Safety and security
There is a low rate of serious crime in Switzerland. However, the British Embassy has received increased reports of theft especially in larger cities, at Geneva airport and on trains to/from Geneva.
Watch out for pickpockets, confidence tricksters and thieves in city centres, airports, railway stations, on trains and in other public places. Don’t leave your luggage unattended at any time. Don´t keep your passport, credit cards and other valuables in the same place. Use the inside compartments in bags where possible. Carry your bag across your body rather than on your shoulder. Pickpockets can work in gangs: one to distract you while the other one goes into your bag. Keep your belongings close to you in restaurants and bars. Alcohol and drugs can lead to you being less alert, less in control, and less aware of your environment. If you’re going to drink, know your limit and take sensible precautions. Don’t become separated from friends.
This leaflet produced by the British Embassy and the Swiss transport police gives more advice on what to do if you’re pickpocketed, including useful contacts. The emergency number for the Police is 117.
Foreign visitors and residents can be targeted by scam artists. Scams can cause great financial loss. If you receive an e-mail claiming to be from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs HMRC offering a tax refund on provision of your bank details you should make absolutely sure that it is not part of a scam.
Drivers must be 18 years of age and hold a full valid UK, or other EU/EEA, driving licence, insurance and vehicle documents.
If the UK leaves the EU without a deal, you may need to get an International Driving Permit (IDP) to be able to drive in Switzerland and other EU/EEA countries as a visitor after 29 March 2019.
There are 3 types of IDP. Check that you have the correct permits covering all countries where you will be driving - you may need more than one IDP. For full information, check this guidance page. You should also check guidance on driving in the EU after Brexit for information on other additional documents you may need to carry.
If you’re living in Switzerland, check the Living in Guide for information on requirements for residents.
Road users have to comply with Switzerland’s traffic laws, such as speed limits, rules on alcohol intake and child security, or risk fines or other punishments.
Follow instructions given by local police and officials on the main alpine transit routes and in areas of heavy traffic congestion.
A reflective jacket and a warning triangle are compulsory and must be kept within easy reach (not in the boot). You must also have a first aid kit in the car. Radar detectors are prohibited in Switzerland whether in use or not. The limit for alcohol in the bloodstream is 0.5% and police may request any driver to undergo a breath test or drugs test. Swiss traffic regulations are strictly enforced. Any serious breach of the regulations can result in heavy fines and/or imprisonment.
The speed limit on Swiss motorways is 120km/h unless otherwise indicated. To travel on Swiss motorways, road users must purchase and display a vignette (sticker) or face large on the spot fines. You can buy a vignette at most border crossings, petrol stations, post offices, by phone (+800 1002 0030) and online. The price of a vignette is currently CHF 40.
Serious traffic offences (including driving over speed limit) can lead to criminal prosecution. You may face detention while awaiting trial. There’s no standard penalty because sentencing varies from canton to canton.
If you receive a traffic fine while driving in Switzerland you might be asked to pay on the spot. If you wish to challenge the fine, you can appeal in writing to the competent Swiss authority by the deadline, giving your reasons and presenting documentary proof.
Under Swiss federal law, unpaid fines can subsequently be changed into a prison sentence. Fines imposed by the Swiss authorities can be enforced on Swiss territory for a period of 3 years. This measure encourages foreign motorists who wish to re-enter Switzerland to pay their fine.
Many roads are narrow and winding and road conditions can deteriorate fast even in summer, especially during heavy rainfall and subsequent snowfall at higher altitudes. You should reduce your speed significantly to suit the conditions.
Alpine winters often make driving more difficult. You should equip your car with winter tyres and snow-chains, and check road conditions prior to departure. The Swiss motoring organisation, TCS, has up-to-date information on its website.
Motorway journeys are usually trouble-free, but if you´re involved in a car accident, use the orange emergency phones to ask for help.
Information about rail services is available on the Swiss Travel System website.
Outdoor sports activities
Make sure your insurance covers you for sports activities such as skiing, potholing, mountain biking and mountaineering. Travel insurance should also include mountain rescue services and helicopter costs.
Many accidents happen due to insufficient information, inappropriate equipment or overestimation of your own capabilities. Don´t undertake any activity alone, and consider hiring a guide for expert advice. Always leave copies of your itinerary with someone. Follow the advice given by local authorities and guides. To ignore such advice could put yourself and other mountain users in danger.
The following alpine hazards exist throughout the year:
- avalanches and snow drifts
- landslides and flooding
- glacial crevasses and hollows
- thunder storms and lightning
- altitude sickness
- sun exposure
- sudden weather changes
- take note of weather forecasts and conditions
- make sure you are physically fit and have the necessary experience
- be in a team of at least two
- inform someone of your plans.
- take warm clothes and wet weather gear.
- use sun block (SPF20 or higher) and sun glasses.
To check the latest avalanche risk, visit the website of the Swiss Federal Office of Meteorology and Climatology. Observe all warnings about avalanches and where appropriate consider carrying search equipment. Conditions on roads in mountainous areas can quickly become difficult in winter. You should carry water, food and warm clothing and medicines in your vehicle.
Off-piste skiing is highly dangerous. You should follow all safety instructions carefully given the danger of avalanches in some areas and particularly during times of heavy snow. Avalanche beepers (receivers) are the most common rescue devices and when properly used provide the fastest way of locating an avalanche victim.
Read more about how to stay safe on the slopes.
For more information and advice on enjoying outdoor activities safely and responsibly, visit the Official website of Swiss Tourism.