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SWISS CITIZENSHIP

Reader question: What does being ‘successfully integrated’ in Switzerland mean?

One of the criteria for foreigners to be naturalised in Switzerland is that they should be well integrated into Swiss society. In many instances, this requirement is more important than the knowledge of the country’s history.

Reader question: What does being 'successfully integrated' in Switzerland mean?
Complaining about bells around cows' necks is a ground for refusal of naturalization. Photo by Fabrice Coffrini / aFP

For the authorities, whether on the federal, cantonal, or municipal level, it is important that new citizens have fully adjusted to, and assimilated, “the Swiss way of life”.

This means that they “should participate in the economic, social and cultural life of society”, according to the State Secretariat for Migration.

This requires not only fluency in the national language of a particular region, but also familiarity with the Swiss way of life and local customs.

READ MORE: Zurich makes naturalisation free for under 25s

While preparing for their naturalisation procedures and questions from officials, many foreigners learn about Switzerland’s history.

They are then surprised when they are asked instead about events of regional importance, such as the meaning of certain local holidays, what the main industries in the area are, or even the names of local wines.

Applicants are also sometimes asked for specific examples of how they participate in the life of their towns or villages, and what local organisations they belong to. Being a member of local choirs or volunteer fire brigades is particularly valued, as it demonstrates the willingness to be part of, and contribute to, their local communities.

This may explain why some people who seemingly qualify for Swiss citizenship because they have lived in the country for a long time, speak the language, and are gainfully employed, are turned down by local authorities.

One such example was a British café owner in canton Schwyz, who was denied citizenship after failing to answer a question about the origins of a Swiss cheese dish, raclette. 

READ MORE: How much does it cost to become a Swiss citizen?

Another well publicised example was a Dutch woman living in Aargau, whose first attempt to get a Swiss passport was turned down because she complained about the noise of cow bells in her village.

In 2020, an Italian man was denied Swiss citizenship because he failed questions on the test about animals in the local zoo. The decision was however overturned by a federal court. 

It may seem that decisions in all these cases, and others like it, were baseless and incomprehensible.

However, they illustrate that naturalisation officials determined there was lack of integration and acceptance of Swiss customs — two of the most important criteria for Swiss citizenship.

READ MORE: IN NUMBERS: How many people become Swiss each year – and where do they come from?

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LIVING IN SWITZERLAND

Reader question: How can I find a good lawyer in Switzerland?

Although you hope to never need one, sometimes you might have to seek legal advice in Switzerland. This is how to find it.

Reader question: How can I find a good lawyer in Switzerland?

When you move to a new country, including Switzerland, you have to look for a whole new network of professionals.

You may or may not have immediate need for the proverbial butcher, baker, and the candlestick maker, but sooner or later you will have to find other professionals, with the most essential one being a doctor.

READ MORE: What you should know about finding a doctor in Switzerland

Chances are you will also need, at one time or another, a legal counsel. That should in principle not be a problem as Switzerland has an abundance of lawyers — 7,317 currently practicing in the country, according to European data.

The question of how to find one that best suits your needs depends on many factors — for instance, what kind of legal advice you are seeking (estate planning, inheritance, divorce, etc), whether you speak the language of your region or need an English-speaking attorney,  and whether you can pay (the often exorbitant) fees, or need free counselling instead.

Speaking of fees, the hourly rates vary widely from one lawyer or legal practice to another, with some charging as little as 100 francs or as much as 1,000.

Much depends on the lawyer’s location — with the ones practicing in large cities like Zurich and Geneva being more expensive than their counterparts in small towns or rural regions  — the area of specialisation and general reputation — the more prominent the attorney is with a roster of famous or well-heeled clients, the higher fees they will typically charge.

An important thing to know is that, depending on the advice you are seeking, you may not need a lawyer at all, but rather a public notary; in Switzerland, these professionals perform many tasks that only attorneys can do in other countries, such as drawing contracts and establishing other legal documents.

Here are some tips on how to find a lawyer or a notary that best fits your needs:

Word of mouth

As with any other services, personal recommendations from people you know and trust are best.

This will spare you the effort of “investigating” the person, such as researching their credentials and feedback from previous clients — the due diligence process that everyone should undertake before hiring any professional.

Professional associations

If you don’t know anyone who can recommend an attorney, do your own research.

Professional organisations such as the Swiss Bar Association (SBA) and the Swiss Federation of Notaries are good resources, as they both allow you to look for professionals in or near your place of residence.

English-speaking attorneys

Many Swiss lawyers and notaries, especially those practicing in large urban centres where many foreign residents live, speak English.

But if you want to make sure yours does, the UK government put together a list of English speaking attorneys in Switzerland, which should help you with your search.

‘Free’ legal advice

In principle, all legal assistance comes at a cost, except for exceptional cases, which are defined by each canton.

SBA has a canton-by-canton list, where the designation “GRATIS JUDICATURE” stands for “free legal advice”.

However, there is also such a thing in Switzerland as “legal protection insurance” (Rechtsschutzversicherungen in German, protection juridique in French, and protezione giuridica in Italian).

It covers attorney and other associated fees if you undertake court action against someone, are sued, or simply need legal advice.

There are two different types of legal protection insurance — one specifically for traffic accidents and the other for all other matters. Sometimes they are combined.

Typically, this insurance covers costs of legal representation associated with contract disputes, employment, loans and debts, healthcare, housing, retail purchases, and travel.

The annual cost of this insurance, which you can purchase from practically every carrier in Switzerland, is minimal, especially if you consider how much you’d have to spend if you hired an attorney yourself.

Another benefit of these policies is that a lawyer will be assigned to you by the insurance company so you won’t have the headache of looking for one on your own.

This article provides more information about this insurance:

EXPLAINED: Why you need ‘legal protection insurance’ in Switzerland

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