Haggling is not generally the done thing in Switzerland. With the exception of auctions and flea markets, you'll usually be expected to pay the requested price.
Dangers & Annoyances
- Street crime is relatively uncommon. As in any urban situation, though, watch your belongings; pickpockets thrive in city crowds.
- Swiss police aren’t very visible but have a reputation for performing random street searches of questionable necessity on people of non-European background or appearance.
Senior citizens are not entitled to discounts on Swiss railways, but discounts are available on museum admission, ski passes and some cable cars. Discounts often start for those as young as 62 (proof of age necessary), although sometimes a higher limit is observed. The abbreviation for senior citizens is AHV in German and AVS in French.
Student & Youth Cards
An International Student Identity Card (ISIC) yields discounts on admission prices, air and international train tickets, and even some ski passes. If you’re under 31 but not a student, apply for the IYTC (International Youth Travel Card). Cards are issued by student unions and youth-oriented travel agencies in your home country.
Swiss Museum Pass
Regular or long-term visitors to Switzerland may want to buy the Swiss Museum Pass (www.museumspass.ch; per adult/family Sfr166/288), which grants a year's free entry to 500 museums countrywide.
Swiss Travel Passes
The following national travel passes offer fabulous savings on extensive travel within Switzerland. Passes can be purchased at train stations in Switzerland. For comprehensive information, see www.swisstravelsystem.ch and http://traintickets.myswitzerland.com.
Swiss Travel Pass This entitles the holder to unlimited travel on almost every train, boat and bus service in the country, and on trams and buses in 41 towns, plus free entry to 500-odd museums. Reductions of 25% to 50% apply on funiculars, cable cars and private railways. Different passes are available, valid between three (Sfr216) and 15 (Sfr458) consecutive days. There's a 15% discount for young adults under age 26.
Swiss Travel Pass Flex This pass allows unlimited travel for a certain number of days within a one-month period – from three (Sfr248) to 15 (Sfr502) days. A 15% discount applies for those under age 26.
Swiss Half-Fare Card As the name suggests, you pay only half the fare on trains with this card (Sfr120 for one month), plus you get some discounts on local-network buses, trams and cable cars.
Junior Travelcard This card (Sfr30), valid for one year, gets a child aged six to 16 years free travel on trains, boats and some cable cars when travelling with at least one parent. Children travelling with a grandparent can buy an equivalent Grandchild travelcard. Childen not travelling with a relative can get unlimited travel for one day with a one-day children’s travel pass (Sfr16).
Regional Passes Network passes valid only within a particular region are available in several parts of the country. Such passes are available from train stations in the region.
In many resorts and cities there’s a Gästekarte (visitors’ card), which provides various benefits such as reduced prices for museums, swimming pools or cable cars, as well as free use of public transport within city limits. Cards are issued by your accommodation.
Embassies & Consulates
For a list of Swiss embassies abroad and embassies in Switzerland, see www.eda.admin.ch. Embassies are in Bern, but Zürich and Geneva have several consulates.
Emergency & Important Numbers
Swiss telephone numbers start with an area code that must be dialled every time, even when making local calls.
|Switzerland's country code||41|
|International access code||00|
|Swiss Mountain Rescue||1414|
The electrical current in Switzerland is 230V, 50Hz. Swiss sockets are recessed, three-holed, hexagonally shaped and incompatible with many plugs from abroad. They usually, however, take the standard European two-pronged plug.
Entry & Exit Formalities
Formalities are minimal when arriving in Switzerland by air, rail or road thanks to the Schengen Agreement, which allows passengers coming from the EU to enter without showing a passport. When arriving from a non-EU country, you'll need your passport or EU identity card – and visa if required – to clear customs.
- Visitors may import 250 cigarettes or cigars, or 250g of pipe tobacco.
- The allowance for alcoholic beverages is 1L for beverages containing more than 18% alcohol by volume, and 5L for beverages containing up to 18%.
- Alcohol and tobacco may only be brought in by people aged 17 or over.
