Business Hours—Banks and many business offices are open Monday through Friday, from around 8:30am to 4:30pm (closed on legal holidays). Stores usually keep longer hours and are open Saturdays, especially in more populated areas. In many places, stores are open later, until 8 or 9pm, one day a week. Some businesses close for lunch from around noon until 2pm. In bigger cities, train stations will have at least a shop or two and a pharmacy, or even a whole shopping center, that are open later in the evening and on Sundays. Some smaller train stations have mini-markets open 7 days, and if you’re really desperate on a Sunday, you can usually find at least a small convenience store open at a gas station. Museums are often closed on Mondays, and like stores, stay open later one night per week but otherwise usually close around 5pm.
Doctors—Any foreign consulate can provide a list of area doctors who speak English. If you get sick, consider asking your hotel concierge to recommend a local doctor -- even his or her own. You can also try the emergency room at a local hospital. Many hospitals also have walk-in clinics for emergency cases that are not life-threatening; you may not get immediate attention, but you won't pay the high price of an emergency-room visit.
Drinking—Teenagers can legally buy wine and beer from age 16 in Switzerland, and higher-proof spirits from age 18. You can buy all of the above at supermarkets and even mini-markets and gas stations.
Drug Laws—Though a 2018 study outed Zurich as Europe’s weekend cocaine capital based on trace amounts in wastewater, penalties for illegal drug possession can be severe in Switzerland. For cannabis, however, up to 10 grams is considered negligible, and there’s no penalty for possessing that small amount. Cannabis products containing less than 1 percent of the narcotic THC are legal and are sold openly.
Electricity—Switzerland’s voltage is 230 volts, AC (50 cycles), while the U.S. is on a 110-volt AC (60 cycles) system. You’ll need an adaptor for your plug for devices from the U.S., U.K,. Australia, and some other countries. Most blow dryers and other gadgets are dual-voltage, so you can use them with just a plug adaptor; if they’re not dual voltage, you’ll also need a transformer. You can find these items at electronics stores, luggage shops, and airports, or your hotel might be able to lend them to you.
Embassies & Consulates—Most embassies are located in the national capital, Bern; some nations maintain consulates in other cities such as Geneva. There's an Australian consulate in Geneva at Chemins des Fins 2 9 tel. 022/799-91-00). The Canadian embassy is at 88 Kirchenfeldstrasse, Bern (tel. 031/357-32-00). New Zealand has no embassy in Switzerland, but there's a consulate in Geneva at Chemin des Fins (tel. 022/929-03-50). The embassy of the United Kingdom is at Thunstrasse 50, Bern (tel. 031/359-77-00) and there is a British consulate in Geneva at 37-39, rue de Vermont (tel. 022/918-24-00). The embassy of the United States is located at Jubilaumstrasse 93, Bern (tel. 031/357-70-11), with consulates in Zurich at Dufourstrasse 101 (tel. 031/499-29-60) and in Geneva at Versonnex 7 (tel. 022/840-51-60).
Emergencies—Dial tel. 117 for the police (emergencies only) and tel. 118 to report a fire.
Insurance—Don’t let accidents ruin your trip, from lost luggage to car crashes. We recommend the following online marketplaces for insurance: SquareMouth.com, InsureMyTrip.com, and TripInsurance.com. All three allow users to quickly and easily compare policies from different, vetted travel insurance companies. We find the user interface at SquareMouth most intuitive, but all three are excellent resources.
Language—Switzerland is a multilingual country, and kids start learning at least two new languages before they finish primary school. Almost half the population uses more than one language on the regular. Switzerland’s four official languages are: German, which is spoken by 63 percent of the population—but usually in a version of the Swiss-German dialect; French, the first language of 22.7 percent; Italian, spoken by 8.1 percent; and Romansch, the primary language of just 0.5 percent of the people. English is all over the tourism industry and spoken in many others. Even if you want to practice German or French, some multilingual Swiss person will probably jump right in with practically perfect English.
Legal Aid—The government advises foreigners to consult their embassy or consulate in case of a dire emergency, such as an arrest. Even if your embassy or consulate declines to offer financial or legal help, it will generally offer advice on how to obtain help locally.
Mail—Mailing a letter or postcard of up to 100 grams, or about 3.5 ounces, costs 1CHF for "A-Post," or priority mail, within Switzerland; 1.50CHF within Europe; and 2CHF overseas, including to North America or Australia and New Zealand. Swiss Post’s website (www.post.ch) provides most essential information in English.
Newspapers & Magazines—Swiss papers are published in German, French, or Italian. Most bigger kiosks in major cities stock the British dailies, plus such major English-language publications as the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Time and The Economist.
