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The nine most surprising questions on Switzerland’s citizenship exam

Anyone wanting to become Swiss must take the Swiss citizenship exam. From hiking to landslides - and of course cheese - here are some of the more surprising questions prospective Swiss citizens are asked when they take the quiz.

A picture of a Swiss passport up close
Here is a Swiss passport. Getting one might require answering a few wacky questions. Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Swiss citizenship ranks as one of the hardest to get anywhere in the world. 

In addition to at least a ten-year wait and several other hoops including an assessment of your financial position, you’ll also need to take a Swiss citizenship ‘exam’. 

Citizenship: How personal debt could stop you from becoming Swiss

In most cases, this will be made up of a written test along with a verbal interview with cantonal authorities. 

‘As many naturalisation procedures as there are municipalities’ 

The tests are carried out at a municipal level and vary from place to place, prompting Swiss national broadcaster SRF to report in 2017 that Switzerland “has as many naturalisation procedures as there are municipalities”. 

While this may be a slight exaggeration, the questions do vary widely. 

One thing to keep in mind in Switzerland is that each canton and in many cases each municipality has a strong regional identity. 

With 26 cantons, four official languages and century after century of tradition, these traditions and cultural quirks have had plenty of time to ferment and develop. 

A red Swiss passport up close

A Swiss biometric passport. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

Some larger cantons like Bern and Vaud place examples of citizenship tests online, but many others do not. 

In order to prove that you are successfully integrated, many of the questions will touch upon local aspects related to living in the canton or the municipality itself. 

Reader question: What does being ‘successfully integrated’ in Switzerland mean?

Of course, such a process is understandable, particularly in smaller, quieter towns where they want to make sure their traditions and way of life are respected. 

It can however lead to absurd outcomes, such as where a person was rejected for not knowing about local zoo animals or someone who got turned down for not knowing enough about raclette. 

Think you’re ready? Then check out the following guide to see if you’d pass a Swiss citizenship test. 

READ MORE: Would you pass a Swiss citizenship test?

Here are some of the most surprising examples that we’ve encountered over the past few years. 

Keep in mind that Swiss citizenship exams have dozens of questions and your application will not fail just for getting one wrong answer – but if you miss several, then you might have your application denied. 

What do you know about the bears and the wolves in the local zoo?

In one of the most publicised examples of a strange and bizarre citizenship question, an Italian man – who had lived in Switzerland for 30 years and had a prominent local ice cream business – was knocked back at least in part because he didn’t know enough about the local zoo. 

In particular, the man – who lived in the Swiss town of Arth – wasn’t aware that the bears and the wolves in the zoo lived together in the same enclosure, leading to the denial of his citizenship request. 

READ MORE: How an Italian man’s lack of zoo animal knowledge cost him Swiss citizenship

Fortunately for the man, Switzerland’s federal court overturned the decision of the cantonal authorities – although they also referred to his local knowledge in their decision. 

Which brings us to…

Have there been any landslides in the area in the past 250 years? 

When overturning the citizenship denial of the Italian man above, the Swiss federal court referenced the fact the man had successfully answered a question about a landslide which occurred in the region more than two centuries earlier. 

In fact, the court said he knew a great deal about the landslide, which took place in the region in 1806. 

While the specific knowledge of the landslide was not the thing which turned the appeal, the federal court said it showed he knew plenty about the region and was integrated enough – and that his citizenship application should be allowed. 

What is Switzerland’s capital? 

OK, so this might seem the most standard of questions on any citizenship exam and anyone who wants to be accepted in a country should know the capital. 

Except that in this case, this is a trick question. 

Switzerland doesn’t have a capital, with Bern – usually spoken of as the nation’s capital – technically a ‘federal city’. 

READ MORE: Why is Bern the ‘capital’ of Switzerland?

As we’ve reported previously, tricks are not out of the question on the Swiss citizenship exam – so make sure you know your capitals from your federal cities. 

The beautiful Swiss capital of Bern. Image by xmax88 from Pixabay

The beautiful Swiss capital federal city of Bern. Image by xmax88 from Pixabay

Do you like hiking? 

You know those questions whether there is no wrong answer? When it comes to the Swiss citizenship test, that is certainly not the case. 

In 2017, 25-year-old Funda Yilmaz – who was born in Switzerland, has lived there her whole life, works locally in a technical profession, speaks fluent Swiss German and is engaged to a Swiss – sat a citizenship quiz and was asked whether she likes to hike. 

She answered ‘no’ – and along with answering other questions in an apparently unsatisfactory way, had her application rejected, leading to top Swiss broadsheet TagesAnzeiger naming the naturalisation process as “embarrassing”. 

