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TRAVEL

Unmarried couples: How can I visit my partner in Switzerland?

Since the start of the pandemic, unmarried couples have found it difficult to reunite in Switzerland. Here are the documents you need to visit your partner.

Unmarried couples: How can I visit my partner in Switzerland?
A couple enjoys a shared fondue in Switzerland. Photo: STEFAN WERMUTH / AFP

Before the pandemic, visiting your partner in Switzerland involved little more than the money for a flight and perhaps a tourist visa. 

Since March, 2020 however, Switzerland has tightened the rules for entry – which has meant many couples found it challenging or even impossible to see each other. 

While the rules were originally so strict that only married couples could reunite in Switzerland, this was relaxed in August of 2020. 

READ MORE: Unmarried partners again allowed into Switzerland

In order to do so however, unmarried couples will need to ‘prove’ their relationship to satisfy Swiss authorities. 

Here’s what you need to know. 

How can I visit my boyfriend or girlfriend in Switzerland?

First things first, your citizenship and where you are arriving from will be crucially important. 

If you are a Swiss citizen or resident, then there will be no issues. You can come to Switzerland at any time.

If they live in a EU / Schengen state or in the small European states like Andorra, the Vatican, Monaco and San Marino, they can come for a visit as well. 

More information is available at the following link. 

UPDATED: Who can travel to Switzerland right now?

How can people from outside Europe visit their partners in Switzerland? 

For non-Schengen countries, you’ll need to do the following. 

Generally speaking, these people are not allowed to enter Switzerland at the moment, except for a handful of nations deemed low-risk, including Australia, New Zealand, Rwanda, South Korea, Singapore, and Thailand.

However, the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) does have exceptions for families and partners of Swiss residents.

This what the SEM website says:

“Entry by the immediate family members of a Swiss citizen who are registered with a Swiss foreign representation and are entering Switzerland with that Swiss citizen for a stay here does not require authorisation. Immediate family means the Swiss citizen’s spouse or registered partner and minor children (including step-children). In certain circumstances it also includes unmarried partners”.

SEM then goes on to specify entry rules for unmarried partners:

Entry to visit a partner to whom one is not married or in a registered partnership with and with whom one does not have children is possible if:

  • The person wishing to enter the country has an invitation from the partner living in Switzerland and the partner is a Swiss citizen or has a short-stay permit, temporary or permanent residence permit.
  • Confirmation of the existing partnership is submitted. This can be a document confirming the relationship which has been signed by both partners. 
  • Proof can be given that at least one face-to-face visit or meeting took place in Switzerland or abroad.
  • Entry is not permitted on the basis of a mere holiday acquaintance.
  • Proof must be given that a relationship has already lasted for some time and is regularly cultivated. The persons concerned must provide credible evidence that they have been in regular contact.

How do I prove someone is my partner to visit Switzerland? 

There are no hard and fast rules as to which documents will be sufficient, but the government wants to be convinced that this is a “long-term relationship which is cultivated on a regular basis”, with no definition of “cultivation”. 

The SEM provides some examples, including “documents that document a long-term civil partnership (for example, letters and e-mails, social media, telephone bills, flight tickets, photos); Evidence such as a copy of your passport with entry and exit stamps that at least one mutual personal visit or meeting has taken place in Switzerland or abroad.”

One couple speaking with Swiss news outlet 20 Minutes said they used instagram photos as evidence of their relationship at the suggestion of the SEM. 

A couple sits above the clouds in Switzerland. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Are there any exceptions? 

There are other exemptions as well, which SEM defines as “cases of special necessity”.

They include people coming to Switzerland because a close relative is dying; to visit close relatives who have medical emergency; to continue essential medical treatment; or for important family events like funerals, weddings or births.

The full list of exceptions and other entry-related information for visitors from third countries can be found here. 

If your family or partner are eligible based on the above exceptions,  they may need a visa to enter Switzerland, depending on their country of residence. They have to apply for one at the Swiss foreign representation in their country, explaining and documenting why they are a case of special necessity.

In certain cases, the foreign representation may be able to provide documents confirming the situation.

For those who don’t need a visa, the border control officers in Switzerland or at a Schengen airport decide whether the requirements of necessity have been met, SEM said.

Keep in mind that all the above rules apply only to family visits, not general tourism. Rules for third-country tourists are here.