Pharmacies—Pharmacies, or Apotheke, have signs with a green cross and keep similar hours to other businesses: roughly 9am to 6pm during the week and 9am to 4pm on Saturdays. Bigger train stations and airports usually have a pharmacy that keeps longer hours and opens on Sundays. SOS-Pharmacy (www.sos-pharmacie.ch) lets you search for the nearest pharmacy by punching in your location and give a phone number for emergencies in a sidebar to the right of the page. Note: The text in the sidebar is only in Swiss languages, but the main website has text in English.
Prostitution—The consumption and performance of sex work has been legal in Switzerland since 1942, though local branches of government may have their own regulations. Bigger cities have red-light districts. Zurich has set up some drive-in boxes outside the city center to lessen on-street prostitution.
Senior Travel—Discounts on hotels, restaurants, or tourist attractions are sometimes available for seniors in Switzerland, but you may have to ask. To qualify, women must be 64 or over, men 65 or over.
Smoking—Smoking is illegal in public buildings and restaurants, but legal outside. In some regions, you can find restaurants and bars with special smoking rooms. You’ll see them indicated as a fumoir or Raucherlokal.
Student Travel—An International Student Identity Card (ISIC) qualifies students for substantial savings on rail passes, plane tickets, entrance fees, and more. See www.istc.org to get one online or find a local office where you can get one, such as an STA Travel (www.statravel.com; tel. 800/781-4040 in North America). The card is valid for 12 months. If you’re not a student but still under 30, you can get an International Youth Travel Card (IYTC) from the same organization. Many cities also offer discounts for students and young adults.
Taxes—A value-added tax (VAT) of 7.7 percent is added to bills.
Telephones & Area Codes—
To call Switzerland:
- Dial the international access code: 011 from the U.S.; 00 from the U.K., Ireland, or New Zealand; or 0011 from Australia.
- Dial the Swiss country code: 41.
- Dial the city code, dropping the first zero, and then the number.
To make international calls: To make international calls from Switzerland, first dial 00 and then the country code (U.S. or Canada 1, U.K. 44, Ireland 353, Australia 61, New Zealand 64). Next dial the area code and number. For example, if you wanted to call the British Embassy in Washington, D.C., you would dial 00-1-202-588-7800.
For directory assistance: Dial 1811 if you’re looking for a number in Switzerland. City area codes must be included, preceded by a zero, even when dialing within the country. To call a Basel number from Zurich, for example, dial 061 followed by the seven-digit number.
Time—Switzerland’s clocks are usually 6 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time in the United States, and 1 hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time. However, because Switzerland and the U.S. switch their clocks every spring and fall during different weeks, the time difference is sometimes only 5 hours for a few weeks a year.
Tipping—Tipping isn’t necessary, but it is appreciated. It’s customary to round up the bill or add a tip of up to 10 percent. Any more than that, and a confused server might chase you to return your money, thinking you actually forgot your charge. Give it directly to the service person or in a tip jar; don’t just leave it on the table.
Toilets—Public toilets are often shockingly clean. Depending on the part of Switzerland, public restrooms may be WC called (water closet), Toiletten, toilettes, or gabinetti. Women’s rooms may be designated for Damen, Frauen, Signore, Donne, Femmes, or Dames; and men’s rooms may be labeled Herren, Männer, Signori, Uomini, Hommes, or Messieurs. Public restrooms can be found at parks, bus stations, railway terminals, and cable-car platforms. If these aren’t handy, use the toilets in cafes and shops. Most public toilets are not free, costing around 1CHF to 2CHF. You can search for nearby public toilets at www.wc-guide.ch, which also lets you filter for disabled-friendly restrooms.
Websites and Apps—Following are some of our favorite sites to help you plan your adventures and get a deeper understanding of “Swissness”: We can’t picture life without the railway operator SBB’s app for schedules and buying tickets. Uber (www.uber.com and app) can be handy. Many local transport networks have their own app, in case you’re staying in one town for at least a few days. www.myswitzerland.com is Switzerland Tourism’s platform, and it is loaded with info and links to apps for Alpine passes, mountain conditions, city guides, coupons, and hikes. Individual regions also have helpful websites. SchweizMobil, or SwitzerlandMobility (www.schweizmobil.ch), is a non-profit promoting mobility with motors. It’s got maps and heaps of info in English on hikes, bicycle trails and service stations, canoeing and more on the web and an app. www.swissfamilytravel.com and www.swissfamilyfun.com are go-tos for families, though many tips are universal. The latter focuses more on the Zurich area and on detailed hiking tips. Swissinfo.ch is Swiss Broadcasting Corporation’s 10-language service for Swiss-centric background, news, and features, also in app form. A joint service of the three branches of Swiss government, www.ch.ch explains Swiss laws, government, taxes, and other practical necessities in English. And of course, you can find expert advice at www.frommers.com/destinations/switzerland
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.