Since December 2008 (the date of implementation of the association agreements of Switzerland to Schengen-Dublin concluded with the European Union), Switzerland has been applying the Schengen regulations concerning the issuance of visas. As of the above date, Switzerland has issued Schengen visas only (1).
The Schengen regulations apply to the examination of requests for short stay visas, the validity of which for the Schengen area does not exceed three months (2). The issuance of long stay visas for more than three months remains subject to national procedures. Holders of these visas subsequently obtain a residence permit entitling them to travel freely for short stays throughout the Schengen area (3).
In accordance with the Vienna Convention of 18 April 1961 on diplomatic relations, which is applicable by analogy to Permanent Missions and to headquarters agreements, the application of the Schengen agreements and of the directives contained therein involves changes to the current visa issuance procedures.
For information concerning changes of procedure and methods of issuance of visas, it is recommended that you consult the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) web site:
or the diplomatic representation responsible for the applicant’s place of residence.
This note provides further details concerning in particular persons expected to come to Switzerland in an official capacity, whatever their type of passport, or coming for private visits if they are holders of diplomatic, service or special passports, as well as holders of a legitimation card of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA). This especially concerns employees of organisations with which Switzerland has concluded a headquarters agreement, persons invited to take part in meetings held by these organisations or persons expected to come in an official capacity, members of the staff of diplomatic and consular representations in Switzerland and persons who are expected there in an official capacity, persons expected in the framework of good offices and private visitors who hold diplomatic, service or special passports.
1. Network of Swiss representations abroad entitled to issue visas
The main country of destination is the one that is responsible for issuing a Schengen visa.
Only representations abroad staffed by career consular personnel are authorised to issue Schengen visas. As a result, this responsibility may be transferred, in some cases provisionally, from certain representations to the nearest authorised Swiss representation to the applicant’s place of residence. For more detailed information on this subject, please contact the Swiss representation responsible for the applicant’s place of residence.
2. Short stay visa (for a period of less than three months)
The short stay visas are as follows:
A: airport transit visa
C: short stay visa (maximum of three months during a period of six months)
that may be issued for single or multiple entry.
The time needed for a visa request to be processed may vary from case to case. It is therefore strongly recommended to take the necessary steps well in advance (but at the earliest three months before the departure date) so that the visa can be issued in the time required.
Interns, consultants, experts, etc., who have a contract with an organisation with which Switzerland has concluded a headquarters agreement or who are mandated by a government to carry out duties within a diplomatic or consular representation for a period of less than three months, will also receive a short stay visa valid for the entire Schengen area.
When exceptional or urgent circumstances make it necessary, particularly in connection with Switzerland’s international obligations or if Switzerland has issued an official invitation, the representation may, by way of exception, issue visas of limited territorial validity (LTV) in accordance with the Schengen Acquis. These visas only permit the holder to enter, and stay, in Switzerland. They do not permit the holder to visit another state in the Schengen area (in the case of Geneva, for example, the neighbouring country of France). Furthermore, the holder of an LTV visa must enter and depart via Switzerland, without passing through another member state of the Schengen area.
Documents to be presented
The presentation of complete dossiers facilitates the rapid treatment of the visa application. It is recommended that you contact the relevant representation about the documents that you need to provide.
Holders of diplomatic, service or special passports on official missions or taking part in an international conference, and delegates mandated by a government (regardless of the type of passport) taking part in an international conference must present at least the following documents:
- a travel document, the validity of which exceeds that of the stay, including the period necessary for the return journey;
- a visa application form, together with two photos;
- supporting documents concerning the purpose of the journey: an initialled memo together with a mandate to perform the mission, an invitation to the conference, confirmation of registration for a training course, a detailed letter of invitation, etc.
- any other document that the representation considers necessary.
Switzerland has taken the necessary measures so that the issuance of visas to participate in international conferences and meetings held by organisations with which a headquarters agreement has been concluded, or to participate in meetings relating to good offices, can be carried out in favourable conditions. However, it is expected that diplomatic and consular organisations and representations in Switzerland and their authorities (MFA) in the sending States will cooperate so that the measures necessary for the issuance of visas can be carried out, taking into account the period of time necessary for the administrative processing of applications. Applications not submitted sufficiently ahead of time can result in significant difficulties, including logistical problems. For further information concerning the amount of time required for the issuance of a visa, it is recommended to contact the Swiss representation responsible for issuing the visa. The issuance of visas at the border will continue to be a measure that is applied very restrictively.
Holders of diplomatic, service or special passports wishing to visit Switzerland for medical reasons have to submit confirmation of admission to a hospital or of a visit to a doctor, in addition to the usual documents.
For further information on the documents required for private visits, the holders of diplomatic, service or special passports are advised to contact the representation responsible.
Persons invited by the holder of a legitimation card of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs are exempted from the requirement to provide a declaration of payment of medical and other related expenses approved by the municipal authorities of the place of residence. Instead, the applicant is required to present:
- a letter of invitation stating that the person issuing the invitation will pay the costs of the stay and the return of the applicant;
- copy of both sides of the legitimation card of the person issuing the invitation;
- confirmation by the employer of the person issuing the invitation confirming that he or she is still in employment.
