Swiss nationality law

Swiss nationality law
Coat of Arms of Switzerland (Pantone).svg

Swiss citizenship is the status of being a citizen of Switzerland and it can be obtained by birth, marriage or naturalisation.

The Swiss Citizenship Law is based on the following principles:

Each Swiss is a citizen of his place or community of origin, his canton of origin and the Confederation, in this order: a Swiss citizen is defined as someone who has the citizenship of a Swiss municipality (art. 37 of the Swiss Federal Constitution). He is entered in the family register of his place of origin. The place of origin is the place where the family (usually the father) comes from. It is not to be confused with the place of birth. The place of origin can be the same as the place of birth, but this is not necessarily the case.


Requirements for citizenship


A Swiss passport may be regarded as a primary form of identification as a Swiss citizen

Swiss citizenship is propagated by Jus sanguinis. A person is a Swiss citizen at birth (whether born in Switzerland or not) if he or she is:

  • born to a Swiss father or mother, if parents are married
  • born to a Swiss mother, if parents are not married

Where parents marry after birth and only the father is Swiss, the child acquires Swiss citizenship at that point.

There are exceptions if only the mother is Swiss and she acquired Swiss citizenship on the basis of a previous marriage to a Swiss citizen.

Jus soli does not exist in Switzerland, hence birth in Switzerland in itself does not confer Swiss citizenship on the child.


The right to regular naturalization is granted not by the central government but by a canton.[1]

Citizenship in Switzerland can be obtained by a permanent resident who has lived in Switzerland for at least twelve years (any years spent in Switzerland between the 10th and the 20th years of age count double), and has lived in the country for the last three out of five years before applying for citizenship. One should be able to speak in at least one of German (preferably Swiss German), French, Italian or Romansch (depending on the community) and show:

  • integration into the Swiss way of life;
  • familiarity with Swiss habits, customs and traditions;
  • compliance with the Swiss rule of law;
  • no danger to Switzerland's internal or external security.

Marriage (facilitated naturalisation)

A person married to a Swiss citizen may apply for Swiss citizenship by facilitated naturalisation after living in Switzerland for five years and having been married for at least three years. No language test is required, however one must show:

  • integration into the Swiss way of life;
  • compliance with the Swiss rule of law;
  • no danger to Switzerland's internal or external security.

Children from the person's previous relationships are given citizenship along with the partner. This clause is not valid for same-sex couples.

It is also possible for the spouse of a Swiss citizen to apply for facilitated naturalisation while resident overseas after:

  • six years of marriage to a Swiss citizen; and
  • close ties to Switzerland.

Spouses acquiring Swiss citizenship by facilitated naturalisation will acquire the citizenship of the community and canton of their Swiss spouse.

Simplified naturalisation

Certain categories of non-Swiss may apply for simplified naturalisation, including:

  • women who lost Swiss citizenship through marriage to a non-Swiss citizen, or through the loss of Swiss citizenship by a husband, before 23 March 1992
  • children born to Swiss mothers who lost their citizenship due to the marriage of a non-Swiss before March 23, 1992 but became renaturalized
  • children born to Swiss mothers who acquired Swiss citizenship themselves on the basis of a previous marriage
  • persons born before 1 July 1985 whose mother acquired Swiss citizenship by descent, adoption or naturalisation
  • children whose mother acquired Swiss citizenship by marriage
  • A spouse of a Swiss national who lives abroad may acquire citizenship after six years of marriage.

All these categories have additional requirements to be fulfilled. Normally a successful applicant acquires the cantonal and communal citizenship of the Swiss mother or spouse.


The yearly rate of naturalization has quintupled over the 1990s and 2000s, from roughly 9,000 to 45,000 naturalizations per year. Relative to the population of resident foreigners, this amounts to an increase from 8‰ in 1990 to 27‰ in 2007, or relative to the number of Swiss citizens from 1.6‰ in 1990 to 7.3‰ in 2007.[2]

Triple citizenship level

Each community in Switzerland maintains its own registry of citizens, which is separate from the registry of people living in the community. Most Swiss citizens do not live in the community that is their place of origin; therefore, they are often required by the community they live in to get a certificate of citizenship (acte d'origine/Heimatschein/atto d'origine) from their place of origin. In practice, there is no difference in rights or obligations between citizens of different communities, except for the extra paperwork that may be involved.

Multiple citizenship

Because one is a citizen of a community rather than a citizen of state, there are two forms of multiple citizenship, ‘inter-communal multiple citizenship’, like being a citizen of Geneva, GE and Meyrin, GE and ‘international multiple citizenship’ like being a citizen of France and Switzerland. In Swiss passports and identity cards, all the communities are listed, but one only has one passport or identity card for inter-communal multiple citizenship.

International multiple nationality

According to the Federal Office for Migration [3], there is no restriction on multiple citizenship in Switzerland since 1 January 1992, meaning that foreigners who acquire Swiss citizenship, or Swiss citizens who voluntarily acquire another citizenship, do not automatically lose their previous citizenship, as was the case before this date. Of course, the non-Swiss citizenship can still be lost if the laws of the other country do not recognise multiple citizenship. An estimated sixty percent of Swiss nationals living abroad in 1998 were multiple citizens.

Since many nationality laws now allow both parents to transmit their nationality to their common child (and not only the father, as was often the case in the past), many children automatically acquire multiple citizenship at birth. This is especially frequent in Switzerland since a relatively high proportion of the population holds a foreign passport (up to 54% in Geneva). However, the Federal Office for Migration specially notes that this has not resulted in any practical problems worth mentioning. Military service, the most likely problem to arise, is usually done in the country where the applicant resides at the time of conscription.

After two referendums rejected laws to facilitate naturalisation in September 2004, some of the opponents (in particular from the Swiss People's Party) proposed to go back to the pre-1992 situation where multiple citizenship was forbidden; as of November 2005, this suggestion has not been followed by any formal proposal.

Discussions about Swiss citizenship

Swiss citizenship laws have been widely debated over the years. In comparison to other nationality laws, access to Swiss citizenship is relatively narrow, and several modifications to widen access to Swiss citizenship were proposed over the years. Those that were voted upon during referendums in 1983, 1994 and 2004 were all rejected. In particular, during the referendum of September 2004, Swiss voters rejected proposals [4] which would have:

  • given some long resident Swiss-born persons aged between 14 and 24 the right to apply for facilitated naturalisation (which bypasses canton and community requirements); and
  • granted automatic Swiss citizenship to persons born in Switzerland with a parent also born in Switzerland

While minimal requirements for obtaining Swiss citizenship by naturalisation are set at the federal level, Swiss cantons and communities are free to introduce more stringent requirements, with some communities even deciding not to allow any naturalisation at all on their territory [5]. In 1999, Emmen and the canton of Lucerne began using popular referendums to decide the outcome of naturalisation requests; however, the practice was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in July 2003. A referendum directed at legalizing this practice was defeated on 1 June 2008.

Rights and obligations of Swiss citizens

All Swiss citizens are:

  • able to vote in political elections upon reaching the age of 18.
  • able to run for political office, including the Swiss Federal Council without being a member of any political party.
  • able to start and sign a petition or citizen's initiative for a referendum.
  • able to obtain a Swiss passport, granting them the right to return to Switzerland at any time.
  • prevented from getting deported from Switzerland.
  • obligated to perform military service or civilian service (men only).

See also


External links

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