An orange ‘Welcome’ sign on a green lawn.
The International Bern Welcome Desk and the International Geneva Welcome Centre are there to help you when you first arrive in Switzerland. © Nico Smit/unsplash

Choice of residence

The following rules must be observed by FDFA legitimation cardholders when choosing their place of residence: 

  • For embassies in Bern – either in the federal capital or no more than 40km away from the city.
  • For consular posts headed by a career consular officer – in the consular district.


International Bern Welcome Desk

The International Bern Welcome Desk (IBWD) provides information and advice on relocation, housing, education, family, health, events, work and leisure in several languages. The service is individualised, impartial, and free of charge.

The IBWD is the main point of contact to help people relocate successfully to Bern.

International Bern Welcome Desk (IBWD)

International Geneva Welcome Centre

Founded by the Swiss Confederation and the Republic and Canton of Geneva, the International Geneva Welcome Centre (CAGI) is a one-stop shop for newcomers working for International Geneva and their families, as well as NGOs and visiting delegates. 

In order to facilitate relocation and integration, the CAGI provides a range of services and a welcome programme.

International Geneva Welcome Centre (CAGI)

Welcome programme

Legitimation cards

The FDFA legitimation card is a residence permit certifying, where applicable, the holder's privileges and immunities, and exempting them from the visa requirement whilst in office. Cards are issued by FDFA Protocol to staff of institutional beneficiaries (embassies and consulates) accredited to Switzerland who are entitled to privileges and immunities as well as their accompanying persons.

Although holders are exempt from the obligation to register with the cantonal/communal residents' register office (excluding honorary heads of post), they may register on a voluntary basis.

FDFA Protocol determines the conditions for granting and assigning the different types of legitimation card according to status: persons called to act in an official capacity at a diplomatic mission or consular post, and individuals authorised to accompany them, including private household employees (Host State Act (HSA).

Host State Act (HSA)

FDFA registration application form for staff of diplomatic and consular representations (PDF, 3 Pages, 977.9 kB, English)

Renewing legitimation cards

Those in charge of administration in diplomatic missions and consular posts, or the individual cardholders themselves, are requested to regularly check card expiry dates. The embassy should send cards requiring renewal four weeks prior to their expiry date to FDFA Protocol by note verbale with the cardholder's photograph (good quality, passport size, less than three months old) and a photocopy of their passport which should still be valid for six months. 

Loss or theft

If a legitimation card has been lost or stolen, this must be reported to the local police at the place of residence as quickly as possible. The police report must then be sent via note verbale to FDFA Protocol together with the cardholder's photograph (good quality, passport size, less than three months old) and a photocopy of their passport which should still be valid, requesting the issue of a new legitimation card. 


Children authorised to accompany principle beneficiaries (in accordance with Art. 20, para. 1, let. d and e of the Host State Ordinance (HSO) ) must also be registered with FDFA Protocol and are entitled to a legitimation card up to the age of 25 only. Consequently, those aged over 25 wishing to remain in Switzerland should apply for a residence permit to the migration or aliens registration office responsible for their place of residence at the latest three months before their 25th birthday in accordance with the Foreign Nationals and Integration Act (ordinary law).

Host State Ordinance (HSO)

Foreign Nationals and Integration Act (FNIA)

Access to Swiss job market / Ci permits

Access to the Swiss job market for family members resident in Switzerland of embassy or consulate staff with an FDFA legitimation card. 

Special Ci permits allowing gainful employment may be issued to family members who fulfil the aforementioned criteria and reside in Switzerland with the main legitimation cardholder (the person exercising the official function). Ci permits provide access to the Swiss job market regardless of nationality or qualifications. Employment at an institutional beneficiary is not allowed, however. 

An FDFA legitimation card does not entitle the holder to work, even as a volunteer. People who want to work must exchange their legitimation card for a Ci permit. 

If the person works in a region of Switzerland far away from the home of the principal beneficiary and cannot therefore commute every day, an exemption to the common household requirement may be given. In such cases, the person must notify the residents' registration office of the canton of residence (where the principal beneficiary resides) of their address during the week and provide a written declaration confirming that they return to the common household every weekend. Failure to comply with these conditions will result in the withdrawal of the Ci permit. 

A Ci permit is also required when the person works from Switzerland but for an employer based abroad (e.g. teleworking). 

Ci permits for children

Children wishing to benefit from a Ci permit must have entered Switzerland and registered with FDFA Protocol for family reunification before the age of 21. If they arrive after 21 years of age they no longer qualify and are subject to the ordinary regulations on gainful employment for foreign nationals in Switzerland. 