- Gifts up to the value of Sfr300 may also be imported, as well as food provisions for one day.
All non-EU travellers must carry a passport valid for at least three months beyond the planned departure date from Switzerland.
Switzerland has no explicit entry restrictions based on nationality or previous passport stamps, but citizens of some countries may require a visa.
Generally not required for stays of up to 90 days. Some non-European citizens require a Schengen Visa.
For up-to-date details on visa requirements, go to the Swiss State Secretariat for Migration (www.sem.admin.ch).
Visas are not required if you hold a passport from the UK, Ireland, the USA, Canada, Australia or New Zealand, whether visiting as a tourist or on business. Citizens of the EU, Norwegians and Icelanders may also enter Switzerland without a visa. A maximum 90-day stay in a 180-day period applies, but passports are rarely stamped.
Other non-European citizens wishing to come to Switzerland have to apply for a Schengen Visa, named after the agreement that has abolished passport controls between 26 European countries. It allows unlimited travel throughout the entire Schengen zone for a 90-day period. Apply to the consulate of the country you are entering first, or your main destination.
In Switzerland, carry your passport at all times. Swiss citizens are required to always carry ID, so you will also need to be able to identify yourself at any time.
The Swiss are generally quite informal, but they do adhere to some (unspoken) rules of etiquette.
- Greetings Shake hands when meeting for the first time and when saying goodbye. Handshakes are firm with eye contact. Friends kiss three times on the cheek – right, left, then right again.
- Shops Say Grüezi (hello) to the sales assistant when you're entering a shop and Adieu (goodbye) when leaving.
- Clothing Dress is smart casual, apart from in more formal situations – a night at the theatre, for instance – when the Swiss like to dress up.
- Punctuality Punctuality is, unsurprisingly, considered a great virtue. Being late is considered rude.
- Hiking Greet fellow walkers on hiking trails with a friendly hello: Grüezi (singular) or Grüezi mitenand (plural).
- Toasts When toasting, wait until everyone is present, and look your toasting partner in the eye when clinking glasses and saying Prost (cheers). A lack of eye contact is said to bring bad luck!
Attitudes to homosexuality are progressive. Same-sex partnerships are recognised (although gay couples are not permitted to adopt children or have fertility treatment). Major cities have gay and lesbian bars, and pride marches are held in Geneva (early July) and Zürich (mid-July).
- www.gay.ch (in German)
- www.myswitzerland.com Information on gay-friendly accommodation and events if you type ‘Gay & Lesbian’ into the search function.
- www.pinkcross.ch (in German and French)
If you’re skiing, snowboarding or trekking, ensure your policy covers helicopter rescue and emergency repatriation. Most standard policies don’t cover many outdoor activities; you’ll need to pay a premium for winter-sports cover and further premiums for adventure sports like bungee jumping and skydiving.
Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/bookings. You can buy, extend and claim online any time – even if you’re already on the road.
Checking insurance quotes…
- Public wireless access points can be found at major airports, at dozens of Swiss train stations and airports, and in business seats of 1st-class train carriages on many routes.
- Most hotels have free wi-fi, as do many cafes and public spaces.
- Public hot spots, like those provided by Swisscom (www.swisscom.ch), levy a charge – from Sfr5 per day to Sfr35 per month, payable by credit card or prepaid card sold at Swisscom’s 3400 hot spots; locate them at http://hotspotlocator.swisscom.ch.
- The odd internet cafe can be found in larger towns and cities.
Swiss police have wide-ranging powers of detention, allowing them to hold a person without charge. If you're approached by them, you will be required to show your passport, so always carry it.
There are some minor legal variations between the 26 cantons: busking (playing music in the streets) is allowed in some places but not in others. If in doubt, ask.
Hallwag, Kümmerly + Frey (www.swisstravelcenter.ch) has a vast range of road atlases, city maps and hiking maps, which can be bought online. Swiss Alpine Club (www.sac-cas.ch) maps, Kompass (www.kompass.de) maps and maps produced by the Bundesamt for Topographie (www.swisstopo.admin.ch) – sometimes down to 1:15,000 scale – are also found in most travel bookshops.
