Electricity

Electrical current in Switzerland is 230 volts, 50Hz. Plugs are of the linear, rounded three-pin type, but rounded two-pin plugs will fit the outlet.

Language

The four official languages are Swiss German, French, Italian and Romansch. Most people know at least three languages, including English.

Money

The official currency is the Swiss Franc (CHF), divided into 100 rappen (German) or centimes (French). Although not part of the EU, many prices are nonetheless indicated in Euros and some merchants may accept Euros. Credit cards are widely accepted and ATMs are widespread; many are equipped with the Cirrus or Maestro system. Banks offer the best exchange rates, but it is also possible to exchange money at major hotels, main train stations and airports. Banks are open Monday to Friday.

Tipping

A 15 percent service charge is normally included in all hotel, taxi, bar and restaurant bills in Switzerland, and further tipping is not necessary, but small change left over is appreciated.

Health

Swiss medical facilities and health care are among the best in the world, but very expensive and health insurance is recommended. Immunisation certificates are only required if the traveller has been in an infected area within two weeks prior to arrival in the country. There is a reciprocal health agreement with the UK and most EU countries, whose citizens are entitled to free or low-cost emergency medical treatment on presentation of a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). Medical insurance is advised for other nationalities.

Safety

Switzerland has a low crime rate compared to other European countries and is generally a safe country to travel in. However, there has been a recent increase in petty theft and visitors should be alert to pickpockets and thieves, particularly in the city centres and on public transport. Travellers should be aware of robberies on overnight trains.

Local customs

Privacy and discretion are highly valued in Swiss culture, and strangers generally do not speak to each other. The Swiss are naturally reserved and conservative, and prefer structured rules to govern their daily lives. Littering is a serious social crime in Switzerland, and visitors should also make an effort to throw their recyclables in the proper receptacle. French and German-speaking Switzerland have different customs in some areas. When being introduced to someone, German-speaking Swiss will shake hands, while French-speaking locals may kiss on the cheek three times (generally left, right, left). While many Swiss speak English, it is considered polite to inquire before attempting conversation.

Doing business

Swiss business culture is based predominantly on merit. The Swiss are masters of building well-oiled machines. The business world reflects this and operates in a similar fashion. Efficiency and organisation are prioritised. A formal, no-nonsense approach is central to business culture in Switzerland. There is little room for humour or lack of preparation in negotiations and business meetings. While the Swiss are slightly less pedantic than their German or French counterparts, great value is attached to appearance and punctuality.

Dress codes for business people in Switzerland are quite formal and conservative, particularly in the banking sector where dark suits are the norm. Sports jackets and a collared shirt and tie will suffice for businessmen while businesswomen in Switzerland should adopt corporate wear - either trousers or suit skirts are appropriate. Business and pleasure are entirely separate in the Swiss work environment. In keeping work and personal compartmentalised, Swiss businesspeople even shy away from calling their colleagues by first names, which reinforces formality and boundaries between work and play. When invited to a Swiss business associate's home, a small gift such as flowers or a box of chocolates is appropriate.

In Swiss business culture those in senior positions garner a great deal of respect, but decision-making processes are often quite democratic. Switzerland is home to over 1000 multinationals and has become something of a melting pot of business customs, regional influences and etiquette. English is the corporate language in Switzerland particularly for multinationals. However, regional languages, such as French, German and Italian, are sometimes preferred in their respective areas. Swiss-German business meetings are rarely over food and are often as brief as possible with little small talk. But the Swiss-French and Swiss-Italians often meet over lunches and talk is not restricted only to business. Handshakes are common for addressing both men and women. Business hours are from 8am to 5pm on weekdays with a lunch break from 12pm to 2pm.

Duty free

Travellers to Switzerland over 17 years do not have to pay duty on the following items: 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 250g tobacco; 2 litres alcohol up to 15 percent and 1 litre alcohol over 15 percent. The maximum allowance of wine is 20 litres, but duty will be payable on this quantity. VAT is liable if the total value of all goods exceed CHF 300. Restricted items include meat and meat products from selected countries. Prohibited items are absinth and anaesthetics.

Communications

The international country dialling code for Switzerland is +41. Mobile phone networks operate throughout the country and wifi is widespread.

Passport & Visa

The borderless region known as the Schengen area includes the following countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and as of December 2008, Switzerland. All these countries issue a standard Schengen visa that has a multiple entry option that allows the holder to travel freely within the borders of all. It is highly recommended that travellers' passports have at least six months' validity remaining after the intended date of departure from their travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.

Entry requirements

US passport holders require a passport valid for three months beyond period of intended stay. A visa is not necessary for stays of up to 90 days within a 180 day period.

United Kingdom citizens require a passport valid for at least three months beyond period of intended stay, with the exception of passports marked 'British Citizen', 'British Subject' (containing a Certificate of Entitlement to the Right of Abode issued by the United Kingdom), and 'British Overseas Territories Citizen' issued by Gibraltar, which will be accepted if valid on arrival.

No visa is required for passports endorsed 'British Citizen', 'British Overseas Territories Citizen' issued by Gibraltar, Identity Cards issued by Gibraltar, and 'British Subject' (containing a Certificate of Entitlement to the Right of Abode issued by the United Kingdom). All other British nationals are entitled to a maximum stay of 90 days without a visa, within a 180 day period.

Canadian passport holders require a passport valid for three months beyond period of intended stay. A visa is not necessary for stays of up to 90 days within a 180 day period.

Australian passport holders require a passport valid for three months beyond period of intended stay. A visa is not necessary for stays of up to 90 days within a 180 day period.

South African passport holders require a passport valid for three months beyond period of intended stay, and a Schengen visa.

Irish nationals require a valid passport, valid for the period of the intended stay, but no visa is necessary.

New Zealand nationals require a passport valid for three months beyond period of intended stay. No visa is necessary for a stay of up to 90 days within a 180 day period.

Useful contacts

Swiss Tourist Office, Zurich: +41 44 215 4000 or www.myswitzerland.com

112 (General), 117 (Police), 144 (Ambulance).

Embassies / consulates in other countries

Swiss Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 745 7900.

Swiss Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 20 7616 6000.

Swiss Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 235 1837.

Swiss Embassy, Canberra, Australia: +61 2 6162 8400.

Swiss Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 12 452 0660.

Swiss Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 1 218 6382.

Swiss Embassy, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 4 472 1593.

Embassies / consulates in Switzerland

United States Embassy, Bern: +4131 357 7011.

British Embassy, Bern: +41 31 359 7700.

Canadian Embassy, Bern: +41 31 357 3200.

Australian Consulate-General, Geneva: +41 22 799 9100.

South African Embassy, Bern: +41 31 350 1313.

Irish Embassy, Bern: +41 31 352 1442.

New Zealand Consulate-General, Geneva: +41 22 929 0350.