Switzerland

Latest update

This Advice was last issued on Thursday, 19 June 2014.   It contains new information under Local travel (all vehicles must have their headlights on when driving during daylight hours). We continue to advise Australians to exercise normal safety precautions in Switzerland.

Switzerland overall

Summary

  • We advise you to exercise normal safety precautions in Switzerland.
  • Exercise common sense and look out for suspicious behaviour, as you would in Australia.
  • Switzerland is a party to the Schengen Convention. See the Entry and exit requirements section below for further details.
  • The weather in alpine regions is unpredictable and can change suddenly. Avalanches, flash flooding and mudslides are a danger. See Natural Disasters, Severe Weather and Climate and Health Issues for more information.
  • There is an ongoing risk of terrorism in Europe. In the past, terrorist attacks have occurred in a number of European cities.
  • Be a smart traveller. Before heading overseas:
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Entry and exit

Visa and other entry and exit conditions (such as currency, customs and quarantine regulations) change regularly. Contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate of Switzerland for the most up to date information.

Switzerland is a party to the Schengen Convention, along with 26 other European countries, which allows Australians to enter Switzerland without a visa in some circumstances. Australian tourists may qualify for entry into Switzerland under the 90-day visa waiver program within the Schengen Zone. The 90 days are cumulative (over a six month period) and apply to the Schengen Zone as a whole.

If you plan to travel to Switzerland for reasons other than tourist or business purposes for a maximum stay of 90 days, you are required to obtain a visa issued by the Swiss authorities prior to your arrival. Australians cannot apply for an extension to the 90-day visa waiver program nor can they change the status of their visa (for example, from a tourist visa to a student or resident visa) whilst in Switzerland.

After 90 days in a Schengen area, you must leave the zone for a period of 90 days before you can re-enter. If you overstay the permitted 90 days you may be fined or deported.

See our travel bulletin on the Schengen Convention for more information.

Make sure your passport has at least six months' validity from your planned date of return to Australia. You should carry copies of a recent passport photo with you in case you need a replacement passport while overseas.

Safety and security

Terrorism

There is an ongoing threat of terrorism in Europe. In the past, terrorist attacks have occurred in a number of European cities.

Terrorism is a threat throughout the world. See our Terrorist Threat Overseas bulletin for more information on terrorism and our General advice to Australian travellers for tips on staying safe overseas.

Civil unrest/political tension

Protests and demonstrations can occur in Switzerland. These are often aimed at international organisations and international meetings. Such protests have become violent in the past. You should monitor the local media and other important sources of information about possible demonstrations. You should avoid affected areas and follow the advice of local authorities.

Crime

Switzerland has a low incidence of serious crime. However, petty crime is increasing, including pick-pocketing, bag snatching on public transport, especially trains, and theft from unattended vehicles and vehicles stopped in traffic. The majority of crime is directed at tourists near tourist attractions in major towns. In particular there are reports of petty crime at the airports and railway stations, mainly in the larger cities of Bern, Zurich and Geneva. The rate of crime increases during the peak tourist seasons of summer and Christmas and at events which are known to attract large numbers of foreign visitors. Thieves often operate in pairs, with one creating a diversion while the other steals unguarded items. Do not leave bags containing money or valuables unattended. Passengers on overnight trains have been robbed while sleeping.

Money and valuables

Before you go, organise a variety of ways to access your money overseas, such as credit cards, travellers' cheques, cash, debit cards or cash cards. Australian currency and travellers' cheques are not accepted in many countries. Consult with your bank to find out which is the most appropriate currency to carry and whether your ATM card will work in Switzerland.

Make two photocopies of valuable documents such as your passport, tickets, visas and travellers' cheques. Keep one copy with you in a separate place to the original and leave another copy with someone at home.

While travelling, don't carry too much cash and remember that expensive watches, jewellery and cameras may be tempting targets for thieves.

As a sensible precaution against luggage tampering, including theft, lock your luggage. Information on luggage safety is available from Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority.

Your passport is a valuable document that is attractive to criminals who may try to use your identity to commit crimes. It should always be kept in a safe place. You are required by Australian law to report a lost or stolen passport. If your passport is lost or stolen overseas, report it online or contact the nearest Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate as soon as possible.

You are required to pay an additional fee to have a lost or stolen passport replaced. In some cases, the Government may also restrict the length of validity or type of replacement passports.

Local travel

Public transport is extensive and efficient. Road conditions are excellent; however motorists should pay particular attention to road conditions during the winter. In winter, snow chains may be required in some mountain areas. For further advice, see our road travel page.

In Switzerland, drivers must be at least 18 years of age and hold a valid driver’s licence. It is advised to obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP) in order to meet the requirements of some car hire agencies. Drivers should check what the licence requirements are for neighbouring countries before crossing the border.

All vehicles must have their headlights on when driving during daylight hours. Anyone who fails to comply with this requirement will be fined.

