COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Switzerland is a highly developed democracy. Read the Department of State Fact Sheet on Switzerland for additional information.
SMART TRAVELER ENROLLMENT PROGRAM (STEP) / EMBASSY LOCATION: If you are going to live in or visit Switzerland, please take the time to tell our embassy about your trip. If you sign up, we can keep you up to date with important safety and security announcements. It will also help your friends and family get in touch with you in an emergency. Here’s the link to the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program.
Local embassy information is available below and at the Department of State’s list of embassies and consulates. The U.S. Embassy Bern website answers many questions of interest to U.S. citizens visiting and residing in Switzerland.
United States Embassy Bern
Sulgeneckstrasse 19, 3007 Bern
Telephone: (41) (31) 357-7011 (2 p.m. – 4 p.m.)
Emergency phone: after-hours/weekends – (41) (31) 357-7777
Facsimile: (41) (31) 357-7280
United States Consular Agency, Zurich,
Zurich America Center, Dufourstrasse 101, 8008 Zurich
Telephone: (41) (43) 499-2960 (10 a.m. – 1 p.m.)
Facsimile: (41) (43) 499-2961
United States Consular Agency, Geneva
rue Versonnex 7, 1207 Geneva
Telephone: (41) (22) 840-5160 (10 a.m. – 1 p.m.)
Facsimile: (41) (22) 840-5162.
ENTRY / EXIT REQUIREMENTS FOR U.S. CITIZENS: Switzerland extends visa-free entry to U.S. citizens staying in Switzerland for up to 90 days (consecutive or combined, within a six-month period) for tourist or business purposes. The passport should be valid for at least three months beyond the period of stay. Switzerland is a party to the Schengen Agreement, which allows for free travel within a multi-country zone of Europe. For further details about travel into and within Schengen countries, please see our Schengen fact sheet. Switzerland does not have a bilateral agreement with the United States which would allow a U.S. citizen to stay longer than 90 days within the Schengen area in any 180 day period. Thus, when you travel to Switzerland, you should make sure that you have not yet exhausted the 90 days within a 180 day period of legal stay in the Schengen area since your first entry into the Schengen area, regardless of any bilateral agreement. This applies also to Schengen departures via Swiss airports. If you exceed the 90 day stay, you risk being fined or even banned from entering the Schengen area again for some time.
We advise you to obtain more information online at the Embassy of Switzerland or in person at 2900Cathedral Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008, telephone (202) 745-7900, or a Swiss Consulate General in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, or San Francisco prior to your travel if you plan to exceed the 90-day limit within 180 days in the Schengen area.
The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Switzerland.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our website. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information page.
THREATS TO SAFETY AND SECURITY: Switzerland remains largely free of terrorist incidents; however, like other countries in the Schengen area, Switzerland’s open borders with its Western European neighbors allow for the possibility of terrorist groups entering/exiting the country anonymously. You should remain vigilant with regard to your personal security. Although there have been no recent terrorist attacks in Switzerland, violence by anti-globalization, anti-Semitic, and anti-establishment (anarchist) groups does occur from time to time. This violence is typically in the form of property damage and clashes between these groups and the police. The potential for specific threats of violence involving U.S. citizens in Switzerland is remote. Nevertheless, the Consular Agencies in Zurich and Geneva may close periodically to assess their security situation.
Public demonstrations occasionally take place mostly in Zurich, Geneva, and Bern. These events are almost always known in advance to the police, who provide appropriate personnel to observe them and maintain order. Such demonstrations rarely turn violent; nonetheless, you should avoid them if at all possible.
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CRIME: Switzerland has a low rate of violent crime; however, crimes of all types which may include violence do occur. Pick-pocketing and purse snatching are the most common and frequently occur in the vicinity of train and bus stations, airports, and some public parks, especially during peak tourist periods (such as summer and Christmas) and when conferences, shows, or exhibits are scheduled in major cities. Be especially vigilant in the airports and railway stations in both Zurich and Geneva, as these locations experience multiple incidents of petty theft almost every day.
You should be careful on trains, especially on overnight trains to neighboring countries. Thieves, who steal from passengers while they sleep, can enter even locked sleeping compartments. Thieves have been known to work in pairs to target train passengers; while one member of the pair creates a diversion at a train window or on a platform, the other steals items you have left briefly unattended.
In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available. Transactions involving such products may be illegal under local law. In addition, bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines.
VICTIMS OF CRIME: If you or someone you know becomes the victim of a crime abroad, you should contact the local police and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. We can:
The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Switzerland is 144 for medical/ambulance services; 117 for the police department; and 118 for the fire department.
Please see our information on victims of crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While you are traveling in Switzerland, you are subject to its laws even if you are a U.S.citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different from our own. In Switzerland it is expected that citizens and visitors carry an I.D. and/or a passport. Should the police stop you, and you are without an I.D., it is possible that you may be taken in for questioning. This is the decision of the individual police officer. Travelers should also be aware that photography is not allowed in certain areas (for example, at military airports). Please observe posted signs regarding photography.
Driving under the influence of alcohol can lead to heavy fines and/or a ban from driving or in severe cases, a jail sentence, depending on the percentage of alcohol in the blood. Swiss law only allows up to 0.05% blood alcohol content (whereas the legal limit in the United States is 0.08%). Driving speeds in Switzerland are also much slower than in the rest of Europe and vary from area to area. In residential areas the speed limit is 30 km/h (18.6 m/h), on urban roads 50 km/h (31 m/h), on rural roads 80 km/h (49.7 m/h), on minor highways 100 km/h (62 m/h) and on the Autobahn 120 km/h (74.5 m/h). Travelers are advised to carefully observe the posted speed limits.
