Essential documents that foreign citizens need if they want to work and live in Switzerland

If you decided to pursue any work activities in Switzerland, or if you just want to join the high number of expats who have chosen Switzerland as a destination to live, then you should be aware of some of the most important documents you need and how to obtain them.

The Swiss residence and work permit

Obviously, the most important document to start with is the work permit which allows you to work in Switzerland and, depending on the situation, to live in the country. There are several types of Swiss work permits, and depending on the type of permit you obtain, you will have various options regarding how long you are entitled to live in Switzerland. The type of work permit that you can obtain depends on your job situation and which your current country of residence is.

To put it simply, there are three types of permits and sets of regulations that apply to EU citizens, EFTA citizens, and to citizens from all other countries. EU citizens have the easiest access to the Swiss labour market since the bilateral agreement between Switzerland and EU from 2002, regarding the free movement of persons. For EFTA citizens and citizens from other countries, there are a limited number of work permits that can be granted.

EU and EFTA citizens can usually obtain B permits, which are granted for at least 12 months and up to 5 years if there is a work contract involved. The L permit allows you to work and live in Switzerland for up to a year – usually granted for limited work contracts. Finally, the C permit allows EU and EFTA citizens who have been living in Switzerland for at least 5 or 10 years to remain in the country indefinitely.

Citizens from all other countries can obtain an L permit (valid for up to 12 months and in exceptional cases up to 24 months),  a B permit (valid for one year, but with the possibility to renew it), and a C permit, depending if certain requirements are fulfilled.

The Swiss pension card

This card confirms that you are registered with the Swiss old-age insurance system (AHV in German, AVS in French and Italian or OASI). The pension card includes the OASI 13-digit number and is obtained based on contributions made to the so-called first pillar of the Swiss old age pension scheme. It is compulsory, both for employees and for employers. The contributions to the first pillar pension scheme are taken directly out of the salaries of employees.

The Swiss health insurance card

All citizens that are residents of Switzerland are required to take out a private health insurance from one of the insurance providers that are approved by the government. Health insurance must be acquired within 3 months of arriving in Switzerland. The basic health insurance covers a wide range of medical services in Switzerland. The health insurance card includes the policy number and the OASI number and it must be presented for all medical appointments and when you travel overseas and require medical assistance.

The Swiss driver license

Foreign persons who are aged 18 and above can use driver licenses acquired in their home countries for up to 12 months. However, if the original driver license is not using the Roman alphabet, it is necessary to have an international driver license as well.  If you stay for more than 12 months in Switzerland, you must exchange your current license for a Swiss one.

EU and EFTA citizens are not required to take any theoretical or practical test to have their license exchanged, but a medical consult to check the vision skills may be required. Depending on their country of origin, citizens from other countries may be required to take a practical or theoretical test, to take both or they may not need to take one at all.

The criminal record extract

When foreign citizens apply for certain jobs in Switzerland or if they want to open a bank account with a Swiss bank, they may be required to provide a criminal record extract issued by the authorities from their country of residence or by the Swiss authorities if they have been living for some time in the country.

Now you know which are some of the essential documents you need to work and live in Switzerland, so you can start thinking about starting your own business in Switzerland or pursuing a job opportunity in the country.

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