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Switzerland Country Information
With snow-capped Alps, forested hills, fairytale castles, Renaissance cathedrals, shimmering lakes, stylish spas and luxury ski resorts - it's easy to see why Switzerland has been one of the world's top tourist destinations for the past two centuries.

It is the country that fashioned tourism, so it's no surprise that Switzerland caters to visitors all year round. In spring and summer it offers lakeside chalets, mountain trails and spa resorts. In the sunny southern region of Ticino, near the Italian border, visitors will find palm-fringed Riviera-style resorts offering a host of water sports. Those keen on hiking and mountaineering will find over 31,000 miles (50,000km) of mountain and forest trails throughout the country.

Switzerland's cities are pristine and beautifully laid out with famous Swiss precision. Zurich is widely held to be the intellectual and artistic centre of the country, sporting incredible architecture and more than a thousand fountains, with many museums and galleries. Geneva is the principal city for the international community, and is home to hundreds of world organisations. Its setting on the shores of Lake Geneva gives it a romantic atmosphere, and the city has an exciting, if rather expensive, nightlife.

The Basics
Time: Local time is GMT +1 (GMT +2 between March and October).

Electricity: Electrical current is 220 volts AC, 50Hz. Plugs are of the linear, rounded three-pin type, but rounded two-pin plugs will fit the outlet.

Money: The official currency is the Swiss franc (CHF) divided into 100 rappen (German) or centimes (French). Although not part of the EU many prices are nonetheless indicated in Euros and some merchants may accept Euros. Visa, MasterCard and American Express are widely accepted and ATMs are widespread; many are equipped with the Cirrus or Maestro system. Banks offer the best exchange rates for travellers cheques and foreign currency, but it is also possible to exchange money at major hotels, main train stations and airports. Banks are open Monday to Friday.

Language: The three official languages are Swiss German, French and Italian. A few people speak Romansch, but this is confined to the southeastern corner of the country. Most people know at least three languages, including English.

Travel Health: Swiss medical facilities and health care are among the best in the world, but very expensive and health insurance is recommended. Immunisation certificates are only required if the traveller has been in an infected area within two weeks prior to arrival in the country. There is a reciprocal health agreement with the UK and most EU countries, whose citizens are entitled to free or low-cost emergency medical treatment on presentation of a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). Medical insurance is advised for other nationalities. Outbreaks of the deadly strain of bird flu were confirmed in 2006, but no new cases or human infections have been reported. The risk to travellers from bird flu is very low, but close contact with live birds should be avoided, and all poultry and egg dishes well cooked as a precaution.

Tipping: A 15% service charge is normally included in all hotel, taxi, bar and restaurant bills, and further tipping is not necessary, but small change left over is appreciated.

Safety Information: Switzerland has a low crime rate compared to other European countries and is generally a safe country to travel in, however there has been a recent increase in petty theft and visitors should be alert to pickpockets and thieves, particularly in the city centres and on public transport. Be aware of robberies on overnight trains.

Business: Punctuality is vital for business meetings throughout Switzerland. However, styles of business negotiations vary from the Swiss-German to the Swiss-French/Swiss-Italian side. Swiss-German business meetings are rarely over food and are often as brief as possible with little small talk. But the Swiss-French and Swiss-Italians often meet over lunches and talk is not restricted only to business. Prior arrangements and preparation is essential for both and it is important to dress smartly; business suits are the norm for meetings. Handshakes are common for addressing both men and women. Business hours are generally 9am to 12pm and 2pm to 6.30pm Monday to Friday.

Communications: The international country dialling code for Switzerland is +41. The outgoing code is 00, followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0044 for the United Kingdom). City/area codes are in use e.g. (0)22 for Geneva. Mobile phone GSM 1800 and 900 networks operate throughout the country. Internet cafes are available in the main towns and resorts; some public phone booths also have Internet and email access.

Duty Free: Travellers to Switzerland over 17 years do not have to pay duty on the following items: 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 250g tobacco; 2 litres alcohol up to 15% and 1 litre alcohol over 15%. The maximum allowance of wine is 20 litres, but duty will be payable on this quantity. A reasonable amount of personal effects and gifts (including perfume) to the value of Sfr200 for residents of Switzerland and Sfr100 for other travellers. Restricted items include meat and meat products from selected countries. Prohibited items are absinth and anaesthetics.

