How To Immigrate To Switzerland

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Interested in moving to Switzerland? Here’s what you need to know:

Switzerland: Quick Facts

  • Switzerland is a relatively small country, at 285 sq. km (15,940 sq. miles). Has a population of around 8.7 million.
  • A landlocked country, bordered by Germany, France, Italy, Austria, and Liechtenstein.
  • With most of the country occupied by the Alps, the majority of residents live on the Swiss Plateau (the flat part of the country in between the Alps and the Jura mountains).
  • Officially the Swiss Confederation, a parliamentary republic divided into 26 cantons. Bern represents the seat of federal authority in Switzerland.
  • Widely recognized as one of the wealthiest countries in the world – Switzerland has the 6th highest GDP per capita in the world. Has the highest wealth per adult in the world, according to Credit Suisse.
  • Major Swiss cities (e.g. Zurich, Geneva) are typically found in world Top 10 lists for their high quality of life.
  • Known worldwide for its cheeses, chocolates, and associated concoctions (e.g. fondue).
  • Manufacturing is the main Swiss industry – the country is a major exporter of high-tech, precision, health, and pharmaceutical goods (as well as chemicals). Produces half of the world’s watches.
  • While Switzerland has a very high foreign-born population (~25%), it’s not easy to move here, particularly for non-EU/EFTA nationals. There are strict quotas on the number of skilled workers allowed in annually (in 2012, the limit was 3,500 residency permits and 5,000 short-term permits).

Practical Information

  • Currency: Swiss Franc (CHF)
  • Spoken languages: Switzerland has four different official languages: French, German, Italian, and Romansh. Spoken by ~65% of the population, German is the most popular (followed by French, at ~23% population share). Most people understand English.
  • Major religions: Roman Catholic (~38%), Swiss Reformed Christian (~28%), and other Christian (~6%). 21% of the population is non-denominational.
  • Largest cities: Zurich, Geneva, Basel, Bern, and Lausanne.

Why move to Switzerland

  • Switzerland is one of the safest countries in the world. Criminal activity is very low, and strict laws (coupled with reliable police presence) keep life safe and secure for residents.
  • Has a strong economy, with one of the lowest unemployment rates in the world (3.2% in 2013). Has the second highest annual average wages in Europe (after Norway), at ~59,300 CHF, or ~67,200 USD. The Swiss not only have great wages, but also high purchasing power.
  • One of the cleanest countries there is – major cities are well run and maintained. Little to no pollution, with fresh air year round.
  • Financial security provided by strong banking system. Switzerland’s neutral stance on politics, military, and finance has made it an attractive choice for the affluent.
  • Good food is readily available. Swiss cuisine draws on French, Italian, and German recipes for inspiration – and it shows in the variety of dishes (especially when it comes to pastries, chocolates, and desserts). There are over 450 varieties of cheese, 200+ types of bread, and a great year-round selection of beers and fine wines. The Swiss eat healthy – there is a strong preference for local, seasonal ingredients.
  • While not cheap, Swiss education is world-class (from kindergarten to university). Healthcare is also excellent (though it does come at a price).
  • Public transport is excellent and efficient, both within cities and between them. Trains, buses – everything runs on time (precise, Swiss time). In general, municipal services are dependable and well-managed.
  • Has one of the lowest overall tax rates in the developed world, and is appropriately dubbed a “tax haven” by many. While the individual cantons have their own cantonal tax rates, the standard (federal) income tax tops out at a maximum of 11.5%.
  • For those who love winter sports and mountain escapades, Switzerland is a top choice. Skiing, snowboarding, and mountaineering are the most popular sports here.
  • When it comes to all things business (and bureaucratic), the Swiss are no-nonsense and do not waste time. Professionalism is the norm, and a culture of punctuality can be a breath of fresh air for those moving from comparatively chaotic societies.

