Apply for your visa and residence permit

When: early May
 

Please read all the following information carefully and prepare the required documents well in advance.

1)    Do I need a student visa?
2)    Applying for a student visa
3)    Important tips
4)    Residence permit application procedure
 

Visa   Residence permit
Required for some nationalities but not all   Required for all non-Swiss nationals
Delivered by Swiss representation overseas (embassy or consulate)   Delivered by cantonal authorities (in Geneva: Office cantonal de la population et des migrations – OCPM)
Valid for 1-3 months   Valid for 12 months
Allows you to enter Switzerland at any entry point (airport, border)   Allows you to enter Switzerland at any entry point (airport, border)
Does not allow you to live in Switzerland   Allows you to live in the canton that delivered it
Cannot be extended   Can and must be extended for the duration of your study programme
Attached to a blank page in your passport   Separate document

 

 

1) Do I need a student visa?


Please consult the Swiss Federal Office for Migration (SFOM) website to check whether your nationality requires a student visa.

Nationality   Need student visa   Need residence permit
1.  Non-EU/EFTA, no visa waiver   Yes   Yes, apply after arrival.
2.  Non-EU/EFTA, but qualify for visa waiver   No   Yes, apply now.
3.  EU/EFTA   No   Yes, apply after arrival. Prepare now.
  1. Non-EU/EFTA, no visa waiver
    You do need a long-term student visa, as you will see from the SFOM table.
    This also applies if the table says your nationality does not require a visa for stays of up to 90 days but does require one for stays longer than 90 days. The USA and Canada, for example, fall in this category. All visa applicants must collect their visa from a Swiss representation overseas. You will not be able to obtain your residence permit, once in Geneva, without first having obtained your visa overseas.  Now read here on how to apply.

     
  2. Non-EU/EFTA, but qualify for visa waiver
    You do not need a student visa if your nationality qualifies for a visa waiver.
    To the best of our knowledge, the qualifying countries are: Andorra, Brunei, Japan, Malaysia, Monaco, New Zealand, San Marino, Singapore or The Vatican City.  Kindly consult the SFOM table or the OCPM directly to verify if your nationality qualifies. Tip: if you are a Non-EU/EFTA national and the table says your nationality does not require a visa, even for stays longer than 90 days, then you do not need a visa.

    However, you must apply for your residence permit at least 3 months prior to your arrival in Geneva, by sending your documents directly by email to the Geneva cantonal authorities (Office Cantonal de la Population et des Migrations - OCPM).

    Although your application is a residence permit application, the documents you need to submit are all the documents indicated in our visa checklist (ignore the sentence mentioning documents required by the embassy/consulate, since you will not need to contact any representation). Please send your documents directly to sejour.ocpm@etat.ge.ch and always indicate your full name, date of birth and nationality in the subject line of your messages.

    Note: Your residence permit application will be finalised once you are in Geneva. Please see the Residence permit section further down this page.

     
  3. EU/EFTA nationals
    You do not need a visa. You will have to apply for your residence permit within 14 days of your arrival in Geneva. Prepare your documents before you travel to Switzerland (see Residence permit application procedure).

 

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2) Applying for a student visa


It is helpful to understand that the Swiss student visa application process involves both the Swiss federal and cantonal administrative authorities. Some general regulations are set by the federal authorities, which are responsible for embassies and consulates (representations) overseas. Additional regulations are specific to each of the 26 cantons, such as Geneva, and these may or may not be clear to consular staff. This can cause variations in instructions.

All visa applications transit from the representation overseas, to the Swiss federal authorities, to the canton, sometimes back for an additional federal verification, and back to the representation for visa delivery. You need to anticipate a process that is somewhat complex and lengthy: 3-6 months.

The information provided here is based on our close relationshp with the Geneva authorities and on our years of experience supporting our students througout the application procedure. It pertains to the canton of Geneva only; if you plan to live in another canton, please consult the relevant cantonal authorities.


Print our visa checklist and instructions

Any missing document will delay the processing of your application.

Include in your file all listed documents right from the start, even if they are not requested by the representation. If the representation refuses to include certain documents in your file, scan and send these directly to the Geneva cantonal authorities (OCPM), via sejour.ocpm@etat.ge.ch, approximately 4 weeks later. Sending your missing documents too early is not recommended, as the OCPM has not yet received your file.

  • Obtaining an appointment with a representation might take longer than expected. Also, once submitted, your file will take between 3-7 weeks to reach Switzerland, depending on the country where you submit your application. Apply early!
  • Visa applications cannot be submitted directly by you to the OCPM. The application process must begin at the Swiss representation overseas. Only missing documents can be sent later directly to the OCPM.
     
  • Send your missing documents in the smallest possible number of messages and grouped, with enclosures which are not too heavy.
    Always indicate your full name, date of birth and nationality in the subject line.
  • Make sure to sign and date the documents everywhere requested, and keep copies/scans of everything.
  • Note: Although it may seem confusing to you and/or the representation to have to submit Forms E and P (which are, per se, residence permit application forms), the OCPM absolutely want to receive these, and all other documents indicated in our visa checklist, as part of your visa application. All documents will contribute to the advance creation of your residence permit application file for when you arrive in Geneva, and your visa will absolutely not be granted without them.

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3) Important tips

  • Visa applications take 3-6 months to be processed. Be sure to submit your application no later than May.
  • If you do not manage to submit your application early, you may ask the representation to send your whole file by email to the OCPM, at sejour.ocpm@etat.ge.ch. This may involve an additional fee. Some representations will agree to do this but not all.
  • Try to book a flight with flexible departure dates to accommodate possible delays in the arrival of your visa.
     
