How can a foreign teacher find work in a Swiss school or university?

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
How can a foreign teacher find work in a Swiss school or university?
There are teaching opportunities in Swiss classrooms for foreign teachers. Photo by CDC on Unsplash

More Swiss cantons are hiring teachers from abroad, but candidates must meet certain criteria.


Too few teachers are being trained in Switzerland, which means that by the beginning of the new decade, between 43,000 and 47,000 new professionals would need to be recruited

To remedy this situation, various cantons are taking steps, or are planning to do so in the near future, to fill the gap with teachers trained abroad. 

READ ALSO: Swiss cantons move to hire more foreign teachers 

Does this mean that any foreign teacher can easily find work in Switzerland?

Let’s define ‘foreign’ first.

If you are a foreign national who has been entirely trained at one of Swiss Universities of Teacher Education (PH), and receive a corresponding diploma, then you are in the clear, and no further action is needed.

If, however, you studied abroad and obtained a foreign diploma, then you may have to be-retrained in Switzerland, and meet the local hiring criteria.

One thing to remember is that cantons are responsible for their own school system, so requirements (as well as opportunities) may be different from one region to another.

Teachers with foreign teaching diplomas can apply to the Conference of Cantonal Directors of Education (EDK) to have their credentials recognised in Switzerland.  

The EDK will decide what (if any) further training or certification you may need in order to work in a school in a given canton.


This is how it works

The EDK will compare your foreign training with the one provided in Swiss universities.

If it is found to be equivalent, you will receive an official certificate of recognition of your diploma in Switzerland, and can then look for a job.

If, however, there are significant differences in the level of education, the EDK will ask for so-called ‘compensatory measures’ — for instance, via a ‘Certificate of Advanced Studies’ (CAS) —  to be carried out in a Swiss PH before your diploma can be recognised.

The exact steps are described here.

Language proficiency

Obviously, if you come from Germany, France, Italy, Austria, or Liechtenstein, and intend to teach in the linguistically-appropriate canton, then this is one hurdle you don’t have to overcome.

For all the others, however, candidates must provide proof of sufficient language skills in one of the main Swiss national languages.

“As proof of such language skills in German, French or Italian, an internationally recognised language diploma at Level C2 of Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CERF) the is required,” according to the EDK.

For those who only teach a language that is not a Swiss national language (such as English), a B2 CERF level in German, French, or Italian is sufficient.

READ ALSO: How can I have my foreign qualifications recognised in Switzerland? 


What about work permits?

If you come from an EU / EFTA state (Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein), then you will obtain a permit easily – if you haven’t gotten one yet.

For those from third countries, things are more complicated because you are subject to special quotas and will be admitted only if your presence in Switzerland is considered to be “in the general economic interest.”

This means that you must not only be a highly qualified professional in your field, but also that no Swiss or EU / EFTA national can be found for a given teaching position.

However, if you are a third-country national who already lives in Switzerland with a valid permit, then your candidacy will be considered.

All of the above applies to those looking for a job at primary and secondary schools, but what about universities?


Different procedure

The hiring system at Swiss universities is different.

While foreigners can, of course, apply for a teaching job, most universities recruit professors they need themselves.

Overall, foreigners constitute just over half of teaching staff at Swiss universities.

This is especially the case in the two federal polytechnic institutes — the ETH in Zurich and EPFL in Lausanne —  with 70 and 82 percent, respectively — of foreigners among their academic staff.

Typically, these institutions recruit staff from reputable universities abroad to fill specific  teaching positions — for instance in sciences.

These people are hired as visiting professors at the invitation of one of the faculties. Such appointments are made for a minimum of one month and a maximum of one year, though they can be extended.

In such cases, universities will apply for a visa and a work permit for visiting professors from outside the EU / EFTA.


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