Work Visa - Switzerland

This article handles the concept of work visa (work permit) in Switzerland

Raphael Gaudin
Raphael Gaudin

Work Visa -Switzerland

Background of the topic

A visa would be generally referred to as permit to enter, transit or stay in a country of which the visa holder does not have the citizenship or right to stay based on other type of permanent residence permit. A visa is usually issued for a limited period and must be in place before entering the country of destination.

A visa covers one country or a group of countries such as for example the EU, EFTA states respectively the Schengen states (European Union currently without Ireland, Croatia, Romania, Bulgaria and Cyprus but includes Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Norway, Island, Monaco, San Marino, Vatican) . The Schengen generally provides free movement of citizens within the Schengen countries, harmonisation of the conditions for entering a country and rules on short stay visas (up to 90 days).

With this background, this article handles the concept of work visa (=work permit) in Switzerland, means inbound work activities. Switzerland does have 26 political subregions (=cantons), each with own migration authorities. Although the regulations are based on federal law, mainly on the Act on Foreigners, there might be a slight difference in the cantonal handling procedure for migration issues.

Business trip to Switzerland

For business trips up to 8 days per calendar year, foreigners (EU/EUFTA and third country nationals) can work in Switzerland without a work permit or the notification procedure as described hereafter. This exemption only applies if the business trip was initially not planned for more than the 8 days. For EU/EFTA-employers the 8 days do count on personal and company level, while for non-EU/EFTA employers the 8 days are counted on personal level only. Exemptions do apply in certain industries such as construction, cleaning, personal services, etc., here a notification or work permit is required from the first day in any case.

EU/EFTA Nationals

EU/EFTA nationals do have the legion right to obtain a Swiss work permit, when employed by as Swiss domiciled employer. To avoid abuse of migration law, the Swiss migration authorities do verify the economical substance of the employer (e.g. own space, sustainable gainful activity).

For EU/EFTA nationals on assignments for up to a maximum of 90 working days per calendar year (no employment with a Swiss domiciled company), the notification procedure can be applied. With the 90 days notification procedure, permit to work in Switzerland can be granted by online notification to the Swiss labour market authorities (cantonal authority is responsible). No extensive documentation and formal application procedure are required for this procedure. Nevertheless, labour law regulations and minimum salary or market comparable salary must be paid. A notification must be made 8 days prior to the first day of assignment. The notification is always limited to the project or place of work.

Also, for non-EU/EFTA nationals with a valid work permit in an EU/EFTA country for more than 12 months, the EU/EFTA rules do generally apply (e.g. 90 days notification procedure is applicable).

Business travels up to 8 calendar days per company and employee are not subject to the registration duties.

Not subject to registration duties are for example client meetings and contract negotiations whereas on the job-trainings, internships and project related work is subject to such duties.

Assignments of more than 90 working days per calendar year are not falling under the free movement agreement, hence the same rules as for non-EU/EFTA nationals do apply (see hereafter).

Since January 1st, 2021 UK – nationals are considered as non-EU/EFTA nationals and respective rules do apply. EU/EFTA rules may remain applicable if the project/work situation was already existing before this date

Non EU/EFTA Nationals

Non-EU/EFTA nationals including UK nationals since January 1st, 2021 are subject to a work permit approval process when hired locally. Employers must proof that no adequate employee has been found on the Swiss and EU/EFTA job market. Usually job advertainments shall be published on a common job portal for about 3 months.

Assignments to Switzerland of Non-EU/EFTA nationals and EU/EFTA/UK nationals (for assignments of more than 90 days per calendar year) do require a formal work permit. Work permits are usually granted for 4 months/120 days up to 24 months. The work permit is granted for a specific project or work site and is usually restricted to this specific location or canton.

Both the local employment as the assignment of respective nationals does require compliance with Swiss market comparable salary, requires economical relevancy and is granted for employees with excellent professional experience and/or executive personal.

Exemptions may apply for intra-group transfers.

Swiss work-permit

The work permit is granted for a specific project by the respective canton. Change of the project is subject to a full re-application and will not be approved by the cantonal authorities in most of the cases. Assignments of executive personal may be structured in a way that various job sites can be covered if a local entity of the group is in place (management transfer rules).

Work permits are subject to quotas allocated to the cantons on quarterly basis. If one of the general criteria for obtaining a work permit is not met (i.e. professional experience, salary level, economical relevance) and/or if the quota for a certain type of permit is fully used, the cantonal authority can refuse to grant a work permit for a specific worker.

Application process:

  1. Verify the local salary and identify ( potentially applicable Collective Labour Agreements. In addition to the Swiss market comparable salary a per diems of CHF 55 per day or CHF 1’000 per month shall be paid. A written secondment agreement is mandatory part of the filing. All salary components must show all salary components separately and in CHF.
  2. File the work permit including at the cantonal labour market authority. The whole work permit procedure takes usually between 3 and 6 weeks. It may take up to 8 weeks in more complex situation or if the economical relevance and educational/professional background becomes subject to further investigation.
  3. A) If the required criterias are not met or if the quotas are fully used, the permit application will be refused. Usually the authorities do grant a chance to file an objecting with further proof of relevancy, adjust the salary etc.
  4. B) The labour market authority approves the permit application. Depending on the nationality of the employee and type of permit, further approval of the cantonal and federal migration authority may be required before the employee is entitled to work in Switzerland.
  5. The employee needs to register at the local municipality and only then is allowed to work (not applicable for the 120 days permit). Swiss medical health insurance or proof of medical health coverage must be available.

Swiss work permit overview

120 days permit

  • 120 working days within 365 days
  • No quota, no local registration required
  • May restricted to staying 90 days within 180 days for non-Schengen nationals.


4-month permit/ 120 consecutive days

  • 120 consecutive working days
  • No quota, no local registration required


L permit

  • Short-term work permit for 3 months to 12 months with option to extend further
  • Usually depending on specific project or local employment
  • Local registration required; number spent outside Switzerland shall not exceed 90 days within the 12 months period
  • Quotas applicable


B permit

  • Long-term work permit for up to 5 years, depending on nationality and personal situation. Option to extend.
  • Usually depending on specific project or local employment
  • Local registration required; number of days spent outside Switzerland shall not exceed 180 days within 12 months.
  • Quotas applicable


C permit

  • Permanent residence permit issued after 5- or 10-year being resident in Switzerland (depending on personal situation and nationality)


G permit

  • Cross-border permit issued for employees living outside Switzerland but having a Swiss employment contact. Not applicable for assignments
  • Not to be compared with the taxation as cross-border commuter as foreseen in some Double Tax treaties.


This overview does not include business travelling up 8 days and the 90 days notification procedure because these are not considered as work permits.

Action steps and conclusion

When planning international assignments, the employers must consider the following factors:

  1. Nationality of the employee - EU/EFTA or third country national?
  2. Residency of the employee – within an EU/EFTA state or outside?
  3. Home country – where is the employer domiciled?
  4. Host country - where will the work being performed during the assignment?
  5. Duration of the assignment?

These considerations do apply for international assignments in general. Nevertheless, to protect domestic markets and local labour market countries have implemented national regulations for cross-border workers, assigned workers, and worker on foreign country employment contracts. Although the EU/EFTA free movement agreement, each host country immigration rules must be verified prior to the assignment.

Non-compliance can be subject to penalties and/or ban from future work in a respective country.

Ahead planning of the assignments is key to successful assignments of workers.