Please note: This article in English won't be updated anymore. You can find continuous updates in the Ukrainian and German version of this article at the bottom of this page.

Who or what is the 'Beobachter'?

'Beobachter' [English: 'Observer'] is a Swiss magazine that has been in circulation since 1927. It has over 660,000 readers and is published fortnightly. 'Beobachter' provides in-depth reports on current issues that affect Switzerland. It focuses on providing legal advice to its subscribers on various everyday issues. 'Beobachter' offers you this information in your own language, free of charge, on this page.

Further information in 'Beobachter' fact sheets

Kateryna Potapenko's Videoblog:

Can I enter Switzerland as a Ukrainian refugee and how long am I allowed to stay?

As a Ukrainian, you can enter Switzerland without red tape – and stay here. You do not need a special permit if you are staying for up to 90 days. If you (want to) stay for longer than 90 days, you can apply for the special protection status for refugees from Ukraine (protection status 'S'). There is no maximum limit or quota for protection status 'S'. Switzerland will keep its borders open for Ukrainians who have fled.

Where do I go to apply for protection status «S»?

The federal asylum centres (FACs) are generally your first point of contact. They can also arrange accommodation for you. After you have registered, you will be assigned to a canton which will provide you with accommodation. 

You may also be assigned to stay with a private host family. The Swiss Refugee Council coordinates this type of accommodation together with other organisations (HEKS, Caritas, SRC, Salvation Army, Swiss Labour Assistance and Campax). Refugee aid workers are also on hand at the federal asylum centres and can arrange accommodation for you.

If you are accommodated in a private household, you can submit an online application for protection status 'S'. The State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) will then confirm receipt of your application and provide you with a date on which you can register at one of the federal asylum centres. After you have registered, your application will be reviewed. Due to the large number of applications being submitted, please expect to wait several days.

What is protection status «S»?

Ukrainian people in need of protection, their family members and persons of other nationalities who have a right of residence in Ukraine can apply for protection status 'S' in Switzerland. Protection status 'S' was created in Switzerland after the Yugoslav Wars and was activated for refugees from Ukraine for the first time on 12 March 2022. The special thing about protection status 'S' is that you do not have to go through the regular asylum procedure – you should receive protection in Switzerland as quickly as possible.

Protection status S means: you are entitled to accommodation, social assistance and medical care. You can take a job and work in Switzerland – and send your children to school. The S permit is valid for one year and can be renewed. If the Federal Council has not lifted the protection status S in five years, you will receive a residence permit (permit B).

How much does the application for protection status «S» cost?

You do not have to pay anything to apply for or receive protection status «S». You also do not need a middleman to arrange registration for you in exchange for money. If somebody leads you to believe otherwise and demands money from you, do not trust them. 

Can I take my pets with me to Switzerland?

You may take dogs and cats with you to Switzerland in exceptional cases. The Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office provides information and a notification form in English, Ukrainian and Russian. It is different for poultry, ungulates and cloven-hoofed animals. These must not be imported into Switzerland because of the high risk of disease.

Can I live anywhere in Switzerland and also travel abroad?

With an S status, you must in principle remain resident in the canton to which you were originally assigned. However, the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) can authorise a change of canton – for example, so that your family can move in together. You may travel abroad without a travel permit and return to Switzerland afterwards. But beware: you may lose your protection status if you stay in Ukraine for a long time or repeatedly. This is not, however, the case if you travel to Ukraine on occasion to support your relatives.

Where can I get advice?

You can seek advice at the federal asylum centres. The SEM answers questions via the email address and by telephone on 058 465 99 11 (10 am-12 pm and 2 pm-4 pm). General information is also available from the Swiss Refugee Council, Caritas Schweiz (refugee aid section) or the aid organisation of the Protestant churches in Switzerland (Heks). There are many other agencies that offer support – and new ones are being added all the time. It is best to check with the municipality (Gemeinde) where you are staying.

Each canton provides details of the relevant points of contact and special information.

