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WORK PERMITS

How to get a permit as a cross-border worker in Switzerland

If you are resident of France, Italy, Germany or Austria, and looking for a ‘daily’ job in Switzerland, you need a G permit. Here’s how to apply for one.

Commuters from Italy drive to their jobs in Switzerland. MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP
Commuters from Italy drive to their jobs in Switzerland. MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP

Cross-border commuters have been an important part of Switzerland’s labour force for decades.

It is a mutually beneficial arrangement in that it brings advantages to both sides: the workers earn higher wages than they would in their own countries, while Swiss companies get employees needed for jobs they can’t fill with local workforce.

For instance, at Geneva University Hospitals (HUG), 60 percent of medical workers come from France. Cross-border medical workers are just as essential in Ticino: about 120 doctors and 500 nurses employed in the canton’s health sector are daily commuters from the nearby Italian regions.

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Frontier workers are also widely employed in service sectors, including hotels and restaurants, as well as retail.

Who is eligible for a G permit?

You can apply if you are a foreign national resident in a border zone of a neighbouring country.

If you are a Swiss citizen who just happens to live across the border (as some dual nationals do), then you obviously don’t need a permit to work in Switzerland.

‘Border zones’ are defined by the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) as “the regions fixed in cross-border commuter treaties concluded between Switzerland and its neighbouring countries” — that is, regions that are in close enough geographic proximity to the Swiss border to make daily commuting to and from work feasible.

EXPLAINED: What cross-border workers should know about taxation in Switzerland

If you are not a citizen of a border country but of a third nation ( a country outside the European Union), you can still apply for a G permit as long as you have been a legal resident of a country adjacent to Switzerland for at least six months.

If you meet the above conditions, your next step is to find a job in Switzerland and a company that wants to hire you.

You can’t request a permit before you have a job lined up.

Once you do have an employment contract, you can apply for a G permit with the canton where your job is located. You can find the appropriate authorities as well as specific information on the application process here.

What does the G-permit entitles you to (and doesn’t)

  • Most cross-border workers typically commute to and from work on daily basis, but they must return to their main place of residence abroad at least once a week.
  • The G-permit is valid five years, unless it’s a temporary contract in which case it is valid only for the duration of employment. The permits are limited only to the issuing cantons.
  • A cross-border permit does not grant access to a B or C permit, or to Swiss citizenship.

Cross-border workers at a glance

About 343,000 cross-border commuters were employed in Switzerland in 2020 (last figures available), up from 329,000 in December 2019, according to the Federal Statistical Office (FSO). 

The majority (55 percent) commute from France, 23 percent from Italy, and 18 percent in Germany.

While Geneva has the highest number of cross-border workers (90,000 or a quarter of the total labour force), Ticino has the largest proportion (29 percent of the workforce).

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WORK PERMITS

EXPLAINED: Who can work in Switzerland but live in a neighbouring country?

Hundreds of thousands of foreigners from neighbouring nations commute to their Swiss jobs every day. What permits do these people need and how to obtain them?

EXPLAINED: Who can work in Switzerland but live in a neighbouring country?

At the end of 2021, 362,000 cross-border workers were employed in Switzerland, according to the Federal Statistical Office (FSO).

Most (203,689) are from France and work predominantly in Geneva and Vaud, but also in Jura and Basel, all of which border Switzerland.

The second-largest group, 86,322 workers from Italy, are employed mostly in Ticino, with some jobs also in Valais and Graubünden.

Next are people from Germany (63, 547) , who cross the border into Basel, Aargau and Schaffhausen

The smallest group (8,489) is from Austria, which shares a border with St. Gallen and Graubünden.

‘Border zones’ are defined by the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) as “the regions fixed in cross-border commuter treaties concluded between Switzerland and its neighbouring countries” — that is, regions that are in close enough geographic proximity to the Swiss border to make daily commuting to and from work feasible.

Why does Switzerland recruit these workers and what is in it for them?

Cross-border work is a win-win situation — that is to say, everyone involved benefits from this arrangement.

For Switzerland, it is a way to fill vacancies in professions for which Swiss citizens or foreign permanent residents can’t be found.

One of them is the healthcare sector, which suffers from a shortage of nurses and other skilled medical professionals.

At Geneva’s university hospital (HUG) alone, 60 percent of nurses and 9 percent of doctors are cross-border workers from France.

In Ticino, which shares a long border with Italy, about 120 doctors and 500 nurses employed in the canton’s health sector are daily commuters from the nearby Italian regions.

“Without cross-border workers, our hospitals would not be functioning”, Bertrand Vuilleumier, head of the hospital association in Vaud, said during the height of the Covid pandemic in 2020.

These workers are employed in other sectors as well, including construction, retail, and service and hospitality.

For these foreign employees, working in Switzerland means higher wages than they would earn in their own countries for the same jobs.

The fact that foreign employers can’t match Swiss wages causes staff shortages in border areas, as “everyone wants to work in Switzerland”, according to one employer in the French Haute-Savoie region.

How are cross-border employees able to work in Switzerland?

They must obtain the so-called G work permit, which is given only to eligible border area residents (see below).

Once you find a job in Switzerland, your Swiss employer will apply for this permit for you at the canton where you will be working. This is what this permit entitles you to (and not):

  • Most cross-border workers typically commute to and from work on daily basis, but they must return to their main place of residence abroad at least once a week.
  • The G-permit is valid five years, unless it’s a temporary contract in which case it is valid only for the duration of employment. The permits are limited only to the issuing cantons.
  • A cross-border permit does not grant access to permanent residence  (B or C permit), or to Swiss citizenship. This status also changes the way you will have to pay taxes and social deductions, which also depends on your country or residence and the canton of employment.

This article explains all the details:

How to get a permit as a cross-border worker in Switzerland

I live in the border region of France / Italy / Germany / Austria. Am I eligible work in Switzerland?

Yes, but only if you are a citizen or legal resident of the  country where you live (or another EU state), or of an EFTA nation (Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein).

The fact of merely living in a EU state doesn’t grant the right to work in Switzerland. However, if you are a citizen of a third nation, you can still apply for a G permit as long as you have been a legal resident of a country adjacent to Switzerland for at least six months.

If you are a Swiss citizen who just happens to live across the border (as some dual nationals do), then you obviously don’t need a permit to work in Switzerland.

READ MORE: Five things you should know if you’re a cross-border worker in Switzerland

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