Registering a birth in Switzerland
Updated: Jan 20
Pregnancy is a beautiful time when your body is going through changes. You are nesting in and preparing everything for the new addition to your family. The last thing you want to think about is red tape, forms, paperwork and international treaties. Unfortunately, paperwork is a constant part of life and birth is no exception. Your baby's birth will have to be registered in Switzerland. Like everything else in Switzerland, how exactly you register a newborn depends on the kanton and the local community, but things generally follow the same flow.
The one document that is mandatory for everyone is some form of a "name card". You will get this from your hospital, birth center or midwife. You need to pick a name, and if you are not married both parents need to sign. Keep in mind that Switzerland has rules when it comes to names. The parents are mostly free to chose a given name, “as long as it is not likely to damage the interests of the child”.
The rules with family names are more complex. If the child is a Swiss citizen, they will inherit the family name of one of the parents, depending if the parents are married or not. Note that the family name will be exactly the same for all children. This can be a problem if one of the parents is Swiss, and the other parent comes from a culture that expects children's names to follow a certain pattern, for example for daughters family names to end with "-a" and sons with "-ov" or "-dottir" and "-son". If the child is not a Swiss citizen, you have a lot more flexibility. The law basically expects you to "follow the tradition of the country of citizenship"
Switzerland is a member of the ICCS. This means that if you and the father were born in one of the 23 other participating countries, things more or less work the same way as they do in your country of birth. If however, you come from a different country, you might find Swiss birth certificates surprising. The most important thing is that the Swiss birth certificate can change over time. It's not just there to record the birth, but also gets updated with things like marriage, divorce or death. This is why Swiss authorities will ask for birth certificates not older than a few months. If you are Swiss, were born in Switzerland or were married or had children in Switzerland after 2005., you do not need to provide your own birth certificate. If not, you will most likely have to provide your own birth certificate.
Parents with foreign birth certificates
The first step is to contact the resident's office of the community where your child will be born. They will be able to provide you with exact documents required from you, based on your nationality, status and country of birth. In most cases, the registry office will ask you to provide a fresh copy of your own birth certificate. The simplest case is if you have a birth certificate from one of the countries that participate in CIEC. You can simply ask your country of birth for an "international birth certificate" and it will be valid as-is in Switzerland. If you come from a country that is not part of CIEC, hopefully you can request a copy of your birth certificate at your embassy. You might then need to translate the certificate to German, French, Italian or Romansh depending on the Kanton. The translation might need to be notarized and you might need to get the original apostilled at the embassy. If your country doesn't issue birth certificates through the embassy, you might need to travel back to the country to get it. If traveling is expensive or impossible, check if it possible to hire a lawyer in your country of origin and have them represent you to the authorities and get the certificate for you, or if it is possible to give a family member the power of attorney in your embassy that would allow the family member to get your birth certificate for you.
What if I can't get my birth certificate at all?
If your country doesn't issue birth certificates or if your country of birth doesn't exist anymore, or if it would be dangerous for you to even enter the embassy of your country of birth because of political reasons, you need to collect as much documentation as possible that shows you did a good effort and you will have to ask the civil registry office to handle your case specially.
This is possible, but prepare yourself for a very long process.