My crude understanding has been that one can become a citizen of Switzerland only by becoming a citizen of one of the cantons, and one can become a citizen of a canton only by becoming a citizen of a municipality, and the discretion at that level is so broad that it's a question of whether local officials or your neighbors like you. One person I know had his first application turned down because the mayor of the village thought he looked like a hippie. This article says "The case has now been transferred to the Cantonal government in Aargau, which can overrule the decision". I hadn't heard of that before.

Is a short but accurate summary of Swiss naturalization laws possible?

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    I know that all naturalization applications are put to a popular vote, but I'll see if I can find more.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jan 18, 2018 at 2:55

1 Answer 1


I don't know about that particular case, but you are basically right: In Switzerland, if you want to apply for citizenship, you apply for it in the municipality first. Everybody having the citizenship of the municipality has the swiss citizenship as well. In theory, the canton and the state also have something to say, but that's irrelevant for most applications.

This has historic reasons, but going into the details is beyond the scope of this question.

Fact is, that every municipality has its own rules, about when and how applications are handled. This has been unified a bit in recent years, but some things still differ. That is for instance, how many years you need to have lived there or who decides your application. There were municipalities (actually most) where the final decision was made using a public vote. This practice was declared illegal by the federal court some years ago, because becoming a citizen is a formal governmental act, and as such a reason needs to be given for turning an application down. This is inherently impossible with a vote.

Since that law decision, most municipalities have shifted the responsibility to a committee for citizenship applications. The public can still bring in arguments, but they need to be justified (ie. if somebody knows about the applicant being a wanted criminal somewhere).

Consequently, you can now call for a court to check whether the given reasoning is correct and just, if you are turned down.

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