‘Plan in advance’: How easy is it to get permanent residency in Switzerland?

Getting a residence permit C can be a great way to secure your rights in Switzerland. The Local spoke to readers to find out their experiences of applying for it.

Swiss German can be incredibly difficult to learn, but the journey is well worth it. Photo by Chris Lutke on Unsplash
Many foreigners want to settle in Switzerland. Photo by Chris Lutke on Unsplash

For foreigners trying to build a life in Switzerland, securing permanent residency is often their long-term aim – or a step towards citizenship. 

But it can take a long time. Becoming eligible for a Swiss permanent residence permit (also known as the ‘Settled Foreign Nationals’ C permit) depends on where you’re from, and how integrated you are.  

People from an EU/EFTA member country are able to get Swiss permanent residence permit after living in Switzerland for five continuous years.

Meanwhile, those from non-EU or EFTA countries have to have been living in the Alpine country with a Permit B for 10 years before they can apply for the Permit C. 

There are some exceptions. Americans and Canadians, for instance, can also apply for a permanent residency after five years.

In some cases, non-EU nationals can be granted a Permit C in five years for family reasons. 

And it’s also possible for non-EU citizens to fast-track the process and snag a settlement permit in Switzerland after five years by meeting certain requirements such as language skills (depending on your canton) and being well integrated into society. 

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

Want to put your Swiss residency permit in the fast lane? Follow these steps. Image: Pixabay

A Swiss flag on a boat. Image: Pixabay

Language tests 

When The Local spoke to readers about their applications, we found varied experiences across the board. 

Some respondents said the process was simple. 

Alex, 40, who’s from Hong Kong and holds an Irish passport, is based in Founex, Vaud.

“My Permit B expired so it was only natural to apply for a Permit C,” he said. “It was really easy. My commune at the time basically handled everything.”

Most readers agreed that the language requirements, which vary depending on the canton, were the trickiest part of the process.  

Jessica, based in Morges, said: “As an American, I had to pass the B1 speaking/listening and A2 reading/writing in French.

“I found it (the process) pretty easy, but was very nervous for the language test,” said the 48-year-old. 

Edwina Champ, 64, who’s from England and now lives in Schindellegi, said she feels “more likely to be accepted” after getting permanent residency in Switzerland. 

She said the language requirements were “tricky but expected”. She needed A2 written and spoken German.

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

Another reader, Andrew, 32, from the UK and living in Luzern, said his B permit needed to be renewed after five years and he realised he qualified for the C permit. 

“I had to take the A2 German exam which wasn’t particularly challenging,” said Andrew. “Otherwise it was mostly just collecting the correct documents from around Switzerland and the UK.”

However, he said that it could be difficult to figure out the requirements “if you don’t understand the regulations or don’t plan in advance”.

‘Travel is so much easier’

Yvonne from the USA and who lives in Basel-Land said the process was “was surprisingly easy and simple”.

“I needed to submit by email the following: employment contract, copies of passport and B permit, non pursuit for debt, and language certificate. I received the C permit by mail within a week.”

Yvonne – like several readers – talked of the “security” benefits of finally getting the permit.

“Having the C permit allowed me to make plans such as pursuing other jobs (in and outside of Switzerland because you can pause your C permit for up to four years), buy a primary (and/or secondary home) with the assurances that I could rent it if employment or other reasons moves my family to a different city/canton, and provides an overall sense of security as we live in stable country during very uncertain times globally,” she said.

Eloise, 26, from New Zealand and living in Montreux, said: “It is incredible. I am able to join more groups, it makes travel across the border much easier. My job is more fluid now too.”

A swiss passport

Some said getting a residence permit was a step towards getting Swiss citizenship. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

‘I had to stay in Switzerland for 10 years’

Some readers waited a decade for their residence permit. 

Parisa, 38, who lives in Basel and is from Iran, applied for permanent residence to avoid having to renew a permit every year. Parisa received the document around a month ago.

“I have been living and working in Switzerland since 2011,” Parisa said. “As an Iranian I have to live and work here for 10 years to be eligible for C permit.

“I submitted A2 German and French language certificates, my PhD degree from Switzerland, my scientific CV and my Swiss driving license.”

Aralk Ervafel, 50, who’s from the UK and lives in Basel, said: “I had to stay in the country for 10 years and then I received it automatically with no fuss. My employer sorted everything out and it just arrived.”

‘Process is not transparent’

Not all respondents to our survey had a smooth process with some telling us us they were still waiting for the permit.

Marta, 33, who’s Polish and living in Thalwil said her application was rejected after five years, and expects the process to take 10 years. 

HL See, who’s 32, and from Malaysia, wants a C permit to feel at home in Zurich with her Swiss husband. 

But she’s found the “non-transparent bureaucracy process” frustrating so far.

“I am on the fast track application,” she said. “It has been 10 weeks now, I’ve heard nothing.

