Swiss Passport in front of mountain scenery with cows

Swiss Citizenship: The Complete 2022 Guide To Europe’s Toughest Passport

Are you considering going for Swiss citizenship?

Perhaps you’re captivated by Switzerland’s beautiful mountains or sparkling clean cities. Perhaps you love the way everything runs so efficiently. 

Or maybe you want to be part of a secure country that’s politically neutral.

Whatever the case, Swiss citizenship might be the right pathway for you.

At Digital Émigré, we’ve done extensive research into citizenship pathways across the whole of the European Union. 

First a warning: Getting Swiss citizenship is not easy.

You need to live in the country permanently, learn one of the Swiss languages to a high level, have an in-depth knowledge of Swiss culture, history and society, pay all your taxes on time, and avoid claiming benefits or breaking the law.

In this article we’ll discuss how to get citizenship of Switzerland, the process and requirements, and different ways to obtain residency on your path to eventual citizenship.

Why Switzerland?

Swiss citizenship comes with many benefits. For one, Swiss citizens have access to Swiss passports, which are some of the most powerful in the world. 

Swiss citizens also enjoy visa-free travel to Schengen countries, as well as a number of other benefits like Swiss bank accounts and health insurance. 

And, of course, Swiss citizenship gives you the right to live, work, and do business in Switzerland – a country renowned for its high quality of life.

Swiss citizenship in a nutshell 

  • Timeline to citizenship through naturalization: 10 years
  • Dual citizenship allowed? Yes
  • Minimum physical stay requirements: 183 days per year; 365 in year before applying
  • Must pay tax in Switzerland? Yes
  • Language requirements: B1 level speaking, A2 level writing in one of Switzerland’s national languages
  • Citizenship test required? Yes
  • Passive income residency pathway available? Yes
  • Investor residency pathway available? Yes

Benefits of Swiss citizenship

Switzerland is an interesting case, because it is not a member of either the European Union (EU) or the European Economic Area (EEA).

But despite this, the EU and Switzerland have a close relationship in many areas, including trade, science, and politics.

Switzerland is part of several EU policies, such as the Schengen agreement for free movement. That’s important, because it means Swiss citizens can live, work, do business, study, and retire freely in any of the EU or EEA countries.

So having a Swiss passport is just as good as having EU citizenship!

What’s more, Switzerland has no restrictions on having dual citizenship – so you’ll be able to keep your original passport (assuming that country has no restrictions either).

Drawbacks of Swiss citizenship

Becoming a Swiss citizen also has drawbacks – namely, the requirement for military service if you’re a male under a certain age.

And there’s no exemption for naturalized Swiss citizens!

If you’re a male between 18 and 35 and recently applied for citizenship, you’ll be expected to do military service.

How to become a Swiss citizen

Switzerland offers a range of different ways to become a citizen.

The process is fairly complicated compared to other countries, and the right pathway for you will depend on your individual circumstances.

In fact, Switzerland has recently made it even more difficult to acquire Swiss nationality.

Since the new Swiss Citizenship Act became law in 2018, foreigners now need a Settlement C residence permit before they can apply for naturalization.

It’s also possible for foreigners to live in Switzerland long-term without ever getting citizenship, so permanent residency is a popular option.

But, don’t forget, permanent residency doesn’t give you the same right to freedom of movement across the EU and EEA countries.

Switzerland divides its citizenship by naturalization processes into two main types:

  1. Swiss citizenship by ordinary naturalization
    • Citizenship through legal residency (assuming no Swiss family ties)
    • Citizenship through being in a registered partnership with a Swiss national
  2. Swiss citizenship by simplified naturalization
    • Citizenship by birth or descent
    • Citizenship by marriage

Let’s take a closer look at what each one involves.

1. Swiss citizenship by ordinary naturalization

Who is it for?

  • Foreign residents who hold a Settlement C permit
  • Foreigners in registered partnerships with Swiss citizens

What are the requirements?

Citizenship by naturalization in Switzerland is available to any foreigner who a) has a Settlement C residence permit and b) meets all the other requirements (bear in mind that each canton and commune will impose its own requirements).