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Visa and Entry Information

  • Entry requirements for Americans: US passport holders require a valid passport, but a visa is not necessary for stays of up to three months.
  • Entry requirements for UK nationals: UK passport holders require a valid passport, but a visa is not necessary for stays of up to three months if passport is endorsed British Citizen, British Overseas Territories Citizen, British Overseas Citizen, or British National Overseas.
  • Entry requirements for Canadians: Canadian passport holders require a valid passport, but a visa is not necessary for stays of up to three months.
  • Entry requirements for Australians: Australian passport holders require a valid passport, but a visa is not necessary for stays of up to three months.
  • Entry requirements for South Africans: South African passport holders require a valid passport, and a Schengen visa. Temporary passports are not accepted.
  • Entry requirements for New Zealanders: New Zealand nationals require a valid passport, but no visa is necessary for a stay of up to three months.
  • Entry requirements for Irish nationals: Irish nationals require a valid passport, but no visa is necessary for a stay of up to three months.

Passport/Visa Note: Travellers must have all documents necessary for their next destination and passports must be valid at least three months beyond period of stay if a visa is required. The borderless region known as the Schengen area includes the following countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and as of December 2008, Switzerland. All these countries issue a standard Schengen visa that has a multiple entry option that allows the holder to travel freely within the borders of all.

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Weather and Climate in Switzerland
The climate in Switzerland is pleasantly temperate, with no extremes of hot and cold, making it a great place to visit anytime of year. Average temperatures in Zurich range between 27°F and 36°F (-3°C to 2°C) in January, and 55°F to 75°F (13-24°C) in July.

The climate of Zurich is continental, and temperatures are modified by winds off the Atlantic Ocean. Winters are cold, while summers tend to be hot and sunny. In January, temperatures can range between 14°F (-10°C) and 41°F (5°C) and in July, temperatures can range between 59°F (15°C) and 86°F (30°C). The wettest time of year is from June to August.

Geneva is situated at a high altitude, which together with the lake, tempers the prevailing continental climate. Summers are pleasantly warm to hot, and winters relatively mild with temperatures hovering just above or below freezing. Rain falls all year round, and occasionally the city suffers the ravages of a harsh north wind known as the bise.

Switzerland's Attractions

  • Fraumünster Church - Of the church spires that characterise Zurich’s skyline, the thin blue spire of Fraumünster is the most graceful. Overlooking the historic old square of Münsterhof, the former pig market, the church was founded in 853 and its convent inhabited by German noblewomen until the 13th century.
  • Rhine Falls - An excellent day trip from Zurich and close to the town of Schaffhausen, the Rhine Falls (Rheinfall) is the largest and most powerful waterfall in Europe, impressive not so much for its height of 75ft (23m), but more for the mighty volume of water thundering over its broad breadth. This magnificent natural wonder is especially remarkable during late spring when the snowmelt adds to its volume.
  • Lake Geneva (Lac Léman) - The largest lake in central Europe that is shared by both Switzerland and France, Lake Geneva (Lac Léman to its French-speaking inhabitants) has for decades drawn visitors to its shores.
  • Bern - According to legend, Bern was named when its founder, Berchtold, was advised to go on a hunt and to name the town after the first beast caught. The bear has remained the symbol of the capital city ever since.
  • Jet d'Eau - The tallest fountain in the world, the Jet d'Eau is a Geneva attraction that cannot be missed. Projecting 460 feet (140m) into the air at a speed of 124 miles per hour (200km/h) and pumping 132 gallons (500 litres) of water per second, the fountain was initially established to release pressure for hydropower generation on the Rhone River, but was so loved by the populace that in 1891 the city created a permanent fountain.
  • Swiss Alps - The Alps contain some of Switzerland's most dramatic landscapes, in a country already well endowed with spectacular scenery and fabulous alpine vistas. Situated at the heart of the Alps, Switzerland shares the mountain range with France, Italy and Austria and provides winter and summer.

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Events in Switzerland

  • Geneva Festival - The highlight of the summer season, the Geneva Festival attracts crowds of people to the shore of Lake Geneva for concerts, food and craft from around the world, all types of music from techno to classical, a float parade, fun fair and non-stop entertainment.
  • L’Escalade Celebration - Of all the festivals that take place in Geneva, none rival the pomp and ceremony of L'Escalade, which is one of the oldest and most popular events in the city.
  • International Tree and Lights Festival - Started in 2001, the festival invites artists from all over Europe to decorate trees in prominent positions around the city centre, to create artistic lighting effects and other innovative touches.
  • Zurich Festival - Zurich's Festspiele is an annual celebration of classical music, art, theatre, opera, and dance that presents local and international artists of world renown.
  • Street Parade - Every August thousands of revellers flock to what has become the biggest techno-music street party in the world, modelled on the Berlin Love Parade.
  • Zurich Open-Air Cinema - An absolute treat for cinema lovers, the annual open-air cinema in Zurich comes to the picturesque lakeside setting in Zurichhorn Park every summer to entertain patrons of all ages and movie preferences.
  • Montreux Jazz Festival - Held on the eastern shore of beautiful Lake Geneva, the Montreux Jazz Festival attracts around 200,000 people each year.

