Can foreigners choose where to live in Switzerland or does it depend on your permit?

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
Can foreigners choose where to live in Switzerland or does it depend on your permit?
Depending on your origin and work permit, you can't just pack up and move. Photo by Brina Blum on Unsplash

If you are about to move to Switzerland, or are already here but want to change your address, there are some things you should know.


The first thing you should know about Switzerland (if you don’t already) is that this country has many rules — both written and unwritten ones.

Some of them relate to where foreign nationals can and cannot live—an important piece of information if you are looking for a place to settle in.

In a nutshell, your residence options depend on your nationality and the kind of work permit your hold.


If you have a passport from an European Union state, or else Norway, Iceland, or Liechtenstein (which, along with Switzerland, are part of EFTA), then your choice of domicile is wide open.

Due to the Free Movement of Persons Agreement (AFMP) between Bern and Brussels,  nationals of EU / EFTA get an almost unlimited access to Switzerland, as well as sweeping rights overall, which include being able to change jobs and move from one canton to another. 

In other words, if you a citizen of the 27 countries within the EU and three within the EFTA, then you can settle anywhere you want in Switzerland, provided you have a residence permit from the Swiss commune in which you are living, or moving to.

READ ALSO: Just how freely can EU citizens move to (and within) Switzerland?

However, this freedom to settle wherever you want within Switzerland is more restricted for citizens of third nations — that is, those from outside the EU / EFTA.

Less rights, more limits

People from third countries have far fewer privileges—not only in terms of being allowed to work in Switzerland in the first place, but also regarding the canton where they can choose to settle.

You may have heard good things about a specific location in Switzerland, but unfortunately you can’t just live anywhere you want, unless, of course, you are very wealthy

According to the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM), "admission of third-state nationals to the Swiss labour market is only granted if it is in the interests of Switzerland and the Swiss economy as a whole."

This means that permits / visas will be granted only to highly skilled specialists who can’t be recruited from among Swiss or EU/EFTA workforce.

If you fall under this category and are permitted to work in Switzerland, you must, in principle, live in the canton where your employer is located  and can’t freely move within Switzerland. This is because your permit is not automatically transferred to, and valid in, another canton (there are, however, some exemptions to this rule, explained below).

You can, however, move from one municipality to another, as long as you remain within the same canton.


What happens if you must change jobs?

While you can’t just pack up and move to another canton if your permit is tied to a specific job and a specific location, there are some situations when you may be allowed to do so —but you must obtain an official permission first.

The rules differ according to the kind of permit you have.

According to SEM, holders of a short-term L  permit "may be allowed to change jobs if they cannot continue to work for their current employer or if they cannot reasonably be expected to do so."

“However, they must remain within the same sector as well as the same profession, and the change of job will be permitted only if it has not been necessitated by the employee's own behaviour." 

Those with a B permit, can, generally speaking, change their employers without the need for authorisations, unless the residence permit is linked to a specific job.

However, relocations will not be permitted if a person is unemployed or there are grounds for revocation of their permits.

Another scenario under which non-EU / EFTA nationals could be granted the right to move is if their company relocates to another canton, or wants to send the employee to a subsidiary in another canton.

In both these cases, a transfer is generally allowed, as long as the new permit is granted by the canton in question.


And there is one more exception

The exemptions cited above concern third-country nationals who are employed in Switzerland under a B or L permit.

If, however, you are a non-EU / EFTA national who has a permanent residence status (that is, the coveted C permit), then you can move freely from one canton to another, and settle anywhere you want.



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