Moving to Switzerland: everything you need to know


Are you living abroad and planning to move to Switzerland? We show you the best way of doing it. Here you’ll find everything you need to know about residence permits, customs formalities and finding accommodation in Switzerland.

Moving to Switzerland: everything you need to know

Formalities for staying in Switzerland

Switzerland is at the heart of Europe, but it’s not a member of the EU. This means that emigrating to Switzerland is more complicated than emigrating to an EU member country. If you want to live in Switzerland for a prolonged period, you must register with the office of your destination canton.

Staying in Switzerland without work

As a foreigner, you can stay in Switzerland without working, but you will need to meet a few requirements for this.

Stays of under 90 days: You don’t need a visa. Please note that this means stays of a maximum of 90 days within 6 months. The counted days are not necessarily consecutive.

Stays longer than 90 days: You have to apply for a residence permit at the appropriate cantonal immigration office. To change your place of residence to Switzerland, you must meet the following requirements:

  • You must be financially independent and able to live without social benefits.

  • You must have health insurance that also covers accident costs.

  • If you want to study, you must be able to show proof (certificate of enrolment) that confirms that you are enrolled at a college/university.

The residence permit is valid for 5 years and will be automatically renewed if you continue to meet the requirements. If you are studying, the permit will either be issued for the entire duration of your studies or must be renewed annually until the end of your course.

Working as a foreigner in Switzerland

If you want to work as a foreigner in Switzerland, you need a work permit. There are different versions depending on the length of your stay.

Short-term work (less than 90 days): You don’t need a permit. However, your employer must register your employment using the “Registration for short-term employment” form. This must be received the day before your first day of work.

Long-term work (more than 90 days): Before you can start working in Switzerland, you must apply for a residence permit in your municipality of residence. You will have to present two documents:

  • Valid passport or ID

  • Confirmation of employment (e.g. employment contract)

The issued residence permit is not only valid for your first employer or place of residence. You can change your employer. The validity period of the permit depends on the length of your employment.

Swiss residence permits: B, C, G und L

  • Permit B (residence permit): Issued if your employment contract is valid for 12 months or more. The period of validity is 5 years.

  • Permit C (settlement permit): Issued if emigrants have been living in Switzerland continuously and “normally” for 5 years. The period of validity is unlimited.

  • Permit G (cross-border commuter permit): Issued if a person works in Switzerland but lives on the other side of the border. Please note that individuals with a G permit must travel to their place of residence once a week.

  • Permit L (short-term residence permit): Issued for temporary employment lasting less than 12 months.

Looking for a place to live in Switzerland

Finding accommodation can be a major challenge in the larger Swiss cities due to the housing shortage. Due to the high number of applicants for each apartment, it’s important to make a positive impression when you go to viewings. It helps if you always have the following documents to hand:

  • Foreigner ID card

  • Passport

  • Certificate of freedom from debt enforcement action (like the SCHUFA credit investigation certificate in Germany)

  • Contact details of previous landlords

  • Copy of your employment contract

For more tips, see our article on looking for an apartment.

Getting your belongings through customs

Found your dream apartment? Great! Now you just need to ship all your furniture to Switzerland. To ensure you don’t have any problems at customs, you’ll need to have the following documents ready:

  • List of all the items that you want to import to Switzerland

  • Form (two copies) for duty-free import of household goods

  • Evidence of accommodation purchased or rented in Switzerland

You do not have to announce your border crossing at customs. However, doing so can speed up the process at the customs office. You’ll find a list of all the customs offices in Switzerland here.

The Federal Office for Housing also provides a free information sheet called “Living in Switzerland”, with important info and tips for everyday life in 19 languages.