Work permits For Members

What is the difference between Swiss work and residence permits?

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
What is the difference between Swiss work and residence permits?
Some foreigners have the right to come to Switzerland to work, but not to live here. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

Foreign residents in Switzerland typically use the two terms interchangeably, but are they really one and the same?


It is logical that a foreign national who has a permit to work in Switzerland, will also have to live in the country.

So in this sense, the work and residence permits are (in the vast majority of cases) closely linked together — inseparable, you might say.

Except that sometimes they are not.

How is this possible?

Let’s look beyond the most common scenario, that of B or C permit holders who are employed in Switzerland on a short or long-term basis, and reside in the country while they work here.

In one such case, however, these foreign nationals can work in Switzerland, but not live here: they need a work permit but not the residence one.n In the other, it is the opposite — these people are allowed to reside here but cannot hold a job, which means they can obtain a residence status only.

Who are those foreigners with ‘partial’ rights?

The first group that is subjected to residence (but not employment) restrictions are cross-border G-permit holders.
These 390,000 workers who commute to their Swiss jobs from the neighbouring countries must return home each day, or at least once a week, which means that they can be employed in Switzerland, but not live here.

Of course, as citizens of EU nations (France, Germany, Italy, and Austria) and an EFTA state (Liechtenstein), these people have the right not only to work but also to LIVE in Switzerland — as  long as they change their G permits for B, the latter ones being fairly easy to obtain for this particular group of people.

READ ALSO: Who can work in Switzerland but live in a neighbouring country?


And then there are those who can live in Switzerland but not work here.

This concerns non-EU/EFTA nationals, whose access to both the job market and residency is restricted — with one exception.

A little and rarely used Article 30 of the Federal Aliens Act sets out derogations from the regular, strict admission requirements.

It enables foreigners from outside Europe to move to Switzerland — but only if they are sufficiently wealthy to live here without having to work or (even worse) resort to welfare benefits.

The law states that in cases of “important public interests” — that is, plenty of money in state coffers — cantons can grant citizens of third countries permissions to settle on their territories with a B residence permit. 


What does “sufficiently wealthy” actually mean in Switzerland?

Obviously, the sky’s the limit and the amounts depend on where in the country you want to live. But just as an indication, “buying” your way into the residency permit in Geneva costs roughly 312,522 francs in tax revenue per year, 415,000 in Vaud, and 287,882 in Valais.

Add to this a fee you would have to pay a specialised relocation attorney — reportedly at least 50,000 francs — to negotiate a lump-sum tax agreement for you with authorities of the canton where you would like to live.

If you meet all of these requirements, you will have a right to residency in Switzerland, but will not receive and work permit (which is just as well, since with this kind of money, you definitely won’t have to look for a job to supplement your income.

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about ‘buying’ Swiss residency



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