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HIGHER EDUCATION

EXPLAINED: How can foreigners get into a Swiss university?

Switzerland’s higher education system attracts thousands of new students from abroad each year. Here’s what you should know about the admission process and Swiss universities in general.

EXPLAINED: How can foreigners get into a Swiss university?
Swiss universities attract thousands of foreign students each year. Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.

Switzerland has 10 public universities — in Basel, Bern, Fribourg, Geneva, Neuchâtel, Lausanne, Lucerne, Lugano,  St. Gallen, and Zurich — as well as two institutes of technology located in Lausanne and Zurich.

Besides their field of orientation, the difference between “regular” universities and the polytechnics is that the former are cantonal institutions while the latter two are federal — both in terms of administration and funding.

In addition, there is a number of specialised universities  of applied sciences, as well as teacher training colleges.

A significant number of Swiss universities are highly ranked, with some, like Zurich’s polytechnic institute (ETH), positioned among the top schools worldwide and in the first place in continental Europe.

READ MORE: Why ETH Zurich has been ranked the ‘best university in continental Europe’

A recent study by the Federal Statistical Office (FSO) shows that “thanks to the reputation of its education system, Switzerland welcomes an ever-increasing number of international students to its universities every year”.

At the start of the 2020 academic year (the last data available), nearly 12,300 new international students enrolled in Swiss universities — 4 percent more than in the previous year — despite the Covid pandemic and travel restrictions.   

Nearly half (49 percent) of foreigners are doctoral students, 19 percent are at master’s level, and the rest are studying for a bachelor’s degree, FSO data shows.

How can foreign students enrol at a Swiss university?

You can start by visiting the website of a university you are interested in attending to find out what their specific entry conditions are, including language proficiency requirements.

While most schools offer courses in English, some may only have French, German, or Italian-taught degrees — this is, after all, Switzerland.

You can apply to a university of your choice directly online, following instructions. As an example of what is involved in the application process, here is an enrolment form for University of Geneva, which may give you an idea of what’s required elsewhere in Switzerland.

Once you are accepted, the next step is to see whether you need a student visa to study in Switzerland.

If you come from a EU or EFTA country, you don’t need a visa to enter Switzerland, but you will have to register with your local authorities within 14 days of your arrival and apply for a residence permit.

You will have to prove that you are enrolled at a university in the canton by providing a letter of acceptance along with proof of payment of the registration and tuition fees.

If you are a citizen of a third nation, you have to apply at a Swiss embassy or consulate in your home country for a D-visa to enter and study in Switzerland. 

Here too you will have to show proof of university enrolment, and must apply for a residence permit after arriving in Switzerland.

How much does it cost to study at a Swiss university?

Overall, the cost of studying in Switzerland is much lower than at top universities in the UK or the United States, but foreign students pay a significantly higher tuition than locals.

The reason is that Swiss universities are public, which means they are partly supported by tax revenue, so people who don’t reside in Switzerland have to shell out more money to study here.

As a general indication, in 2021,  foreign Bachelor students at the University of St. Gallen had to pay a semester fee which is 2.5 times higher than that of Swiss residents — 3,129 francs compared to 1,229 francs.

In the Masters program, the ratio was 2.3 (3,329 francs against 1,429 francs).

At the University of Italian Switzerland in Lugano, the most expensive in the country, foreign students paid double, or 4,000 francs.

The finding is similar in the Swiss universities that train teachers.

The price for foreigners is highest in Valais (6,500 francs), versus 500 francs for their Swiss counterparts.

At the HEP in Fribourg, the second most expensive for foreigners, the tuition per semester is 4,200 francs, which is seven times more than Swiss students pay.

By contrast, tuition at Switzerland’s top university, ETH in Zurich, is only 799 per semester.

READ MORE: How much universities in Switzerland charge foreigners compared to locals

What other costs will foreign students have to pay?

Generally speaking, and given that Switzerland is an expensive country, expect costs to be high.

Apart from the tuition and additional fees for study-associated materials, you will have to pay rent for housing where you will live, as well as for meals, public transport, the obligatory health insurance policy, and whatever other miscellaneous costs you may incur.

In some situations, international students can get some financial assistance from  the Federal Commission for Scholarships for Foreign Students (FCS).

The list of those eligible to apply is, however, limited to some postgraduate candidates and researchers from certain countries.

To check whether your nation is eligible for the programme, you can contact the Swiss Embassy or consulate in your home country.