  • Make sure your funds are documented and come from reliable sources, such as foreign banks recognised in Switzerland or other internationally-reputed banks, and/or scholarship-granting bodies. It is also preferable to have funds available in an account in your own name, rather than in a guarantor's name (if your guarantor is overseas), whenever possible.
     
  • If you are still waiting to hear about a loan or scholarship application, include in your visa file copies of the application(s). Forward to sejour.ocpm@etat.ge.ch the certificates or attestations as soon as they become available.
  • Double-check our visa checklist. Any missing document will delay the processing of your application.
     
  • Files that are complete and well-organised are generally treated more efficiently. Make sure no information is missing, including signatures and dates. Present the documents in a logical order and ensure your statements are clear and concise.
  • All forms can be filled out in English.
  • It is generally easier to apply for and collect your visa from the same representation. However, if you plan to travel or move during the summer, do not delay your visa application: apply as planned at your nearest representation and, after you move, ask the nearest representation at your new location to continue processing your visa application.
     
  • Some representations ask for proof of payment of tuition fees. Our invoice for the first semester will only be available mid-August. If you are in this situation, please contact the Admission Office (admission@graduateinstitute.ch).
  • Your 2017-2018 programme curriculum will be available in June approximately (we do not have a set date yet). Include therefore the 2016-2017 curriculum in your application, mentioning that the 2017-2018 curriculum will be very similar.
     
  • Housing offers are not sufficient proof of housing. You need to include the confirmation.
     
  • Follow up regularly with the OCPM and the representation, as they might require additional information.

 

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4) Residence permit application procedure


a) Students with a visa


Within 14 days of your arrival in Switzerland, you will need to apply for your student residence permit at the OCPM.

The following will be required:

  • Your valid passport, stamped with your student visa (original and copy)
  • Sufficient money in cash: approximately CHF 237 (based on 2015 figures)
  • Your Graduate Institute certificate of registration (available after payment of your 1st semester tuition fees)
  • Form P once again (click here for an unofficial translation and helpful tips), without the supporting documents already submitted
  • Confirmation of housing in Geneva once again
    - For student residences: copy of the confirmation
    - For direct rentals: copy of the lease
    - For sublets: written confirmation by the tenant/lease holder + copy of his/her ID + copy of the flat lease + Form EL (click here for an unofficial translation and helpful tips)
  • Note: If you are staying in temporary accommodation during the first few days of your stay in Geneva, it is preferable to go to the OCPM only once you are living in your more permanent place. 


Several weeks later, you will receive your residence permit through the post at the address indicated in your file (make sure it is accurate).
In the meantime, if you need an official confirmation of your residence in Geneva (to open a bank account, etc.), you can ask the OCPM for a temporary document which costs approx. CHF 30.


b) Students with a visa waiver


Certain nationals qualify for a visa waiver. To the best of our knowledge, these could be from Andorra, Brunei, Japan, Malaysia, Monaco, New Zealand, San Marino, Singapore or The Vatican City - please check further up this page

You will have applied for your residence permit already in May, before arrival (see further up this page). The OCPM will get back to you by email. Simply follow their instructions to finalise the procedure.

Once in Geneva, within 14 days or according to OCPM's convocation letter, you will be required to bring the following to the OCPM:

  • OCPM's convocation letter
  • Your valid passport (original and copy)
  • Approximately CHF 142 (based on 2015 figures)
  • Your Graduate Institute certificate of registration (available after payment of your 1st semester tuition fees)
  • Form P once again (click here for an unofficial translation and helpful tips), without the supporting documents already submitted
  • Confirmation of housing in Geneva once again :
    - For student residences: copy of the confirmation
    - For direct rentals: copy of the lease
    - For sublets: written confirmation by the tenant/lease holder + copy of his/her ID + copy of the flat lease + Form EL (click here for an unofficial translation and helpful tips)
  • Note: If you are staying in temporary accommodation during the first few days of your stay in Geneva, it is preferable to go to the OCPM only once you are living in your more permanent place.


c) Students without a visa (EU/EFTA nationals)


EU/EFTA nationals do not need a visa.

Within 14 days of your arrival in Switzerland, you will need to apply for your student residence permit at the OCPM.

Make sure to bring 2 copies of the following:

  • Form P (click here for an unofficial translation and helpful tips)
  • Proof of housing in Geneva
    - For student residences: copy of the confirmation
    - For direct rentals: copy of the lease
    - For sublets: written confirmation by the tenant/lease holder + copy of his/her ID + copy of the flat lease + Form EL  (click here for an unofficial translation and helpful tips)
  • Note: If you are staying in temporary accommodation during the first few days of your stay in Geneva, it is preferable to go to the OCPM only once you are living in your more permanent place.
  • Your valid passport (original and copy)
  • Passport-format photographs with your full name written on the back
  • Approximately CHF 65 in cash
  • Your Graduate Institute certificate of registration (available after payment of your 1st semester tuition fees)


Additional documents that may be required:

  • Curriculum vitae or resume
  • Your Graduate Institute admission letter, available on your online follow-up
  • Your Graduate Institute admission attestation, available on your online follow-up after receipt of your pre-registration fee
  • Motivation letter indicating the start and end dates of your study programme, the intended future impact of your Graduate Institute programme on your career, your plans following the end of your study programme and your commitment to leave Switzerland at the end of your studies
  • Course description (print-out).
  • Proof of financial means: ideally, approx. CHF 2,000 per month. For example:
    - Bank statements
    - Scholarship letter, if any
    - Proof of any loans and available savings
    - Letter from a guarantor, stating that s/he will assist you financially during your studies
    - Any paid employment plans


Several weeks later, you will receive your residence permit through the post at the address indicated in your file (make sure it is accurate).
In the meantime, if you need an official confirmation of your residence in Geneva (to open a bank account, etc.), you can ask the OCPM for a temporary document which costs approx. CHF 30.