Cityscape of Trachslau, a town in Switzerland
Switzerland is one of the most desired places to move to – and perhaps the most expensive (Pictured: Trachslau)

Reasons Not to move to Switzerland

Note: these are common expat complaints, and may not apply to you.

  • Switzerland is one of the most expensive places to live in. For example, a 1 bedroom apartment in the center of Zurich will set you back ~$1800-2300 per month. Unless you are moving here from a major Scandinavian city, expect to pay considerably more for consumer goods, groceries, and eating out.
  • The Swiss are known for being stuck-up and overly serious. There are strict rules for almost all aspects of life – including on what you do inside your own home (example: limitations on hosting parties after a certain time at night).
  • Being a foreigner in Switzerland is, in many ways, an uphill battle. The term for naturalized immigrants is ausländer (meaning “foreigner” or “alien”). There seems to be an (unspoken) dislike of immigrants – the Swiss simply prefer their own kind, and are not shy about showing it. While there are always many exceptions (especially in the major cities), it is not something an expat can hope to avoid entirely. Recently, there has been an even greater push to enact legislation that would further limit the number of new immigrants (the “Ecopop” initiative aims to limit new annual migrants to at most 0.2% of the total Swiss population).
  • Naturally, there is a language barrier – one must become fluent in Swiss German (and some Swiss French) to have a hope of ever fully integrating into Swiss society.
  • Obtaining Swiss residency and citizenship is notoriously difficult (even for highly skilled professionals). One can live here for decades and still not be considered a citizen (more on this below).
  • While the overall unemployment rate is low, finding a job can be tough for a newcomer (and you are pretty much limited to international companies in Zurich, Geneva, and Bern). This applies especially for spouses/partners of those who have been relocated here for work. It is also hard for foreigners to find an apartment for rent (newcomers are encouraged to do this through a rental agency).
  • Given that the Swiss mostly keep to themselves, it can prove difficult to meet friends and like-minded people. Most end up coping by integrating into the local expat communities.

Political poster depicting outsiders in Switzerland as "black sheep"
A political poster from Switzerland that depicts foreigners as unwanted black sheep

Getting a Visa and Finding Work

  • Work permits in Switzerland are issued by canton. Your eligibility for a Swiss work permit ultimately depends on your nationality and professional skill-set. With set annual quotas on the total work permits issued, there is heavy competition.
  • For EU/EFTA nationals: you may enter Switzerland for up to three months while looking for work (this can be extended to six months if you can demonstrate that you are actively seeking employment). The short-term (L) permit is issued to those who plan to work in Switzerland for less than 12 months, and is issued to EU/EFTA nationals after they are present in the country for over 3 months. EU/EFTA nationals who plan to work in Switzerland for less than 3 months may not need a work permit (but should register online prior to commencing employment).
  • For everyone else: obtaining a work permit for non-EU/EFTA nationals is considerably tougher. Your prospective Swiss employer must first demonstrate that they were unable to find a suitable local candidate – and that a serious attempt to do so was made (prior to extending a job offer to a foreigner). Priority is given to highly skilled professionals and specialists (e.g. company transfers of upper managers/executives) with post-secondary degrees and proof of professional experience. In most cases, priority is given to those who can already speak one of the official languages. Those who pass all the requirements will be issued a short-term (L) residence permit, valid for 1 year (with possible extension to 2 years) and tied to the employment contract. Foreign students and workers receiving professional training also fall under the short-term (L) residence permit category.

Permanent Residency and Citizenship

Obtaining a residence permit in Switzerland is its own challenge, and the process is different depending on whether you are a EU/EFTA national or from a “Third State” (e.g. any other country).

