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Can I travel to and from Switzerland if I lose my residence permit?

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
Can I travel to and from Switzerland if I lose my residence permit?
Losing your work permit may make your arrival in Switzerland more difficult. Photo by Daniel Schludi on Unsplash

Travelling to and from Switzerland without proper documents in hand could pose a problem — or not — depending on several factors.


As Swiss work / residency permits can be difficult to obtain, people guard them with their lives.

But even the most valuable documents or objects can be lost, which, as life would have it, often happens at most inconvenient moments — like when you are getting ready to travel abroad, or return to Switzerland from a foreign country.

Whether or not you need to panic depends on your nationality, and on whether you are leaving Switzerland or entering the country.

In the former case, you should not have much problem, assuming you have your passport in hand. Unless you are on the authorities’ radar as a criminal and are sought by police, you will likely be able to leave easily.

Things could get more complicated if you are entering the country — but only in certain cases.


If you are a citizen of the EU / EFTA state, all you need to show is either your passport or another identity document issued by your country. That’s because you have a right to enter Switzerland as you please.

This holds true whether you are arriving directly from an EU / EFTA state or from somewhere outside Europe — what matters is the passport you hold, not where you are coming from.

If, however, you hail from a third country, including the UK, the United States, Canada, Australia, India, and other non-European countries, not having your Swiss residence permit with you may make entry more difficult — though not impossible.

Unlike your EU / EFTA counterparts, you will have to queue up at a separate line, where the immigration officer will ask you how long you will stay in Switzerland (as a tourist, you can stay for up to three months). If you reply that you live and work in Switzerland, you will have to show your permit to prove your status. This is where not having your document could prove problematic.

Chances that you will be denied entry if you have a valid passport and, if needed, a visa, are slim, but you will be told to get your documents in order. The passport control officer could also inform the authorities in your canton of residence that you have entered Switzerland without a permit and that you have to get it reinstated within a certain time frame.

It is probably less likely that you will be grilled (in a manner of speaking) by a passport control officer if you travel without a work permit on a US or UK passport — as you are assumed to be a tourist who will not remain in Switzerland and seek social benefits — than, say, one from a developing country.

Procedures are basically the same regardless of whether you arrive in Switzerland directly from a third country or whether you have transited through a Schengen nation.

If, for instance, you first land in Germany before connecting to a flight to Switzerland, then you will go though the passport control at the first point of entry. If you are a citizen of a third nation, immigration officials in Germany will ask you the same questions, that is, the purpose of your trip to Switzerland. So not having your work permit with you may still pose a problem.

READ MORE: Two Passports: What dual nationals in Switzerland should know when travelling


What should you do if you lose your Swiss residence permit?

Whether you are planning to travel abroad or not, you must report the loss immediately to your nearest police station.

If you lose the permit while in another country, then notify local authorities there.

In either case, the police will issue you with a confirmation of loss, which may make it easier to return to Switzerland.

The bigger question now is how to request a replacement permit from your canton of residence.

Bring the police loss report to your local administration’s population department (Einwohnerkontrolle in German, contrôle des habitants in French, and Controllo abitanti in Italian), which is in charge of all matters related to residence in a given municipality.

Thankfully, replacing a lost permit is far easier than getting one in the first place.
In some cases, you can find online a form requesting a replacement. Print it, fill it out and bring it with you to the administration office.

READ MORE: Reader question: What should I do if I lose my Swiss residency permit?

Keep in mind that once it is reported lost, the original permit is no longer valid. In case it turns up again, you can no longer use it.

A useful tip:

This may be a no-brainer, but it needs to be mentioned anyway: keep photocopies of all your travel documents, including passport, identity card, visa, and residence permit.

While copies don’t hold the same weight as originals, it is always better to have some proof than none at all.




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