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What happens if you overstay your 90-day limit in Switzerland?

Helena Bachmann in Geneva
Helena Bachmann in Geneva - [email protected] • 3 Oct, 2022 Updated Mon 3 Oct 2022 13:29 CEST
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Tourists are allowed to visit long enough to take stunning photos of Swiss scenery. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

If you are coming to Switzerland as a tourist, you can’t overstay your welcome. But rules differ depending on where you live.

Switzerland’s tourism authorities are bending backwards to attract foreign visitors to visit the country.

This is evident from these two messages that the (retiring) tennis champ Roger Federer made with his famous friends:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wXcBGfXXL4w&t=6s

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IyhpSZBuYoE&t=3s

The extent to which Switzerland depends on tourist revenue became clear during the Covid pandemic when borders closed and the hospitality sector slowed down to the point of almost shutting down completely.

However, this doesn’t mean that tourists can remain here for as long as they like.

These are the rules

Visitors (as opposed to permanent residents or others who have some kind of official status in Switzerland such as a long-stay visa), can only remain in the country for 90 days. 

It doesn’t matter whether the person visits from a Schengen nation or a third country, and whether they need a visa to enter Switzerland or not — the 90-day rule is the same for everyone.

There are, however, some differences, based on the person’s country of residence.

If you live in a EU / EFTA state and want to remain in Switzerland longer than three months, you must apply for a residence permit at the Population Registry Office in a given canton.

However, third-country nationals (eg Brits, Americans, Canadians) are not eligible to exceed their stay.

Whether they entered on a tourist visa, or without it — for instance, residents of the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Israel, and Singapore don't need a visa for Switzerland — they must leave the country within 90 days.

The 90-day rule states that you can stay 90 days out of every 180 - so in total you can spend six months in Switzerland, but not all in one go. It's important to note that the 90-day limit applies to the whole of the Schengen zone; so time spent in eg France, Germany or Italy also counts towards your 90-day limit. 

These rules are in place not only in Switzerland but throughout Schengen and in other countries outside the EU as well; they are in place to prevent people from staying longer than allowed, and possibly seeking employment or welfare benefits.

What happens if you are caught overstaying your limit?

Swiss police don’t patrol the streets looking for foreigners who have been staying in the country for more than 90 days.

More often than not, these offenders come to the attention of authorities by chance: perhaps someone reports them, or they are ‘caught’ during a random identity check, or in other accidental ways, or your overstay could come to the attention of border police when they stamp your passport as you leave the country. 

The extent of punishment depends, again, on whether the offender comes from EU / EFTA or a third country, with penalties being stricter for the latter category.

According to the government, those fro EU / EFTA living in Switzerland "without permission must leave the country. If they do not voluntarily comply with this obligation to leave, they can be returned to their home country against their will and at their own expense".

“A third-country national who stays for more than 90 days without a residence permit or a long-stay visa is overstaying and is therefore in an irregular situation. This can lead to a criminal prosecution and to an entry ban to the Schengen area", which includes Switzerland.

READ MORE: UPDATE: What are the current rules for entering Switzerland?

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Helena Bachmann in Geneva 2022/10/03 13:29

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