  • Residence permits for EU/EFTA nationals: the first step is to obtain a “B” permit (initial residence) – this is given to those with a work contract of at least 12 months, and is valid for five years. “B” permits are also given to EU/EFTA nationals if they can prove financial self-sufficiency (e.g. enough funds) while they are settled in the country – even without being employed. EU/EFTA nationals are eligible for permanent residency after an uninterrupted stay of 5 years in Switzerland – the permanent residence (“C” permit) does not expire, and allows one to freely move cantons/employers.
  • Residence permits for everyone else: nationals of other countries have it harder. “B” permits (initial residence) are limited by an annual quota, and are only valid for one year at a time (extendable by one year each time). The “B” permit also ties the holder to the canton that issued it (they may not live elsewhere, or change employers). Permanent residency (in the form of a “C” permit) is only available after one has lived in Switzerland for 10 uninterrupted years (5 years, if from the United States or Canada). is In all cases, cantons must first obtain federal approval before issuing a permit.

Obtaining Swiss citizenship is a long process – the most common ways are through birth (if one, or both, parents are Swiss) or naturalization:

  • A permanent resident may apply for citizenship after having lived in Switzerland for 12 years (and for at least three of the five years prior to requesting citizenship). One must also demonstrate proficiency in German, French, Italian, or Romansch (this depends on the municipality one is applying for citizenship to). Candidates must also show that they have successfully integrated into the Swiss way of life, pose no danger to the country, comply with all laws, and adhere to local habits/customs/traditions.
  • One may also apply for citizenship after being married to a Swiss citizen for over three years (and having lived in the country for at least five years). If living abroad, the minimum marriage length requirement is six years.

Starting a Business in Switzerland

  • Self-employment: EU/EFTA nationals may apply for a permit that will allow them to live and be self-employed in Switzerland for up to five years (this can be revoked if it is determined one is no longer able to cover his or her living costs). Applicants must first register a company in Switzerland, provide a business plan, and provide proof of regular income. Nationals of other (non-EU/EFTA) countries are typically not eligible for self-employment permits.
  • Starting a business in Switzerland: it is relatively easy to start a business in Switzerland – anyone may do so (without any special authorization). There is a free and open economic climate, and business earnings do not have to be reported. To operate the business while in Switzerland, however, one must first obtain a work and residency permit (see above).
  • Note: if you have plans to start a sole-proprietorship or a partnership (general or limited), you may register the business (online) while outside the country. Please see the official government resource on Small and Medium Businesses (SMB) for the most up-to-date information and procedures: SME Portal (available in German, French, and Italian).

Links & Resources

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34 replies on “How To Immigrate To Switzerland”

Hello, I’m Ardiana, I’m 25 years old, I was born and raised in Kosovo, but now I’ve been living in Canada for 2 years.
But now I want to emigrate and work in Switzerland, I have my family there, my brothers.
I live in Canada without a family.
I have a Canadian Residence Permit (PR).
How is it possible to become a resident of Switzerland?


Hi Ardiana, the first step is to get a job offer from a Swiss company. Can your brothers help with that? Are they working there?

My great great grandparents both came from Bern, Switzerland. I have visited Switzerland three times. I and my wife are retired and wish to possibly spend 6 months to one year ion Switzerland. Would I be able to do this? I live on a pension and Social Security which amounts to a little over $60,000 a year. Would that be enough be comfortable in the Bern area?

Hi Jerry, you can spend up to 90 days out of any 180 day period in Switzerland if you have a US passport. So you could potentially do two trips, 90 days each, as long as there’s a 90 day break in between. Since you won’t have the benefit of signing a long term lease, your rental costs would be higher than typical. As far as costs go, I think you’re in a better position to answer that question as you have already visited three times! It depends on the specific accommodation prices – I would start with researching this for the Bern area.

Hi There my name is Rafael citizen of Angola that is an African country i am a teacher and i also work as pressure test technician i want to move to switzerland i want some clear instructions and information about it. i am looking forward to receiving your reply.

Best regards.

Hi Rafael, your best option is to find a job from a Swiss employer first. It’s not an easy country to move to!

Hello am a Daniel a Kenyan university student, I have great admirations for Switzerland culture, I would love to work over there how and if possible become a citizen. How will I achieve this aspiration

Hi Daniel, you will have to do some research about what jobs are in demand in Switzerland and go from there. Lots of people want to move there – very competitive!

