PhD Council

Living at CERN

PhD students who work for one of the LHC experiments usually have the opportunity to go to CERN for one year. The purpose of this is to do shifts and service tasks, to be able to attend meetings at CERN, to get to know your colleagues over there and to discuss your results with them. This year is usually planned in the second year of the PhD, but the timing can vary according to the LHC running schedule, the presence of supervisors at Nikhef or CERN, and so on. It is best to discuss the possibilities with your supervisor at the start of your PhD. In principle it is not possible to stay for longer than one year; only in exceptional cases there can be an extension. Staying for a shorter period of time is also possible, as well as splitting the year into multiple visits. This should be discussed with your supervisor and the personnel department.

Access and arrival

  • Before being able to gain access to CERN, the institute has to know of your existence and position within the scientific community. Ask your supervisor how to best register yourself with your team at CERN. Pre-registration should be included in this step if you are expected to spend an extended period at CERN.
  • See this page for the various ways of ending up at the CERN entrance. This is where your quest starts.
  • First you need to get a CERN Access Card to gain access to the CERN sites. It can be obtained in building 55-R-003, near entrance B. You can use this website to search for the location of specific buildings at CERN.
  • Next, go to the Users’ Office (located in building 61, near Restaurant 1) and say that you will be at CERN for one year. They will ask you to fill out a form, on which you should usually state that you work 90% at CERN, 10% at Nikhef. The head of your group should sign this document, so it is convenient to get this document ready before you leave Nikhef. Alternatively, you can complete the form online here. Once it has been handed in, the Users’ Office will order a Swiss card and a French card, which prove that you work for CERN. Since you’ll have to be physically at CERN to apply a Swiss or French card, it can be useful to change the percentages before moving and then request it when you happen to have to go to CERN for something else before.
  • If you don’t have a CERN computing account yet, you go to and complete the Computer Security test.
  • For registration you also need to complete the Safety Awareness course level 1 and 2. You can do these online using your CERN account at Depending on the work you will be doing, you might have to take more Safety Courses.
  • Go to the secretariat of your experiment. They will register you at the experiment, and they can order the keys to your office.

Dosimeter & Medical Service

If you want a long-term dosimeter (valid for one year), you need a medical certificate from your doctor stating that you are allowed to do work involving radiation exposure. The easiest way to obtain this certificate is to make an appointment at the Medical Service ( Since you are at CERN for one year, you will not have to pay for the examination. However, you do need a statement from Nikhef, so you should ask the Nikhef personnel department to send you an attestation stating what percentage you work at CERN and that your institute authorises the CERN Medical Service to carry out the medical examination. (
The Medical Service will make sure that the information is passed on to the Dosimetry Service. You can also get the certificate from your doctor at home before you go to CERN.
The short-term dosimeter can be obtained without medical declaration, but is only valid for 2 months. You can only get one short-term dosimeter per year.
More info:

Nikhef financial matters

All the rules are described in the letter you received from the personnel department and in the Implementation Regulations (mainly section “IR-8 Secondments”). Especially the latter one contains all the important regulation information.

  • Travelling: Filling out the declaration works exactly the same as when travelling from Amsterdam. Use the online Nikhef Travel system. Just state that you travel from CERN, and send the tickets/receipts to Johan Dokter.
  • Moving: Nikhef will reimburse costs for moving, you should fill out a form and inform the personnel department that you want a reimbursement.
  • Rent in NL: You can keep your apartment in the Netherlands, and if you do not sublet it, Nikhef will repay part of the rent. Or you can cancel your apartment in the Netherlands, and get a reimbursement for moving.
  • Rent in Switzerland/France: You can get some reimbursement if your apartment in Switzerland or France is expensive. Note: if your apartment has furniture, there will be a correction applied to the rent.
  • You are eligible for several private trips back home payed by Nikhef. So these come on top of the trips back home for Jamboree, Topical Lectures and other work-related trips.

Other financial matters

  • The Swiss work with Swiss Francs, so it might be useful if you have a handful of them before you leave for CERN. Don’t worry, in most places at CERN you can pay with Euro’s, but this is not true in Switzerland itself! There are also ATM’s at CERN itself, in building 501.
  • If you open a bank-account with UBS, you will need a HR database extract from CERN which you can get from the users’ office. Also be aware that have to make an official appointment with UBS when you want to open a new account.


