Living in Switzerland For Members

How moving to another Swiss canton could complicate a foreigner's life

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
How moving to another Swiss canton could complicate a foreigner's life
Image by Ruth Vivian Aschilier-Foser from Pixabay

Even for a Swiss citizen, relocating from one canton to another is often a burden. For a foreign national, such a move could be even more of a headache.


As Switzerland is such a small country, you may think that changing your place of work and residence is no big deal, apart from the usual stress of packing and transporting your belongings from point A to point B.

That is true if you move within the same municipality or the same canton, in which case the administrative burden is minimal

But changing cantons is usually more onerous — even more so for foreigners with certain types of work permits.

New canton, new rules

While federal laws apply across Switzerland, the cantons wield quite a bit of power as well.

Each one has its own laws, as well as various rules and regulations — including those relating to foreigners.

READ ALSO: Why Switzerland’s cantons are so powerful 

That’s because certain cantons are more inclusive of foreigners — in terms of political rights and citizenship — than others.

Studies have shown, for instance, that in terms of naturalisaton, "the cantons of Zurich, Appenzell Ausserrhoden and Jura have the most inclusive provisions. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the cantons of Aargau, Schwyz and Graubünden have the least inclusive provisions, generally imposing higher requirements in terms of residence, language, civic and cultural integration, good moral character and economic resources."

Yet another study revealed that the level of tolerance toward foreigners differs across the country, with the split observed along the geographical and linguistic lines. 

For instance, foreign nationals are “perceived as different” less frequently in the French and Italian-speaking cantons than in the German ones, with the exception of Zurich.

There is also an urban – rural divide at play.

“Openness is comparatively less wide among those politically oriented to the right and those living in sparsely populated areas," the study found.

Overall, "the population living in urban spaces turns out to be more open to national or cultural difference. Inhabitants of densely populated municipalities generally show more openness than people living in low-density areas".

All those factors play a role in how easy or difficult a transition from one canton to another could be for a foreigner.

You can't just pack up and move to another canton. Photo by Brina Blum on Unsplash


But there is more to consider as well.

Other difficulties foreigners could face in another canton are more of an administrative and practical nature:

Work permit

While people from the EU / EFTA states and their family members don’t require a new permit if they move to another canton, those from so-called third countries, who have short-term L or B permits face tougher rules.

They can’t just pack up and move because their permits are not automatically transferred to and valid in another canton.

Instead, they must request a new permit from the canton they are moving to, and that could pose a problem.

The reason is that non-Europeans are subject to more restrictive conditions than their EU /EFTA counterparts, including permits based on the quota system.

As individual cantons have only a limited number of permits for third-country nationals, and the hiring requirements are very specific (only highly-qualified professionals who can’t be found either in Switzerland or the EU / EFTA), it is unlikely that these people will be allowed to change cantons.

The only exception would be if the third-country national has lived in Switzerland long enough to receive a permanent residence B or C permit, in which case they can move around the country the same way as people from the EU / EFTA.

READ ALSO: Does my work permit let me move from one Swiss canton to another?



Moving within the same linguistic region is much less of a hassle than relocating to a canton where a different language is spoken — unless, of course, you are proficient in that language as well.

The linguistic factor is important not only from the practical point of view — the ease of communication and integration — but also because it is a determining factor in whether or not you can obtain the Swiss citizenship.

Candidates for naturalisation must demonstrate A2 level writing ability (elementary) and B1 (intermediate) spoken skills set out in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. 

And knowing one national language is not sufficient if that language is different from that of your new canton.

For example, if you used to live in Zurich (and speak German), and move to Geneva, you must master French in order to be eligible for naturalisation.

That may be less of an issue if you don’t plan to apply for citizenship, but will still be important from the practical point of view.


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