Hi Yosef, you’ll have to apply for jobs in Switzerland directly. Have you reached out to recruiters on LinkedIn for your chosen field?

Hi Jean, short answer: probably. Specifics can be found on the Immigration portal of the relevant canton. Full list here:

For example, here is the one for Bern.

Scroll down to the “For Swiss citizens” section for detailed requirements of how a Swiss citizen (your partner) can get you a “B” permit. You’ll have to auto-translate the page into English.

Hello, I’m Nshuti, I’m 27 years old, I was born and raised in KIGALI, but now I’ve been living in RWANDA .
But now I want to emigrate and work in Switzerland,
I have a Rwandan Residence Permit (PR).
How is it possible to become a resident of Switzerland? thank you

Hi, Switzerland is not an easy place to move to! You should look for a job from a Swiss employer as a way to get started.

I am a 58-year-old man with a family of 2 daughters and my wife. I am retired and have a decent income. As I have read, I can live in Switzerland by paying a special tax. Can you explain the conditions of this method more precisely?

Hello, I am an Indian by origin and I would like to settle in Switzerland, Can I freelance in Switzerland.?

Hello Nick, and thank you for writing this article.

I’m French married to a US citizen. We’re both self-employed and considering immigrating to Switzerland in 2024. Your article says I’m eligible for self-employment permits in Switzerland as an EU national but my wife isn’t as Americans are considered Third State nationals.

Would you have any tips or recommendations that would help us make it possible still? Would she absolutely need to find a Swiss employer for us both to get a chance?

Hi Alex, thanks for stopping by! Two non-Swiss, both attempting to be self-employed in Switzerland – this is the immigration game on “Hard Mode” and I salute you 🙂

I’ve looked into this some more and I’m seeing some conflicting information. For example, this page states: “[only] Holders of a valid C permit (settlement permit for third-country nationals), the spouse of a C permit holder or the spouse of a Swiss citizen have the legal right to establish their own business in Switzerland.”

On the other hand, this page states:
[a third country national can take up self-employment if]: The foreign citizen is married to or living in a registered partnership with an EU-/EFTA member state citizen

My approach would be: decide which canton(s) you’re targeting, and get in touch directly with them to see whether you can both be self-employed. There may or may not be income requirements. Good luck!

Hi, my name is Robert and I’m from Poland, I moved to UK 20 years ago where I worked and saved some money. I was thinking to move to Switzerland

Good luck, Rob! Switzerland is pretty expensive, but salaries are good in the right sector. Poland is also much better than it was 20 years ago, no?

Hello Nick, can you pls give more info on the cons of immigration and why the Swiss government creates these rules (immigration injustice) ?

The biggest con to immigration is that it doesn’t actually lead to increased levels of happiness (unless you’re fleeing a really bad situation). As for Switzerland, I’m not sure about the historical origins of their immigration policy but it has always been a tricky place to move to (especially for non-EU passport holders). However, there are plenty of foreign professionals working there (e.g. in the tech sector) so if you really want to make it happen, it’s possible.

Hi, I’m from Indonesia. Just visited Schengen countries with few days stop by in Zurich few months ago with package travel. I plan to visit Switzerland alone with longer time. Would you mind giving me an advise.

Hi, thanks for visiting the website (if you want tips for travel, check out our partner site: Switzerland is an expensive place, even for a visit! Would suggest planning well ahead so you get the most out of your trip. You will need a Schengen visa for stays under 90 days ( and a National Swiss visa if staying longer than 90 days (

Hey there,
I’m a 30-year-old biological researcher from Iran. Is there any chance that I can immigrate to the Switzerland?

It’s not easy to immigrate to Switzerland. I would start by trying to find a job there that matches your experience. Also considering widening your search to other European countries such as France, Germany, Netherlands, etc.

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