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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

PROPERTY

Where to find property in Switzerland for under CHF 500k

Switzerland is not known for being a cheap country and property prices are higher than in other European countries, but it's still possible to find property bargains, some for even under CHF 100k.

Where to find property in Switzerland for under CHF 500k

Property prices are rising in much of Europe and Switzerland is no exception. As the average salary is high in Switzerland, finding homes for under CHF 1 million in some parts of the country becomes almost impossible.

Even when you do find cheap properties, they are sometimes quite literally too good to be true. For example, Switzerland’s famous one-franc home scheme had to be scrapped after nobody signed up. The cheap homes were, actually, too expensive when considering the costs for renovation or even how remote they were.

READ ALSO: Six no-gimmick websites that help you save money in Switzerland

Some of the properties in the scheme weren’t connected to the electricity grid, sewer system or even roads.

So, where can we find cheap(er) homes in Switzerland – that are still liveable or could be excellent investments for those who enjoy fixer-uppers (or huge DIY projects)?

Not an easy search

To find these gems, we used a property website that allowed us to search for real estate in the whole of Switzerland (instead of just a few main cities) and showed us homes with at least three rooms.

The price limit was set at CHF 500,000 (while our colleagues in Germany had theirs set at €100k, but, hey, this is Switzerland).

As of August 2022, we found 203 houses and 80 apartments following these criteria on sale.

Most of these definitely need some fixing up, but you can still snatch a home for under CHF 500,000 with lovely views of lakes and mountains or big terraces and gardens.

Going through the addresses with some of the properties, some things stand out:

Head for the border – most of the most affordable places are in Italian-speaking Switzerland. However, you can also find some of them in the French regions. In both cases, they are located very near the border with France or Italy.

Forget about cities – All the properties we found are quite far from the major cities of Zürich, Bern, and Geneva, which makes sense as the cost of living tends to rise in those regions. If you’re looking for a cheap home, you’re highly unlikely to find one in city centres.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Why is Switzerland so expensive?

Consider property type – It is also worth mentioning that there seemed to be a distinction between the homes in the west and those in the south. In the French region, there are more apartments and newer properties, with some outstanding options.

While in the Italian south, most of the properties are houses – and you need to inspect well because some will need a lot of work.

Research services – You should definitely check carefully the property’s location – some are not connected to basic services or even roads.

Renovation costs – Almost all of the properties we found were ‘renovation projects’. Some can turn out to be very good investments, but it takes time and work to renovate. Before buying, get an estimate of the likely works so you can see whether the property really will save you money in the long term, and be honest about your level of DIY/building skills and how much work you are willing or able to do.

Extra costs – Besides renovating costs, you must be mindful of property taxes and other living costs and how much they are in the region where you are buying property. Prices can vary quite widely depending on the canton, so research well.

You can check all our Property in Switzerland stories here.

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