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Reader question: Do I need to know a Swiss language to get the C Permit?

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
Reader question: Do I need to know a Swiss language to get the C Permit?
Or français or Italiano? If not, you will likely not get a C permit. Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Switzerland has rules for holders of long-term or permanent permits —and for a good reason: language proficiency proves you can live and work in the country with a (relative) ease.


Along with other requirements for getting the C permit — the 'highest' one in Switzerland and a stepping-stone to citizenship — knowing the language of the region where you live is among the most important.

The government assumes, and reasonably so, that after living in Switzerland for many years  — either five or 10, depending on your nationality — you should be able to have at least basic language skills.

(The length of time of you must reside in Switzerland under the B permit before being eligible for C, is five years for EU/EFTA nationals, as well as American and Canadian citizens. The others must reside here for 10 years).

What proficiency level must you have to obtain a C permit?

In the past, language requirements for foreigners were more flexible, but from January 1st, 2020, new, tougher ones went into effect. 

READ ALSO: Switzerland introduces new rules for language proficiency certificates

From that date, to obtain a C permit certain language rules must be met.

They were designed to harmonise the language requirements for residency across Switzerland rather than the previous situation where different cantons had different rules.

But if you think the threshold set by the Swiss authourties is unnecessarily high (as is often the case in Switzerland), you will be relieved to know that they are not.

“Residence status should not depend on a person’s ability to speak accurately – this assumes a certain level of education – but to communicate in everyday situations, for example with work colleagues or with one’s children’s teachers,” the government said.


These rules are defined as follows:

If you are eligible for the C permit after permanent and uninterrupted residence in Switzerland of five years or 10 years (depending on your nationality — see above), knowledge of the national language of the region is set at A2 level for spoken (elementary / intermediate) and A1 level  (elementary) for written.

If you qualify for a fast-track permanent residence status —  for instance, if you are married to a Swiss citizen — you should speak the language of your canton at the B1 (intermediate) level, and write it at the A1 (elementary / basic) level.

You can find out more about various language proficiency levels here

These are the minimum rules set at the federal level. However, cantons are free to establish a higher bar if they wish, as Thurgau, Schwyz, and St. Gallen have done.

What proof of language proficiency is required?

Demonstrating language proficiency must be done through an accredited test centre. The accreditation process is handled at a cantonal level. 

Do take this seriously: Those who fail to meet the language requirements could face consequences. For example, C permit holders could lose their permanent residency status and have their permit downgraded to B, which would shorten the time they are allowed to remain in Switzerland.

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about Swiss language tests for residency


Are there any exceptions for the language rules?


If your native language is German, French or Italian, you obviously don’t have to prove your skills. (You will be relieved to know that High German is sufficient, knowledge of Schwyzerdütsch is not obligatory).

Foreigners who have completed primary or secondary school in one of these three languages, even if the school was outside Switzerland, are exempted as well.

Also, citizens of Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Liechtenstein, Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain, are exempt from these language requirements. 

Another exemption is granted to people who are “unable to meet the language requirements or can only do so with difficulty. This may be because of serious personal circumstances such as a physical or mental disability, learning difficulties or a serious or chronic illness,” according to the government.

However, such a person "must submit proof of their inability to meet the legal language requirements."


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