Switzerland


Switzerland / Practical guidelines


General Information

The Capital

The capital of the republican federal state is Berne with a population of almost 150,000. The Swiss parliament and diplomats meet in the Federal Parliament, which was built in Neo-Renaissance style.

Consulates

UK
British Embassy Berne
Thunstrasse 50
3005 Berne
Switzerland
Telephone: +41 (0)31 359 7700
Out of hours emergencies +41 (0)31 359 77 00

USA
US Embassy Berne
Sulgeneckstraße 19
3007 Bern
Switzerland
Telephone: +41 (0)31 357 70 11
https://ch.usembassy.gov/

Consular Agency Zurich
Dufourstrasse 101
8008 Zurich
Switzerland

Consular Agency Geneva
Rue François-Versonnex 7
1207 Geneva
Switzerland

Emergency

General: 112
Fire: 118
Police: 117
Ambulance: 144

Safety

Around railway stations, airports and public transport, precautions must be taken against pickpockets.

For activities in the mountains, travellers should be aware of current weather conditions.

Language

There are four national languages in Switzerland: German (60%), French (30%), Italian (6%) and Rhaeto-Romanic (1%). However, most of them can communicate in English and in one or more of the other national languages.

Festivals and Public Holidays

In Switzerland there are only four holidays, which are work-free in the whole country: New Year's Day, Ascension Day, Federal Day (1st August, National Day) and Christmas Day. Good Friday, Easter Monday, Whit Monday and Stephen's Day are also celebrated in large parts of Switzerland.

Climate

Switzerland generally has a continental climate. The weather can be cool and damp in spring and fall. The weather in Switzerland varies widely according to location and elevation, however. 

The highest precipitation is recorded in Rochers de Nave, a mountain near Montreux. Precipitation is generally higher in the western part of Switzerland, where often clouds come in from the Atlantic coast. The regions south of the Alps are also known for heavy precipitation. Lugano, for example receives about 175 cm per year. Winds blow in clouds from the south that are blocked by the Alps and drop their water. This causes dryer and warmer weather north of the Alps.

The Engadin Valley in the far eastern section of Switzerland and Valais in the southwest also record relatively little precipitation. The average amount of sunshine per year is about 1,700 hours. Some villages in the canton of Valais boast as much as 2,300 hours of sunshine per year.

Time Zone

Switzerland is located in the Central European Time Zone. European Summer Time is used between the end of March and the end of October, meaning clocks are moved forward an hour during that period.

Time differences:
UK: - 1 hour
Canada/USA
East coast: - 6 hours
West coast: - 9 hours.

Electricity and Water

Outlets in Switzerland are 220 volt. Most appliances will require adapters, which can be purchased at airports and locally.

Weights and Measures

Long distances are measured in kilometers in Switzerland. A kilometer equals about 2/3 mile.

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Shorter distances are measured in meters. A meter is 3.28 feet (1.09 yards).

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Weights are measured in kilos. One kilo equals 2.20 pounds.

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Public Transport

Switzerland has a dense and excellent network of railways, buses, trams and mountain railways, which are generally well coordinated even in remote areas. 

Tourist Information

Please take local road closures and warnings seriously (danger of avalanches, waterfalls, rockfalls etc); picking wildflowers or taking any kind of natural material with you is forbidden.

Postal Service

Stamps can be purchased at post offices, Kiosks, and most shops that sell postcards. Post Office hours are 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mon.-Fri. and 7:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Saturday.

Phone Calls

Country codes for calls placed from Switzerland:
UK: 00 44 + phone number 
USA/Canada: 00 1 + phone number

Country codes for placing calls to Switzerland:
UK: 00 41 + phone number 
USA/Canada: 011 41 + phone number


To be paid locally

Fuel costs, costs for fuel service (if applicable), costs for rental cars (see rental car conditions, e.g. one-way rental, permits, child seats, snow chains etc.), tolls, food, costs for excursions booked locally by yourself, private expenses (e.g. costs for souvenirs, medication, etc.), tips, entrance fees (if applicable), transport costs (e.g. taxi, bus, train, ferry), tourism levy (if applicable), parking fees (if applicable), lift fees (for ski lifts and cable cars), ski pass (if applicable).

Arrival and Departure

Travel Documents and Formalities

UK:
Valid travel documents

USA:

Regardless of their visa obligation status, US nationals wishing to enter Switzerland must be in possession of a passport that will remain valid for at least three months after the intended date of departure from Switzerland; and has been issued within the previous 10 years.

Customs

Switzerland is not an EU member state. The Swiss border is therefore considered to be the EU's external border. The import and export of goods is therefore subject to the relevant regulations. 

The import and export of national and foreign currency is possible without restriction; from a value of CHF 10,000 there is an obligation to inform on request.

The import of alcoholic beverages (for persons aged 17 and over) is limited to 1 litre (over 18%) or 5 litres (under 18% alcohol content), 250 cigarettes/cigars or 250 grams of tobacco. Further information can be obtained from the Federal Customs Administration (Eidgenössische Zollverwaltung - EZV).

