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SWITZERLAND – GENERAL INFORMATION

   
                      Fig.1 – Switzerland Flag

GEOGRAPHY

Switzerland is the passing point between northern and southern Europe. The majority of its almost 16,000 square miles of land is mountainous with a central plateau of rolling hills, plains and lakes. About 25% is forested. The country shares borders with Germany to the north, France to the west (including the northwest and southwest), Italy to the southeast, and Liechtenstein and Austria to the east. The highest point in Switzerland is the Dufourspitze, which is the highest peak of Monte Rosa, an ice-covered mountain in the Alps. The lowest point is Lake Maggiore, the largest lake in southern Switzerland. Major cities and international airports are Zurich and Geneva with Bern being Switzerland’s capital and the seat of the Swiss government. Basel, Lucerne and Lugano are other prominent towns.

HISTORY

Credit: Central Intelligence Agency

Originally, the land of Switzerland was occupied by Helvetians before falling under Roman rule in the 1st century B.C. The land remained in the hands of the Roman Empire until around the 4th century A.D. Civilization grew strong during the Roman occupation, until the empire collapsed and Germanic tribes began invading and settling in the area. Eventually the country became part of Charlemagne’s Empire and later was part of the Holy Roman Empire. After the death of the Holy Roman Emperor in 1291, Switzerland’s ruling families signed a charter to become united and formed the Swiss Confederation. Signed on August 1st, this day has become Switzerland’s National Day. Using their military, the Swiss Confederacy continued to expand its borders and achieved its official independence from the Holy Roman Empire in 1499. A constitution was created in 1848, and later modified in 1874, replacing the confederation with a centralized federal government. Switzerland has been accepted as a neutral European country and managed to avoid being pulled into World War I and World War II. In 2002, Switzerland joined the United Nations and while remaining outside of the European Union it is associated with the EU in several ways.

THE PEOPLE

More than three quarters of the population live in the central plains. Most people define themselves as Catholic or Protestant with Catholics being the largest group. Atheists as a group are also large but their numbers fall below that of Protestants. Muslims and Jews make up very small minorities. Swiss people are usually a bit more buttoned up, similar to their northern neighbors but very cordial and warm once you get to know them.

 SOCIAL CONVENTIONS

Casual attire is acceptable in most settings. Most Swiss wear conservative casual clothing.

 LANGUAGES

Switzerland’s location between some of Europe’s major cultures, has had a lot of influence on the country’s languages and culture. The country itself is devided by ancient language barriers. Listed based on the number of speakers from most to least, Switzerland’s four official languages are German, French, Italian and Romansch. English is also widely spoken and many citizens speak more than one language.

 GOVERNMENT

Federal Republic

 TIME ZONE

UTC + 1 – (observes summer daylight savings time)

ELECTRICITY

230V supply voltage and 50Hz

Plugs and Sockets Type C & J

CLIMATE

Switzerland experiences all four seasons with a moderate climate that varies depending on altitude. Higher altitudes will experience colder winters, cloud cover with rain or snow. Winter in lower altitude areas is still cool, with cloud cover, rain and occasional snow. The coldest months are December through February. Summers are humid with occasional showers, but rarely go passed the high 80’s. The Tessin is the southernmost part of the country centered by the city of Lugano and benefits from a combination of Mediterranean influences and Alpine landscapes making for a generally beautiful and enjoyable region.

 Clothes to Wear:

Pack some warm clothing and clothing for the rain. We usually don’t recommend traveling long distances with an umbrella. If you feel you need an umbrella, rather purchase one overseas. Lighter, breathable clothing will work in the warmer months, but it’s always a good idea to pack something warm for the evenings. Switzerland offers great hikes along lakes and in the mountains. Good, comfortable walking shoes are therefore a must for those engaging in such activities.

 LOGISTICAL

Entry & Exit Requirements:

Switzerland is a party to the Schengen Agreement. Visit the website of the Embassy of Switzerland in Washington, D.C. at https://www.eda.admin.ch/washington for the most current visa information. For US and Canadian residents who are not US or Canadian citizens (green-card-holders) with foreign passports please consult https://www.schengenvisainfo.com/ for correct European Union visa rules. 

Traveling Through Europe: If you are planning to visit or travel through European countries, you should be familiar with the requirements of the Schengen Agreement.

  • Your passport should be valid for at least three months beyond the period of stay if you plan on transiting a Schengen country.
  • You will need sufficient proof of funds and a return plane ticket.

The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors or foreign residents in Switzerland.

