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Can I Work While on a Student Visa in Switzerland?

International students who are considering a Swiss university are truly spoilt for choice. They have the choice of:

  • ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology)
  • Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne
  • University of Zurich
  • University of Basel
  • University of Bern
  • The University of Geneva, and;
  • University of Lausanne

These represent the top universities in Switzerland, but there are many other options. Then there the many universities of applied science, Higher Education Institutions, and Higher education institutions of art and music. Not only are international students spoilt for opportunities in Switzerland, but they are also more satisfied with their education than the average for Europe. The mere mention of a Swiss university on your CV will also carry considerable weight and help you to forge your new career. This is because Swiss universities are highly regarded by employers around the world.

Beyond university, international students in Switzerland enjoy stunning surroundings, and being at the heart of Europe allows them to travel to neighbouring countries. The recreational, travel and cultural opportunities in Switzerland are almost unparalleled. It is easy to see why Switzerland is the preferred choice for many overseas students.

High Cost of Living in Switzerland is a Key Consideration

One of the challenges of studying in Switzerland, however, is high living costs. Foreign students view the country as a very expensive place to study. To illustrate this point, consider that the cost of living in Switzerland is nearly 80% higher than in the United States, and nearly 90% more expensive than the UK (and rent is over 75% higher than the UK on average). Even food basics can be expensive; a loaf of white bread is the equivalent of £2.36, 1kg of swiss cheese is around £20 (chicken is about the same price). Rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the city centre is the equivalent of about £1,200.

While some students may be eligible for a scholarship to assist with their study and living costs, these are at a premium. Some international students may consider borrowing the money they need for their course fees and living costs, in the knowledge it can be repaid when they are in paid employment. But amassing a large debt may then leave new graduates overburdened as they must fund their living costs and debt repayments.

For these reasons, many international students have to find work to supplement their income. The key, as ever, is to balance the number of hours working with the demands of study.

Can International Students in Switzerland Work?

Yes, international students in Switzerland are permitted to work, but there are limits to how many hours they can do. The weekly limit is 15 hours. If a student wishes to work more than 15 hours, they would then be classified as an employee from the perspective of immigration policy, and will then need a work permit. During breaks between semesters, international students can work full hours.

It is important to note that students must wait until six months after they have lived in Switzerland for six months before they can work. This does not apply, however, if you have a Master’s degree from an overseas university and you are working for a Swiss university or other educational institution. In this case, the employer will apply for a work permit on your behalf.

In terms of finding part-time work while you are studying, a key consideration is your language ability. While you are legally able to work, many employers will want to see that you have sufficient language skills to perform your role.

Working once you Have Finished your Studies

Many international students choose to stay in Switzerland once they have completed their course of study. The Swiss Federal Act on Foreign Nationals and Integration states, “Foreign nationals with a Swiss university degree may be admitted in derogation from paragraph 1 if their work is of high academic or economic interest. They shall be temporarily admitted for a period of six months following completion of their education or training in Switzerland in order to find suitable work”.

If you do wish to stay and work, you will first need to make an application at your local cantonal immigration office for a residence permit to allow you to remain for six months while you find employment. You will need to provide evidence that you have now completed your course of study (e.g. a certificate or a letter from your university), proof that you can financially support yourself while you are looking for work, and evidence that you have a suitable place to live during this period.

If your residence permit allowing you to stay for the purposes of finding a job is granted, you will then be able to continue working for up to 15 hours per week while you complete your job search.

One of the benefits for international students of having a Swiss university-level qualification is that they are treated in the same manner as a domestic graduate in terms of entering the job market. This means that the employer does not need to complete a labour market test to prove the role cannot be filled by a Swiss or EU candidates. Nevertheless, when applying for your work permit, they will still need to demonstrate that your role is of particular economic or scientific importance.

Final Words

There is a wealth of study opportunities for international students in Switzerland, and once you have graduated, you will have the benefit of being on the same footing as your Swiss counterparts. The challenge for many will be balancing the not inconsiderable demands of study (which may be greater due to having to learn a new language) with funding your period of study in Switzerland. If you can achieve this, you can secure a Swiss degree or post-graduate qualification which will serve you for the rest of your life. We wish you the very best with your studies in Switzerland.

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