I have a work visa (PhD program in Switzerland) starting from December 20 2015-March 19 2015. It is my understanding that during this time, I must obtain my residence permit which allows me to remain/leave/return to Switzerland after my visa expires. I would very much like to purchase a flight on December 15th, 5 days before my visa is valid. As an American, I can travel to Switzerland as a tourist for 3 months without a visa. Would it be acceptable to go there on the 15th as a "tourist" for 5 days until my visa is valid WITHOUT A RETURN FLIGHT? The Swiss Consulate of SF informed me that this should be acceptable, but they cannot guarantee this.

  • Did they mention whether any other part of the Swiss government could guarantee it? Is your visa a "type D" visa?
    – phoog
    Dec 4 '15 at 3:45
  • I contacted the State Secretariat for Migration (in Switzerland) as well as the Service de la Population for the specific canton (Vaud) and asked them the same question via email. I am awaiting their response. And yes, I have a type D (stay longer than 30 days) visa.
    – jane
    Dec 4 '15 at 4:09
  • I don't know the rules for Switzerland Type D, but I would recommend you check if there's a duration cap for working in Switzerland. If there is, you can expect problems later on. The UK has one, hence my suggestion to check and be sure.
    – Gayot Fow
    Dec 4 '15 at 5:51
  • 1
    There are others here more expert than I, but if you do not work before Dec 20 I don't think there will be an issue. I have not been asked for evidence of onward or return travel at any Schengen entry, also as an American. Dec 4 '15 at 6:28
  • @GayotFow dual nationality??
    – phoog
    Dec 4 '15 at 9:03

In short, you should be fine.

The type D visa is not a "stay longer than 30 days" visa. It's more like a "stay longer than 90 days" visa. More properly, it is a "national" visa, meaning that it is primarily governed by national law rather than the Schengen agreements. National visas do have a role in the Schenge system, however: They are equivalent to residence permits for the purpose of duration-of-stay calculations under the Schengen Borders Code.

(If my calculation is correct, your visa is valid for 91 days; I wonder whether that's actually how they calculated the end date, or if they were going by the day of the month so the visa would have been valid for 90 days on a non-leap year.)

In any event, presence under a national visa is explicitly excluded from the calculation of duration of stay under the 90/180 rule. The actual wording in the Schengen Borders Code is

1a. For the purposes of implementing paragraph 1, the date of entry shall be considered as the first day of stay on the territory of the Member States and the date of exit shall be considered as the last day of stay on the territory of the Member States. Periods of stay authorised under a residence permit or a long-stay visa shall not be taken into account in the calculation of the duration of stay on the territory of the Member States.

(emphasis added)

This appears to indicate that you can arrive on the 15th as a visa-exempt traveler, whether in Switzerland or elsewhere in the Schengen area, remaining 5 days under those terms; your "period of stay authorized under a ... long-stay visa" will begin when the visa's period of validity begins on the 20th. At that point, the 90/180 rule no longer applies.

(This of course assumes that you have stayed no more than 85 days in the Schengen area in the 179-day period from 19 June 2015 through 14 December 2015.)

As Relaxed notes in a comment, there's no strict requirement to have a ticket for onward travel. The requirment is that you be able to demonstrate that you will not stay longer than allowed. Your long-stay visa is evidence of that.

  • 1
    (+1) Might also be worth pointing out that there is no strict requirement to hold a ticket out of the area (seems to be one of the OP's concerns) as there are many situations in which it's perfectly legal to enter without any visa and apply for a residence card/permit directly or, at least, to acquire such a ticket from within the area.
    – Relaxed
    Dec 4 '15 at 8:59

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