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Registration and Residency

Switzerland - Registration and Residency

Immigration and residency are dealt with by the Federal Office for Migration (Bundesamt für Migration or BFM, also referred to as Migrationsamt). On arrival in Switzerland you should register your address with the nearest migration office in your canton. This will be either the Foreigners Police (G: Fremdenpolizei, F: Police des étrangers, I: Ufficio degli stranieri) or Town Registrar (G: Einwohnerkontrolle, F: Contrôle des habitants, I: Controllo degli abitani). It may be located within the Town Hall which is the Gemeinde or Stadthaus in German-speaking Switzerland. According to the Federal Office for Migration, you have 14 days in which to do this. Note that the Swiss Embassy documentation for British citizens gives only 8 days in which to register, so you should aim to take care of this in your first week in Switzerland. In Zurich you register with a Kreisbüro which is a district government office. Everyone has to register, including EU citizens.

On registering, take along your passport (or identity card), your work contract if in Switzerland for employment, and passport photos. You should also take your rental agreement if you have one, and your marriage certificate if you are a married couple arriving together. All members of a family should appear in person and should each have his or her passport (or identity card). Registration is normally efficient and relatively quick, and can be conducted in English if required. If everything is satisfactory, you will be issued with your residency permit. This will normally be a temporary one which can be used until the official Residence Permit ((Auslanderausweis, Livret pour étrangers) can be issued. A wait of several weeks can be considered normal for the official permit, although some receive it within days.

For non-EU citizens the permit is now biometric and includes a digitised photograph, fingerprint data from both index fingers, and a digital signature. There is an additional fee payable for this and the photo and fingerprints will be taken on-site if facilities are available. If there are no biometric facilities at the local office, e.g. if applying via a Kreisbüro in Zurich, an appointment will be made for you at the nearest Migration Office. The entire process takes just minutes and the biometric permit is normally delivered within a week.

A residence permit is a necessity to stay legally in Switzerland, and the country has zero-tolerance of law-breaking in this regard and will not hesitate to expel those who do not have the appropriate documentation. Residence permits expire after a certain time and need to be renewed.

A foreign national entering Switzerland for employment is likely to be issued with either a Short-Term Residence Permit (L) or the Residence Permit (B). Under the Free Movement of Persons EU directive, EU citizens have a right to obtain a permit and are not subject to quotas. For nationals from outside of the EU and EFTA area, a strict quota applies. As of 2008, this was 5,000 permits annually for the short-term (L) residence permit and 4,000 permits annually for the renewable (B) residence permit. There is no quota in operation for the settlement permit (C) which is issued according to other criteria and is not available to new entrants to Switzerland.

Generally, those from outside the EU will first be issued the L permit, but after 2 years of continuous employment in Switzerland the B permit normally becomes available to non-EU nationals. Once in possession of a B permit, there will not generally be a difficult in getting this renewed. Annual quotas apply to B permit applications if made as an upgrade request from an L permit within the first 2 years of residence in Switzerland. Note that regulations may vary and can change over time. For up-to-date information on your own case it is advisable to always check with your local migration official (i.e. the Gemeinde).

You can renew an annual (B) permit from 2 to 4 months before expiry date (this will vary from one canton to another and it is important to always check local requirements once resident). Fees vary, with the biometric permit costing more. Certain B permits do not have to be renewed annually but are valid for 5 years. The short-term L permit is issued for employment of limited duration (up to one year) and will specify the number of months for which it is valid. If an L permit renewal is not approved, on expiry the individual will be obliged to leave Switzerland. Being a permit of limited duration, there can be difficulties in obtaining certain services (e.g. mobile phone contracts via Swiss providers) on an L permit alone. Naturally, foreign nationals who commit criminal offences can expect to have residence rights revoked, regardless of whether holding an L or a B permit.

A dependant will normally be able to obtain a similar permit to the employed family member, and the dependant of a Swiss spouse can expect to obtain the B permit.

If not entering Switzerland with an offer of employment, and a national of an EU/EFTA country, you may be approved for a B permit if able to prove you have sufficient means (or will generate them through self-employment) to support yourself financially. This would need to exceed the current equivalent financial level at which a Swiss national would be deemed ineligible for state benefits. You will also be obliged to take out insurance (health and accident).

The relevant visa application office or embassy in your country will advise you on whether a passport approaching expiry will be acceptable or should be renewed before entering Switzerland. US citizens already granted formal permission to stay in Switzerland may subsequently be able to renew a passport within Switzerland via the US Embassy in Bern. UK citizens must renew via the Passport Processing Centre in Paris.

A medical check is not required by the Migration authorities although individual employers may require a pre-employment medical assessment before formalising an offer of employment.

The most up to date information on obtaining permission to reside in Switzerland can be obtained from the Federal Office of Migration. However, the Swiss Embassy or Consulate in your home country will also be a reliable point of contact for any initial queries relating to residency.

As registration is taken care of by the local authorities, you do not normally need to register with the consulate for your country. However, should you wish to contact your consulate within Switzerland, see Useful Resources below for contact details.

Useful Resources

Federal Office for Migration
Quellenweg 6, 3003 Berne-Wabern
Tel: +41 (0)31 325 11 11
Email: Use contact form

British Consulate General in Geneva, Switzerland
Avenue Louis Casaï 58, Case Postale 6, 1216 Cointrin, Geneva
Tel: +41 (0)22 918 24 00

Consular Agency of US in Zurich, Switzerland
Dufourstrasse 101, 3rd floor, Zurich
Tel: +41 (0)43 499 29 60
Email: Zurich-CA@state.gov

Consular Agency of US in Geneva, Switzerland
rue Versonnex 7, CH-1207 Geneva
Tel: +41 (0)22 840 51 60
Email: Geneva-CA@state.gov

Australian Consulate-General in Geneva, Switzerland
Chemins des Fins 2, Case Postale 102, 1211 Geneva 19
Tel: +41 (0)22 799 91 00

New Zealand Consulate-General in Geneva, Switzerland
Grand Saconnex, PO Box 334, 1211 Geneva 19
Tel: +41 (0)22 929 03 50

Honorary Consul of Ireland in Zurich, Switzerland
Claridenstrasse 25, P.O. Box 2172, CH-8027
Tel: +41 (0) 44 289 25 15

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