So if someone asks you if you like hiking, the answer is simple: “No, I don’t like it. I love it. Now give me my passport. I’ve got hiking to do.”

A man stands in front of the Matterhorn in the Swiss region of Zermatt

Before we hand you your passport, we want to know if you like hiking. Be careful, there is a wrong answer. Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

Where do you like to go on holiday? 

It might sound like a set up by Swiss Tourism for you to say “the Alps, of course” but it is a genuine question that integration officials admit to asking frequently. 

Community social worker in the canton of Uri, Christine Herrscher, told SRF that she asks this question in order to see if someone truly feels integrated in Switzerland, or if they plan to keep on going to their ‘home country’. 

“For me, the candidates do not have to sing the Swiss Psalm, but rather express what their plans for the future are,” Herrscher, who comes from Germany but has gone through the process herself, told SRF. 

The implication is that if you spend your holidays abroad in the place where you came from, you might not truly be ready to be Swiss – yet. 

(Perhaps the right answer is to tell them you’re going hiking…)

What kind of partner are you looking for? 

Herrscher also said the type of partner a citizenship applicant is seeking will be relevant in determining whether they have been integrated. 

While partner choice will not be the defining factor, if they think the only possible partner they’re likely to have comes from their country of origin, then they may not be integrated enough. 

Looking for love? Here’s how to date the Swiss

Which sports are Swiss?

If you’re asked this question in your citizenship exam, remember that you should pick a Swiss sport rather than a sport which is popular in Switzerland. 

One woman asked in Aargau in 2017 to name a Swiss sport answered “skiing” and had her application denied. While her denial may not have been only because of this question, she had passed the written test with flying colours. 

According to Swiss news outlet 20 Minutes, the municipality rejected skiing and would have preferred either Swiss wrestling or Hornussen, both of which originated in Switzerland. 

Schwingen: Everything you need to know about Switzerland’s ‘national sport’

What are the words to the Swiss national anthem? 

Although most Swiss learn the anthem at school, plenty will have forgotten it by the time they become adults. 

The lyrics to the Swiss national anthem – in the language of the canton in which you live of course – may be an essential question on your citizenship exam. 

While this isn’t that weird – anthems all across the world espouse central values of nationhood and therefore should be understood by anyone wanting to live there – just be aware that you will need to know each and every word. 

READ MORE: Switzerland offers 10,000 franc reward for English version of new ‘national anthem’

In one example, an Italian man who had lived in Switzerland for 30 years – the same man who didn’t know enough about zoo animals (see above) – was marked down for getting a word wrong when singing the national anthem. 

Instead of singing ‘Alphorn’, the man said ‘Schwyzerhorn’, a big no no. 

Therefore, keep in mind that mumbling your way through the anthem like a Swiss footballer will not be enough – and learn the words by heart. 

Where does raclette come from? 

The Swiss take cheese very seriously – so much so that cheesy questions appear on the citizenship exam. 

In 2018, a British citizen was rejected for citizenship in the canton of Schwyz, at least in part because he didn’t know where Swiss cheese dish raclette came from. 

(Hint: raclette is from Valais, a mountainous canton in the south of the country. Just answering ‘Switzerland’ will not be enough). 

Rules of raclette: How to make one of Switzerland’s most famous cheese dishes

“My son passed with flying colours, but I got some questions about politics wrong and one about where raclette [a cheese dish from the canton of Valais] comes from,” he told The Local at the time.

Among the political questions he didn’t answer correctly was one about direct democracy and another about Switzerland’s system of part-time politicians. He also failed to identify the ingredients of capuns, a dish from the canton of Graubünden made with chard, dried meat and noodle dough.

For an example of a Swiss naturalisation quiz, see the following link.

Note: Please keep in mind that these are just some paraphrased examples of questions that appear on the Swiss citizenship exam which have been translated into English.

Have you encountered any odd or surprising questions? Let us know: [email protected]

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For members


EXPLAINED: How to fast track permanent residency in Switzerland

For many foreign residents, permanent residency can bring about many benefits to daily life in Switzerland and eventually pave your way to Swiss citizenship. Here’s a step-by-step guide to fast tracking your Swiss permanent residency.

Want to put your Swiss residency permit in the fast lane? Follow these steps. Image: Pixabay
Want to put your Swiss residency permit in the fast lane? Follow these steps. Image: Pixabay

Whether you want to stay in Switzerland forever or will move home at some point, permanent residency can make things a whole lot easier. 

Here’s how you can get on the fast track. 

Overview of the C Permit

The ‘Settled Foreign Nationals’ C permit is typically granted to nationals of EU and EFTA countries after a period of five years in Switzerland. For all other foreign residents (with the exception of US and Canadian nationals), permanent residency is only available after having lived in Switzerland for ten interrupted years.

