Medical care and health facilities in Switzerland are among the best in the world, and there are no particular health risks. Swiss authorities, however, require immunization against contagious diseases if you have been in an infected area during the 14-day period immediately preceding your arrival in Switzerland.
Take along an adequate supply of any prescription drugs that you’ll need, as well as a written prescription that uses the generic name—rather than the brand name—of the drugs (in general, French and German, not U.S., drugs are available in Switzerland). Be sure to carry your vital medicines and drugs in your carry-on luggage. Also, make sure your travel insurance covers medical emergencies. Emergency care tends to cost far less than in the U.S., but it’s still expensive.
In the mountains, which account for about 60 percent of the area of the country, you should always bring sunscreen, as the sun can be intense at high altitudes. Here are some other special considerations for your Alp adventures:
- Altitude Sickness -- Because of Switzerland's lofty position "at the top of Europe," some concerns might arise if you're planning strenuous activities at higher altitudes. High altitude sickness most often occurs when you go too high too fast. The body needs time to acclimatize itself as you climb to higher regions. This is an extremely complicated subject, and if you plan to climb Switzerland's highest peaks, read the study made by Princeton University at www.Princeton.edu/~oa/safety/altitude.html. Symptoms of altitude sickness include a severe headache, a feeling of nausea, dizziness, loss of appetite, and lack of sleep.
- Frostbite -- In winter, higher elevations might also cause frostbite. Wet clothes, wind chill factor, and extreme cold can cause frostbite. Some people with poor circulation, such as those who suffer from diabetes, are particularly vulnerable. Precautions are advised -- no smoking, no drinking, good food, and adequate rest. As you proceed higher and higher, wear multiple layers of clothing, especially waterproof synthetics. Survive Outdoors, Inc., has frostbite prevention advice on its website at www.surviveoutdoors.com/reference/frostbite.asp.
- Snow blindness -- Snow blindness is caused by the exposure of your unprotected eyes to the ultraviolet rays of the sun. This often happens in Switzerland in conditions of great snow or ice, mostly at higher altitudes. It is usually prevented by wearing dark-lensed "glacier glasses," which are of the wraparound, side-shielded variety. Wear these glasses even if the sky is overcast, as ultraviolet rays can pass through masses of cloud formations.
Dial tel. 117 for the police (emergencies only), tel. 118 to report a fire, or tel. 144 for an ambulance. For roadside emergencies, call tel. 140. For accidents in the mountains, call Switzerland’s air rescue service, Rega tel. 1414.
The potential for specific threats or acts of violence involving American citizens in Switzerland is remote; nonetheless, travelers should always review their security practices and be alert to their surroundings. The Consular Agencies in Zurich and Geneva may close periodically to assess their security situations.
Switzerland has a low rate of violent crime. However, pickpocketing and purse snatching do occur in the vicinity of train and bus stations, airports, and some public parks. Liechtenstein has a low crime rate. Travelers may wish to exercise caution on trains, especially on overnight trains to neighboring countries. Even locked sleeping compartments can be entered by thieves. The loss or theft abroad of a passport should be reported immediately to the local police and your country's embassy or consulate.
If you are a victim of a crime, in addition to reporting to local police, contact your nearest embassy or consulate for assistance. The embassy/consulate staff can, for example, assist you in finding appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends, and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of a crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal process and to find an attorney if needed.
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.