Swiss citizenship is highly sought after – and correspondingly hard to get. swissinfo.ch looks at 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 12 years (more below). 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 12 years (although this will drop to ten years from January 1, 2018). Did you spend any time in Switzerland between the ages of ten and 20?
Shame. Those years count double. Anyway, after you’ve done your time and you apply for citizenship, the cantons and municipalities (all of which have their own requirements) will check whether you’re integrated and law-abiding. If you pass that hurdle, they will inform you of the next steps. The State Secretariat for Migration will then check you’re not a security threat.
In some cantons and municipalities you have to take verbal or written tests (in German, French or Italian) explaining, among other things, why you want to become Swiss. You might even have to answer general knowledge questions such as “What’s the longest river in Switzerland?”. In others 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 22 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. On February 12, 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”…
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.