Want to study in Switzerland?
Switzerland is a great place to study and boasts several internationally renowned higher-education institutions, including public universities for which the tuition fees are very low.
The conditions governing student permits for non-EU citizens are defined in article 27 of the Swiss Federal Act on Foreign Nationals and Integration (FNIA), with additional provisions set out in the ordonnance on entry and work (OASA, in French/VZAE, in German). If accepted to enter Switzerland for study, you will be granted either a short-term (L) permit, if your course lasts less than a year, or a residence (B) permit, if your course lasts more than a year. B permits for students are valid for one year and need to be renewed each year.
To be granted a student permit, you need to fulfil the following conditions:
1. The educational establishment to which you are applying must confirm that you meet the requirements for the course.
– This means you must apply to and be accepted by the school or university before applying for your permit.
Our top tip: Check that the institution is accredited by the Swiss authorities to sponsor foreign students’ visas and that the course you want to do is sufficient – you must be studying for at least 20 hours a week, so night schools or weekly language lessons are not enough.
2. You must prove that you have arranged suitable accommodation.
3. You must show that you have sufficient financial resources to live throughout your time in Switzerland.
– This means either:
a. having a sponsor in Switzerland (Swiss citizen or holder of a B or C permit) who can present evidence of their willingness and ability to support you during your studies; or
b. providing bank statements showing that you or your family have sufficient savings for you to live off; or
c. providing proof that you have been offered a scholarship.
Our top tip: For a student permit, you will need to show that you have access to around 2000 CHF per month for the duration of your stay.
4. You must provide convincing evidence that the education or training for which you are applying is your true motivation for coming to Switzerland.
– This condition allows the Swiss authorities to refuse your application if they feel that you are using study as a way to gain entry to Switzerland without fulfilling all the requirements that would otherwise apply. The provisions of this condition give the authorities scope to examine any aspect they deem relevant.
Our top tips:
- If you have previously applied for a Swiss visa or permit or have previously spent time in the country, this will likely be taken into account.
- You may be asked to present a study plan or curriculum.
- Foreigners cannot usually stay in Switzerland on student visas for more than 8 years in total (whether for one course or multiple consecutive courses), so if you have already spent time here on a student permit, think about the length of the next course you wish to do before applying.
N.B.: Up until recently, applicants over 30 years of age were often rejected on the basis that they were thought less likely to return home after completing their studies. However, following an appeal, the federal court recently ruled that refusal based solely on age was discriminatory, so it looks like this will no longer be allowed; we will update this page as soon as more definite information is available.
Special case: Under 18s
Switzerland is famous for its exclusive private schools, and to encourage prospective students from all over the world, the conditions applicable to student permits for minors are somewhat less stringent. The family of a child going to boarding school simply needs to provide a copy of the contract, while a child attending a day school must be able to stay with a family member legally resident in Switzerland.
Once you get here…
The immigration authorities can and do check on students to make sure that they are genuinely studying and taking their exams. If you don’t pass your intermediate exams, your permit may not be renewed.
You’re not allowed to work during your first six months in the country, but after that you can take on part-time work for up to 15 hours a week during term time. Your educational institution will need to agree that your part-time work will not negatively affect your studies. Note that this is distinct from internships that may be required as part of your course.
It is possible to change to a different course or transfer to a new educational institution in Switzerland, but such requests are considered on a case-by-case basis. Again, the key is that you need to convince the authorities that you are serious about your studies and not using the student permit simply as an easy way to stay in the country.
After your studies…
Having spent a significant amount of time during a formative time of life in Switzerland, many students feel attached to their new home and would like to stay and embark on a career here. In general, as you approach the end of your studies, you can apply for a short-term permit that will allow you to stay for an additional six months while job-hunting. This is applicable only if you obtain a higher education qualification from a “haute école”, which is generally understood to mean a diploma, a bachelor’s or Master’s degree, a doctorate or a post-doctoral qualification from a university, haute école spécialisée or federal polytechnic. You will once again need to provide proof of suitable accommodation and sufficient financial means to support yourself. You can work for up to 15 hours a week during this time, and if you find a job, you can apply for a new residence permit (internal link).
One advantage of this six-month permit is that, provided you are seeking work closely linked to your field of study and if it is considered to be in the scientific or economic interests of the country (e.g. if it’s a field where qualified personnel are in short supply), prospective employers are not required to priorities Swiss or EU citizens over you, which gives third-country nationals a much better chance of finding employment than if they apply from abroad.