Education System

The Swiss constitution sets the framework for Swiss education – including that primary school is mandatory and free when offered in public schools – but the practical authority for the education system resides with the cantons. Therefore education is very diverse in Switzerland: in the school sector (primary and secondary) there are essentially 26 different public education systems.

In terms of higher education, there are 10 cantonal autonomous universities and two federal institutes of technology. Higher vocational education and training (VET) is a Swiss specialty, and provides tertiary-level courses (up to diploma level) and focuses on skills for professional and management positions. Basic VET is provided at secondary school level. VET is the joint responsibility of the federal government, cantons, and professional associations. The Swiss Education Server website (www.educa.ch) notes that the Swiss VET system “serves the purpose of senior staff training and specialisation of individuals who have completed a three- to four-year basic vocational education and training, or who have achieved an equivalent qualification.”

In terms of universities, there are two categories: (1) traditional universities (cantonal universities and Federal Institutes of Technology and (2) universities of applied sciences, including universities of art and music as well as universities of teacher education. International students should check carefully into the various universities in terms of language preference, because different languages of instruction occur across the university spectrum. While English is widely spoken throughout Switzerland, the majority of undergraduate programmes are taught in German, French, or Italian. The student will have to show command of the language of instruction for admission.

To enter a university, students must meet the qualification entry requirements, usually Matura or its equivalent. Otherwise they may be required to sit an entrance examination prior to acceptance. As the universities are independent, applications are made directly to the university or institute of technology. 

Five Quick Points About Switzerland

  • A land that embraces diversity, with nearly a quarter of the population composed of immigrants and four official languages
  • Highly qualified and skilled labour force
  • Very decentralised and diverse education system – international students apply at institutional level
  • Finding suitable accommodation can be challenging – international students should research and find housing as soon as possible after being accepted at a school
  • Unique VET (higher vocational education and training) model

Information Specific to International Students

International students from outside the EU/EFTA must contact the Swiss embassy or consulate in their own country to first check if they require a student visa, and apply for a visa prior to entering Switzerland. Depending on the canton of study, this visa process can take two to three months; therefore, it is important for international students to consult their chosen educational institution in Switzerland as well. Further, within 14 days of entering Switzerland, EU/EFTA students must register with the local authority (Einwohnerkontrolle, Residents' Registration Office) at their place of residence and apply for a residence permit. Often universities provide support for international students with visa and study permit registration.

Anyone who lives in Switzerland for three months, including international students, must have basic health insurance coverage. Students who have international mutual coverage may be exempt from taking out the compulsory Swiss health insurance. International students may work while studying; however, there is usually a maximum of 15–20 hours a week allowed. Course duration will not be extended on the basis of gainful employment commitments

Living Conditions and Cost of Living

Depending on the location of the university and personal demand, students will need CHF19,000 to 29,000 (Swiss francs) a year. Average monthly expenses excluding tuition and accommodation costs will be: CHF1,135 (food: 600, cultural activities and leisure: 250, public transport: 70, study materials 100, health care/other insurances 115). Tuition fees can range from CHF1,300 to CHF8,000 per year.

Most Swiss rent accommodation rather than buying. Vacancy rates in Switzerland are very low, accommodation can be expensive and finding accommodation may not be easy. Subsidised accommodation may be available from the universities; however, this is often limited. Flats and apartments can be rented as bare shells. Accommodation should be researched and sourced as soon as possible after acceptance at an educational institution.

Location and Geography

Switzerland (officially "the Swiss Confederation") is a small landlocked nation state in central Europe; its total area is 41,290 square kilometres. Bordering Switzerland are France (west), Germany (north), Austria and Lichtenstein (east), and Italy (south). Switzerland is a diverse land of mountains, lakes, and rich fertile plains: the Jura Mountains in the northwest, the Alps in the south, and the glacier-carved plains of the Central Plateau. The capital city is Bern. Climate

The cool, temperate climate in Switzerland is affected by its landlocked position and by the variations in altitude. This translates to generally cold, cloudy, rainy/snowy winters and cool to warm, cloudy, humid summers with occasional showers. In summer on the plain, temperatures can reach 30ºC. In winter, the temperature rarely drops below 5ºC. Society and Culture

Swiss culture is known for its diversity: there can be marked differences in language, economy, cultural history, cuisine, political persuasions, climate, architecture, and the educational system from region to region and canton to canton. The cultural diversity of Switzerland is evident in the many cultural events. The country is well known for all kinds of winter sports. The International Olympic Committee and FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football Association) headquarters are in Lausanne and Zurich respectively.

The website Swissworld notes the following: "The Swiss themselves are sometimes puzzled about what they have in common apart from their passport, what it is that makes them Swiss. The Swiss say they are held together by the desire to stay united. The general attitude is summed up in the formula 'unity, but not uniformity.'"

Visa requirements

All visa applications are accepted by appointment only. IMPORTANT: Please request an appointment allowing enough time in advance. In addition the passport will be retained at the Embassy with the submission of the application during the whole processing time. All invitation letters from individuals and institutions located in Switzerland have to be sent directly by fax or email to the visa applicant. The visa applicant is invited, in his/her own interest, to submit a complete file. To avoid any misunderstanding and unnecessary delays, it is highly recommended to download the "New requirements Schengen Visa" document (download available on the right side). All incomplete applications will not be accepted and handed back to the visa applicant.

In the framework of Switzerland's association with the Schengen area, the Swiss diplomatic and consular missions issue Schengen visas since December 2008, entitling holders to a maximum three-month stay in the whole Schengen area.

The Schengen visa is a standard entry permit, valid in principle for the access into the whole Schengen area. The introduction of Schengen visas for the admission into Switzerland will be of particular benefit to tourists and business travellers. Anyone planning to visit Switzerland and any of the other Schengen states will only need a Schengen visa.

Schengen rules only apply to short-term stays for a maximum of 90 days over a six-month period. For stays longer than three months in a Schengen member state, applications are processed under the legislation of the country concerned, and the corresponding visas are valid only in this country. The rules governing the pursuit of a gainful activity also remain subject to national legislation.

To avoid any impediment, an application form should be deposited at least 20 days prior to your travel date. Visa applications must always be submitted to that country most closely associated with the main destination and / or motive for the applicant's trip.

Each applicant is required to fill in a Schengen visa application form.