Obtaining Swiss Work Visa Guide
There are many reasons you might be drawn to live in Switzerland: amazing scenery, outdoor adventures from skiing to hiking, great fondue! And for developers, a vibrant working culture with huge demand for more software engineers and a booming startup scene. In 2019 Switzerland attracted $445 million in investments, and unlike more US-centric working cultures, overtime is much less expected, even in startups. Which means that you can enjoy a great salary, great job opportunities and great quality of life, with plenty of time on the weekends to enjoy your newfound love of mountains.
But working in Switzerland as a non-Swiss national requires a valid work permit and, in some cases, a work visa. In this guide, we’ll break down some of the most common visas, their eligibility requirements and what you’ll need to apply.
Do I need a visa to work in Switzerland?
Despite being almost completely surrounded by EU states (shout out to Liechtenstein, the one exception), Switzerland itself is not a member of the European Union. However, as a member of the Schengen Area, Switzerland allows freedom of movement and it is also a member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). This means that even if you are an EU citizen, you will still need official authorisation to live and work in Switzerland. However, the process is different for EU citizens and third country nationals (that’s everyone else, from Australians to Zimbabweans).
For both EU citizens and third country nationals, Switzerland restricts the quota of work permits available. That means that even if you fit every other criteria, you could be denied a work permit simply because too many have already been issued that year: an issue that occurs regularly for people looking to work in Switzerland! It’s a very real possibility, with the result that you’ll need to plan carefully and hope for the result. In 2022, the quotas are:
4000 “L” short-term permits for non-EU/EFTA nationals
4500 “B” long-term permits for non-EU/EFTA nationals
3000 “L” short-term permits for service providers/seconded workers based in the EU/EFTA
500 “B” long-term permits for service providers/seconded workers based in the EU/EFTA
1400 “L” short-term permits for British nationals
2100 “B” long-term permits for British nationals
Working in Switzerland as an EU citizen
If you’re an EU national, you are free to move to Switzerland to work and live and you will not be asked for a visa upon entry into the country. However, you will still need a residence permit for stays longer than three months. You must apply for this residence permit at one of the cantonal migration offices within 14 days of arriving in Switzerland. If you haven’t found a job in Switzerland after three months, the canton can grant you a short-term residence permit for another three months which can be extended for up to one year. If you are already working, this residence permit doubles as your work permit.
Even if you are a citizen of an EU state, you should always check if there are specific regulations about your country. While Switzerland has no exceptions currently, in the past it has imposed additional criteria, quotas and regulations for other EU countries, including Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania, which made it more difficult for citizens from those countries to work in Switzerland.
There are different residence permits available to EU citizens who want to live and work in Switzerland. The most relevant for developers are:
Type L EU/EFTA short-term residence permit: valid up to 12 months. If your work contract is less than 12 months, the permit lasts as long as the contract.
Type B EU/EFTA residence permit: valid for five years (and extendable). Tor those with employment contracts of more than 12 months as well as self-employed workers. You must be able to demonstrate you can support yourself financially and have adequate insurance cover.
Type G EU/EFTA cross-border commuter permit: valid for five years with a 12-month+ employment contract. If your contract is less than a year, the permit lasts as long as the contract. This permit is for people who live outside Switzerland but have a Swiss employer and commute to work.You have to return to your home outside of Switzerland at least once a week.
Type C EU/EFTA settlement permit: is similar to permanent residency, although it has to be confirmed every five years. If you have been employed and living in Switzerland for five continuous years, you might be eligible for this settlement permit if you are a national from Belgium, Germany, Denmark, France, Liechtenstein, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Austria, Portugal, Spain, Finland, United Kingdom, Ireland, Iceland, Luxembourg, Norway and Sweden may be granted this settlement permit after living in Switzerland for five continuous years. If you are from another EU/EFTA state, you need to have lived in Switzerland for 10 continuous years before you apply for this permit.
If you lose or leave your job, you can stay for another three to six months in Switzerland to look for another job, after applying for authorisation from the cantonal migration authorities. Only people with a settlement permit may apply for welfare benefits.