Anyone over the age of 25 must regularise their residence and working conditions in accordance with the FNIA. 

Granting Ci permits

To make it easier for family members to approach potential employers, FDFA Protocol can provide them with an attestation concerning the issuance of an authorisation for a residence permit with gainful employment (Ci permit). 

Upon presentation of an employment contract, job offer or a declaration of intention to work in a self-employed capacity including a description of the self-employed activity (including business plan), the person may request a Ci permit in exchange for their legitimation card from the resident's registration office of their canton of residence. A fee will be charged for the Ci permit. 

The person can start working as soon as they have submitted their application to the residents' registration office of their canton of residence. Depending on the occupation however, the work may only be carried out if the permit holder has obtained – if necessary and in advance – any licences that may be required to practise the profession or self-employed activity from the competent Swiss authorities (e.g. for certain business or health-related activities). Please refer to SERI’s list of regulated professional activities in Switzerland.

List of regulated professional activities in Switzerland, State Secretariat for Education, Innovation and Research (SERI)

In the canton of Bern, self-employed persons who are not EU/EFTA nationals must also obtain a permit from the cantonal Office for Economy and Labour before taking up their activity.

EU/EFTA nationals may apply for an ordinary permit (B permit) instead of a Ci permit under the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons.

Agreement between the European Community and its Members States, of the one part, and the Swiss Confederation, of the other, on the free movement of persons (de)

A Ci permit is valid only in the canton which has issued it. However, Ci permits for EU/EFTA nationals are valid throughout Switzerland. If the person changes jobs while their Ci permit is still valid, they must first notify their cantonal/communal residents' registration office in order to have the permit changed.

Ci permits are issued for the duration of the contract or self-employed activity up to a maximum of two years, provided that this does not exceed the duration of the official duties of the principal holder. Permit holders must contact the residents' registration office of their canton of residence to renew their Ci permit when it expires.

A person may retain their Ci permit as long as the principal beneficiary remains in office. They may keep using it for as long as they are gainfully employed or, if they stop working, for as long as they are receiving unemployment benefits. The Ci permit becomes invalid once the main beneficiary is no longer entitled to a legitimation card. 

Attestation request for Ci permit  (PDF, 1 Page, 184.2 kB, English)

Privileges and immunities for Ci permit holders

Ci permit holders remain entitled to all privileges and immunities they are granted as an accompanying person (private life) except with regard to gainful employment, which is fully subject to Swiss law: 

  • they have no immunity (even if usually conferred by their diplomatic status) in the event of any action relating to their gainful employment;
  • they are liable to Swiss income tax on gainful employment (generally taxed at source by employer); 
  • they are subject to Swiss social insurance (AVS/AI/APG/AC and LPP) and accident insurance in respect of the gainful employment; 
  • they are subject to compulsory Swiss health insurance (KVG/LAMal) under the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons if they are an EU/EFTA national and the main beneficiary is a member of the career staff of an EU/EFTA embassy or consulate.
  • if they are nationals of the United Kingdom and if the principal beneficiary is a career staff member of a mission or a consulate of the United Kingdom, they are subject to compulsory Swiss health insurance (LAMal) in accordance with the provisions of the Convention on the coordination of social security between Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

End of gainful employment

If the gainful employment comes to an end and the person is no longer entitled to unemployment benefits, they must return their Ci permit to the residents' registration office of their canton of residence. In such cases, they may request the return of their legitimation card – if still entitled to one – via the embassy. 

Secondary gainful employment of an accompanying person

If the gainful employment does not exceed 10 hours per week (15 hours for family members studying in Switzerland), the person may keep their FDFA legitimation card but must request authorisation in writing from the residents' registration office of their canton of residence. This will only be given after approval by FDFA Protocol. As with Ci permits, all matters pertaining to the gainful employment are governed by ordinary law.

Last update 22.11.2023

  • Switzerland is obliged to protect diplomatic and consular representations and their members on its territory.

  • Embassy and consulate staff enjoy certain tax and customs privileges.

  • Embassy and consulate staff are subject to special health insurance provisions.

  • Conditions of entry, residence and work for the private household employees of embassy and consulate staff.

  • The international airports in Geneva and Zurich have different rules concerning access to certain areas and VIP lounge facilities.

  • People wishing to enter Switzerland with a pet must comply with certain provisions.

  • Information on the authorisation of vehicles for road traffic purposes, liability insurance and driving licences.

  • Information on the acquisition of real estate by the sending state or by embassy and consulate staff.

  • Persons enjoying privileges and immunities in Switzerland are obliged to comply with local laws and legal provisions.


Privileges and Immunities

Bundesgasse 32
3003 Bern

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