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.



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



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 4 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.


Switzerland generally has a continental climate. The weather can be cool and damp in the 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
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.


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


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


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

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

Getting There

A motorway sticker is required on all national roads (incl. motorways) in Switzerland. It can be obtained at petrol stations in the border area for approx. 40 CHF. 

The vignette requirement applies to all vehicles up to 3.5 t gross vehicle weight. An additional vignette must be purchased for trailers. The vignette must be clearly visible and attached to the windscreen from the inside. Non-glued (only carried) vignettes are not valid.

Travel Documents and Formalities


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).


(International) Driving License


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)


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:




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 Avis. Emergency phone calls can be made free of charge from any public telephone. Emergency phone numbers are: 
- Police: 117
- Medical emergency: 144
- Fire: 118


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.



Money Matters



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


Medical Insurance

Check to make sure your health insurance covers travel abroad. If not, you would be wise to take out travel insurance. Unfortunately we cannot issue insurance contracts to non-European clients.

Local Health Care


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.



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.