Swiss citizenship For Members

Can you lose your Swiss citizenship if you've never lived in Switzerland?

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
Can you lose your Swiss citizenship if you've never lived in Switzerland?
You can be Swiss even if you live abroad. Photo by Anne-Christine POUJOULAT / AFP

Obviously, most Swiss nationals reside in Switzerland, and are citizens either through birth or naturalisation. But what happens to those who have never lived here at all?


The only scenario where a Swiss citizen who has never lived in Switzerland could lose his or her nationality is if they were born abroad.

Just for information, about 800,000 Swiss citizens currently live outside of Switzerland; of those 75 percent are dual nationals, which means they have a Swiss passport in addition to another one, most likely of the country where they reside.

The government refers to these people either as ‘fifth Switzerland’ (an addition to the country’s four linguistic regions) or as ‘the 27th canton.”

What happens when they have a child while living abroad?

According to the Swiss Citizenship Act (SCA), a child born in another country to Swiss parents (or at least one parent) is a Swiss citizen from birth. 

If a woman is a foreigner and not married to the child’s Swiss father, the child will get the citizenship as well, as long as the father legally establishes his paternity (for instance, through a DNA test).

This is called 'citizenship through descent.'

READ ALSO: Can I obtain Swiss citizenship through ancestry? 

A similar system is also in place for Swiss parents who adapt a baby abroad  — he or she will be Swiss as well, as long as the child was under the age of 18 when adopted.


Assuming all these children never live in Switzerland, can they maintain their citizenship?
It depends.

They are automatically Swiss at birth but, unlike kids born in Switzerland, retaining their citizenship is conditional.

Under Swiss law, "a child born abroad who has another citizenship and at least one of whose parents is Swiss loses their Swiss citizenship upon reaching the age of 25 unless a Swiss authority abroad or in Switzerland is notified of their birth by their 25th birthday or if they have declared in writing that they wish to retain Swiss citizenship".

What this means is that Swiss parents should notify Switzerland’s embassy or consulate in their country of residence of the birth of their child to ensure the child’s citizenship is not revoked after they turn 25.

Again, this applies only in case the child never comes to live in Switzerland — either as child or adult.


Is this step irrevocable?

Say you suddenly wake up when you are 25 and realise Swiss authorities had never been notified of your existence in another country.

According to State Secretariat for Migration (SEM), to have your citizenship reinstated you must:

  • Be successfully integrated if you live in Switzerland;
  • Have close ties with Switzerland if you live abroad;
  • Show respect for public security and order;
  • Show respect for the values enshrined in the Federal Constitution; and
  • Not pose a threat to Switzerland’s internal or external security.

If you lost your Swiss citizenship less than 10 years ago, you can apply for reinstatement irrespective of whether you live abroad or in Switzerland.

On expiry of this 10-year period, however, you may only apply for reinstatement of citizenship if you have been living continuously in Switzerland for at least three years with the intention of remaining here permanently.


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