job or company receive this permit. If you change jobs, you may not receive a new permit.
Permit B for initial or temporary residence
To EU/EFTA nationals, this permit is issued for five years, whereas for non-EU/EFTA nationals, for one year. However, it can be renewed if needed.
You will receive a B permit if you want to move to Switzerland to work or study there. As such, you will need to have a work contract valid for at least 1 year or be enrolled in a Swiss educational institution.
Sometimes, the Swiss B permit can have restrictions such as having to work in a specific job or live only in the canton which gave you the permit.
Permit C for permanent residence
Only non-EU/EFTA immigrants who have lived in Switzerland for 10 continuous years can apply for a Permit C and become permanent residents.
For EU/EFTA nationals and US and Canadian citizens, the time you have to live in Switzerland before you apply for the C Permit is five years.
The Swiss C Permit allows you to change jobs as many times as you want, work for any employer, and live where you want in Switzerland.
Permit G for cross-border commuting
This type of Swiss residence permit is issued to workers who live in another country, but work in Switzerland. These types of workers usually commute on a daily or weekly basis. The G permit requires that they return to their country at least once a week, and it doesn’t grant the holder the same rights as a resident.
The permit can be renewed each year, and is valid for the duration of the work contract. However, it cannot exceed five years.
The Ci Permit is issued to the spouses of inter-governmental organisation or foreign embassy workers, and their children (up to 25 years).
The holder of a Swiss Ci Permit can work in Switzerland for as long as their family member is assigned there.
Permit F for provisionally admitted foreigners
The Swiss F Permit is issued to foreigners who have been ordered to leave Switzerland to return to their home country, but cannot leave because they may be endangered, the order to leave violates international law or any other technical reasons.
So, they may be provisionally admitted to Switzerland for twelve months. Their canton of residence can extend the admission for another twelve months as needed.
The cantonal immigration offices may also decide to give the provisionally admitted foreigner a work permit for gainful employment (it allows them to look for work).
Permit N for asylum seekers
The Swiss N Permit is issued to foreigners whose application for asylum in Switzerland is being processed.
As their asylum application is being processed, the asylum seeker enjoys basically the same rights as a resident. In some cases, they may even be issued a work permit for gainful employment.
Permit S for people in need of protection
Holder of a Swiss Permit S can stay in Switzerland provisionally but are not allowed to leave the country and return. They also are not entitled to the rights of residence.
If the Permit S holder wants to get a job or change jobs, they have to ask for prevision permission. They must also show any potential new employer their copy of the S Permit.
Can I renew a Switzerland Residence Permit?
Yes, your Swiss residence permit may be eligible for renewal. It is the competent authorities who decide whether to renew a residence permit or not.
In order to apply for renewal, you have to submit the application at your commune of residence two weeks before it expired at the latest! The earliest you can apply for a Swiss residence permit renewal is three months.
You will need to bring your existing permit with you, as well as a valid passport/travel document and the letter that informs you that your permit is about to expire.
What Can I do If my Swiss Residence Permit is Lost While Abroad?
If your Swiss residence permit has been lost or stolen while you are abroad, you can apply for a Switzerland Return visa.