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Swiss Cities and Visas for Switzerland

Switzerland has become a popular choice among expats. After all, the country offers lots of opportunities as well as a high standard of living. Find information on varying visas, residence permits, Swiss regions, and city profiles here in our InterNations Guide.
One of the wealthiest European cities, Zurich offers a high quality of life.

Zurich — Europe’s Banking Powerhouse

Switzerland’s three largest cities — Zurich, Geneva, and Basel — are popular destinations for many expats moving to the country. Zurich, the capital of the canton of Zurich in central Switzerland, has a metropolitan area of roughly two million inhabitants. Around ten percent of all foreigners who move to Switzerland make Zurich their home.

As one of the world’s leading financial centers, Zurich is home to many foreign banks and their branch offices. In total, 82 of the 208 banking organizations in Switzerland have their headquarters in the city. Many of the country’s influential research and development centers are also based in Zurich, making it a popular destination for scientists and analysts. As one of the wealthiest cities in Europe, Zurich offers a great quality of life for expats in Switzerland.

Geneva — The Peace Capital

Geneva, the “Peace Capital”, hosts several intergovernmental organizations, attracting huge numbers of international employees. It is the second largest UN base in the world and the home of the International Red Cross, the WTO, and the International Labour Organization, to name but a few of the international institutions found in Geneva. It is therefore unsurprising that 40 percent of the population of Geneva are non-Swiss nationals, making it the most international city in Europe.

Geneva is also an important financial hub and the destination of choice for many hedge funds and asset management companies. Despite its high cost of living — the city has been ranked among the most expensive in the world — Geneva’s great location on the south-western tip of the country, in between the Alps and the Jura, contributes to making it a popular destination for new arrivals in Switzerland.

Basel — A City with International Flair

Basel is situated right on the border between Switzerland, Germany, and France. Its tri-national metropolitan area with about 830,000 inhabitants creates an international flair in a relatively small city. On Swiss territory, the Basel metropolitan area stretches across several cantons: Basel City, Basel Countryside, Aargau, and a tiny bit of Solothurn.

Basel is not only an important financial center but also home to Switzerland’s chemical and pharmaceutical industries. With three major train stations — one for each country — Basel has excellent high-speed connections to the rest of Europe. Due to its location on the Rhine, it also boasts the country’s only cargo port.

Take a look at our article on the best places to live in Switzerland for more popular expat destinations.

Visas — Who Needs One and How to Apply

EU/EFTA Citizens

Switzerland signed the so-called “Agreement on the free movement of people” within all member states of the EU. This means that EU nationals have the right to enter, live, and work in Switzerland mostly without formal restrictions. As such, they do not require a visa to enter Switzerland.

Non-EU Nationals

If you are a non-EU/EFTA national, there are two types of visas you can apply for. Firstly a Schengen Visa (or Type C Visa) and secondly a type D visa. If you wish to stay in Switzerland for more than three months, you must apply for a national visa (type D). These long-term visas are usually only granted in conjunction with a work permit.

Switzerland effectively became a member of the Schengen community in 2008. As a result, holders of a Schengen visa have the right to enter Switzerland and remain in the country for three months within a period of six months. The Schengen area includes all but six EU states, plus Norway and Iceland. (The exceptions among the EU member states are Bulgaria, Ireland, Romania, Cyprus, Croatia, and the UK, which do not belong to the Schengen area.) A Schengen visa does not automatically grant its holder the right to work. The latter must be obtained separately.

Switzerland signed a number of visa waiver agreements for short-term stays (less than three months) with countries outside the EU. Please click here for a detailed list, or consult the nearest Swiss Embassy or Consulate in your country of residence.

Applying for Your Visa

Documents required in support of all visa applications include the following:

  • applicant’s passport with photograph and at least two blank pages
  • proof of travel/health insurance
  • proof of sufficient financial means to support the applicant during their time in Switzerland

Depending on which visa you are applying for and for what purpose, there may be further requirements. This is particularly true for the national visa (type D). For more information, follow the link below to our article on Swiss visas.

All visa applications must be submitted to the nearest Swiss Embassy or Consulate in your country of residence. The Swiss Federal Office for Foreign Affairs provides a PDF with links and contact details of all representative Swiss authorities abroad.

For more information on Swiss visa regulations as well as on residence permits for Switzerland, please refer to our respective in-depth articles.


We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete.

Andrey Vasilyev

"I was able to connect with other expats in Zurich who enjoy cycling as much as I do and organize weekly rides."

Elin Gustavson

"At the first InterNations event that I attended, I met my wonderful partner. We now live together in a flat next to the Limmat."

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