This may seem like a long stretch. However, residents who are able to prove they are successfully integrated and fulfil the necessary requirements are able to speed up the process and apply for an early C permit after five years.

The permit offers many perks especially for those who have plans to stay in Switzerland long-term. For one, you only need to renew your permit every five years.

You can also ‘freeze’ your C permit if you move abroad, change jobs and live in every canton without restrictions. With this permit, you don’t need to seek permission when buying property. However, it doesn’t give you the right to vote at the federal level. 

Important to note here is that it is up to applicants to proactively request a C permit themselves. Foreign residents can request this on their B permit renewal forms or by asking canton authorities directly. In terms of paperwork, a Swiss immigration lawyer can assist in this step. 

Applicants should expect to receive a first response after three to four weeks, according to Adrian Tüscher, head of global employment and immigration services at KPMG. However, the overall process should not take longer than three months and the authority should proactively provide feedback in case of missing documents or information. 

EXPLAINED: What’s the difference between permanent residence and Swiss citizenship?

How important is integration?

“Integration is today, the key element on top of the needed years of regular and uninterrupted residence with a B permit,” stresses Ara Samuelian, head of immigration at PwC. “Indeed, since 2018 Switzerland has inserted integration criteria in its foreign national law. This change is the consequence of the famous voting of Swiss citizens that happened in 2014 against mass immigration.” 

Factors which fall under this umbrella of successful integration may include: observance of public safety and order, respect for the values of the Federal Constitution, and not being reliant on social welfare. Experts also stressed the importance of attaching a letter of motivation that detailed involvement in local sport or cultural clubs, associations or volunteering work.

When it comes to participation in economic life, a stable employment situation is essential. “You cannot apply if you find yourself unemployed and receiving unemployment benefits, as you are not qualified as being well-integrated into the local economy,” says Alexa Mossaz, immigration specialist at Legal Expat Switzerland. 

“If you are self-employed, you must be able to demonstrate that your company is contributing to the local economy by providing a copy of the commercial register extract and the most recent balance sheet. A short business plan detailing the nature of the business should also be joined, with the projection of revenues over the next three years.”

She also adds that having claimed unemployment benefits in the past would not affect the application. 

Reader question: What does being ‘successfully integrated’ in Switzerland mean?

What language skills are needed?

Generally speaking, it is expected that applicants have reached a B1 level of speaking and listening skills and A1 in written skills of the language spoken in the canton of residence. This should come from a recognised list of language certificates.

However, cantons can (and a number do) specifically require higher oral and written language levels in case of an anticipated C permit application, according to Tüscher. Knowledge of other official Swiss languages outside the place of domicile aren’t factored in. 

READ MORE: Switzerland introduces new rules for language proficiency certificates

How does the process vary from canton to canton?

Experts we contacted agreed that most cantons have different procedures and waiting times for the early C permit process. “In cantons such as Geneva and Vaud, such procedures can take up to one year due to administrative delays,” says Mossaz. 

Meanwhile, the approximate processing time for cantons such as Lucerne and Basel-Land is about three months. Many of these cantonal authorities may request a personal appearance at the office rather than a mere mail application. 

What else to watch out for?

Other general tips we received were that residency gaps of more than six months spent outside of Switzerland would affect the five-year requirement for the B permit.

A student holding a temporary permit would also need to find employment and transform this into a B work permit for at least two years before applying for a C permit. 

And should a parent be staying at home to take care of their children with no employment to show, they would need to prove that their financial situation is stable through the working spouse, according to Mossaz. 

Nevertheless, there isn’t a time crunch. Tüscher says that the early C permit can be applied anytime after the five-year threshold is met. In case the permit is turned down, the authorities would simply extend the existing B permit (provided those requirements are still met). 

Maintaining the C permit

Even after securing a C permit, it’s important to know how to keep it. 

Some of the reasons for a rejection or revocation of a C permit could include an entry in the criminal

records due to a severe penal action (a speeding fine would not fall under that), social welfare dependency or an excessive debt enforcement track record, according to Tüscher. 

Authorities also have the power to revoke the settlement permit for those who leave Switzerland for longer than six months. To combat this, it is best to apply for a temporary suspension early on. This entitles you to live in another country for four years while keeping the C permit on hold. 

For more in-depth information on navigating work permits in Switzerland, check out our coverage here:

READ MORE: Nine things you need to know about work permits in Switzerland

EXPLAINED: What’s the difference between permanent residence and Swiss citizenship?

EXPLAINED: When and how should you renew your Swiss residence permit?