You have to let your insurance company know that you will be living abroad before you leave the Netherlands. As long as you do not leave for more than one year, you do not have to change your health insurance. The insurance company will ask you to send them a ‘detacheringsverklaring’ which is a statement that you will work at CERN for a certain amount of time. The Nikhef personnel department makes sure that this statement is requested, and it will be sent to your address in Switzerland (or France) within two months. Once you receive this letter, you should send a copy to your insurance company.


If you work outside of the Netherlands for more than half a year, you are technically obligated to pay taxes in your country of residents. Ask your fellow PhD students what the best options for this are.


The CERN Mobility Centre allows staff and visitors to rent a bike for up to three months. If you are not based at CERN, you will have to appoint a guarantor who is based at CERN. These bikes are free to use, with the exception of the months June through September, during which they cost CHF 1 per day. A cash deposit of CHF 100 or a digital deposit via a budget code of CHF 400 is always required. More information can be found here.


If you plan to travel by train you can buy an ‘Abonnement Demi-tarif’. For one year this abonnement costs CHF 185. This gives you a 50% discount on ALL train journeys in Switzerland, and a discount on public transport (e.g. a tram ticket will cost 2.20 instead of CHF 3). Three retour journeys from Geneva to Montreux would already cost you CHF 168 without an abonnement, so you benefit quite quickly!
You can get it at the train station (bring a photograph and passport).
More info:


Nikhef has some cars available at CERN, meant for people that visit for a short term and need to travel back and forth from the hotel/control room to the Meyrin site. Most of these are CERN vans: you have to require a “CERN driving licence” to be allowed to drive them ( and they can only be used inside the LHC perimeter (some have even more restrictions, you find here a description of the two different kinds of cars, and here the official regulation). If you need to use a CERN van for other purposes as driving between CERN labs you have to request an allowance, valid for a certain requested period of time, using the EDH form; it’s better to discuss it with your supervisor anyway.

To book a Nikhef car you have to use this online system; ask your supervisor for the login details.

If you want to use your personal car instead, you need to require a sticker to access CERN areas (the parking on Meyrin site, for instance). This can be done the first time you enter CERN by car, at building 55, or requesting the sticker online (

If you plan to use Swiss highways, you need to buy the highway toll (vignette): it costs 40 CHF and covers every trip within one year from January to December. The vignette is available at the border offices, post offices and some other government places.

Here you’ll find useful information if you plan to import your car from the Netherlands or another country. You can also apply for a “green plate” and save money on taxes (particularly convenient if you buy a new car), but the procedure will take about 2 months. Check here for the regulation:


Obviously, you’ll need a VISA for either France / Switzerland depending on where you want to stay. You’ll have to go to the French/Swiss consulate in a country where you are allowed to reside. So for most people coming from Nikhef, this should be the Netherlands or home country.

Note: The following description of the procedure was kindly donated by somebody who was applying for a VISA in France. The Swiss procedure should be similiar, but details may differ, so be careful!

Required documents:

  • 1 long stay VISA application form, duly completed
  • 2 ID pictures (recent and identical)
  • Original passport and a copy
  • Original Dutch residence permit and a copy
  • Attestation from CERN that you are CERN personnel (available from EDH)
  • Invitation letter from the secretariat

Ask the secretariat to send a “Note Verbale” to the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Paris and the French consulate where the VISA is being issued.

Now if you go to the French consulate in the Netherlands, it won’t work! The French process all VISA applications from the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg in Brussels, Belgium. To get an appointment, email the consulate, the VISA officer will respond. You have to report at the consulate for the first interview, they take fingerprints, accept the completed application form, and other documents. The consulate does not keep the passport. You have to return a second time to get the VISA. The VISA officer will notify by email and propose an appointment date.
For the second appointment drop off the passport at the consulate, pick it up in a few hours time with the VISA. Once this process is done, then go to the CERN Users’s office and apply for the French and Swiss residence permits. Your percentage at CERN should be more than 50%.

Where to live in France

If you prefer to live in a rural environment, it is best to go to one of the villages in France. The rents are usually lower and shopping is less expensive in France. On the other hand, since the public transport between France and Geneva is limited, it is difficult to reach downtown Geneva.
Saint-Genis-Pouilly is closest to CERN. Prevessin-Moens, Ferney-Voltaire, Thoiry, are all in ‘bikable’ distance. Gex is a bit further away, about 15 km (and uphill) from CERN.

Free time activities!

CERN has several clubs: contact the jazz club to use their room (they have 3 pianos!) and the music club if you want to start your own band (the music room has a drumset, keyboards and amplifiers); the ski club organizes lessons and outings every year for a very good price while if you want to enjoy the lake you can join the sailing club.
More info:

And more…