To apply for Swiss citizenship via ordinary naturalization, you’ll need proof of the following:

  • At least 10 years residency in Switzerland including three of the five years before you apply. During that time, you also have to fulfil a minimum residence period in your specific canton, which can range from 2 to 5 years. NB, the years living in Switzerland between the ages of 8 and 18 count as double)
  • Successful integration into Swiss society
  • Knowledge of one of Switzerland’s national languages (B1 level speaking, A2 level writing). The choice of language will depend on the canton where you live.
  • Sufficient familiarity with the Swiss way of life
  • Not being a security risk or a risk to law and order
  • Not having spent any time on state benefits during the three years before applying

On top of meeting all these requirements, you’ll also have to deal with Switzerland’s unique structure for citizenship applications.

In total, you’ll need to apply at three different levels: confederation, canton, and commune.

Federal requirements are the same for everyone, but requirements between the various communes and cantons may vary a great deal.

Each commune is entitled to draw up its own rules on naturalization, although they must fall within the boundaries of canton and federal law.

You can read more about the exact requirements for your individual commune on the ch.ch website.

2. Swiss citizenship by simplified naturalization

Who is it for?

  • Spouses of Swiss citizens
  • Children of Swiss citizens
  • Stateless minors (under 18s)
  • Those who had Swiss citizenship in the past but lost it
  • Until 15 February 2023, a person under the age of 40 who is a member of a foreign family that has lived in Switzerland for three generations (from 15 February 2023, the age limit will be reduced to 25). (Source: ch.ch)

Getting Swiss citizenship by birth or descent

Switzerland doesn’t recognize citizenship through jus soli (right of soil). So a child born in Switzerland does not automatically become a Swiss national.

Instead, Switzerland’s citizenship laws are based on the principles of jus sanguinis (right of blood).

What does that mean in practice?

A child will be considered Swiss in the following cases:

  • One or both of the child’s married parents is a Swiss citizen
  • They were born to an unmarried Swiss mother or father (in the latter case, paternity must be acknowledged before the child reaches 22 years old)
  • They are a foreigner aged under 22 and have lived in Switzerland for at least five years, with a parent who has already naturalized as Swiss
  • They have a parent who lost their Swiss citizenship, but can show close ties to Switzerland

Getting Swiss citizenship by marriage

If you have been married to a Swiss spouse for at least three years, you can apply for citizenship using the simplified route.

After living in Switzerland for five years, you can apply for citizenship. This is half the length of the ordinary timeline.

Your marriage will be used as the basis for getting your temporary residency, which also includes the right to work in Switzerland.

3. Swiss citizenship by investment – does it exist?

In short: no.

Many countries in Europe have established investment migration programs in the last few years. They grant residency or citizenship to eligible foreigners in return for investing in the country.

Most of these programs DO NOT grant accelerated citizenship in return for investment. (Although Malta is an exception).

Portugal’s Golden Visa is a popular example of a European residency by investment program.

Just like most of the others, Switzerland doesn’t have a true citizenship by investment program. But it does have a procedure for foreigners to get residency by investing into the Swiss economy.

After maintaining residency status for 10 years (which will involve several renewals), the foreigner can then apply for Swiss citizenship by ordinary naturalization.

Main requirements

To get residency by investment in Switzerland, you must fulfil the following requirements:

  • Hold citizenship of a non-EU/EEA country
  • Be aged over 18 and under 55
  • Own or rent property in Switzerland
  • Have a clean criminal record
  • Have a clean bill of health
  • Show proof of an official source of income and proof of a stable financial situation

Types of investment

Switzerland offers two types of investor residency. Both of them are a pathway to applying for citizenship after 10 years.

Both grant a residence permit valid for one year, which you’re allowed to extend indefinitely.

You’ll need to prove you can meet the investment requirements each time you renew (for example, your business would need to show 1 million Swiss francs in annual turnover for each renewal).

Setting up a business in Switzerland

This route has no minimum investment amount, but the business must have annual turnover of over 1 million Swiss francs.

You will also need to create jobs for residents of Switzerland, and introduce new technologies into the Swiss economy.

Payment of a lump-sum tax

The minimum investment starts at 100,000 Swiss francs. You can invest the funds in any canton except for Zürich.

You will also need to register with the tax authorities in your canton.

How to apply for citizenship in Switzerland

First, you’ll need a temporary residence permit – valid for one year and renewable.

You can get it in several ways:

  • Through marriage to a Swiss citizen
  • By opening a business in Switzerland
  • By taking up a job at a Swiss company
  • By enrolling on a course at a Swiss university (careful: your time on a student residence permit won’t count towards your time for citizenship)
  • By making a lump-sum tax payment of at least 450,000 Swiss francs (approximately €450,000 at mid-2022 rates)

After living in Switzerland for 10 years, you can apply for a permanent residence permit. Your permanent residency status will be valid indefinitely.

