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SWISS CITIZENSHIP

EXPLAINED: Everything you need to know about Swiss language tests for residency

The language standards for permanent residency is different than that for citizenship. Here's what you need to know.

How good does your language level have to be for permanent residency in Switzerland. Image: Pixabay
How good does your language level have to be for permanent residency in Switzerland. Image: Pixabay

Whether granting permanent residency or citizenship, whether you are ‘successfully integrated’ is the major question for Swiss authorities. 

Being successfully integrated means that they “should participate in the economic, social and cultural life of society”, according to the State Secretariat for Migration.

Reader question: What does being ‘successfully integrated’ in Switzerland mean?

Speaking a Swiss language is crucial. While you will not need to speak a Swiss language when you arrive, you will need to demonstrate a certain degree of language proficiency in order to stay long term. 

However, the level of language proficiency differs depending on the type of residency permission you want: residency permit, permanent residency or Swiss citizenship. 

This is outlined in the following table.

Image: Swiss State Secretariat for Migration

Image: Swiss State Secretariat for Migration

What does proficiency in a Swiss language mean?

Proficiency in a Swiss language refers to any of the major Swiss languages: Italian, German, French and Romansh. While Romansh is also a Swiss language, it is not spoken elsewhere and is only spoken by a handful of people in the canton of Graubünden. 

There are certain exceptions to these requirements for citizens of countries where these languages are spoken, as has been outlined here

English, while widely spoken in Switzerland, is not an official language of Switzerland and English proficiency will not grant you Swiss citizenship. 

Moving to Switzerland, it may appear you have three world languages to choose from, although by and large this is not the case. 

As the tests are done at a communal level, the language in the commune in question is the one you need to speak

Therefore, if you have flawless French and live in the German-speaking canton of Schwyz, you need to improve your German in order to make sure you pass the test. 

While some Swiss cantons are bilingual, this is comparatively rare at a municipal level. 

A Swiss Federal Supreme Court case from 2022 held that a person is required to demonstrate language proficiency in the administrative language of the municipality in which they apply, even if they are a native speaker of a different Swiss language. 

What Swiss language standards are required for a residency permit?

Fortunately for new arrivals, you do not need to show Swiss language proficiency. 

Generally speaking, those on short-term residency permits – such as B Permits and L Permits – are not required to show proficiency in a national language. 

There are some exceptions – for instance people on family reunification permits – however by and large people who have just arrived in Switzerland for work do not need to demonstrate language proficiency. 

What Swiss language standards are required for permanent residency?

While ‘permanent residency’ might sound like ‘residency permit’, it grants a far greater set of rights for the holder – and with it a more extensive array of responsibilities. 

EXPLAINED: What’s the difference between permanent residence and Swiss citizenship?

One of these obligations is Swiss language proficiency. 

For ordinary permanent residency – which is granted after an uninterrupted stay of five years or ten years in total – you need to demonstrate A2 level of a spoken Swiss language and A1 written. 

Citizens of Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Liechtenstein, Netherlands, Portugal and Spain are exempt from these language requirements. 

For fast-tracked permanent residency, the language level is a little higher. 

You must demonstrate A1 written but B1 spoken. 

There are also exceptions for people who can demonstrate they have a Swiss language as their mother tongue, or that they have attended compulsory schooling for a minimum of three years in a Swiss language. 

Demonstrating language proficiency must be done through an accredited test centre. The accreditation process is handled at a cantonal level. More information is available here

What Swiss language standard is required for citizenship?

The standard is slightly higher for citizenship than for permanent residency. 

Candidates must demonstrate A2 level writing ability and B1 spoken skills. This is the level set out in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.

These rules, which came into effect on January 1st, 2019, set up a uniform minimum level of language proficiency required on a federal basis. 

Previously, there was no consistency in language testing, with many cantons in the French-language region making a judgment based on the candidate’s oral skills.

Cantons are free to set a higher bar if they wish, as Thurgau has done by requiring citizenship candidates to have B1-level written German and B2 (upper intermediate) spoken German. The rules are also stricter in St Gallen and Schwyz. 

More information is available at the following link. 

Naturalisation: How well must I speak a Swiss language for citizenship?

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MOVING TO SWITZERLAND

‘Peaceful coexistence’: How one Swiss canton helps foreign citizens integrate

Switzerland is a country with many immigrants, but not necessarily an easy place to integrate. One canton has an integration program that helps immigrants learn about the country and make local friends, as writer Ashley Franzen experienced.