The 48-page Swiss Travel System brochure, free from Switzerland Tourism and major train stations, has a clear A3 map of bus and train routes. Tourist offices also have free maps and brochures.
- Newspapers German readers can gen up with Zürich’s Neue Zürcher Zeitung (www.nzz.ch) and Tages Anzeiger (www.tagesanzeiger.ch); Geneva’s Le Temps (www.letemps.ch) and La Tribune de Genève (www.tdg.ch) are sold in Suisse Romande; Lugano-based Corriere del Ticino (www.cdt.ch) is in Italian.
- Radio WRS (World Radio Switzerland; FM 101.7; www.worldradio.ch) is a Geneva-based English-language station broadcasting music and news countrywide.
- Twitter For a dose of daily news and insights into Swiss cultural affairs and happenings, follow @Switzerland, @TheLocalSwitzer, @swissinfo_en and @MySwitzerland_e.
- Websites Swissinfo (www.swissinfo.org) is the national news website.
ATMs are at every airport, most train stations and on every second street corner in towns and cities; Visa, MasterCard and Amex widely accepted.
ATMs – called Bancomats in banks and Postomats in post offices – are widespread and accessible 24 hours. They accept most international bank or credit cards and have multilingual instructions. Your bank or credit-card company will often charge a 1% to 2.5% fee, and there may also be a small charge at the ATM end.
Swiss francs are divided into 100 centimes (Rappen in German-speaking Switzerland). There are notes for 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 1000 francs, and coins for five, 10, 20 and 50 centimes, as well as for one, two and five francs.
Businesses throughout Switzerland, including most hotels and some restaurants and souvenir shops, will accept payment in euros. Change will be given in Swiss francs at the rate of exchange calculated on the day.
Credit cards are widely accepted at hotels, shops and restaurants. EuroCard/MasterCard and Visa are the most popular.
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
Change money at banks, airports and nearly every train station until late into the evening. Banks tend to charge about 5% commission; some money-exchange bureaus don’t charge commission at all.
Tipping is not necessary, given that hotels, restaurants, bars and even some taxis are legally required to include a 15% service charge in bills.
- Restaurants You can round up the bill after a meal for good service, as locals do.
- Hotels Hotel and railway porters expect a franc or two per bag.
Each Swiss canton currently decides how long shops and businesses can stay open. With the exception of convenience stores at 24-hour service stations and shops at airports and train stations, businesses shut completely on Sunday. High-season opening hours appear in listings for sights and attractions; hours are almost always shorter during low season.
Banks 8.30am to 4.30pm Monday to Friday
Museums 10am to 5pm, many close Monday and stay open late Thursday
Restaurants noon to 2.30pm and 6pm to 9.30pm; most close one or two days per week
Shops 10am to 6pm Monday to Friday, to 4pm Saturday
Post-office hours vary, but they’re usually open from at least 8am to noon and 2pm to 5pm Monday to Friday, and from 8.30am to noon on Saturday. Larger post offices stay open over lunch. Many post offices have a Postomat (ATM).
Within Switzerland, deliveries are by A-Post (delivered next working day) or B-Post (three working days). International priority (prioritaire) deliveries to Europe take two to four days, and to elsewhere roughly seven days. Economy (economique) service to Europe takes four to eight days and seven to 12 days to other destinations. An ‘Urgent’ service is also available for same-day or next-day international deliveries.
For prices and locations, visit www.post.ch.
Some cantons observe their own special holidays and religious days, eg 2 January, Labour Day (1 May), Corpus Christi, Assumption (15 August) and All Saints’ Day (1 November).
New Year’s Day 1 January
Good Friday March/April
Easter Sunday and Monday March/April
Ascension Day 40th day after Easter
Whit Sunday and Monday (Pentecost) 7th week after Easter
National Day 1 August
Christmas Day 25 December
St Stephen’s Day 26 December
- Smoking Illegal in all enclosed indoor public spaces, including restaurants, pubs, offices and public transport. It is allowed in separate smoking rooms and outside on pavement terraces.
