Country guides Europe
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.
The four official languages are Swiss German, French, Italian and Romansch. Most people know at least three languages, including English.
The official currency is the Swiss franc (CHF), which is divided into 100 rappen (German) or centimes (French). Although not part of the EU, many prices are 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.
A 15 percent service charge is normally included in all hotel, taxi, bar and restaurant bills, and further tipping is not necessary.
Swiss medical facilities and health care are among the best in the world, but are very expensive, meaning health insurance is recommended. As of January 2021, most people cannot use a UK-issued European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) or a Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) to get medical treatment in Switzerland. Everyone 16 years of age and older should get fully vaccinated for COVID-19 before travel.
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.
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). Though many Swiss speak English, it is considered polite to inquire before attempting conversation.
The Swiss business world reflects the local mastery at building well-oiled machines. Efficiency and organisation are prioritised, and the business culture is based predominantly on merit. The country's formal, no-nonsense approach to business offers little room for humour or lack of preparation in meetings and, though the Swiss are slightly less pedantic than their German or French counterparts, they attach great value 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. 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, 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. By contrast, Swiss-French and Swiss-Italians often meet over lunches and talk is not restricted 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.
Travellers to Switzerland over 17 years do not have to pay duty on 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 exceeds CHF 300. Restricted items include meat and meat products from selected countries. Prohibited items are absinth and anaesthetics.
The international country dialling code for Switzerland is +41. Travellers can purchase local prepaid SIM cards for unlocked phones, 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.
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.
Swiss Tourist Office, Zurich: +41 44 215 4000 or www.myswitzerland.com112 (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.