Switzerland's Airport

Geneva Cointrin International Airport (GVA)

  • Location: The airport is situated three miles (5km) north of Geneva.
  • Time: GMT +1 (GMT +2 between March and October).
  • Contacts: Tel: +41 22 717 7111.
  • Getting to the city: Uniresco public buses leave for the city centre every few minutes from the departures and arrivals levels. Passengers can pick up a free ticket for public transport from the machine in the baggage collection area at the Arrival level, information is available at the Unireso information counter in the Arrivals hall. A free hotel shuttle transports passengers to major hotels. A Uniresco train leaves for Cornavin RR Station in the city centre every 10 minutes, from where connections can be made to destinations throughout Europe. Taxis are available outside the Arrivals Hall and cost about Sfr35 to the centre of Geneva. Car rental is also available. It is only about three miles (5km) into town.
  • Car rental: Car rental companies include Alamo, Avis, Budget, Europcar, Hertz . Travellers should ensure they hire their car on the French side of the border if they are going to France, and vice-versa. It is only about three miles (5km) into town.
  • Airport Taxis: Taxis can be found outside of the arrival terminal and costs about Sfr35 to the city centre (a bit extra for luggage). The trip is three miles (5km) and commute times vary according to traffic. Taxis are metered and there are around 60 registered taxi ranks in Geneva.
  • Facilities: Luggage lockers can be found in the Train Station Mall and on the arrivals level. A Skycom Airport Business Centre and Business Corner offer a range of business facilities. Other amenities include banks, bureaux de change, ATMs, bars and restaurants, tourist information, a hotel reservation desk, post office and shops, including duty-free. Facilities for disabled passengers are good; those with special needs should contact their airline in advance.
  • Parking: Long and short-term parking, and valet parking is available. Eurocard, American Express or Visa cards can be used to pay for parking in parking lots.
  • Departure Tax: None.

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Zurich Airport (ZRH)

  • Location: The airport is situated eight miles (12km) north of Zurich.
  • Time: GMT +1 (GMT +2 between March and October).
  • Contacts: Tel: +41 43 816 2211.
  • Getting to the city: Swiss Rail (SBB) provides fast and efficient transport to the city centre. The station is located below Arrivals and trains leave every 10 minutes for Zurich and other destinations; travel time is ten minutes and fares are determined on the type of pass and the number of city zones crossed. The Glattalbahn tram line services other nearby cities and the outskirts of Zurich. Taxis outside of arrivals terminals 1 and 2 cost US$44 for the 20 minute ride to the city centre (Tel: 0848 850 852). Hotel shuttle buses and a variety of public bus services extend across various routes.
  • Car rental: Car rental companies include Alamo, Avis, Budget, Europcar, Sixt and Hertz.
  • Airport Taxis: Metered taxis are available outside Arrivals 1 and 2. The 15 minute taxi journey to Zurich costs around CHF 50. To book a taxi in advance call 0848 850 852.
  • Facilities: Facilities include banks, bureaux de change, bars and restaurants, postal services, shops including duty-free, business facilities and a crèche. Facilities for disabled passengers are excellent.
  • Parking: Short and long term parking options are available.
  • Departure Tax: None.

Berne Belp Airport (BRN)

  • Location: The airport is situated six miles (9km) southeast of Berne.
  • Time: GMT +1 (GMT +2 between March and October).
  • Contacts: Tel: +41 31 960 2111.
  • Getting to the city: Trains travel regularly between the city and the airport. The white airport buses stop outside the terminal, a single ticket is Sfr15 and the journey to Bern's central train station is 20 minutes. Taxis are also available.
  • Car rental: Car rental companies include Avis, Sixt, Europcar and Hertz.
  • Facilities: Facilities include banks, bureaux de change, bars and restaurants, tourist information and hotel reservations, duty-free shopping and business facilities. Facilities for disabled passengers are excellent; those with special needs should contact their airline in advance.
  • Parking: Short and long term parking options are available.
  • Departure Tax: None.