3. Persons subject to visa requirements
The list of nationalities subject to a visa requirement may be consulted on the SEM site:
Persons who up to now have not been subject to the visa requirement
A) Certain nationalities which are currently exempted by Switzerland became subject to the visa requirement as soon as the Schengen-Dublin agreements entered into force. The countries concerned are:
Dominica, Fiji Islands, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Kiribati, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Surinam, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu.
B) Holders of residence permits issued by the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada and the United States of America who are not nationals of member states of the European Union or EFTA and are currently exempted by Switzerland became subject to visa requirements when the Schengen-Dublin agreements entered into force.
4. Long stay national visa for the purpose of taking up office
This concerns category D visas. With effect from 5 April 2010, they are also valid throughout the entire Schengen area for stays of up to three months.
As the issuance of this type of visa remains the sole responsibility of the Swiss authorities, the associated procedures remain the same. For further information on this subject, please contact the Swiss representation responsible for the applicant’s place of residence.
5. Travel insurance requirement
The following persons are exempted from the travel insurance requirement:
- Holders of diplomatic passports on official visits or in a private capacity;
- Holders of service or special passports on official visits;
- Politicians on official or private visits who do not hold a diplomatic passport, provided that the existence of sufficient coverage can be shown.
6. Validity of the visa (4)
A short stay visa is issued for the duration of the stay in the Schengen area, but for a maximum of three months during a six-month period. Depending on the case, it is possible to apply for a visa with a period of validity greater than three months, as long as it is understood that the stay must not exceed three months within a six-month period.
A Swiss visa that is still valid remains valid for entry into Switzerland, but is not valid for travel within the Schengen area.
However, Schengen visas issued by other member states before the operational implementation of the agreement are valid for entry into Switzerland.
For further information concerning the status of the implementation of the Schengen-Dublin agreements, please consult the SEM site.
7. UN laissez-passer
A UN laissez-passer is a document that permits entry into Switzerland without a visa for a stay not exceeding three months. Holders who also need to travel to another Schengen state should contact the representation of the state concerned in order to find out whether they need to obtain a visa.
8. Crossing borders and travel within the Schengen area
In order to cross the border to enter or leave the Schengen area or inside the Schengen area, a valid travel document (passport or ID) is required, plus a valid entry permit or visa that is recognised in the Schengen area.
A valid FDFA legitimation card functions as an entry permit and allows the holder to travel within the Schengen area for a period of up to three months (with no gainful activity). Holders of an FDFA legitimation card have to ensure that the card is valid for the full duration of their stay abroad. If the card has expired or the holder is unable to present it, he or she runs the risk of being refused entry into, or as the case may be, expelled from the Schengen area.
Switzerland has provided the Schengen authorities with specimens of FDFA legitimation cards that are valid for entry. However, it has occasionally been the case that a card has not been recognised at a given customs post. As a precautionary measure, holders of FDFA legitimation cards can print out the list below of permits for entry to the Schengen area and present it to the immigration authorities if they experience any difficulties. The list can be found in "Annexe 2" of the SEM Visas manual (is equivalent to the "Annexe 22" of the Schengen manual). It is available on the SEM web site :
- List of resident permit delivered by the Schengen Member States allowing entry into the Schengen area without a visa
If the case of further difficulties, the immigration authority concerned can be asked to contact the international security police at Geneva Airport: phone no. +41 22 427 58 30 (until midnight), or +41 22 427 92 20 (24-hour service).
9. Termination of functions – definitive departure from Switzerland and travel within the Schengen area
When crossing the border to exit Switzerland or transferring to the Schengen area, a valid travel document is required that is recognised within the Schengen area, plus a valid entry permit (FDFA legitimation card) or a visa that is valid for the entire period of stay in the Schengen area.
Persons leaving Switzerland definitively upon termination of their functions may retain their FDFA legitimation card for the duration of their stay in the Schengen area. However, before they leave Switzerland they must ensure that their FDFA legitimation card is valid for the entire period of their stay in the Schengen area. If necessary, they will have to apply to renew their FDFA legitimation card via the permanent mission or international organisation. In any case they must return their FDFA legitimation card upon arrival in their new country of residence via their permanent mission or international organisation.
(1) Swiss visas issued prior to the entry into force of the Schengen-Dublin agreements will remain valid, but only permit entry into Swiss sovereign territory.
(2) Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden. Visas valid for the Schengen area are also valid for Monaco. The UK issues visas that are identical to those used in the Schengen area, but are only valid for the UK.
(3) The following residence permits are recognised: FDFA legitimation card (all categories), permits B, C, L and national category D which states that it is valid as a residence permit.
(4) The validity of the visa, i.e. the date after which the visa is no longer valid, should not be confused with the validity of the period of residence, i.e. the period in which the holder is permitted to stay in the Schengen area.