I can stay in private accommodation. Do I need a written tenancy agreement?

Not necessarily – oral contracts are also valid. But if all or part of the flat is being sublet to you, i.e. for a fee, it is worth having a subletting agreement to prevent any misunderstandings. This is especially true if the subletting is through a charity. 

What notice periods apply?

If you do not have to pay rent and nothing has been agreed on the duration, the owner or tenant can demand that you move out again at any time. This is the law. If you have to pay rent for the accommodation, it is a sublet. Unless otherwise agreed, subtenancy agreements for entire flats can be terminated with three months' notice; however, furnished rooms (if only kitchen and bathroom are shared, but not other common rooms such as a living room) can be terminated with two weeks' notice. The customary terms of notice in the locality shall apply.

Am I covered by my host's personal liability insurance?

Not automatically. Your host should ideally check directly with their insurance company and report the new situation. There is multi-person insurance, where all persons living long-term in the same household are also insured. The general terms and conditions of insurance shall apply.

Who pays if I fall ill or have an accident in Switzerland?

As soon as you have registered with a federal asylum centre (see address above) and have submitted an application for protection status S there, you will be registered for compulsory health insurance by the canton – with retroactive effect to the date on which you submitted the application. The health insurance companies are obliged to include you in the compulsory insurance scheme. Employed persons are automatically insured against accidents – even when they are not at work. Non-employed persons can insure themselves against accidents via the health insurance fund. Those who do not have enough money can apply for social assistance for the premiums.

Will I receive financial support?

Yes. As a person with protection status S, you will receive social assistance from the canton to which you are assigned. It will be paid by the municipality in which you reside. The responsible bodies are called: 'Sozialamt', 'Soziale Dienste', 'Sozialdienst' or similar [roughly translated: 'Social Welfare Office' or 'Social Services']. You can also work or be self-employed in Switzerland. The cantons can provide additional services to help refugees integrate as quickly as possible.

Can I open a bank account in Switzerland?

It is possible to open an account. Postfinance (a subsidiary of Swiss Post for banking services) is even obliged to do so. It has a statutory mandate to provide basic services. This means that all private individuals with identity papers can open an account there – regardless of how long you stay in Switzerland. This is also possible with other banks. It is best to ask in person at a bank branch.

To open an account, you usually need: your foreign identity card, the S identity card or a fully completed copy of the corresponding application, your residential address in Switzerland and your mobile number or e-mail address. In some cases, a valid confirmation of employment is also required.

Am I allowed to work or be self-employed in Switzerland?

S status allows you to work anywhere in Switzerland – either self-employed or employed. And you can start immediately. In principle, there is no waiting period.

Do I need a written employment contract?

In principle, an oral employment contract is also valid. Nevertheless: record the most important points in writing. This will save you later discussions and trouble in case of conflict. The most important points include: the salary, the tasks and the weekly working hours.

What notice periods apply?

You can agree the length of the notice period with your employer. Without a corresponding regulation, the so-called Code of Obligations applies. This provides for a notice period of one month to the end of a month in the first year of employment (for example: if you resign on 11 June, your employment will end on 31 July). 

Do I need a special work permit?

Yes. In order to work, you need a work permit. You can obtain this from the cantonal employment office (e.g. «Amt für Wirtschaft und Arbeit»).

Can my children attend school in Switzerland?

Yes. When and how this is the case is decided by the canton to which you have been assigned. Your canton may offer courses in which your child learns German first. Therefore, there may be waiting times during enrolment. School attendance is compulsory and free of charge for all children who stay in Switzerland for a longer period of time. You can find out about school attendance from the municipality where you live.

I want to stay in touch with my family in Ukraine. What is the easiest way to do this?

Various telecommunication companies are offering discounted or even free deals for you. It is best to enquire directly with the providers. By the way, this also applies to other areas of daily life (such as public transport, leisure activities, etc.). There are also special promotions and offers here that you can take advantage of. Again, ask the provider directly.

More information from Swiss aid agencies