Please note, permanent residence status only grants rights in Switzerland. It doesn’t replace freedom of movement across the EU and EEA. Only Swiss citizenship can do that.

The permanent residence permit is the final step before applying for citizenship.

Once you’ve received it, you can put in place the other requirements for the citizenship application. The main difference here is that you need to prove your language skills and sufficient integration into Swiss society.

Integration into Swiss society

Swiss law specifies several areas necessary for proving ‘sufficient integration’.

You must show evidence of the following:

  • Sufficient knowledge of one of Switzerland’s official languages (French, Swiss German, Italian, or Romansh)
  • Proof of participation in Swiss economic life (for example, running a business in Switzerland and regularly paying taxes)
  • Respect for Swiss constitutional values (they will test this in an interview, including your knowledge of Swiss history and customs. The migration service may also ask your commune neighbours for recommendations about your character)
  • Respect for the law and public safety (no record of fines, court cases, or any incidents with the police)

To prove your language skills, you can either get a certificate from an officially recognized language school, or pass the FIDE language exam.

The Swiss Migration Agency language website has further details on the exam and how to find recognized courses.

For proof of your participation in Swiss economic life, you can show bank statements, tax returns, and/or property deeds.

Anything that indicate your financial security in Switzerland will help with the application.

How much does it cost?

Ordinary naturalization

Fees for ordinary naturalization vary by the individual commune and canton.

Here’s a list of the typical fees you could expect to pay:

  • Commune fee: from 500 to 1,000 Swiss francs per person
  • Canton fee: up to 2,000 Swiss francs per person
  • Confederation fee:
    • couple with or without minor children: 150 Swiss francs
    • single person with or without minor children: 100 Swiss francs
    • single minor: 50 Swiss francs

You’ll also have to pay a fee for the necessary documents, such as the residency certificate, criminal record check, extract from the debt enforcement register, and so on.

Simplified naturalization

Fees for the simplified naturalization procedure in Switzerland varies according to age:

  • 250 Swiss francs for minors under the age of 12
  • 650 Swiss francs for minors aged 12 and over
  • 900 Swiss francs for adults

(Source: Ch.ch website)

FAQs: Swiss citizenship

Is it hard to get Swiss citizenship?

Yes, it is hard to get Swiss citizenship. Requirements include at least 10 years of residency, passing a language test, showing a clean criminal record and proof of integration into society. What’s more, your citizenship application must be authorized at three levels: federal, canton and commune, with associated fees for each one.

How can I get citizenship in Switzerland?

There are several ways to get citizenship in Switzerland. You can apply if you’re a child of a Swiss citizen, either by birth or adoption. If you’re married to a Swiss citizen, you can apply after three years of marriage. You could also naturalize as a Swiss citizen after living in Switzerland for at least 10 years and meeting all other requirements.

How hard is it to immigrate to Switzerland?

Immigrating to Switzerland is quite straightforward if you’re an EU/EEA citizen. In that case, you can simply move there and ask for residency after three months. Those from outside the EU/EEA will need to apply for a temporary residence permit. These are valid for one year and can be renewed indefinitely. You can get residency through a Swiss employer, by opening a business in Switzerland, by studying there, or making a lump-sum tax payment.

Can foreigners buy property in Switzerland?

Foreign nationals must have a Swiss residence permit in order to legally buy property in Switzerland. The exception is for buying property in tourist areas, which is open to any foreigner.

Does Switzerland have free healthcare?

Switzerland has universal and regulated healthcare, but basic private health insurance is compulsory for all Swiss residents. Insurance is available to everyone, regardless of their age or medical condition. Government subsidies are available to help those on low incomes pay for their insurance.

Conclusion

As you can see, Switzerland is one of the most difficult countries in Europe to get citizenship.

If you don’t have any Swiss heritage, you’ll need at least 10 years and a lot of patience to eventually get a Swiss passport.

Those with plenty of funds can start the process by getting a Swiss residency permit more easily. But Switzerland doesn’t offer any shortcuts to citizenship – which gives access to one of the world’s strongest passports!

Want an easier, faster route to EU citizenship?

We recommend looking at Portugal, Ireland, or Malta.


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