All vehicles travelling on motorways in Switzerland must display a valid vignette (car sticker) or risk an on-the-spot fine. Information about vignettes, including where to purchase one, can be found on the Swiss Federal Customs Administration website.

All vehicles must be equipped with a warning triangle for use during breakdowns or accidents. It is mandatory to carry the warning triangle plus a fluorescent safety vest when driving across the borders into France, Germany and Italy.

Airline safety

Please refer to our air travel page for information about aviation safety and security.

Laws

When you are in Switzerland, be aware that local laws and penalties, including ones that appear harsh by Australian standards, do apply to you. If you are arrested or jailed, the Australian Government will do what it can to help you but we can't get you out of trouble or out of jail.

Information on what Australian consular officers can and cannot do to help Australians in trouble overseas is available from the Consular Services Charter.

Smoking is banned in workplaces and all public places in Switzerland, including hotels, restaurants, cinemas, schools, shopping centres and sports centres. Larger restaurants and bars often have designated areas for smokers.

Some Australian criminal laws, such as those relating to money laundering, bribery of foreign public officials, terrorism, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, child pornography, and child sex tourism, apply to Australians overseas. Australians who commit these offences while overseas may be prosecuted in Australia.

Australian authorities are committed to combating sexual exploitation of children by Australians overseas. Australians may be prosecuted at home under Australian child sex tourism and child pornography laws. These laws provide severe penalties of up to 25 years’ imprisonment for Australians who engage in child sexual exploitation while outside of Australia.

Information for dual nationals

Our Dual nationals page provides further information for dual nationals.

Health

We strongly recommend that you take out comprehensive travel insurance that will cover any overseas medical costs, including medical evacuation, before you depart. Confirm that your insurance covers you for the whole time you'll be away and check what circumstances and activities are not included in your policy. If you plan to participate in adventure sports or mountain activities (such as skiing) make sure your insurance policy will cover you. Be aware that mountain rescue is expensive and may not be covered by standard travel insurance. You may be responsible for the cost of any search and rescue operations. Remember, regardless of how healthy and fit you are, if you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel. The Australian Government will not pay for a traveller's medical expenses overseas or medical evacuation costs.

It is important to consider your physical and mental health before travelling overseas. We encourage you to consider having vaccinations before you travel. At least eight weeks before you depart, make an appointment with your doctor or travel clinic for a basic health check-up, and to discuss your travel plans and any implications for your health, particularly if you have an existing medical condition. The World Health Organization (WHO) provides information for travellers and our health page also provides useful information for travellers on staying healthy.

The standard of medical facilities and care throughout Switzerland is comparable with Australia. The cost of treatment is very expensive. Up-front payment is required if a patient does not have medical insurance.

Where to get help

In Switzerland you can obtain consular assistance from the:

Australian Consulate-General, Geneva

Chemin des Fins, 2
Case postale 102
1211 Geneva 19
Switzerland
Tel: +41 22 7999100
Fax: +41 22 7999178
Website: www.geneva.mission.gov.au

Australian Consulate, Zurich

Australia has a Consulate in Zurich, headed by an Honorary Consul. The Consulate provides limited consular assistance, which includes Australian passport interviews, by appointment:

Office hours: Thursday 3.00 pm – 6.00 pm, by appointment only
Tel: +41 22 799 9100 (Australian Consulate-General, Geneva)
Email: australian.consulate-geneva@dfat.gov.au (Australian Consulate-General, Geneva)

If you are travelling to Switzerland, whatever the reason and however long you'll be there, we encourage you to register with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. You can register online or in person at any Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate. The information you provide will help us to contact you in an emergency - whether it is a natural disaster, civil disturbance or a family issue.

In a consular emergency, if you are unable to contact the above Consulate-General you can contact the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre on +61 2 6261 3305 or 1300 555 135 within Australia.

In Australia, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra may be contacted on (02) 6261 3305.

Additional information

Natural disasters, severe weather and climate

Avalanches, flash flooding and mudslides are a danger in alpine areas. There have been a number of fatalities in recent years. The weather in alpine regions is unpredictable and can change suddenly. If you travel to alpine areas, you should monitor local weather and safety conditions, follow advice from local authorities, equip yourself appropriately, plan your activities carefully, and inform someone of your plans. You should also observe all written warnings and notices and stick to marked slopes and trails. Ensure that your travel insurance covers you for all activities you intend undertake (see Health Issue for more information).

For parents

For general information and tips on travelling with children see our Travelling with children page.



While every care has been taken in preparing this information, neither the Australian Government nor its agents or employees, including any member of Australia's diplomatic and consular staff abroad, can accept liability for any injury, loss or damage arising in respect of any statement contained herein.

Maps are presented for information only. The department accepts no responsibility for errors or omission of any geographic feature. Nomenclature and territorial boundaries may not necessarily reflect Australian Government policy.