Residency permits For Members

Reader question: Can I keep my Swiss C permit if I go to study abroad?

Sandra Sparrowhawk
Sandra Sparrowhawk - [email protected]
Reader question: Can I keep my Swiss C permit if I go to study abroad?
You can teach online or in person. Photo by Yan Krukau:

There are situations when you may want to leave Switzerland for a longer time for example to study abroad? What does this mean for those with C permits?


Unlike ‘lower’ type of permits, such as L for ‘short-term residents’ and B for ‘resident foreign nationals’ - which are regulated by various conditions and restrictions - those who have a C permit enjoy almost the same rights as Swiss citizens.

Among them are unrestricted access to employment, being able to change jobs or cantons of residence, setting up own businesses, buying real estate without any restrictions, and having access to educational grants.

The one big thing that separates a C permit from a citizenship is the right to vote or run for office.

Permit C is also a stepping-stone to naturalisation - that is, if all the required conditions are fulfilled.

No wonder foreigners who obtain a C permit guard it with their lives.

But what if you want to study abroad? Does that mean you risk losing your C permit?

Not necessarily.

READ MORE: How long can I stay out of Switzerland and keep my residency rights?

Special regulations for minors

According to the city of Zurich, Switzerland has a special practice in place for foreign minors living in the country who may wish to study elsewhere without losing their C permit.

In this case, it is possible for foreign children and young people (18 years and under) to keep their parents’ place of residence as their so-called 'centre of life' under civil law in Switzerland.

In Switzerland, underage children and minors who are under the care of their parents usually have their place of residence with their parents under civil law.

This is especially the case if the parents exercise parenting authority during their child’s stay abroad, provide a livelihood for them, and regulate and monitor the care and custody of the child.

Still, though foreign minors living in Switzerland are generally permitted to attend school, college, or university overseas, certain limitations still apply.


Children and youths who have spent longer than four years abroad and only visit Switzerland to see their parents occasionally or for the odd vacation are in danger of losing their C permit.

This is because children who choose to spend years studying abroad without spending any significant time in Switzerland are regarded as having their 'centre of life' abroad – even if their parents live in Switzerland permanently.

In this case, the foreign minor's C permit would expire even if the child or young person did not stay abroad for an uninterrupted six months.

But why is that?

Foreign children and young people living in Switzerland for the majority of the time have the best chance at successful integration. Attending school abroad is therefore incompatible with the values set out in the Federal Act on Foreign Nationals and Integration which promotes integration and therefore, requires a foreign child to live in Switzerland.

If your child happens to be under the age of twelve and has been granted the C permit as part of a ‘family reunification’, then note that this permit has been granted to enable your child to live permanently with their parents in Switzerland and integrate into Swiss schools and the Swiss way of life.

Criteria must be fulfilled to keep permit

So, which criteria must be fulfilled for minors to keep their C permit while studying abroad?


In order to maintain their C status in Switzerland, the minor must present a confirmation letter from the school they wish to attend to their cantonal authorities. The cantonal authority will then inform the child or young person of the next steps.

The minor must also be no older than 18 years when beginning their studies abroad.

Their studies may also not exceed four years at an international school.

But perhaps most crucially, the child or young person must visit their parents in Switzerland ‘periodically’ during the school holidays and will need to prove these visits to their cantonal authorities with the required travel documents.

READ MORE: Can Switzerland downgrade my C work permit?

But what about adults?

If you are lucky enough to have a C permit and are aged 19 and over, then you can study abroad for up to six months a year (but no longer than four years) and keep your permit ‘on hold’.

You must request this suspension from your cantonal authorities in writing, explaining the reasons why you plan to remain abroad for a longer-than-permitted period of time.

If you simply leave for more than six months without ‘freezing’ your permit, then it will expire in due time, and you will have to re-apply for it under the usual admission conditions.

But remember: if you decide to leave, don’t just pack your bags and sneak out like a thief in the middle of the night.

You must notify the local Population Office ((Einwohnerkontrolle / Contrôle des habitants/ Controllo abitanti) of your departure and fill out any required paperwork.


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