Swiss citizenship is highly sought after – and correspondingly hard to get. This article explains how to get the naturalisation ball rolling, who is eligible for the fast track and how much it could all cost.
I want to become Swiss. I’m free for an interview next week.
It’s not quite as easy at that. There are basically three ways of becoming Swiss: from birth (having a Swiss parent), marrying a Swiss (after you have lived in Switzerland for at least five years, more below) or living in Switzerland for at least ten years. Note that being born in Switzerland doesn’t mean you automatically become Swiss.
Neither of my parents is Swiss and I’m not married.
Then you’ve got to live here for ten years. Did you spend any time in Switzerland between the ages of eight and 18?
Shame. Those years count double. Anyway, after you’ve done your time and you apply for citizenship, your municipality will get the ball rolling by handing you a list of documents they need you to provide or fill in.
The exact process depends on the municipality and canton. In the city of Bern, for example, applicants have to pass both a German language proficiency test (written and oral) and a multiple-choice general knowledge test with questions on Swiss geography, history, politics, culture and the education and social security systems. Once that’s done, and you’ve handed in all the necessary documents (translated birth certificate, proof you're not on welfare, in debt etc), they will inform you of the next steps and the interviews can begin. Starting at the municipal level, you will have to explain (in a national language) why you want to become Swiss and that you are well-integrated. It's possible you will only need one interview - the canton and federation will only call you in if something is not clear and they have further questions.
In a couple of municipalities you might also have to stand up in front of the local assembly as they – basically your neighbours – vote on whether you deserve Swiss citizenship. By most accounts a nerve-wracking experience.
And if I were married to a Swiss?
You’re eligible for the fast track! Generally you need to have been married to a Swiss citizen for at least three years and have lived in Switzerland for a total of five years, including the year immediately prior to application. The application process is similar to that for normal naturalisation.
In addition, children who are not yet 25 and who didn’t get citizenship when their parents did (for example if their parents immigrated) can also be fast-tracked, provided they have lived in Switzerland for a total of five years, including the year immediately prior to application. In 2017, Swiss voters decided to make it easier for grandchildren of immigrants to become Swiss.
Are there any other ways to speed things up?
If you have “close ties to Switzerland”. This is a bit vague, but seems to be aimed at people living abroad who have been married to a Swiss for at least six years. An annual skiing holiday in Verbier doesn’t count as a “close tie”…
Are there any factors that will slow me down?
Well if you're on welfare or have a criminal record, in theory you're excluded from Swiss citizenship.
Do I have to pay anything?
Stupid question – this is Switzerland! But as with the entire application process this depends considerably on the canton and municipality. It’s hard to give even an average figure, although CHF2,000-CHF3,000 ($2,020-$3,030) for regular naturalisation isn't a ludicrous guideline. That said, a straw poll around swissinfo.ch gave answers ranging from “around CHF400” to “about a month’s wages”.
And how long does the whole thing take?
Again, it varies from canton to canton and municipality to municipality. Even if you’re on the fast track, allow for 18-24 months. But swissinfo.ch found cases that were quicker – and also people who had to wait up to four years!
In any case, your first step should be to contact your municipality.
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