READ MORE: UPDATE: When will Switzerland relax restrictions on international travel?

 

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OFFBEAT

Is Switzerland’s male-only mandatory military service ‘discriminatory’?

Under Swiss law, all men must serve at least one year in compulsory national service. But is this discriminatory?

Swiss military members walk across a road carrying guns
A new lawsuit seeks to challenge Switzerland's male-only military service requirement. Is this discriminatory? FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

All men aged between the ages of 18 and 30 are required to complete compulsory military service in Switzerland. 

A lawsuit which worked its way through the Swiss courts has now ended up in the European Court of Human Rights, where the judges will decide if Switzerland’s male-only conscription requirement violates anti-discrimination rules. 

Switzerland’s NZZ newspaper wrote on Monday the case has “explosive potential” and has “what it takes to cause a tremor” to a policy which was first laid out in Switzerland’s 1848 and 1874 Federal Constitutions. 

What is Switzerland’s compulsory military service? 

Article 59 of the Federal Constitution of Switzerland says “Every man with Swiss citizenship is liable for military service. Alternative civilian service shall be provided for by law.”

Recruits must generally do 18 weeks of boot camp (longer in some cases). 

They are then required to spend several weeks in the army every year until they have completed a minimum 245 days of service.

Military service is compulsory for Swiss men aged 18 and over. Women can chose to do military service but this is rare.

What about national rather than military service? 

Introduced in 1996, this is an alternative to the army, originally intended for those who objected to military service on moral grounds. 

READ MORE: The Swiss army’s growing problem with civilian service

Service is longer there than in the army, from the age of 20 to 40. 

This must be for 340 days in total, longer than the military service requirement. 

What about foreigners and dual nationals? 

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

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

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 waved, provided you can show that you have fulfilled your military duties in your other home country.

If you are a Swiss (naturalised or not) who lives abroad, you are not required to serve in the military in Switzerland, though you can voluntarily enlist. 

How do Swiss people feel about military and national service? 

Generally, the obligation is viewed relatively positively, both by the general public and by those who take part in compulsory service. 

While several other European countries have gotten rid of mandatory service, a 2013 referendum which attempted to abolish conscription was rejected by 73 percent of Swiss voters. 

What is the court case and what does it say? 

Martin D. Küng, the lawyer from the Swiss canton of Bern who has driven the case through the courts, has a personal interest in its success. 

He was found unfit for service but is still required to pay an annual bill to the Swiss government, which was 1662CHF for the last year he was required to pay it. 

While the 36-year-old no longer has to pay the amount – the obligation only lasts between the ages of 18 and 30 – Küng is bring the case on principle. 

So far, Küng has had little success in the Swiss courts, with his appeal rejected by the cantonal administrative court and later by the Swiss Federal Supreme Court. 

Previous Supreme Court cases, when hearing objections to men-only military service, said that women are less suitable for conscription due to “physiological and biological differences”.

In Küng’s case, the judges avoided this justification, saying instead that the matter was a constitutional issue. 

‘No objective reason why only men have to do military service’

He has now appealed the decision to the European level. 

While men have previously tried and failed when taking their case to the Supreme Court, no Swiss man has ever brought the matter to the European Court of Human Rights. 

Küng told the NZZ that he considered the rule to be unjust and said the Supreme Court’s decision is based on political considerations. 

“I would have expected the Federal Supreme Court to have the courage to clearly state the obvious in my case and not to decide on political grounds,” Küng said. 

“There is no objective reason why only men have to do military service or pay replacement taxes. On average, women may not be as physically productive as men, but that is not a criterion for excluding them from compulsory military service. 

There are quite a few men who cannot keep up with women in terms of stamina. Gender is simply the wrong demarcation criterion for deciding on compulsory service. If so, then one would have to focus on physical performance.”

Is it likely to pass? 

Küng is optimistic that the Strasbourg court will find in his favour, pointing to a successful appeal by a German man who complained about a fire brigade tax, which was only imposed on men. 

“This question has not yet been conclusively answered by the court” Küng said. 

The impact of a decision in his favour could be considerable, with European law technically taking precedence over Swiss law.

It would set Switzerland on a collision course with the bloc, particularly given the popularity of the conscription provision. 

Küng clarified that political outcomes and repercussions don’t concern him. 

“My only concern is for a court to determine that the current regulation is legally wrong.”

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