Friday, May 8, 2009

Making it all official: the paperwork after giving birth in Switzerland

Giving birth in Switzerland was generally a positive experience for me. I say generally because there were two bumps: the lack of anesthesia during surgery and the paperwork afterwards.

After the birth there are two very important Swiss documents an expat needs for their child: the birth certificate and a residence permit.

The birth certificate is the first document you will receive after the birth. However, the Swiss require certain documents before the birth certificate is issued. The documents needed (for a married couple) are birth certificates for each parent and the marriage certificate. Sounds easy enough, right? Well, the Swiss require that all of these documents be issued within 6 months of the birth.

I have no idea why this rule exists but I think it's ridiculous. The information doesn't change. The seal from the issuing authority doesn't change. All that changes is the issuing date. But we don't ask questions here, it's a rule so we follow it!

Luckily you can order documents online through They ship internationally too so you don't have to worry about contacting your state's department from abroad.

It's easier to have these documents with you when you go to the hospital to give birth. At least that is what I hear. I had the documents with us but somehow things got messed up. I have been told that if you have the documents with you at the hospital you can just fill out the forms required for the birth certificate then. Well, we were never given forms. So, we left the hospital thinking everything that needed to be done was done.

A week later we got a letter from the Gemeinde house asking that we bring the paperwork down for them to review. So we took the documents over there and they made sure we had everything we needed. The Gemeinde house then filled out forms and sent them to us several days later to review. After we made sure everything was correct, we signed the forms, returned them to the Gemeinde house, and waited for the international birth certificate to arrive.

The process took a lot longer than I expected. Unfortunately, we needed the birth certificate to move forward on the residence permit and the other documents necessary for US expats, a passport and report of birth abroad.

The passport and report of birth abroad require several forms. The package can be obtained by emailing the embassy or consular agency for your canton. Be careful filling out the forms, the agencies are, shall we say, very particular about the information being correct, legible, and complete. I've heard stories of parents being asked to fill out the forms a second time because their handwriting wasn't clear enough. Also, make sure you have the correct photographs for your infant, the US passport photo size is different than the rest of the world- 5 cm square. No budging on this rule.

Once you have the birth certificate and have completed the application packet from the embassy/consular agency, you have to mail it in to be processed. Directions for this process are included in the packet you will receive from the embassy/consular agency.

After the packet is received, the embassy/consular agency will contact you to make an appointment. Both parents should attend this appointment with the child, it makes the process easier. And don't worry if you've filled out the forms correctly or not, you will be told if something is wrong and given the chance to fix it t this appointment.

Give yourself plenty of time for the appointment, the office can get busy!

Finally, after your appointment, all you have to do is wait for the passport and record of birth to come in the mail.

As far as the residence permit goes, we are still working on that. We got a letter from the Gemeinde house listing some things they need. Hopefully we will have Betti's permit in hand soon.

Got all that? Good! It's quite a process compared to what is done after a birth in the US. For Marion all I had to do was fill out some forms in the hospital. The passport application was also pretty easy- my local post office processed passport applications without requiring an appointment.

All in all, it really isn't all that difficult of a process as long as you follow the rules and are prepared. It was a bit of a headache for us to make sure the Gemeinde house had all that they needed (I think we made a total of three trips there to get the birth certificate) but it hasn't been for others. So if you are expecting in Switzerland, I hope you have a great birth and smooth paperwork process afterwards!


Chantal said...

Wow. Doing the paperwork sounds harder the giving birth. But I am not surprised. Given the Swiss affinity for paper, it sounds like they milk the whole birth thing for all it's worth.

stacy said...

gosh being married to a Swiss has perks... we got our birth certificate in the mail before I even came home from the hospital!! it arrived on day 3!! or maybe the folks in Wetzikon are super efficient, who knows. I also got her Swiss passport in one week. I am now dragging my heels on the US one however.... I'm positive its going to be difficult.