Moving to Switzerland For Members

Reader question: Can I stay in Switzerland indefinitely if I am not a Swiss citizen?

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
Reader question: Can I stay in Switzerland indefinitely if I am not a Swiss citizen?
You can enjoy Switzerland's beauty indefinitely if you meet all the requirements. Photo: Pixabay

While many foreign nationals living in the country eventually become naturalised, most never do. But can they remain in Switzerland long-term nevertheless?


Of the approximately 8.9 million people currently living in Switzerland, roughly 2.2 million — 26 percent of the population— are foreign nationals.

Most never become Swiss citizens, yet have no plans to return to their home countries. But how long can they continue to live  in Switzerland on a foreign passport?

The answer to this question is: it depends.

Different passports, different rules

Your ability to live (or not) in Switzerland indefinitely is determined by what kind of permit you have which, in turn, is based on your nationality.

Most foreign residents come from EU / EFTA states because they have the easiest access to the Swiss labour market. They live here with either a residence B or settlement C permit.

The first one is issued to EU/EFTA citizens who have an unlimited employment contract; in such cases, the permit is valid for five years.

After this period of time, it can be "upgraded" to a C permit — the highest type of permit in Switzerland — provided the resident has satisfied all the requirements related to language proficiency and integration (more about this below).

Once they receive the C permit, foreign residents can live in Switzerland indefinitely and enjoy almost the same rights as Swiss citizens.

Among them are limitless employment opportunities, 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 (it does, however, have some limitations, which are listed below).

So if you manage to transition from a B to a C permit, you can stay in Switzerland as long as you like, without having to obtain Swiss citizenship.


But, there's a 'but'

Things are a bit more complicated though for non-EU / EFTA nationals (including post-Brexit UK citizens). Their road toward toward a permanent status is bumpier.

If you fall into this category, then your wait to upgrade from a B to a C permit is twice as long — 10 continuous years.

There are, however, some exemptions from these rules.

For instance, Americans and Canadians are on par with their EU/ EFTA counterparts: they can also apply for a C permit after five years of continuous residence on a B permit.

Key factor: integration

To have your B permit extended or upgraded to C — allowing you to live in Switzerland permanently — you must meet all the requirements, such as language proficiency and integration criteria.

This requires not only fluency in the national language of a particular region (German, French or Italian), but also familiarity with the Swiss way of life and local customs.

Further, Switzerland expects resident foreigners to be gainfully employed and self-sufficient financially, thus ruling out the possibility that they will resort to social aid or accumulate debt.

READ ALSO: Five ways to help you integrate in Switzerland


Regarding language requirements, in order to have your B permit extended, or be eligible for a C, you must demonstrate the A2-level writing ability (elementary) and B1 (intermediate) spoken skills. This is the level set out in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages to which Switzerland adheres. 

There are, however, some exceptions to the language rule.

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.

There you have it — you can live in Switzerland indefinitely without becoming a citizen, as long as you meet a few not-so-simple rules.


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Jan 2023/07/15 07:57
You don't need “fluency” in a local language. Far from it: you only need B1.

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