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MOVING TO SWITZERLAND

All you need to know about bringing your pets to Switzerland

Planning pet travel to Switzerland can be overwhelming at the best of times, and the last thing you want to do is overlook some details that will delay your reunion with your furry friend. We’ve compiled all the key information that you need before making the journey to the land of cheese and chocolate.

All you need to know about bringing your pets to Switzerland

Passport

First things first: Whether you’re crossing the border in the company of a dog, cat or ferret, (for other animals see link at bottom of page) your pet must have an EU or EU-recognised pet passport from other European countries or territories (Switzerland, Andorra, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Northern Ireland, Norway, San Marino, Vatican City), if they originally came from those countries to enter Switzerland.

For countries outside Europe (including the United Kingdom), a veterinary certificate and owner’s declaration must to be presented in the place of a pet passport.

Note: A maximum of five pets can be brought into Switzerland under the current pet regulations.

Microchip

In addition to packing your pet’s passport, your furry companion will also need to be microchipped (ISO standard 11784, scannable with a reader according to ISO standard 11785) prior to getting a rabies vaccination.

Rabies vaccination

Since dogs, cats, and ferrets can introduce diseases from other countries, travel with these animals is subject to strict veterinary regulations to prevent animal diseases being brought into Switzerland.

Animals younger than 12 weeks of the above-named species do not have to be vaccinated against rabies. In any case, the owner must confirm by means of a written declaration that their pet has never come into contact with wild animals whose species is susceptible to rabies since birth. The latter includes but is not limited to bats, raccoons, skunks, and foxes.

Dogs, cats, and ferrets between 12 and 16 weeks old must be vaccinated against rabies. If said pet is to enter Switzerland earlier than 21 days after its vaccination, the owner must again provide the aforementioned written declaration.

In the case of young animals that accompany their mother and are still being suckled, no declaration from the owner is required if the mother can be proven to have been vaccinated against rabies before birth. Puppies up to 56 days old must be accompanied by their mother if they are to enter Switzerland.

Travelling to Spain with your dog

Travelling to Switzerland with your dog. Image: Tadeusz Lakota / Unsplash

Registration

Pets brought into Switzerland by air are checked at the red customs exit. Should the pet not meet the entry requirements, or the owner fail to provide the required documents, the animal will be taken to the border veterinary office in the freight area for an extensive examination. All resulting costs are the responsibility of the owner, so preparation is key!

When bringing your buddy into Switzerland by land via an EU country, it is necessary to register your pet with Swiss customs, and owners are advised to keep the receipts for proof and, if applicable, the payment of VAT.

As a dog owner you will further have to register your animal as well as yourself (as a dog owner) with the Swiss municipality that you reside in. Your veterinarian must additionally register your dog in Switzerland’s dog database (AMICUS) within 10 days of crossing the border.

Beware: It is prohibited to enter Switzerland with cropped or docked dogs (ears and/or tail). However, owners can consult with the Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office FSVO ([email protected] or BLV, Postfach, 3003 Bern) regarding possible exceptions, such as short stays, other forms of holidays, or moving house.

After being taken over the border, it is prohibited to sell or hand over pets to new owners.

Dog Tax

While we’re on the topic of dogs, man’s best friend is taxed in Switzerland. The fees vary from canton to canton, with some charging a flat rate while others choose to tax according to your pet’s size and weight.

In 2011, the municipality of Reconvilier made headlines when it resurrected a law from 1904 that allowed the town to put down dogs if their owners didn’t pay the annual pet tax for their pooch. Luckily, this caused quite an uproar across the country and the law never saw the light of day. Still, taxes must be paid to this day. But on the flip side, poo bags are free! (Well, sort of…there’s a dog tax for that).

Dog Classes

On June 1st, 2022, Switzerland updated its dog law. The amended law sees that new dog owners who are looking to adopt a dog – whether it be a small or big breed – must take part in mandatory dog classes consisting of a two-hour course with an exam as well as a practical course comprising six lessons.

Everyone whose pooch crossed the border before May 31st is to adhere to the previous dog law, which dictates that puppies and young dogs take part in dog classes. Some adult large breed dogs must also be signed up. It is best to ask your local municipality for more details.

Swiss animal laws

Switzerland has some of the tightest animal welfare laws in the world and while this is great news for the animal world, it might mean that simply bringing along your single pet may go against the Swiss law.

If your furry friend happens to be a “social animal”, such as a guinea pig or parakeet, you will be required – by law! – to get your pet a friend for company. It is also essential to ensure that your pet’s cage is an appropriate size (I’m looking at you fish owners!).

For a comprehensive list on the Swiss import regulations for animals please CLICK HERE.

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