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How to apply for Swiss citizenship: an essential guide

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How to apply for Swiss citizenship: an essential guide
Taking out Swiss citizenship can be a costly and drawn-out experience and there are no guarantees. Photo: AFP
17:27 CEST+02:00
With Swiss National Day coming up this Thursday, The Local takes a look at the complicated process of taking out citizenship.
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 (but not registered partners) and children of Swiss citizens, and, since early 2017, third generation foreigners
 
In the case of facilitated naturalization for foreign spouses of Swiss nationals, you will generally need to have been married for at least three years and to have lived in Switzerland for at least five years in total, including for the 12 months leading up to submitting your application.
 
According to official statistics just over a quarter of the 44,141 naturalizations in 2018 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 also apply).
 
 
Applicants must also show they abide by Swiss law and order, pose no threat to the country's internal or external security, 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 either through being active in the workforce or undergoing 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).
 
In Zurich, you are required to have lived for at least two uninterrupted years in the commune of prospective naturalisation.
 
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 (elementary) and B1 (intermediate) 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 by requiring citizenship candidates to have B1-level written German and B2 (upper intermediate) spoken German.
 
Note that you are exempt from having to prove your language competency if your native language is one of the Swiss national languages, or if you have done five years of compulsory schooling in Switzerland or if you have a secondary school leaving certificate or tertiary qualification completed in a Swiss national language.
 
 
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.
 
ln 2017 a Dutch woman hit the headlines after her citizenship application was turned down by her community because she campaigned against cowbells (though she later won citizenship on appeal).
 
8. It can take 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 Swiss francs (€45 to €135), costs set out by the cantons and communes can be much higher. 
 
Fees payable at the communal level range from 500 to 1,000 francs while cantons can charge up to 2,000 francs for the application process.
 
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
 
In Zurich, the cantonal fee is 1,700 francs and then communal fees must be added to that.
 
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 2018 (10,170), but this is also the most populous canton in Switzerland. 
 
15 (9,607), but it also has the biggest population, of 1.5 million. The canton of Geneva, population nearly half a million, naturalized 4,670 people last year, despite having a third of the population of Zurich and half the population of Bern, where only 2,675 people obtained citizenship. 
 
11. Switzerland allows for double nationality
 
Swiss citizens can hold two passports, and many do. In fact around one in six people in the country are now dual nationals. This means you will only lose your other nationality if the country of that citizenship does not recognize dual nationality.
 
Have you taken out Swiss citizenship? Get in touch with us and tell us your story here.
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