Rights and obligations of Swiss nationals abroad

The Swiss Abroad Act governs the fundamental rights and obligations of Swiss nationals living abroad. It also defines a variety of services that Switzerland can offer its citizens who are living and/or working abroad permanently or temporarily.

Pursuant to the Swiss Abroad Act, Swiss nationals living abroad are Swiss citizens who are not domiciled in Switzerland and are registered with their competent representation.

The Swiss Abroad Act governs support from the Confederation for institutions related to Swiss nationals living abroad.

Swiss nationals living abroad can apply for social welfare, subject to certain conditions. They can also exercise various political rights that are specified in the Swiss Abroad Act.

Registration within 90 days

Within 90 days of relinquishing domicile in Switzerland, Swiss citizens aged 18 or over must register with the representation responsible for their new place of residence. Individuals who, on the one hand, have acquired Swiss citizenship through birth abroad and, on the other, reached the age of 18 abroad can register with a representation to avoid losing their citizenship.

Consular protection

The Swiss Abroad Act governs consular protection for Swiss nationals abroad who require emergency assistance or are situated in a crisis or disaster area. It specifies the assistance that is provided to Swiss nationals domiciled in Switzerland and, to a certain extent, to Swiss nationals living abroad.

Consular protection is also available to legal entities, subject to certain conditions. However, there is no legal entitlement to consular protection. Cases are always assessed on an individual basis. 

The Swiss Abroad Act governs additional consular services of which Swiss nationals living abroad make particular use, e.g. authentication of documents and confirmations.

Services based on other federal acts

Some services are prescribed in other federal acts. For example, the Federal Act on Identity Documents for Swiss Nationals governs the issue of passports abroad.

Numerous other federal acts and ordinances also include provisions on the rights and obligations of Swiss nationals abroad, which is why such pieces of legislation are also worth consulting, e.g.:

  • The Ordinance on Voluntary Old-Age, Survivors’ and Disability Insurance
    This piece of legislation only governs the insurance scheme of the same name, which Swiss nationals domiciled outside the EU and EFTA can join, subject to certain conditions.


Ordinance on Voluntary Old-Age, Survivors’ and Disability Insurance

  • The Ordinance on Military Administration, chapter 5
    This piece of legislation governs the exemption from military service while abroad of individuals who are subject to the notification obligation in accordance with the Military Act.

Ordinance on Military Administration

Bilateral and multilateral agreements

In certain circumstances, the rights and obligations of Swiss nationals abroad are ultimately also determined on the basis of applicable bilateral and multilateral agreements. The 1999 Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons between Switzerland and the EU is of relevance for many Swiss nationals living abroad.   

Agreement between the European Community and its Member States, of the one part, and the Swiss Confederation, of the other, on the free movement of persons