Driving

(International) Driving License

UK/USA

People from abroad may drive in Switzerland for private purposes for up to a year as long as they are old enough to drive in Switzerland (e.g. 18 years old to drive a passenger car) and hold a valid national driving licence. A foreign driving licence must show the categories of motor vehicles that may be driven. The entry must be in the Latin alphabet. Otherwise, an international driving licence must be presented.

Insurance

If you are traveling with your own car please check with your car insurance what documentation is necessary. 

Road Code

Front and rear seat belts are obligatory in Switzerland. Children under the age of 12 are not allowed to sit in the front seat. It is illegal to talk on a hand-held mobile phone while operating a motor vehicle in Switzerland.

Be careful about drinking and driving: A driver whose blood alcohol level exceeds 0.8 will be considered legally intoxicated.

Signs leading onto Swiss motorways normally indicate the next major city or cities along the way rather than the actual direction of travel. It is therefore important to know what cities lie along the intended route.


Speed Limits

In towns: 50 km/h (30 mph)
On motorways: 120 km/h (75 mph)
On open roads: 80 km/h (50 mph)
In residential areas: 30 km/h (18 mph)

Parking

Very little free parking is available in downtown areas. Parking along the street often requires feeding a parking meter, which may be located some distance from the car. After you’ve deposited the required fee, the meter will produce a ticket that must be placed in the windscreen (pay and display).

Be careful about observing no-parking signs, as violations may result in your car being towed away. The two main parking signs are:

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Please also observe the following road markings:
- Blue zone: A parking disc is required (available at Kiosks).
- Yellow zone: reserved parking for private persons and companies.
- White zone: free unlimited parking.

Breakdown and Accident

An emergency telephone number will be included in the documents you receive from your rental car company. Emergency phone calls can be made free of charge from any public telephone. Emergency phone numbers are: 
Police: 117
Medical emergency: 144
Fire: 118

Petrol

The main choices are Bleifrei (unleaded), Super-Bleifrei (super unleaded) and Diesel. The German word for petrol is Benzin. A service station is called a Tankstelle.

Toll Roads

A sticker on the windscreen is required to drive on Swiss motorways (Autobahn and Autostrasse). Travelers have to buy a full year pass for approx. CHF 40.00, regardless of how long they intend to stay. The stickers, called a “vignette”, are available at all service stations, post offices and customs offices at the border. 

Directions and Maps

Although brief directions are included in your travel documents, we recommend buying a good road atlas.


Navigation System

The best solution is always a GPS. While rented units are often available, downloading an offline software for your smartphone is a good alternative. Free service is available from "HERE Maps". Although you won't be able to search by coordinates when offline, you can do so while connected to WIFI in your hotel and save places to favorites. The directions from HERE are not very detailed. If you prefer a more detailed navigation, other products are available from TomTom or Navigon at an annual fee. Should you already own a GPS unit you can download the relevant maps prior to departure.

Accommodations

Check-In

The check-in time is normally between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. unless otherwise stated in your travel documents. Earlier arrival can be arranged with your hosts. Please notify your hosts if you will be arriving after 8 p.m.

Money Matters

Currency

The local currency is the Swiss franc (CHF). 1 US dollar corresponds to approx. 1.00 CHF. 1 British Pound corresponds to approx. 1,25 CHF.

ATMs

ATMs are widely available. All common international credit cards are accepted. English instructions are usually available.

Health

Medical Insurance

US/Canada:
Check to make sure your health insurance covers travel abroad. If not, you would be wise to take out travel insurance. 

UK:
The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) allows access to state-provided healthcare in Switzerland at a reduced cost and will cover treatment until you return home.

Your EHIC does not cover private treatment, so make sure you are treated by a state-funded healthcare provider. Some healthcare providers offer both services in Switzerland. You should be particularly careful if healthcare arrangements are made by a hotel or travel representative. Any costs incurred for private healthcare are non-refundable.

Local Health Care

At the hospital, proof of health insurance is required and a deposit estimated as a portion of the hospital expense may also be charged. Some medical practitioners and institutions may require an advance deposit for routine or scheduled outpatient services for patients who are not enrolled in a Swiss insurance plan.


You should know if your health insurance includes international coverage. Many U.S. insurance companies will not pay if you need to see a doctor outside of the United States. Check your insurance provider’s travel policy before going abroad. If you do have international coverage, carry your policy identity card as proof of insurance and a claim form.

Most family physicians are not available on Thursday afternoons but are available until 11 a.m. on Saturday mornings. Specialists are usually available Monday through Friday.


After-Hours Emergency Physician: 0900 57 67 47 (in Switzerland)

Medical Provider Information: 1811 or 1818 (Provides telephone numbers/addresses for duty pharmacy, nearest medical service, fire, air ambulance, life rescue services, etc.

Etiquette

Alcohol and Cigarettes

Smoking is prohibited by law in public buildings, shops (including tobacco shops), casinos, discos, cafés, hotels, restaurants and workplaces.
The legal smoking ban in hotels/accommodations initially applies to public areas, most hosts extend it to their rooms. Exceptions must be discussed in advance.

Tipping

Service is normally included in the restaurant check. Nevertheless, it is common to round up amounts, say from CHF 47.50 to CHF 50, in recognition of good service. Smaller amounts are rounded up to the next franc. In hotels tip CHF 1-2 for each bag or service rendered. Taxi fares should be rounded up to a convenient figure.