Anyone interested in living and working in Switzerland should know the main conditions that must be met in order to eventually obtain the Swiss citizenship. Most persons who have already obtained a Swiss work permit should know which legal requirements are in order to be able to apply for Swiss citizenship. 2020 also brings a few changes regarding the process of applying for Swiss citizenship; therefore here are the most important things you should be aware of.

How to obtain Swiss citizenship

There are two way to obtain Swiss citizenship – the regular naturalization process, which is the most common process that people go through and the simplified naturalization process, which is shorter and simpler, but it is usually available for foreign spouses and children of Swiss citizens. Since the beginning of 2017, third generation foreigners can also go through the simplified naturalization process. According to official statistics, almost 25% of the naturalizations from 2015 were simplified.

Requirements to obtain Swiss citizenship

A foreign person that goes through the regular naturalization process must meet the requirements laid out on three levels of government – the Confederation, the canton and the commune. The changes made to the legislation which came into effect starting with January 2018 require that a foreign person must have lived in Switzerland for 10 years or less in case of those who came to Switzerland as adolescents and must have a C residence permit to be able to apply for Swiss citizenship. Until then, it was required for a foreign person to have lived for 12 years in Switzerland and it holders of other types of Swiss permits were also able to apply.

Applicants must also show that they abide to the Swiss laws and regulations, that they pose no threat for the country’s safety and that they are well integrated in terms of contributing to the economy, having social connections and good language skills. Cantons and communes usually assess how well a person has integrated into the local community. The new legislation stipulates other requirements as well, such as encouraging other family members to integrate.

Language Requirements

As of January 1, 2020, everyone applying for a residence permit in Switzerland is required to have standardized and certified language certificate from an accredited language school. The only exceptions are foreign nationals that:
  • Speak German, French, and Italian as a native language 
  • Finished primary school in German, French and Italian, even if the school is outside Switzerland;
  • Completed secondary school or university in German, French and Italian, even if it was from a non-Swiss school.
  • Hold a language certificate i the ren-line with the requirements of the Common European Framework (CEFR).
Failure to comply with these language requirements can result in dire consequences like the downgrading of the permit. This will mean a shortened time stay in Switzerland and limited tax priviledges to the non-compliant foreign individual

Impediments for obtaining Swiss citizenship

Another change of the Swiss legislations stipulates that persons who have claimed social welfare assistance in Switzerland in the past three years are not able to apply for Swiss citizenship, unless they pay back the amounts received. This rule consolidates the federal requirement that an applicant must contribute to the Swiss economy.

Language skills have always been an important factor in the naturalization process, but these requirements vary from one canton to another. Today, there is a minimum required level for language skills. Applicants must have A2 level writing skills and B1 speaking skills, which they have to demonstrate under the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. Cantons are allowed to set the bar up even higher for language proficiency, like in the case of Thurgau canton.

Cantonal and communal rules for obtaining Swiss citizenship

Each Swiss canton has different requirements regarding the process of applying for citizenship. One of the most important aspects to consider is how long a person has been living in the same canton. For example, cantons such as Geneva and Bern require only a two year residency, while other cantons such as St. Gallen may stipulate longer residency periods in the same canton for up to eight years.

In addition, the cantons and communes decide how well an applicant has integrated into the local community. It all comes down to recommendations from work colleagues and friends and a solid knowledge of Swiss history, politics and traditions. Most cantons and communes set up interviews for the Swiss citizenship applicants, so they can prove their knowledge of Switzerland and prove how well integrated they are. In some cases, a committee formed by communal residents gathers to vote in favor or against the application for citizenship.

Final considerations regarding the process of obtaining Swiss citizenship

Obtaining Swiss citizenship can take several years, depending on the canton where you live in. Western cantons are more generous with their citizenship applicants, cantons such as Zurich and Geneva having naturalized the highest number of people in 2015. However, don’t make the mistake to move to a different canton once you started the process of obtaining Swiss citizenship, because you may have to start all over again.

Regarding fees, since there are three levels of authorization to go through, there are more fees that need to be paid. The federal fee is not as high, but the cantonal fee can go up to more than 1,000 CHF and the communes add an extra fee on top of that. Keep in mind that paying the required fees does not guarantee obtaining Swiss citizenship.

For more details and assistance regarding company formation in Switzerland, feel free to reach out to our expert consultants. Our highly experienced and well-informed team is ready to answer all your questions and give you all the help you might need.

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