'Peaceful coexistence': How one Swiss canton helps foreign citizens integrate

There are many things to prepare for when making an international move: packing, paperwork, scheduling the move, and more. It can be a lot for anyone to manage, but sometimes the hardest work comes once you’ve actually arrived and are getting settled. So how does one prepare for arriving and integrating into a country where everything is so different and new?

Canton Zug has put together an integration plan that helps families learn about their new surroundings, including an informational evening program where new arrivals can attend sessions and learn about Zug’s political, social, and cultural landscapes, all while socialising and meeting other new residents.

According to the Canton of Zug’s website, “Integration is an active and reciprocal process between the people who come from foreign countries to live here and the indigenous people.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to fast track permanent residency in Switzerland

“The aim of integration is a peaceful coexistence on the basis of common values so that people who come here from foreign countries may have the equal opportunity to take part in Switzerland’s social, cultural and political life.”

Chocolate and new friends: my experience with ‘New in Zug’

I found out about the “New in Zug” program, which offers a series of sessions on different topics, towards the end of the scheduled agenda. Still, I was able to attend a session led by an Immigration Advisory Center (FMZ) consultant and a local police officer who had been working in Zug for nearly 25 years. There were about eight of us in attendance.

This particular course was actually a mixture of the German and English languages, as we all had a basic level of German, but we found out that English was the uniting language otherwise.

We learned about the security of the canton and city and learned about the history of safety in Switzerland, including a portion on traffic laws.

It was a valuable and informative couple of hours and there were light refreshments, including water and chocolates. In addition, I was able to connect with someone who was part of a local international women’s group and gained a bit more information about other ways to integrate.

READ ALSO: REVEALED: Are these the ‘best’ places to live in Switzerland?

There are many international groups that are running in places like Zug, Lucerne, and Zurich, but this is a unique opportunity to connect with the local services and locals involved in promoting integration.

My family also participated in a hosting program. Local families volunteer to be paired with recently arrived families – such as mine – in order to help give a new perspective of your new city in ways that a local does, with tips and suggestions to make you feel more at home.

We were paired with a couple that had been in Zug for over ten years. They were similar in age to us and their two kids were within a year or two of our own. We had an initial video meeting to chat and get to know one another a bit before we decided to try and meet up.

View over Lake Zug with the old town of Zug and the Zytturm. By Schulerst – CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikicommons

We met down near Lake Zug and walked through a market/festival set-up along the promenade. It was wintertime and very cold, but the kids were delighted to be with kids their age who spoke some English. There were many activities in which they could partake, including a mini train ride, and they seemed to enjoy themselves.

Having a local family on-hand to call with questions about family services, including daycare or other programs, was an asset to our family. We received recommendations about various things to do as a family, including local destinations that were good for day trips and rainy days.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The striking contrasts between Switzerland’s regions

Overall, my experience with the FMZ and their programs was extremely positive. Their office is close to public transportation and a short walk from the lake. While I’ve continued to explore Zug and the surrounding areas on my own, I know that the local government provides access to helpful and unique resources to help develop my relationship with the canton and the country.

As a foreigner living in Switzerland, I already feel a sense of pride with regard to the various cultural and traditional activities and perspectives, such as the quality of food, the work-life balance, and the deeply ingrained social trust. I fully intend to continue integrating with clubs and activities that promote a connection between local and foreign people and promote a closeness to the vast beauty that is now “in my backyard” in Switzerland.

The immigration program

The Immigration Advisory Center (FMZ), or in German, Fachstelle Migration Zug, is a rich resource for people looking to get connected in their new city. The FMZ offers “New in Zug” and various other introductory meeting sessions that introduce residents to things such as local laws, individual rights, and customs of residing in the area.

READ ALSO: FACT CHECK: How accurate are the ‘five reasons not to move to Switzerland’?

They can also help you start German classes and provide answers about life in Zug in 16 different languages. The Center not only offers courses in German and language tests, but they also have classes about Swiss culture and traditions, plus smart ways to meet new people.

The New in Zug Together program is a series of sessions where you can learn about Zug. An FMZ consultant guides the meet-ups and the theme will vary for each session. Possible topics include authorities, work, insurance, health, cultural differences, and more.

There are sessions in both English and German, so as you improve your German, you can branch out and meet people in a German-speaking environment.

Resources:
https://www.fmzug.ch/en/
https://www.zg.ch/english

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