Swiss citizenship For Members

Who's exempt from taking a Swiss citizenship test for naturalisation?

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
Who's exempt from taking a Swiss citizenship test for naturalisation?
Only a few people are exempted from the citizenship exam. Photo: RDNE Stock project on Pexels

Obtaining Swiss citizenship is not easy, as many people who have gone through this process will tell you. A naturalisation exam is part of this procedure, although there are exceptions.


Like in other countries, in Switzerland becoming a citizen hinges on passing a naturalisation test.

But, unlike most places, Switzerland doesn’t have one standard national test that is administered throughout the country; instead, each canton and municipality can devise their own list of questions — written, oral, or both.

Typically, candidates have to demonstrate their knowledge of Switzerland in terms of geography, history, and political institutions, as well as familiarity with their local communities.

Additionally, proficiency in the language of the canton is also a requirement (read more about this below).

You can glean what your canton has in store for you, here

Must every applicant take this test?

Generally speaking, all those applying for ordinary naturalisation will have to take (and of course pass) the exam, whatever form it takes in a given canton.

Those seeking the fast-track (also known as ‘simplified’ or ‘facilitated’) option, may find more flexibility in exam requirements, depending on their personal circumstances.

For instance, the so-called ‘third-generation’ foreigners — those who were born in Switzerland and have lived their entire lives here — or spouses of Swiss citizens who fulfil the residency and integration criteria — may find that the test is nothing more than a chat with local naturalisation authorities.

As one American who is married to a Swiss (and therefore applying for a fast-track procedure) says: "I had to go for an interview at a local police station in my town. The person asked me a couple of questions such as ‘Do you feel well integrated in our community’ and ‘is your language good enough to communicate with the locals.’ After that, it started to snow and the police officer had to go direct traffic. Soon after, I got a letter from the canton congratulating me on becoming Swiss."

By no means should this one example be taken as a general trend. But it shows that in some situations, the exam phase can be relatively painless — especially if there is snow.


So does every foreigner have to take the exam or are some people exempted from it?

There are a few exceptions.

For instance these groups do not generally have to complete a citizenship test:

  • Children under the age of 18 who seek citizenship together with their parents
  • By the same token, foreign children who were adopted as minors by Swiss citizen(s) parents don’t have to take the exam either
  • If you apply for citizenship via the ancestry route through paternal or maternal descent — through jus sanguinis — regardless of your place of birth, then you don’t have to take the test. (Jus sanguinis is a law by which citizenship is determined or acquired by the nationality of one or both parents). According to the Swiss Citizenship Act (SCA), you are considered Swiss if your Swiss parents are married to each other and either party is a Swiss citizen

READ ALSO : Can I obtain Swiss citizenship through ancestry? 

Everyone else should, in principle, take the exam but, as mentioned, depending on your personal circumstances this could be an informal affair.


But there is more: language

Unless you are exempted from the test altogether, most applicants must pass the language test.

In January 2019, the government introduced new rules for language proficiency required to obtain Swiss citizenship.

Each of the levels was set by the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) and based on the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR), a definition of different oral and written language levels created by the Council of Europe.

This is what SEM’s requirements look like, with the rules for spoken proficiency higher than for written one.

This is what different levels mean:

A1 A2 : Beginners
B1 B2 : Intermediate
C1 C2 : Advanced

You can’t become a citizen unless you can prove that your proficiency corresponds to at least the level in this chart.

Only two groups are given an exemption from this requirement:

  • Foreigners who were born in Switzerland, have lived here their whole lives here, and have gone through the compulsory Swiss school system
  • Immigrants from Germany, France, Italy, and Austria, as long as they live in the language-appropriate canton

Keep in mind, however, that these are the minimum national requirements, with individual cantons free to introduce stricter criteria — and a few have done so.

This means that if you apply for naturalisation in one of these cantons, you must satisfy their individual language rules.

READ ALSO: Do all cantons have the same language rules for Swiss citizenship?


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