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Driving Information

Drinking and driving:
If the level of alcohol in the bloodstream is 0.05 per cent or more, severe penalties include fine or prison. The police may request any driver to undergo a breath test or drugs test. Visiting motorists may be forbidden from driving in Switzerland for a minimum of two months.

Driving licence:
Minimum age at which a UK licence holder may drive temporarily imported car 18, motorcycle (50-125cc) 16, motorcycle (125cc or over) 18.

On-the-spot fines imposed in certain cases. Vehicle clamps are not used in Switzerland but vehicles causing an obstruction can be removed. Speeding fines are severe.

Unleaded petrol (95 and 98 octane) and Diesel (Gasoil) is available. No leaded petrol (lead substitute additive available).

There is limited LPG availability (only eight outlets). Petrol in a can permitted.

Credit card acceptance variable, especially at night due to automatic pumps not recognising UK card PIN; check with your card issuer for usage in Switzerland and Liechtenstein before travel. Some automatic pumps accept bank notes.

Driving Distances:

Geneva Bern
1hrs 42mins
Geneva Zurich
2hrs 58mins
Geneva Paris
15hrs 2mins
Geneva Rome
8hrs 56mins
Zurich Bern 1hr 26mins 125km
Copenhagen Esbjerg 3hrs 302km
Zurich Vienna 7hrs 32mins 755km

Please click here http://www.viamichelin.com/ for more driving distances

Use of dipped headlights during the day recommended for all vehicles. Compulsory when passing through tunnels even if they are well lit, a fine will be imposed for non-compliance.

Wearing of crash helmets compulsory. Use of dipped headlights during the day recommended.

Motor Insurance:
Third-party compulsory. Green Card recognised.

Passengers / Children in cars:
Vehicles registered outside Switzerland, i.e. visiting Switzerland must comply with the requirements of their country of registration with regard to child restraint regulations.

Seat belts:
Compulsory for front / rear seat occupants to wear seat belts, if fitted.

Speed limits:
Standard legal limits, which may be varied by signs, for private vehicles with or without trailers; In built-up areas 31 mph (50 km/h), outside built- up areas 49 mph (80 km/h), semi-motorways 62 mph (100 km/h) and 74 mph
(120km/h) on motorways. Minimum speed on motorways: 49 mph (80 km/h). NOTE Towing cars on motorway only permitted up to next exit at a maximum speed of 24 mph (40 km/h).

Compulsory equipment:

  • Snow chains – compulsory in areas indicated by appropriate sign and must be fitted on at least two drive wheels
  • Warning triangle – Each motor vehicle must be equipped with a warning triangle which must be kept within easy reach (not in the boot). This must be used in any breakdown / emergency situation.

Other rules / requirements:

Hitchhiking prohibited on motorways and semi-motorways.

The Swiss authorities levy an annual motorway tax and a vehicle sticker (costing CHF40 for vehicles up to 3.5 tonnes maximum total weight and known locally as a 'vignette') must be displayed in the prescribed manner by each vehicle (including motorcycles, trailers and caravans) using Swiss motorways and semi-motorways.
The fine for non-display of the vignette is the cost of vignette(s) plus CHF100. Motorists may purchase the stickers in the UK (telephone the Swiss Centre on free- phone 00800 100 20030 for information) or in Switzerland from customs offices at the frontier or service stations and garages throughout the country.

Vehicles over 3.5 tonnes maximum total weight are taxed on all roads; coaches and caravans pay a fixed tax for periods of one day, 10 days, one month or one year but lorries are taxed on weight and distance travelled.

A GPS based navigation system which has maps indicating the location of fixed speed cameras must have the ‘fixed speed camera PoI (Points of Interest)’ function deactivated.

Radar detectors are prohibited even if not switched on.

All vehicles with spiked tyres are prohibited on motorways and semi motorways except for certain parts of the A13 and A2.

Snow tyres are not compulsory, however vehicles which are not equipped to travel through snow and which impede traffic are liable to a fine.

Drivers who are involved in an accident who decide not to call the police must complete a European Accident Claim Form.

During daylight hours outside built up areas drivers must sound their horns before sharp bends where visibility is limited, after dark this warning must be given by flashing headlights.

In Switzerland, pedestrians generally have right of way and expect vehicles to stop. Some pedestrians may just step in to the road and will expect your vehicle to stop.

Blue zone parking discs are available from many petrol stations, garages, kiosks, restaurants and police stations.

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