The regime for establishing consular relations and posts as well as the nomination and admission of heads of consular posts is governed by the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of 24 April 1963.
Condition for the opening and maintaining of a consular post headed by a career consular representative
In principle, the Swiss authorities apply a fairly restrictive policy in this domain: the genuine need for a duly accredited official representative must be demonstrated. Statistical data on the current and forecast size of the foreign community, commercial, tourist, cultural and scientific relations between the sending State and the new consular district must be provided; as should that for prospective further development resulting from the presence of an official representative. The FDFA reserves the right re-examine at any time, including after opening, the genuine need to keep a post open.
Furthermore, the limited size of Swiss territory justifies that, in addition to a consular section near to an Embassy in Bern, only requests to establish a maximum of one additional consular post per language region (in German-speaking Switzerland, French-speaking Switzerland and Ticino) will, in principle, be considered.
The seat of a consular post must be located in a cantonal capital (with the exception of the Canton of Ticino where the city of Lugano may also be accepted as seat for a consular post upon duly-evidenced request). A cantonal administrative center is determined by its town center and the municipalities served by the urban public transport network of the cantonal capital, not including inter-city or regional transport systems.
Any subsequent change of address of the seat of a consular post is subject to the prior approval of the FDFA (Protocol).
Consular districts may not overlap one another and must coincide with cantonal borders.
The official residence of the head of a consular post (headed by a career consular representative) must be located in the city of the seat of the post or in a bordering municipality. In the cases of Geneva and Basel: the residence must be located in the city of Geneva or Basel, as the case may be, or in a bordering municipality in Switzerland.
A head of post’s class must correspond to the category of his/her consular representation, for example a consul-general for a general consulate and a consul for a consulate.
The FDFA prefers the establishment of consular posts headed by career consular representatives or honorary consular officers. The authorities of sending States are requested to refrain from submitting requests to establish vice-consulates or consular agencies to the FDFA (Protocol).
Procedure for establishing and maintaining a consular post headed by a career consular representative
Requests to establish a consular post must be addressed to the FDFA (Protocol) through diplomatic channels and must contain the following information:
- Specific reasons to justify the request (refer to the section on conditions for opening)
- The name of the cantonal capital designated as the consular post’s seat
- The cantons to be incorporated into the proposed consular district
Procedure for nominating career heads of consular posts (2nd phase of formalities)
Once the FDFA (Protocol) has granted approval for the establishment of a consular post, Protocol will invite the Embassy to send it, through diplomatic channels, the dossier on the candidate to whom it proposes to entrust the management of the consular post, with the following documents:
- A complete and current curriculum vitae with photograph (surname/first name, place/date of birth, civil status, nationality/ies, education/studies, professional history, current position).
- A photocopy of his/her passport (or passports if a multi-national)
- Address of proposed seat of consular post
Procedure for admission of career heads of consular posts
Once the FDFA (Protocol) has agreed to the candidate nominated by the sending State, Protocol will invite the Embassy to send it the original letter of commission. This letter must contain the surname and first names of the appointed head of post (as it is written in his/her passport), the class (consul general or consul), as well as the category (career), consular district (list of cantons concerned) and seat (cantonal capital) of the consular post. The letter of commission must be addressed to the Federal Council (and not to the President of the Confederation). On the basis of this letter, Protocol will submit a request for exequatur to the Federal Council.
Protocol will send the exequatur to the Embassy for transmission to the head of post. However, the letter of commission, being an integral part of the admission dossier, cannot be returned to the authorities of the sending State.
Arrival in Switzerland
Embassies should refer to “List 1: Overview of ID and visa provisions according to nationality (column: Visa required for stays of more than 90 days)” of the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) to see whether the consular head of post needs to request a visa from the competent Swiss Embassy or whether he/she is exempt from the Swiss visa requirement.
Registration with the FDFA (Protocol), issuance of a legitimation card and inscription in the “Consular Corps Member List”
Once the consular head of post has arrived in Switzerland, the Embassy concerned must send Protocol a request for registration of the consular head of post with a photocopy of his/her passport and two recent passport photographs; the same requirements apply to any persons authorised to accompany him/her (Article 20, paragraph 1, Host State Ordinance, HSO).
End of posting of a career head of a consular post
Embassies must inform the FDFA (Protocol) without delay of the end of the posting of a head of post, specifying the exact date on which functions will cease; Protocol will then delete the head of post details from the “Consular Corps Member List”. Once the former head of post has arrived in the country of his/her new posting, any legitimation card(s) must be returned to Protocol. Embassies must also inform Protocol:
if they anticipate naming a new head of post, which formality must be completed within four months following the end of posting of the previous head of post. In this situation the procedure previously described (refer to 1st phase of formalities) should be followed;
if a post is to be closed permanently. In this case, the procedure described hereafter should be followed.
Procedure for closing a consular post headed by a career consular representative
Embassies must notify the FDFA (Protocol) through diplomatic channels of the permanent closure of a consular post.
In connection with this matter, Embassies
- must state to which representation (embassy of other consular post) the cantons formerly in the district of the closed consular post will be re-assigned;
- must ensure that all external visible signs of the closed post (coats of arms and plaques on the building’s façade or entrance, flags, details on letter boxes, entries in telephone directories, etc.) are removed or deleted as appropriate;
- ensure that all materials used in the exercise of functions (official seals, letterhead and official forms, etc.) are returned to Embassies by the former head of post and
- once the former head of post has arrived in the country of his/her new posting, that his/her legitimation card (and those of any persons who were authorised to accompany him/her) is/are returned to Protocol.
Protocol will then delete the inscription of the post and the name of its head from the “Consular Corps Member List”.