Working in Switzerland as a third country national
There are two main Swiss work visas for third country nationals. They are:
Permit L: a short-term residence permit that gives you permission to live and work in Switzerland for up to one year. It is tied to the terms of the employment contract. In exceptional cases, the L permit may be extended for a further year, but not any longer under the same employer.
Permit B: an initial or temporary residence permit valid for one year, which can be extended annually. These permits are issued on a quota basis and are tied to the same employer, so you cannot lose or leave your job without also having to leave Switzerland and apply for a new work visa with a new company.
There is one other significant visa for third country nationals, which is Permit C. This permit is eligible for third country nationals who have lived in Switzerland for ten continuous years (or five, if you are a US or Canadian citizen) and it offers permanent residence. With a C permit you can change employers at will.
If you are not from an EU state, the work visa situation is a little more complicated. The simplest way to think about it is this: if you are an EU citizen, you need a work permit. If you are a third country national, you need a work permit and a work visa. The work permit is what gives you permission to work in Switzerland; the work visa is what gives you permission to enter the country, and it is the document you show to border authorities upon arrival.
Here’s how it works.
Your prospective employer applies for your work permit on your behalf, before you enter Switzerland. This means, of course, that you need to have a job offer ready before you apply for the visa, as the work permit is part of your visa application. Your employer has to apply to the immigration authority at their local Swiss canton, which is then sent for approval to the SEM (State Secretariat for Migration).
The work visa, on the other hand, is something you’ll have to handle personally. You can apply for the work visa through the Swiss embassy or consulate in your home country. However, you must have the work permit approved before your visa is granted. The cantonal migration authority stays in contact with embassies and consulates, so if your work permit application is successful, they will give your local embassy/consulate visa clearance for you.
The basic requirements you need to meet in order to apply for the work visa are:
A job offer in place in Switzerland
A role as a manager, specialist or highly qualified worker (this includes many developers!)
You are applying at a time when the annual work permit quotas (see above) are not full
There is nobody suitable and available in Switzerland or any EU/EFTA country for the job
Your job offer has the same salary and work conditions that would apply to a Swiss citizen
Sometimes the authorities will also consider additional criteria, including language skills, ability to integrate into Swiss society, criminal record and your ability to support yourself and any family members who join you in Switzerland. It’s a good idea to have documentation ready which attests to these criteria as well.
In addition to a specific visa application form for the type of visa you’re applying for (see below), you will need the following documents:
- Photocopy of your passport or valid travel ID
- Proof of your job offer, for example an offer letter, copy of the employment contract, etc
- Your CV (translated officially and notarised into German, French, Italian or English if necessary)
- Copies of educational and work qualifications (again, translated and notarised when necessary)
The visa application process usually takes 8-10 weeks. It must be done outside of Switzerland - if you are in Switzerland when you receive a job offer, you must return to your home country to apply for the visa.
How much does a Swiss visa or work permit cost?
The cost of a work permit can vary from canton to canton, but typically it is around €95. Sometimes your employer will cover the cost of the work permit for you.
The cost of a work visa is €80 for an adult, and €40 for an accompanying child to enter. You may have to pay extra if you want the visa fast-tracked.
Can I bring my family with me to Switzerland?
EU/EFTA citizens with valid work permits can be joined by spouses/partners, children, grandchildren, parents and grandparents. You may have to prove that the family member you wish to bring with you is financially or in some other way reliant upon you.
If you are a third country national, you will need a C permit to bring a spouse/partner and children under 18 with you. In this case, your spouse will be permitted to work or become self-employed.
If you are a third country national with a B or L residence permit, you don’t have the automatic right to bring family members with you. However, you can apply to the cantonal authorities for special authorisation to bring a spouse or dependent children with you. If authorisation is granted, your spouse will have the right to work in Switzerland. This is easier for people holding the B residence permit than the L residence permit.
How do I get started?
As is now clear, the most important part of applying for a Swiss work visa, especially as a third country national, is having a Swiss job offer! Once you have that Swiss job offer and your employer provides you with a work permit, you can get started on the visa process.