Taxes & Refunds
Standard value-added tax (VAT) is 8% in Switzerland and applies to most goods and services. There's a reduced rate for hotels (3.8%) and food and drink (2.5%). Non–Swiss nationals may claim a refund of the taxes they paid on goods with a minimum value of Sfr300. To receive a refund, visit the Federal Tax Administration website (www.estv.admin.ch) or Global Blue (www.globalblue.com).
Search for phone numbers online at http://tel.local.ch/en.
National telecom provider Swisscom (www.swisscom.ch) provides public phone booths that accept coins and major credit cards.
Most mobile phones brought from overseas will function in Switzerland; check with your provider about costs. Prepaid local SIM cards are widely available.
Prepaid local SIM cards are available from network operators Salt (www.salt.ch), Sunrise (www.sunrise.ch) and Swisscom Mobile (www.swisscom.ch/mobile) for as little as Sfr10. You can also purchase (and recharge) SIM cards at newsagents throughout Switzerland. Prepaid cards must be officially registered, so bring your passport.
- The country code for Switzerland is 41. When calling Switzerland from abroad, drop the initial zero from the number; hence to call Bern, dial 41 31 (preceded by the international access code of the country you’re dialling from).
- The international access code from Switzerland is 00.
- Telephone numbers with the code 0800 are toll free; those with 0848 are charged at the local rate. Numbers beginning with 0900, 156 or 157 are premium rate.
- Mobile-phone numbers start with the code 076, 078 or 079.
Warning: Dial All Numbers
Area codes do not exist in Switzerland. Although the numbers for a particular city or town share the same three-digit prefix (for example Bern 031, Geneva 022), numbers must always be dialled in full, even when calling from next door.
Swiss time is GMT/UTC plus one hour. Daylight-saving time comes into effect at midnight on the last Saturday in March, when the clocks are moved forward one hour, making Switzerland two hours ahead of GMT/UTC; clocks go back again on the last Saturday in October.
Note that, in German, halb is used to indicate the half-hour before the hour, hence halb acht (half eight) means 7.30, not 8.30.
The following table shows the time difference between Bern and major cities around the world; times do not take daylight saving into account.
- Public toilets are, as a rule, clean and in reasonable supply.
- Urinals are often free, and many cubicles are too, but some of the latter may have a charge of Sfr0.50.
- The spotless Mr Clean range of facilities in big train stations is more expensive – Sfr2 to pee.
Prepare for your Swiss travels by browsing the in-depth, multilingual Switzerland Tourism website (www.myswitzerland.com), which gives the inside scoop on destinations, accommodation, getting around, sights and attractions, sports, culture, events and much more. Tune in to what's happening across the country with news, weather and webcams, or download brochures and mobile apps.
Switzerland's tourist offices are invariably helpful. Information and maps are free and somebody always speaks English; many offices book hotel rooms, tours and excursions for you. In German-speaking Switzerland tourist offices are called Verkehrsbüro, or Kurverein in some resorts. In French they are called office du tourisme and in Italian ufficio turistico.
Travel with Children
Orderly, clean and not overly commercial, Switzerland is a dream for family travel.
- The Swiss tourist board's meaty Families brochure is packed with ideas; its website, www.myswitzerland.com, lists kid-friendly accommodation, family offers and so on.
- Family train travel with Swiss Railways (www.sbb.ch) is staggering value. Kids under six years travel free and those aged six to 16 years get free unlimited rail travel with an annual Junior Card (Sfr30) or – should it be grandparents travelling with the kids – the Grandchild Travelcard (Sfr30). Otherwise, buy a one-day child's travelpass (Sfr16), which allows unlimited rail travel. Cards include travel on many cable cars in mountain resorts.
- Switzerland’s mountain of scenic journeys by train and boat enchant children of all ages. Upon arrival at point B, dozens of segments of the perfectly signposted hiking, biking, inline-skating and canoeing trails designed strictly for non-motorised traffic by Switzerland Mobility are flagged as suitable for younger children.