“We don’t know how long and where exactly the process is after we submitted the documents.”

HL said once she has the permit she will feel “more at home here”.

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‘You’re missing out’: The verdict on getting by in Switzerland with just English

We recently asked our readers whether it is possible to live in the multilingual Switzerland speaking only English. The responses we received are truly revealing.

'You're missing out': The verdict on getting by in Switzerland with just English

There is plenty of observational and anecdotal evidence indicating that some foreigners never make an effort to learn one of Switzerland’s national languages, relying only on English for daily communication — no matter how long they have been living in the country.

But is this really feasible?

We recently asked readers to share their views and experiences on this very topic.

We put out two specific questions: Can you get by in Switzerland with just English? And, Is it possible to find jobs and work in Switzerland without speaking a local language?
Most of the answers indicated that, yes, both are possible under certain circumstances. But, there is a…”but”.

READ ALSO: Which parts of Switzerland are best at speaking English?

English is the ‘language of business’
Karen Rasmussen from Basel found that “there are three types of people: those who don’t speak English; those who are eager to practice their English; and those whose English is actually quite good despite their shyness about speaking it.

“The later two categories represent probably 80 percent of people I’ve encountered.”
Because of the prevalence of English in Switzerland, finding a job should not pose a problem, Karen said. “If you’re working for a big multinational company, English is the language of business.”

‘It depends on where you live’
“In the bigger cities and in the German speaking parts, English is much more widely understood”, said Kathryn from Vaud. “I have not found this to be the case in the French speaking region.”
She also believes that finding an English-only job is feasible, “but it is the non-working part of life that is difficult with only English, at least that is the case in the French speaking areas. I have even had doctors who can barely communicate in English.”

READ MORE: Why you shouldn’t expect the Swiss to speak English to you

German is ‘nice to have’

“In Zurich, it is pretty easy. Everything important is solved in English. The only time I speak German is with my neighbours. But that I would not need for survival,” said Brian Holinka, adding that “in my job English is necessary, German is nice to have”.

For Lynette Haeuselmann from St. Gallen, who is an English teacher for adults, “one can get by with just English, but it will be a limited social existence.

“As a foreigner, I learned German and that made things a lot easier for me. Being able to communicate with locals is a big help towards integrating into one’s new ‘Heimatland’.

‘Possible to get by’

Some respondents said you can function without an official Swiss language. 

“I think that the two biggest factors that affect how much you can get by with just English in Switzerland are: where you live, and what job you have,” T. B. from Zurich pointed out.

“Living in a big city makes it easier to get by with just English, and working in companies where the majority of employees are not Swiss and English is established as the working language, “makes it quite possible to get by”, said the respondent.

“Having said that, I think that you just ‘get by’ though. You probably cannot experience the country in its fullest, and cannot feel integrated, in order to be able, at some point ‘n the future, to call this place ‘home’ (if this is of course your goal).”

Whether or not you can work entirely in English depends on the job, T. B. says.

“For example, for engineers it is possible, for doctors most likely is not.”

Languages needed for socialising

For Sean Knox, who lives in Zurich but works in Baar (ZG), getting by with just English in these two international locations can be done.

“However, I realised that my German will need to improve if I want to progress from simply getting by to social integration,” he said.

While most people in Switzerland have a good proficiency of English, “in a group, especially in social situations, Swiss people will generally speak a local language, which is totally fair but can be quite isolating.”

This has been the experience of Paul Hunt from Biel / Bienne, who also found that this is more of a challenge in the German speaking part than the French or Italian parts “because we learn high German in classes but can’t understand dialects”.

“Knowledge of high German has, however, been essential the longer I’ve lived here,” he pointed out, especially for official paperwork like filing tax returns  or registering for unemployment benefits.

In terms of job opportunities, they would be more limited with just English and “there are many sectors where not speaking a local language would not be possible”.

Some respondents found that not speaking a local language definitely limits their job options.

One of them is George from Basel, who says that despite being a highly qualified professional in security business, “I am unable to find a job — not because I am not good but because my colleagues will not be able to understand me.”

“Switzerland remains old fashioned yet is in desperate need of workers, but only if they match their way of thinking,” he added.

Another reader, Luka from Lucerne, also found that lack of language skills has been a major hurdle on his career path.

“For me, in architecture, it is almost impossible in a long term if I want to have a well-paid position,” he said.

It’s ‘arrogant’

Some readers have pointed out what others have already observed as well.

“Sure, you can get by without a local language, but what a way to miss out on an amazing country,” said Jennifer from Montreux (VD).

A Geneva reader agrees that it is possible to manage with just English, “but to truly integrate and not feel like a foreigner it’s important to know the local language”.

And another respondent noted that “you can probably get by just speaking English, but it’s arrogant and incorrect to think that everyone should speak English” too.