Swiss citizenship For Members

Is Zurich's naturalisation test wrong about the number of Swiss cantons?

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
Is Zurich's naturalisation test wrong about the number of Swiss cantons?
Basel-City is technically not a 'half-canton'. Photo: Pixabay

Switzerland’s citizenship procedures are complex, but they become even more so if naturalisation tests ask ‘tricky’ questions.


Most applicants for a Swiss passport, except possibly those going through a fast-track process, must pass cantonal exams, which are designed to test the candidates’ knowledge of Swiss history, geography, political system, and other aspects of the country’s — and canton’s — life.

So far, this sounds totally reasonable — except when the expected answer to a question contains an error.

This is the case in Zurich, where the ‘correct’ answer to one of the 350 questions on the canton’s exam is, in fact, incorrect.

The question asks: “How many cantons does the Swiss federal state have?”

Among the four answer choices, the one considered to be the right one is “26 (20 cantons and six half-cantons).

Except, it is not.

As one alert observer, who is obviously better informed than Zurich naturalisation authorities, noted, since 1999, there have been no half-cantons in the federal constitution.

Instead, the correct designation for Obwalden, Nidwalden, Basel-City, Basel-Coutry, Appenzell Ausserrhoden and Appenzell Innerrhoden, has been "Canton with half a cantonal vote."


Asked by 20 Minuten news portal to clarify this mistake, Remo Leu, the attorney for Zurich’s naturalisation office, replied that the question was intentionally simplified for candidates whose proficiency in German is not good enough to understand the ‘half-canton’ technicalities.

“In the canton of Zurich, applicants for naturalisation must have written knowledge of German at level A2,” which is considered as ‘basic’ according to Common European Framework of Reference, which is valid for Switzerland as well.

For that reason, “the official term 'Canton with half a professional vote' does not meet the linguistic requirements," Leu pointed out.

He conceded, however, that some questions on the naturalisation test are not formulated correctly, but from the point of view of ‘average’ citizens, they would be considered correct nevertheless.

"We are constantly adapting the list of questions," though the one about demi-cantons will remain on the test for the time being, Leu added.


What are some of the questions you’d be expected to answer (correctly, of course), on a citizenship exam?

Each canton is free to devise their own, but some of the typical ones could include:

Do you know the Swiss emergency numbers?

Have you been to the August 1st (Swiss National Day) celebration?

Do you know how your accident insurance works?

What would you do if you had a medical emergency?

Name some local recreation/sports clubs?

What public events are held in your town?

Do you know any typical Swiss sports?

What museums does the local area offer?

Do you go on holiday in Switzerland?

How many language regions does Switzerland have?

What are the names of your local cinemas?

What do you know about the Alps?

Where is the Matterhorn?
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Don’t be surprised, however, if you get asked questions that you may not be able to answer (and the failure to do so could cost you the citizenship).

For instance, you could be  asked about the origin of the cheese dish raclette, or what animals live in neighbouring cages at your local zoo.


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