info suisse Summer 2016
Government | Switzerland-Canada Comparisons
August 2016

Obtaining Citizenship in Canada and in Switzerland

(Kurt Schläpfer)
Many readers of this article have acquired Canadian citizenship a long time ago and may remember little about the procedure necessary at that time to become a Canadian citizen. And some readers may ask whether it is easier to obtain a Swiss passport than a Canadian passport. As the governments of both countries are currently discussing reforms of their citizenship legislation, it might be interesting to compare the current and future requirements needed to obtain Canadian or Swiss citizenship. 


Approximately 33,700 people from 199 countries became Canadian citizens at citizenship ceremonies held (once a year) across Canada in March 2014.

The requirements for obtaining Canadian citizenship are:
  • Have a permanent residence permit,
  • Have lived in Canada for at least three of the four years before you apply (exactly 1095 days),
  • Be able to communicate (read, write and speak) in English or French,
  • Have knowledge about Canada (history, geography, political system etc.). To fulfill this requirement, an applicant has to pass a citizenship test comprising 20 multiple choice questions (see examples below).
The author of this article who met recently an elderly Canadian immigrant with very poor knowledge of English was wondering how it was possible for this person to obtain Canadian citizenship. The answer is that the requirements such as language proficiency and passing a knowledge test do not apply if you are 55 years of age or older. Based on a government report, more than 35% fail the the Canadian citizenship test.

The processing time from receipt of application to final decision is typically 24 months. It is planned that this processing time would be less than one year by 2015-16. The processing fee for adults is 400 CAD.  Canada does permit its citizens to hold dual or multi citizenship. As a result, new Canadian citizens will not lose their former nationality.

The federal government is now introducing a series of reforms to the Citizenship Act that will make it tougher for many to become Canadian citizens. One of the changes — the first since the 1970s — is that permanent residents must have a physical presence in Canada for four years out of six years, compared to the current three out of four years. The bill will also expand the age range for those required to demonstrate language proficiency and pass a knowledge test, from the current age of 18-54 to age 14-64.

Political opponents as well as refugee advocates were quick to criticize some of the amendments. The Canadian Council for Refugees said it was worried about increasing barriers to citizenship, particularly for refugees. 

Here are two possible questions from the Canadian Citizen Test:   

Approximately how many Canadians served in the First World War?
  1. 7000
  2. 8 million
  3. About 60,000
  4. More than 600,000 (correct answer)
Give the first two lines of Canada’s national anthem?
  1. Canada! Our home and native land! True patriot love in all thy sons command. (correct answer)
  2. O Canada! Our province and native land! True patriot love in all thy sons    command.
  3. Canada! From far and wide, O Canada, We stand on guard for thee.
  4. More than 600,000 (correct answer)

Every year, around 40,000 people become Swiss citizens, three-quarters of whom are European. Yet only three out of 100 foreigners living in Switzerland have been granted Swiss citizenship – a small percentage compared to other countries.

To become Swiss, there are basically three paths: through birth, marriage (not automatic) or naturalization. Unlike in Canada, Switzerland does not grant a child citizenship for being born in Switzerland. A person is automatically Swiss if one of the parents is Swiss. And Switzerland allows citizens to hold multiple nationalities. Foreigners with no family ties to Switzerland must live in the country for at least 12 years before they can apply for citizenship. The 12-year period is a federal rule and applies to all cantons. In addition there are cantonal residence requirements, which would typically include:
  • Living in the canton for 2 years
  • Integrated in the Swiss way of live
  • Familiar with Swiss customs and traditions
Language knowledge is tested either in an informal interview or in a formalized test. In addition, some cantons conduct citizenship exams comprising questions about the history, the political system and the geography of Switzerland. Cantons can make exceptions for elderly or disabled applicants.

The costs of naturalization applications vary widely depending on the canton and can be affected by factors such as age, marital status and income. The total fee can range from 900 to 4,500 CHF. The naturalization process usually takes between 1½ and 3 years.

Here are two questions from a Swiss cantonal citizenship exam: 

Who was the first woman elected in 1984 to the Federal Council?
  1. Ruth Dreifuss
  2. Ruth Metzler
  3. Elisabeth Kopp (correct answer) 
  4. Micheline Calmy-Rey
Since when Swiss women are entitled to vote at the federal level?
  1. since 1946
  2. since 1971 (correct answer) 
  3. since 1919
  4. since 1878
Under a new naturalization law approved in June 2014 by the parliament, foreigners will have to wait ten years, rather than 12, before they can request citizenship. But the Swiss passport remains still one of the most difficult to obtain in Europe. The parties on the political left felt the conditions for naturalization are still too strict.

Even with the new law, Switzerland remains one of the strictest countries in Europe in terms of residency requirements. Only six other European countries, including Italy, Spain and Austria, require ten years. In most other countries five to eight years are required.  
SCCC Corporate Members
  • Habib Canadian Bank  (Subsidiary of Habib Bank AG Zurich)
  • Zurich Canada
  • Laderach (Canada) Inc.
  • Custom Spring Corporate
  • Rolex Canada Ltd.
  • Lette LLP
  • Swiss Business Hub
  • Roche Canada
  • Swissmar Ltd.
  • Swiss International Air Lines Ltd.
  • Endress + Hauser Canada Ltd
  • Hilti (Canada) Corporation
  • Switzerland Tourism
  • Mazars LLP
  • Canadian Tire Corporation
  • Lindt & Spruengli (Canada) Inc.
  • Adecco Employment Services Limited