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4 August 2023 Want to go to Switzerland for school or university - How does it work?

You want to go to school or study in Switzerland and do not know if that is possible? We clarify the most important questions!

A. I am an EU-/EFTA-citizen - do I need a permit?

Under the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons, nationals of EU-/EFTA-member countries are entitled to attend school or study in Switzerland. They only must register with the municipal authorities (residents' services, residents' registration office) of their place of residence within 14 days of entry. The following evidence must be provided:

1. Confirmation of admission from a Swiss school / university/ college

In order to attend school or study in Switzerland, they need to be admitted to a Swiss school, university or college. The respective educational institution determines the admission requirements, as there is no central admission system. Normally, applications can be made online.

Note: For higher education, the website gives a good overview of the different types of universities, educational languages and subjects.

2. Sufficient financial resources

They must credibly demonstrate that they have sufficient financial means during their stay not to be dependent on social security and to be able to finance their return journey.

3. Health insurance coverage

They must have sufficient health insurance coverage to cover all risks, including accidents.

4. Identity card and place of residence documentation

The following proof of identity and information must also be provided for registration:

  • Valid home travel document (identity card or passport);
  • Proof of a residential address of the place of residence;
  • Two passport photos for the preparation of the permit card.

Once issued, the residence permit remains valid for the duration of the school or studies (if this is less than one year) or for one year. Until the education is completed, the residence permit can be extended annually, provided that the requirements continue to be met. At the latest 14 days before the permit expires, an application has to be submitted for an extension of the permit.

B. I am not from an EU-/EFTA-country - what do I have to consider?

Unlike nationals from EU-/EFTA-member country, third-country nationals are not entitled to residency for educational purposes. Instead, the consent of the competent cantonal migration authority is required (link to the list of migration offices here).

Before arrival, a visa application must be submitted to the Swiss embassy or consulate in the country of residence. If there is no visa requirement, an application for a residence permit must be submitted beforehand. Keep in mind, that the visa or residence permit must be presented before entry.

The following documents are required:

  • Confirmation of admission from a Swiss school / college / university;
  • Proof of sufficient financial means not to be dependent on social welfare and to be able to finance the return journey;
  • Health insurance coverage that covers all risks, including accident;
  • Valid home travel document (passport);
  • Two passport photos to create your permit card;
  • A motivation letter, a CV and proof of language skills;
  • The study program with information about the purpose of the studies and the detailed program;
  • Proof that the personal and professional requirements for the intended course of study are met;
  • Proof of a residential address of in the town/city of residence and confirmation that  appropriate housing has been acquired;
  • A confirmation of intention to leave Switzerland after completion of studies.

The responsible foreign mission (Embassy or Consulate) will check whether the person fulfills the sufficient language requirements and then forward the documents to the cantonal migration office, which will examine the application. The migration office may require further documentation and/or other guarantees.

Like EU-/EFTA-nationals, third-country nationals must register with the municipal residents' registration office within 14 days of entry at the latest.

For third-country nationals, too, the residence permit is generally valid for one year with the possibility of extension in the case of ongoing studies. However, there is an additional limit of 8 years on the total duration of education in Switzerland, including doctoral and post-doctoral studies. 

C. Can I work in Switzerland during my studies?

1. Secondary employment

Third-country nationals who are admitted to study in Switzerland are generally not allowed to take up gainful employment.

Secondary employment may be approved as an exception if the following conditions are met:

  • Confirmation from the school or university administration that the activity is responsible in the context of the education and will not delay the completion of the education;
  • the weekly working time outside vacations does not exceed 15 hours;
  • there is a request from an employer; and
  • Swiss wage and working conditions apply.

Before commencing work, a permit to take up employment must be obtained from the Office of Economic Affairs and Employment. The corresponding application can only be approved six months after entry.

EU-/EFTA-nationals, on the other hand, only have to report the commencement of secondary employment to the competent cantonal authority, usually the Office of Economic Affairs and Employment (link to the respective competent reporting authority depending on the canton here).

The following maximum working hours apply to all students, whether from the EU-/EFTA-member country or from third countries: Outside of vacations (i.e. during semester time), they may work a maximum of 15 hours per week in any case. During semester breaks, however, the workload may be 100%.

2. Internship

Foreign students can complete an internship in Switzerland during their studies if it is a compulsory internship or if the thesis is to be written at a Swiss company. These internships can be approved upon request, provided that

  • the length of the internship does not exceed half of the total education period;
  • Swiss wage and working conditions are respected.

D. Can I stay in Switzerland to work after graduation?

1. EU-/EFTA-nationals

If you want to stay in Switzerland after your studies as a national of an EU-/EFTA-member country, the procedure depends on the duration of your stay: For gainful employment of up to three months, you do not need a residence permit, but you must register online (link to online registration procedure here).

If you want to take up gainful employment in Switzerland for longer than three months, you need a permit: For this purpose, you must submit an employment certificate (employment contract) to the competent migration office. The permit issued is valid throughout Switzerland and entitles you to change jobs and professions. Its period of validity depends on the duration of the employment relationship (link to our blog post here).

2. Third-country nationals

If you have obtained a Swiss degree as a third-country national, you can be admitted to gainful employment in Switzerland if the activity is

  • of high scientific interest (e.g., research or development or the application of new technology), or 
  • of high economic interest (this is the case, for example, if it contributes to the creation of new jobs).

These activities include engineering professions, scientists and researchers in mathematical, scientific and technical fields, and specialized professionals in information and communication technology. Also included are medical specialists, physician assistants, specialized nursing staff and radiology assistants, as well as university teaching staff.

If you would like to work in Switzerland, your future employer must apply for the permit. The permit will then be checked for compliance with the other requirements for the employment of third-country nationals (link to our blog post here).

If you have any further questions about studying in Switzerland or the time after your studies, the immigration team will be happy to support you.