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In principle, Swiss nationals abroad are subject to the legislation of the state in which they are domiciled or established, or in which they are residing for a variety of purposes – often referred to in legal texts as the receiving state.

Particularly within its national territory, the receiving state may treat individuals who hold its citizenship in addition to Swiss citizenship as its own nationals without distinction.

Swiss national law

Subject to the sovereignty of the receiving state, Swiss national law also applies to Swiss nationals abroad, insofar as it governs relations between these individuals and their home country. Rights and obligations that also apply abroad pertain, for example, to the following areas:

  • Acquisition or loss of Swiss citizenship
  • Compulsory national service (i.e. military service or alternative civilian service)
  • The exercise of political rights by Swiss nationals living abroad
  • Civil status (duty to declare)
  • Elements of social insurance as well as social welfare

Article 40 of the Federal Constitution charges the Confederation with promoting relations with and among Swiss nationals living abroad. Fulfilment of this constitutional mandate is principally enshrined in the Federal Act on Swiss Nationals and Institutions Abroad (Swiss Abroad Act).

Federal Constitution of the Swiss Confederation

For Swiss nationals abroad, the Federal Act on International Private Law is of relevance in governing matters related to international private law.

International private law

Agreements under international law

The legal situation of Swiss nationals living abroad is also determined on the basis of agreements under international law. The Swiss Abroad Act stipulates that the provisions of applicable bilateral or multilateral international agreements take precedence (Art. 1 para. 3).

The FDFA’s treaty database contains information on applicable agreements under international law between Switzerland and specific receiving states.

Last update 16.02.2022

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