Embassy Locations:

U.S. Embassy Bern

Sulgeneckstrasse 19
3007 Bern, Switzerland
Emergency Telephone: + (41) (31) 357-7011
Fax: + (41) (31) 357-7280

Canada Embassy Bern

Kirchenfeldstrasse 88

CH-3005 Bern, Switzerland

Tel.: +41 31 357 3200
Fax: +41 31 357 3210
E-mail: bern@international.gc.ca

Health:

For emergency services in Switzerland dial 144, or 117 for the police.

Medical care is comparable to that found in the United States. Ambulance services are widely available.

The U.S. government does not pay medical bills. Be aware that U.S. Medicare does not apply overseas. Swiss medical facilities and care providers will ask for you to settle your bills onsite and you will have to claim a refund with your insurer later. It is common for hospitals to ask for a deposit to ensure medical costs will be covered.

Medical Insurance: Make sure your health insurance plan provides coverage overseas. Most care providers overseas only accept cash payments. See our webpage for more information on insurance providers for overseas coverage. Visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for more information on type of insurance you should consider before you travel overseas.

Medications: Over-the-counter medicine is available at pharmacies and a pharmacist is on call 24/7 in cities. Information regarding the pharmacy and pharmacist on duty in your area can be obtained over the medical emergency telephone line by dialing 144. If traveling with prescription medication, check with the Swiss Federal Customs Administration to ensure the medication is legal in Switzerland. Always carry your prescription medication in original packaging with your doctor’s prescription.

Vaccinations: Be up-to-date on all vaccinations recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  • Tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) is common. Travelers planning high-risk activities (camping, adventure travel) should take precautions. See the website of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for more details on TBE and TBE prevention.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) hotline for international travelers at 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636) or via the CDC website at http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the infectious diseases section of the World Health Organization (WHO) website at http://www.who.int/topics/infectious_ diseases/en/. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.

 BANKS & CURRENCY

In most major cities, banks are open Monday through Friday 8:30am – 4:30pm.

In smaller towns, banking hours are Monday through Friday 8:30am – 12:00pm and 2:00pm – 5:00pm. Currency is in Swiss francs (CHF).

 COMMUNICATION

Country code: 41

Internet country code: .ch

Cell Phone Usage:

Please contact your cell phone provider to determine whether your contract includes coverage in the country you are visiting. Depending on your contract you may have to add international services and/or country specific services.

 ENTERTAINMENT

Food & Drink:

Food in Switzerland is influenced by the various ethnic mixes within the country and may differ depending on the region’s proximity to the nearby bordering country. For example, the northern region which borders Germany, will have dishes influenced by German cooking.  Likewise, the west and southern region is influenced by French cuisine while the eastern region is influenced my Italian recipes. In major cities restaurants of many ethnic backgrounds are available.

The legal drinking age is 16 for beer and 18 for wine and all other alcohol.

 Nightlife:

Pubs and bars can be found in most areas of the country. Nightclubs and concert entertainment can also be found in most cities, but Zurich has the most to offer in nightlife with a high density of clubs and bars. People from all over the country come to this city with the largest party scene.

 Shopping:

All over Switzerland, you can find shops for souvenirs, handicrafts, chocolates and cheeses. The most popular area for shopping in Switzerland is in Zurich around Bahnhofstrasse.  Many of the top fashion chains line the streets here including large department stores. And don’t forget, Switzerland is known for its precision watches, some of them very upscale.

BAGGAGE

Baggage rules for international and domestic air travel have changed much in recent years, differ from carrier to carrier and these days even may cover your on-board bags. Checking luggage may cost a separate fee or may be free depending on your personal status with the carrier. We therefore encourage you to read your ticket’s small print and/or contact your carrier for exact rules.

TIPPING

Most restaurants and bars already include a 10% service charge in the bill. It is customary to leave a bit extra for good service. When the service charge is not included in the bill, 10-15% is the general rule. Tips are not expected by taxi drivers, although most people tell the driver to keep the change. Airport and hotel porters should receive the equivalent of US$ 1.00 per bag.

LAUNDRY

Most hotels will arrange laundry services for guests.

PHOTOS & VIDEOS

In some countries you must refrain from photographing sites such as Military bases and industrial installations. Also be aware of cultural sensitivities when taking pictures of or near churches and other religious sites. It is always courteous to ask for permission before taking photographs of people.

USE OF DRONES

The use of drones is being legislated by many countries. In some cases, drones are already forbidden, and their unauthorized use may carry severe penalties. If you plan to travel with a drone, please contact the embassy or consulate of the country you wish to visit.

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