Traffic fines are costly and vary according to where the infraction occurs and by how much one exceeds the speed limit. Fines assessed within the city limits are higher than those assessed on a highway or autobahn. The fine schedule follows:
Speed Over the
|Speed Limit||Within the City Limits||Outside the City/on a Highway||On the Autobahn|
|1-5 km/h||CHF 40||CHF 40||CHF 20|
|6-10 km/h||CHF120||CHF 100||CHF 60|
|11-15 km/h||CHF 250||CHF 160||CHF120|
|16-20 km/h||court appearance||CHF240||CHF180|
|21-25 km/h||court appearance||court appearance||CHF 260|
|Over 25 km/h||court appearance||court appearance||court appearance|
The court appearance carries a fine ranging from CHF 500-CHF 1,000 (US $683-1,270) and other penalties the court deems appropriate.
Running a red light carries a fine of CHF 250 (US $275).
Drug possession carries heavy fines and prison terms in Switzerland; these can vary depending on the amount and type of narcotics carried. Any attempt to cross an international border carrying drugs (for instance transiting Switzerland via Zurich airport) automatically constitutes trafficking charges. These charges can also carry heavy penalties.
Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States. If you break local laws in Switzerland, your U.S. passport won’t help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It’s very important to know what’s legal and what’s not where you are going.
Switzerland, through its 26 cantons (states), has programs to assist victims of crime and their immediate relatives. Medical, psychological, social, financial, and legal assistance are available throughout the country. This type of assistance must be applied for, and the local police can assist if necessary. These programs also protect the rights of the victim during criminal proceedings. The victim may receive compensation for some damages, if requested during the criminal procedure. Information is available at the Swiss Department of Justice located on Bundesrain 20, 3003 Bern, telephone: 41-31-322-4750.
Please see our information on victims of crime,including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.
The United States and Switzerland do not have a bilateral agreement requiring mandatory notification of a U.S. citizen arrest to the U.S. embassy. Notification of arrests is only required if the arrested U.S. citizen so requests. If you are arrested and concerned that the Department of State may not be aware of your situation, you should request the police or prison officials to notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate of your arrest. Based on the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, bilateral agreements with certain countries, and customary international law, if you are arrested in Switzerland, you have the option to request that the police, prison officials, or other authorities alert the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate of your arrest, and to have communications from you forwarded to the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
Switzerland is a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, which requires arrestees be immediately heard before an independent Magistrate to determine if they will be held for investigative detention. Individuals “highly suspected” of a crime are generally placed under police detention until such time that their case can be heard by the Magistrate.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: If you are going to participate in mountain activities (summer and winter) we strongly urge you to buy mountain search and rescue insurance. Costs of search and rescue operations are your or your family’s responsibility. Search and rescue insurance is available inexpensively in Switzerland and you may purchase it at many Swiss post offices. You can get more information from the Swiss National Tourist Office, at most tourist information offices or with the Swiss Air Rescue Organization. Such insurance has proved useful; an uninsured rescue can easily cost $25,000. Switzerland’s customs authorities encourage the use of an ATA (Admission Temporaire/Admission) Carnet for the temporary admission of professional equipment, commercial samples, and/or goods for exhibitions and fair purposes. ATA Carnet Headquarters, located at the U.S. Council for International Business, 1212 Avenue of the Americas, New York, N.Y. 10036, issues and guarantees the ATA Carnet in the United States. For additional information call (212) 354-4480 or email.
LGBT RIGHTS:Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals enjoy full rights in Switzerland. LGBT individuals are protected by anti-discrimination laws, and there are no legal or governmental impediments to the organization of LGBT events. For further information on LGBT travel, please read our Information for LGBT Travelers page.
ACCESSIBILITY: While in Switzerland, individuals with disabilities may find accessibility and accommodation different from what you find in the United States. Certain difficulties may be encountered for people with disabilities, and Switzerland is in the process of improving these facilities. Most cantons have already implemented some provisions for persons with disabilities, but there is no country-wide standard. Experts estimate that only 30 percent of public buildings are wheelchair accessible.
For an excellent source of information regarding tourism in Switzerland, please refer to: www.myswitzerland.com. This site includes information on special rail passes, transport, hotel ratings, events, and weekly top news.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Excellent medical care is widely available. Good information on vaccinations and other health precautions may be obtained via the CDC website. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the infectious diseases section of the World Health Organization (WHO) website. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.
MEDICAL INSURANCE: You can’t assume your insurance will go with you when you travel. It is very important to find out BEFORE you leave. You need to ask your insurance company two questions:
In many places, doctors and hospitals still expect payment in cash at the time of service (this is where your insurance policy will be of assistance). Your regular U.S. health insurance may not cover doctor and hospital visits in other countries. If your policy is not valid when you travel outside of the U.S., it’s a very good idea to take out another one for your trip. For more information, please see our medical insurance overseas page.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in Switzerland, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.
Although many roads are mountainous and winding, Swiss road safety standards are high. In some mountain areas, vehicle snow chains are required in winter. Road travel can be more dangerous during summer, winter holidays, the Easter break, and Whitsunday weekend (late spring) because of increased traffic. Travel on expressways (indicated by green signs with a white expressway symbol) requires purchase of a sticker (“vignette”), which must be affixed to the car’s windshield. Vignettes can be purchased at most border crossings points, gas stations and Swiss post offices. Drivers using the highway system without a vignette are subject to hefty fines levied on the spot.
Public transportation in Switzerland is excellent and punctual. The Swiss tourist office and train station are the best place to obtain information about special fares for tourists.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the government of Switzerland’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Switzerland’s air carrier operations. Further information may be found on the FAA’s safety assessment page.
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Switzerland dated January 22, 2011, to update all sections.