- In mountain resorts, tourist offices have information on pushchair-accessible walking trails and dozens of other activities for children of every age, toddler to teen.
- Staying in a B&B is family fabulous: little kids can slumber sweetly upstairs while weary parents wine and dine in peace downstairs (don’t forget your baby monitor!). Pick a B&B on a farm or sleep on straw in the hay barn for adventurous kids to have the time of their life.
- Those with kids aged six to 12 years should buy Dianne Dicks’ Ticking Along with Swiss Kids, part children’s book about Switzerland, part guide for parents on what to see, where to eat and what to do. Also check out Lonely Planet’s Travel with Children.
The Swiss are mostly very accommodating when it comes to families.
- Many large hotels have dedicated family or interconnecting rooms, and even some smaller places will often squeeze in a cot or an extra bed at a moment's notice.
- Most of the major car-hire companies rent out child, baby and booster seats equipped to the latest safety standards for an extra fee of around Sfr45 to Sfr65.
- Nappy-changing facilities are widespread and disposable nappies (diapers) can be readily purchased in pharmacies and supermarkets.
- The Swiss are generally tolerant when it comes to breastfeeding in public provided it is done discreetly.
- Many hotels and tourist offices can point you in the direction of local childcare agencies and babysitting services.
- Some – but by no means all – restaurants provide high chairs and special children's menus. If in doubt, check ahead.
Travellers with Disabilities
Switzerland ranks among the world’s most easily navigable countries for travellers with physical disabilities. Most train stations have a mobile lift for boarding trains, city buses are equipped with ramps, and many hotels have disabled access (although budget pensions tend not to have lifts).
Switzerland Tourism (www.myswitzerland.com) has excellent travel tips for people with physical disabilities. Or get in touch with Mobility International Switzerland.
Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guide from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.
Though volunteering might not be as big in Switzerland as it is elsewhere, a number of places allow you to immerse yourself in local life by getting involved in projects lasting from a week to 18 months. You can hook up with the networks in your home country and/or, if you speak German, French, or Italian, approach a Swiss organisation directly.
- Bergwaldprojekt (www.bergwaldprojekt.ch) Do your bit to save Switzerland's magnificent forests at one of the free week-long work camps run by this eco-aware initiative.
- SCI – International Voluntary Service (https://ivsgb.org/sci) Search online for volunteer work, which might be anything from building new hiking trails to promoting biodiversity and cultural projects.
- Service Civil International (www.sci.ngo) Promoting peace, this worldwide organisation has local networks and volunteer work camps (short, mid- and long term) that range in theme from sustainable living to raising awareness for asylum seekers.
- Swiss Volunteers (www.swissvolunteers.ch) The first port of call for anyone who wants to get involved in Swiss sporting events.
- TravelnStudy (http://travelnstudy.com) Offers programs in Lugano (Ticino) that combine travel, voluntary work and study.
Minor sexual harassment (catcalls etc) is much less common in Switzerland than in some neighbouring countries, such as Italy and France. Common sense is the best guide to dealing with potentially dangerous situations such as hitching or walking alone at night.
Weights & Measures
- Weights & Measures The metric system is used. Like other continental Europeans, the Swiss indicate decimals with commas and thousands with full points.
Nationals of the EU-25, plus Norwegians and Icelanders, may work in Switzerland for up to 90 days a year without a permit. Other foreigners and EU citizens on longer assignments will need a permit. For details visit the State Secretariat for Migration online (www.sem.admin.ch).
Language skills are crucial for work in service industries and usually necessary for work in ski resorts and chalets. Working in Ski Resorts: Europe & North America by Victoria Pybus provides detailed information about how to organise winter work. Or consult Rolling Pin (www.rollingpin.at) for jobs in the hospitality industry. Two good websites for contacts and tips are Season Workers (www.seasonworkers.com) and Natives (http://jobs.natives.co.uk/switzerland).
In October, work is available in vineyards in Vaud and Valais.