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For members

SWISS CITIZENSHIP

Would you pass a Swiss citizenship test?

Becoming a Swiss citizen requires you to take a test. Here's a chance to see whether you would pass.

Would you pass a Swiss citizenship test?
File photo: Martin Abegglen
Twenty-five-year-old Funda Yilmaz was born in Switzerland, has lived there her whole life, works locally in a technical profession, speaks fluent Swiss German and is engaged to a Swiss.
 
Despite passing the written exam, after an interview with local councillors – an important step in the naturalization process in Switzerland, where the cantons and communes have more say than the federal government – Yilmaz was rejected in her canton of Aargau, because she wasn’t “sufficiently integrated,” reported the Aargauer Zeitung at the time.
 
Apparently, Yilmaz had not given satisfactory answers to a set of over 70 questions that the panel asked her, covering everything from her personal life to her job and her knowledge of Swiss mountains. 
 
 
Since the transcript of her interview was made public by the magazine Schweizer Illustrierte last week, many have criticized the arbitrary nature of the questions, which the Tages Anzeiger called an “embarrassment”.
 
The transcript highlights the highly specific and often bizarre questions that Yilmaz faced, as she is quizzed about her health insurance model, her social life, how often she holidays in Switzerland and whether she likes hiking (she said no).
 
Since citizenship procedures vary between cantons, local residents’ councils do not all ask the same questions.
 
The Buchs transcript is an example of an arbitrary system that has previously seen an American professor turned down after 39 years in Switzerland because he didn’t know enough about his local region, a Dutch woman rejected because she complained about cow-bells and a Kosovan family turned down partly because of the clothes they wore.
 
“The fact that arbitrariness plays a role in today’s system is un-Swiss,” wrote the Tages Anzeiger, which called for changes to be made. 
 
So would you pass? Test yourself by seeing if you could answer some of the questions that Yilmaz was asked.
 
Do you know the Swiss emergency numbers?
 
Have you been to the August 1st (Swiss National Day) celebration?
 
Do you know how your accident insurance works?
 
What would you do if you had a medical emergency?
 
Name some local recreation/sports clubs?
 
What public events are held in your town?
 
What would you say is typically Swiss?
 
Do you know any typical Swiss sports?
 
What museums does the local area offer?
 
Do you go on holiday within Switzerland?
 
How many language regions does Switzerland have?
 
What are the names of your local cinemas?
 
What do you know about the Alps?
 
Where is the Matterhorn?
 
 
 
For members

LIVING IN SWITZERLAND

What are the benefits and drawbacks of becoming a Swiss citizen?

Getting a Swiss passport offers many perks and benefits, but also a number of duties that must be fulfilled. Here are some of them.

What are the benefits and drawbacks of becoming a Swiss citizen?

The road to Swiss naturalisation — whether the so-called ‘simplified’ one or regular path — is not an easy one.

While obtaining the citizenship is generally easier for citizens of the EU / EFTA countries than for non-Europeans (including people from the UK and the United States), the process is typically long and complex. 

In addition to shorter queues at the airport, people who do become Swiss can enjoy rights and privileges that those living here with foreign passports, don’t have.

The rights

Permanent residency

As a Swiss citizen, you are entitled to live in the country, leave for as long as you want, and return to Switzerland at any time.

This is what distinguishes Swiss citizens from holders of C permits: while permanent residency permit grants sweeping rights to its holders, including unrestricted access to employment, it does have certain limitations.

For instance, the permit is valid indefinitely, but only as long as its holder doesn’t leave Switzerland permanently.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: What’s the difference between permanent residence and Swiss citizenship?

Swiss nationals have these rights basically from cradle to grave, but there are some  exceptions: the government can revoke passports of citizens — whether Swiss-born or naturalised — who are convicted of war crimes, terrorism, or treason.

This drastic measure is extremely rare, but it does happen — most recently in cases of Swiss citizens joining the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist group.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: Can Swiss citizenship be revoked – and can you get it back?

Voting (a lot)

Frequent referendums (typically held four times a year and covering a variety of communal cantonal and national issues) are the backbone of Switzerland’s unique system of direct democracy.

Citizens can vote in all of them and also have the right to run for any political office.

For the Swiss, more than for nationals of other countries, this grassroots brand of democracy means they have the power to shape the political process that impacts their lives —from approving or rejecting legislative decisions to creating their own laws.

READ MORE: How Switzerland’s direct democracy system works

Purchasing property

In general, foreigners can buy a home in Switzerland, but a lot depends on their legal status with regard to residency, the type of property they want to purchase, and the canton in which they reside. 

There are also various restrictions in terms of purchasing investment properties.

Swiss citizens, on the other hand, can buy a property anywhere, without any restrictions (other than the size of their bank account, naturally).

READ MORE: Can foreigners buy property in Switzerland?

Being represented / defended abroad

The Swiss government must step in and try to help if its citizens are in any kind of trouble while abroad — whether they find themselves in jail or in a hospital in a foreign country.

Responsibilities

So that’s the good news about your Swiss passport, but with rights come responsibilities, and once you are fully Swiss you also have certain obligations.

Military service

The most obvious one is that if you are a Swiss male over 18 years of age, you will have to serve in the military.

Once you become a Swiss citizen and are between the ages of 18 and 30, you can expect to be conscripted.

In general, having another citizenship in addition to the Swiss one is not going to exempt you from military service in Switzerland. However, there is one exception: the obligation to serve will be waived, provided you can show that you have fulfilled your military duties in your other home country.

If you are unfit for service, or if you fall under the category of dual citizens who served in foreign armed forces (as mentioned above), you will have to pay the so-called Military Service Exemption Tax.

You must pay it from the age 19 until you turn 37 — provided, of course, that you become Swiss during this time.

This annual tax amounts to 3 percent of your taxable income, or a minimum of 400 francs.

Women don’t face compulsory conscription (although they can volunteer), so consider this recompense for the gender pay gap. 

READ MORE: Do naturalised Swiss citizens have to do military service?

Compulsory public office

If you are a Swiss citizen living in a small community, you may be required to run for public office in your town, if no other candidates are willing to do so.

This is due to a quirk in the electoral system that states that if no-one is willing to run for office, local officials can add the names of all registered voters in the area to the ballot.

This means that you can find yourself running for office against your will – even if you have no knowledge of or interest in politics.

If elected, you must serve your term, but you do have the right to appeal the voters’ decision, citing valid grounds such as being over 65 years of age, providing proof that serving in a public office would be detrimental to the your health or the local economy, or moving to another town if nothing else works.

READ MORE: How Switzerland can force you to run for public office 

Giving up a passport

Switzerland is perfectly happy to let you be a dual national, but certain countries – including India – don’t allow their citizens to take on another nationality.

So depending on your home country, you may be required to give up your original passport when you become Swiss.

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