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SWISS CITIZENSHIP

EXPLAINED: Everything you need to know about Swiss language tests for residency

The language standards for permanent residency is different than that for citizenship. Here's what you need to know.

How good does your language level have to be for permanent residency in Switzerland. Image: Pixabay
How good does your language level have to be for permanent residency in Switzerland. Image: Pixabay

Whether granting permanent residency or citizenship, whether you are ‘successfully integrated’ is the major question for Swiss authorities. 

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

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

Speaking a Swiss language is crucial. While you will not need to speak a Swiss language when you arrive, you will need to demonstrate a certain degree of language proficiency in order to stay long term. 

However, the level of language proficiency differs depending on the type of residency permission you want: residency permit, permanent residency or Swiss citizenship. 

This is outlined in the following table.

Image: Swiss State Secretariat for Migration

Image: Swiss State Secretariat for Migration

What does proficiency in a Swiss language mean?

Proficiency in a Swiss language refers to any of the major Swiss languages: Italian, German, French and Romansh. While Romansh is also a Swiss language, it is not spoken elsewhere and is only spoken by a handful of people in the canton of Graubünden. 

There are certain exceptions to these requirements for citizens of countries where these languages are spoken, as has been outlined here

English, while widely spoken in Switzerland, is not an official language of Switzerland and English proficiency will not grant you Swiss citizenship. 

Moving to Switzerland, it may appear you have three world languages to choose from, although by and large this is not the case. 

As the tests are done at a communal level, the language in the commune in question is the one you need to speak

Therefore, if you have flawless French and live in the German-speaking canton of Schwyz, you need to improve your German in order to make sure you pass the test. 

While some Swiss cantons are bilingual, this is comparatively rare at a municipal level. 

A Swiss Federal Supreme Court case from 2022 held that a person is required to demonstrate language proficiency in the administrative language of the municipality in which they apply, even if they are a native speaker of a different Swiss language. 

What Swiss language standards are required for a residency permit?

Fortunately for new arrivals, you do not need to show Swiss language proficiency. 

Generally speaking, those on short-term residency permits – such as B Permits and L Permits – are not required to show proficiency in a national language. 

There are some exceptions – for instance people on family reunification permits – however by and large people who have just arrived in Switzerland for work do not need to demonstrate language proficiency. 

What Swiss language standards are required for permanent residency?

While ‘permanent residency’ might sound like ‘residency permit’, it grants a far greater set of rights for the holder – and with it a more extensive array of responsibilities. 

EXPLAINED: What’s the difference between permanent residence and Swiss citizenship?

One of these obligations is Swiss language proficiency. 

For ordinary permanent residency – which is granted after an uninterrupted stay of five years or ten years in total – you need to demonstrate A2 level of a spoken Swiss language and A1 written. 

Citizens of Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Liechtenstein, Netherlands, Portugal and Spain are exempt from these language requirements. 

For fast-tracked permanent residency, the language level is a little higher. 

You must demonstrate A1 written but B1 spoken. 

There are also exceptions for people who can demonstrate they have a Swiss language as their mother tongue, or that they have attended compulsory schooling for a minimum of three years in a Swiss language. 

Demonstrating language proficiency must be done through an accredited test centre. The accreditation process is handled at a cantonal level. More information is available here

What Swiss language standard is required for citizenship?

The standard is slightly higher for citizenship than for permanent residency. 

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

These rules, which came into effect on January 1st, 2019, set up a uniform minimum level of language proficiency required on a federal basis. 

Previously, there was no consistency in language testing, with many cantons in the French-language region making a judgment based on the candidate’s oral skills.

Cantons are free to set a higher bar if they wish, as Thurgau has done by requiring citizenship candidates to have B1-level written German and B2 (upper intermediate) spoken German. The rules are also stricter in St Gallen and Schwyz. 

More information is available at the following link. 

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

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For members

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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