The Swiss Abroad Act

The Swiss Abroad Act governs the rights and obligations of Swiss nationals who live and travel abroad. 

According to the Federal Act of 26 September 2014 on Swiss Nationals and Institutions Abroad (Swiss Abroad Act), which came into force on 1 November 2015, personal responsibility is the basic principle that applies to the Confederation’s relations with individuals to whom it guarantees rights or can provide assistance. The Confederation’s expectation is that each and every individual will assume personal responsibility when planning and undertaking a period abroad or pursuing an activity abroad, act in a risk-appropriate manner, and try to overcome any difficulties on his or her own.

According to the Swiss Abroad Act, Swiss citizens who are not domiciled in Switzerland must register with a representation abroad (embassy, consulate-general). Their data are entered in the Register of the Swiss Abroad, subsequently simplifying the provision of consular services including consular protection. Swiss citizens who leave Switzerland must register with a representation within 90 days of deregistering from their Swiss municipality of residence.

Obligation to register

Children who acquire Swiss citizenship through birth or adoption must be registered with a representation through the submission of official documents, whereupon they are entered in the Register of the Swiss Abroad.

An individual’s obligation to register extends to any minors whom they legally represent. Minors who reach the age of 18 are requested by their representation to confirm their registration.

A representation may delete the registration of any individuals who subsequently take up residence in Switzerland, or have died or not made further contact.

If a Swiss citizen who is domiciled outside Switzerland intends to stay temporarily in a consular district, e.g. when travelling around the world, it is recommended that they register with the first representation on their itinerary. 

Swiss nationals living abroad who take up domicile within the consular district of a new representation are merely obliged to communicate their change of address.

Registration with a Swiss representation

According to the Swiss Abroad Act, anyone who is registered with a given representation and listed in the Register of the Swiss Abroad is regarded as a Swiss national living abroad. In order for individuals to exercise political rights, they must be included in the Register of the Swiss Abroad.

Applying to a representation for the purpose of exercising political rights constitutes a separate process. Individuals who are eligible to vote may apply when registering with a representation, but may also do so at any other time.

  • By registering with a Swiss representation, you enjoy the following benefits:You are kept regularly up to date on federal initiatives and elections, changes to Swiss law, and political developments in Switzerland
  • Consular services are more likely to be offered to you in a timely and efficient manner
  • The relevant representation can contact you more quickly in the event of a crisis or disaster at your place of residence

Exercising political rights

Swiss citizens who have reached the age of 18 and are of legal age enjoy political rights regardless of whether they are domiciled in a Swiss municipality or abroad.

The Swiss Abroad Act governs the principles and modalities associated with the exercise of voting rights by Swiss nationals living abroad. The provisions of the Federal Act on Political Rights apply on a subsidiary basis.

Federal Act on Political Rights 

Requirements for exercising political rights

All Swiss exercise political rights at their political domicile, i.e. in their respective electoral municipality. Individuals with voting rights who are not domiciled in Switzerland and are registered with a representation have their electoral municipality definitively determined on the basis of the provisions of the Swiss Abroad Act (in the case of emigrant voters, this will be the most recent municipality of residence in Switzerland).

Swiss nationals living abroad with voting rights can register, deregister and reregister at any time for the purpose of exercising their political rights.

Ways to vote

There are two ways for Swiss nationals to vote in National Council elections and on federal initiatives: 

  • In person at the ballot box, e.g. during a temporary stay in Switzerland (this has been possible since 1977)
  • By post (this has been possible since 1 July 1992)
  • E-voting is subject to continual development and is being introduced on a gradual basis. Certain cantons already offer it (Geneva, Bern, Neuchâtel, Lucerne, Basel Stadt)

Social welfare

Under the terms of the Swiss Abroad Act, Swiss nationals living abroad who are in need can apply for social welfare even if they live abroad. Where an application is approved, the Confederation will provide welfare benefits abroad or help the individual in need to return to Switzerland.  

Swiss nationals are deemed to be in need if they can no longer support themselves through their own means and resources or through financial assistance from private sources or their country of residence.

Consular protection

The Swiss Abroad Act governs consular protection for Swiss nationals abroad, including assistance in the event of crises or disasters.

Article 40 of the Swiss Abroad Act governs which legal entities, e.g. companies or organisations, have sufficiently close links to Switzerland for the Confederation to be able to provide them with consular protection. There is no legal entitlement to consular protection.