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NATURALISATION

Naturalisation through marriage: How your partner can obtain Swiss citizenship

Thousands of people become Swiss through marriage each year. Here’s what you need to know.

Naturalisation through marriage: How your partner can obtain Swiss citizenship
Seven couples kiss each other after being married on Lake Geneva. Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

One way to become naturalised in Switzerland is through marriage. 

Known as ‘simplified naturalisation’, as we’ve written before, the process of a married partner becoming Swiss is in fact not that simple. 

Here’s what you need to know. 

EXPLAINED: Why ‘simplified’ Swiss naturalisation is actually not that simple

Keep in mind that this guide relates to naturalisation where both partners already live in Switzerland, not bringing your partner to Switzerland to obtain residency. 

In this case, you will need to look into residency permits which are discussed at length at this link

What is ‘simplified naturalisation’?

Broadly speaking, Switzerland has two processes for naturalisation. 

Ordinary (or regular) naturalisation is the one most people go through, i.e. after having lived here on a work-based residency permit for a sufficient amount of time, they can apply to become a citizen (i.e. become naturalised). 

Facilitated (or simplified) naturalisation 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.

This article will focus on spouses/partners, with more information on the process for third generation foreigners available here. 

What are the requirements? 

As with everything in Switzerland, this changes from canton to canton. There are in effect two levels of regulations for simplified naturalisation: federal regulations and cantonal rules. 

As there are 26 different cantons, there will be at least 26 different sets of cantonal rules. 

If that’s not confusing enough, there can occasionally be variants at a municipal level. 

This also means that the cost can differ from canton to canton. 

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

Given the wide breadth of different rules that may apply, this guide will only look at the rules in place federally. 

What are the federal rules?

First things first, you need to yourself be a Swiss citizen to have your spouse naturalised. 

For foreign spouses of Swiss nationals, according to official Swiss government information “they must have lived for a total of five years in Switzerland, have spent the year prior to submitting the application in Switzerland and must have been married to and living with the Swiss citizen for three years”.

In addition, the person wanting to become naturalised will need to be ‘successfully integrated’ in Switzerland. 

READ MORE: How to apply for Swiss citizenship: An essential guide

What does ‘successfully integrated’ in Switzerland mean?

This is a relatively complex process which is largely subjective. 

In many instances, this requirement is more important than the knowledge of the country’s history. 

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”.

More information on this requirement is available at the following link. 

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

In addition, the person must not pose a threat to Switzerland’s security (external or internal security), which probably stands to reason. 

What language standard is required? 

As with other forms of naturalisation in Switzerland, you must speak a Swiss language in order to prove you are successfully integrated in Switzerland. 

Candidates must demonstrate A2 level writing ability (elementary) and B1 (intermediate) spoken skills. This is the level set out in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.

The main exception is if you come from a country which speaks a Swiss language as one of its native languages, like Germany, Italy or France. 

Switzerland has four official national languages: German, French, Italian and Romansh. 

More information about language levels is available at the following link. 

Naturalisation: How well must I speak a Swiss language for citizenship?

Do I have to be married? 

Unfortunately for unmarried partners under federal law, marriage is still considered central to the process – so de facto married couples will not qualify regardless of how long they have been together. 

Even registered or civil partners do not qualify. As is noted officially by the Swiss government: “Unlike for married spouses, there is no simplified naturalisation procedure for foreign nationals who are registered partners of a Swiss citizen.”

“Foreign nationals in a registered partnership may only make an application for regular naturalisation; simplified naturalisation is not possible. The applicant must have lived in Switzerland for at least five years in total, including for the 12 months prior to submitting an application. They must also have lived for at least three years in a registered partnership with a Swiss citizen and hold a residence permit (permit C).”

Unfortunately, this means naturalisation of a same-sex partner in Switzerland is currently not possible, as same-sex marriage is not legalised in Switzerland. 

This may change in the future – with same-sex marriage set to be put to a nationwide vote – but that’s probably cold comfort for people wanting to have their partner naturalised now. 

READ MORE: Switzerland to hold same-sex marriage referendum

How many partners or spouses become naturalised each year? 

Just over 10,000 people have their partners naturalised in Switzerland each year. 

According to official statistics just over a quarter of the 44,141 naturalisations in 2018 were facilitated.

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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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