1. Switzerland has two processes for obtaining Swiss citizenship. Ordinary (or regular) naturalization is the one most people go through; facilitated (or simplified) naturalization is a shorter and less complicated process usually open to the foreign spouses and children of Swiss citizens, and, since early 2017, third generation foreigners. According to official statistics just under a quarter of the 40,689 naturalizations in 2015 were facilitated.
2. There’s more than one set of requirements. To obtain regular naturalization a foreigner must meet the requirements laid out by three levels of government: the commune, the canton and the Confederation. Following changes to the federal foreigners' law that came into effect on January 1st 2018, an applicant must now have lived in Switzerland for ten years (it was previously 12) or less if you spent your adolescence here, and have a C residence permit (before, other permit holders could apply). They must also show they abide by Swiss law and order, pose no threat to the country and (here’s where it gets subjective) be well integrated, a broad term that covers your participation in Swiss economic, social and linguistic life. It’s usually down to the cantons and communes to tell federal authorities how integrated they think an applicant is, though the new federal law stipulates a number of obligations, including the requirement that you encourage your family members to integrate, too.
3. If you've been on benefits recently, you can't apply. Another change from 2018 is that if you've claimed social welfare assistance in the past three years you can't apply for citizenship, unless you give back the amount you received. Claiming benefits goes against the federal requirement that an applicant must contribute to Switzerland's economy through work or training.
4. How long you’ve lived in your canton is a big factor. You may have lived ten years in Switzerland but how long have you lived in your current place of residence? Don’t expect to move canton (or even commune) and then apply for citizenship – every canton has its own rules on this but all expect you to have lived in the area for a certain length of time. While cantons including Geneva and Bern only require two years’ residency, some require much longer, with St Gallen stipulating eight years. (Check your canton’s requirements here)
5. You must speak the local language to be in with a chance. Decent language skills have always been necessary for Swiss citizenship but requirements used to vary depending on the canton. But under the 2018 changes, there is now a required minimum level of language proficiency. Candidates must demonstrate A2 level writing ability and B1 spoken skills under the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. Cantons are free to set a higher bar if they wish, as Thurgau has done.
6. Cantonal and communal rules vary considerably. Each canton has different requirements (look up yours here), usually centring around how integrated you are in the community you live in. Do you have Swiss friends and work colleagues who deem you part of the community? Do you know a thing or two about the local area? Are you down with Swiss traditions, politics and history?
7. Local residents can have a say. Most cantons and/or communes require you to face an interview to prove your integration and knowledge of Switzerland where you could be quizzed on anything from the number of lakes in your canton to which days are public holidays and the names of local traditions and festivals. In some cases a communal residents’ committee gathers to vote on your application, so it pays to keep in with the locals – last year a Dutch woman hit the headlines after she was turned down by her community for campaigning against cowbells (though she later won citizenship on appeal).
8. It takes a while. The length of the process varies depending on where you live, but expect several years. The canton of Vaud has so far quoted up to two and a half years, but says that should be reduced to 18 months for applications after January 2018. And don’t think you can move during the process or you may end up having to start all over again.
9. It can be costly. Since there are three levels of authority, there are three different fees to pay. While the Confederation only requires 50-150 francs, costs set out by the cantons and communes can be much higher. Geneva’s basic rate for an adult application is 1,250 francs, plus the communes then add an extra 500-1,000 francs. And all this with the chance that you could be turned down, as one long-term American resident was in 2014.
10. Your likelihood of success may depend on where you live. According to the Tages Anzeiger Western Switzerland is more generous with naturalizations than elsewhere. Official statistics show that Zurich naturalized the most people in 2015 (9,607), but it also has the biggest population, of 1.5 million. The canton of Geneva, population nearly half a million, naturalized 6,093 people in 2015, despite having a third of the population of Zurich and half the population of Bern, where only 2,587 people obtained citizenship.