With one of the highest gross domestic product (GDP) ratings in the world, and also an extremely high nominal wealth per adult citizen, Switzerland is consistently rated in the top five of the most developed countries in the world.
Landlocked in the heart of Europe, Switzerland is almost entirely dominated by the Alps and Jura mountains with about 30% of the land area occupied by the Swiss Plateau which is home to the bulk of the country’s almost nine million inhabitants. The country’s economy relies heavily on commerce and many of the world’s biggest banks have a presence in the major cities of Geneva, Basel and Zurich. Surprisingly none of these three major economic centres is the capital of Switzerland as this honour lies with the picturesque town of Bern with a population of just over 130,000.
One of the founding members of EFTA (European Free Trade Association), Switzerland has never been a member of the European Union or part of the Eurozone retaining its own currency, the Swiss Franc, although the euro is widely accepted throughout the country.
Despite never having joined the EU, Switzerland is a long-standing member of the Schengen Area, having joined in 2009, and enforces all Schengen directives pertaining to visitors to the country.
Who needs a Schengen Visa?
Citizens of any of the EU member countries are free to enter, transit through or reside in any of the other member states. Despite Switzerland not being in the European Union the country is included in this visa-exempt travel regulation. This means that Switzerland is regarded as an associate EU member for travel purposes. Swiss nationals can travel throughout the European Union and Schengen Area with just a current passport and EU citizens enjoy the same visa-free access to Switzerland.
Beyond Europe, other major countries also enjoy a reciprocal visa-exempt agreement with Switzerland and citizens of these countries can also enter the country with just a passport. Some of these visa-exempt countries are the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom although UK nationals may soon require a Schengen Visa to visit Switzerland and other EU countries.
Citizens of countries that do not qualify for visa-free access are termed “world travellers” and, as such, will need to have applied for and received a Schengen Visa before being permitted entry into Switzerland. Moreover, world travellers must possess the type of Schengen Visa that most accurately describes the reason for the visit to Switzerland.
Purpose of Visit
Before submitting any application for a Schengen Visa it is crucial to select the type of visa that most accurately matches the main reason for the visit. The vast majority of applications are for a simple Tourist Visa, but this is just one of a range of different visa types. Every year world travellers visit Switzerland for a range of reasons. These include holidays, study, visiting relatives and even undergoing medical treatment. There is a different form of visa for each of these purposes (and others besides) and each visa type will require its own supporting documents which must accompany the application form.
Visa types and required documentation
Even using a Swiss airport to connect with an onward flight will require possession of an Airport Transit Visa.
- Visa for the final country being visited if applicable
- Flight tickets for the onward journey
Short visits for the purpose of holidays and tourism are covered by a Tourist Visa, the most commonly sought type of Schengen Visa.
- Detailed itinerary of any planned outings or excursions
- Proof of sufficient finances to cover accommodation and expenses (usually bank statements for the preceding six months)
Not dissimilar to a Tourist Visa, the Visitor Visa is specifically for the use of world travellers wishing to visit friends or family members resident in Switzerland.
- Letter of invitation from the resident host listing names and dates of birth for all invited world travellers and also details of dates of arrival and departure
- Documentary proof of any relationship between the host and arriving guest(s)
- The host’s passport, residency permit or national identity card
While it is technically possible to visit Switzerland on a short business trip on a Tourist Visa it is strongly advised that world travellers should instead possess a Business Visa as this will avoid any possible misunderstandings or difficulties with Swiss authorities.
- Letter of invitation from the relevant Swiss company, business or organisation
- Any proof of previous or ongoing ties to the Swiss business
- The Swiss company’s business details including address, contact details etc.
- Letter outlining the main reason(s) for the business trip (meeting, conference, presentation etc.)
- Proof of funding for expenses and accommodation for the duration of the trip either by the Swiss company or the traveller
World travellers wishing to partake in a short-term (less than 90 day) course of study or apprenticeship in Switzerland require a Study Visa for this purpose. Longer courses and internships require a long-term Student Visa.
- Letter of No Objection from the student’s current educational establishment stating the student will leave Switzerland at the end of the course (where applicable)
- Internship agreement between the traveller’s employer and the Swiss concern where the apprenticeship will take place
- Proof of adequate funds to cover the length of the stay in Switzerland
Undergoing medical treatment or surgery in Switzerland is covered by a Medical Visa which is compulsory for world travellers wishing, or needing, specialised care in the country.
- Doctor’s letter confirming diagnosis and the traveller’s medical report
- Confirmation from the Swiss medical institution where surgery/treatment will be carried out
- Proof of confirmed payment of at least 50% of the total cost of treatment
- Schedule and dates of treatment/surgical procedures to be carried out
Other visa types
These are the most commonly issued types of Schengen Visa for Switzerland but they are not the only ones available. Other specialised forms of visa are also available for:
- Cultural, Artistic and Sporting events
- Visiting dignitaries
- Spouses of Swiss nationals
- Members of official delegations
Whatever the main reason for visiting Switzerland, it is highly likely that there will be a type of visa specific to that purpose. Choosing the wrong type of visa is a common error for many world travellers and is one that can lead to unwanted delays and even a refusal. Always ensure that the type of visa applied for is the one that most closely matches the purpose of the visit and, if uncertain, contact the nearest Swiss embassy or consulate for guidance and clarification.
Submitting the Visa Application
Applying for a Schengen Visa is a somewhat complicated business and care and attention must be paid to every step in the process. There are six steps that need to be taken in order to complete the process successfully:
 Choose the correct type of visa.
As already discussed, always choose the type of Schengen Visa that best describes the purpose of the visit. Selecting the wrong type can easily lead to confusion, problems, delays and, occasionally, a refusal.
 Complete the application form.
Any Schengen Visa application form is detailed and complex. It is very easy to skip a question or inadvertently put an answer in the wrong place. Never assume the form is completed without thoroughly checking it over at least twice but three times is better.
 Collect all supporting documentation
Every type of visa will require various pieces of supporting documentation. Check and double-check that all documents requested have been collected and are ready to accompany the application form.
 Locate visa processing centre
In most cases, the application will need to be submitted to the nearest Swiss embassy or consulate. If these are not present, there will be an authorised visa processing centre which may be used instead. Ensure the application form and documents are presented to the proper, recognised centre for processing.
 Arrange a personal interview.
All Schengen Visa applications must be presented in person at a personal interview. This interview must be arranged by the applicant and is not the responsibility of the Swiss authorities. The interview is where the application form and supporting documentation will be scrutinised for any errors and omissions and any questions relating to the visit answered. The applicant will also be finger-printed as part of the security process. Payment in full for processing the visa must also be made at the interview.
 Processing time
Most applications should be approved (or denied) within two to three days. Although this is usually enough time it is best to err on the side of caution and arrange the interview for at least a week before the first date of travel to Switzerland.
Apart from any supporting documentation requested, an applicant should also be aware that a current, valid biometric passport is also a necessity. The passport must also be no more than ten years old and be valid for at least six months beyond the last date to be spent in the Schengen Area. Additionally, it must also contain at least two blank pages where the Schengen Visa can be affixed.
World travellers wishing to enter the Schengen Area must also have a specified amount of health insurance to cover any medical emergencies that may arise. The amount of cover will vary from country to country and should be checked with the relevant country’s Schengen requirement regulations.
It should also be noted that although a Schengen Visa is mandatory it is not a guarantee of entry to the Schengen Area. The final decision always rests with the border security authorities of the country being visited who may deny entry if there are reasonable suspicions and grounds for so doing.