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ABOUt switzerland
LIVING IN switzerland

STUDY IN Switzerland - Living in Switzerland


Social Scene    |    Local Customs and Culture    |    Transportation

Accommodation    |    Health Care

Social Scene

Social Conventions:

It is customary to give unwrapped flowers to the hostess when invited for a meal. Avoid red roses; never give chrysanthemums or white asters as they are considered funeral flowers.

Informal wear is widely acceptable. First-class restaurants, hotel dining rooms and important social occasions may warrant jackets and ties. Black tie is usually specified when required.

Tipping: A service charge is included in all hotel, restaurant, cafe, bar, taxi and hairdressing services by law: further gratuities are not usualy required.

Local Customs & Culture

Food & Drink: Swiss cuisine is varied. The great speciality is fondue, a delicious concoction of Gruyère and Vacherin cheese, melted and mixed with white wine, flour, Kirsch and a little garlic. Other cheese specialities are Emmental and Tête de Moine. Regional specialities include viande sechée (dried beef or pork) from Valais and the Grisons where it is called Bündnerfleisch. The meat is cut wafer thin and served with pickled spring onions and gherkins. Papet vaudoir is a delicious dish made from leeks and potatoes. Geneva’s great speciality is pieds de porc (pigs feet). Pork sausages or salami come in a variety of local recipes including Beinwurst, Engadinerwurst, Kalbsleberwurst (calf’s liver pâté), Knackerli, Landjäger and Leberwurst (pâté). Try Rösti (shredded fried potatoes) and Fondue Bourguignonne (cubed meat with various sauces). Cakes and pastries are also varied: Leckerli are Basle specialities (spiced honey cakes topped with icing sugar, decorated in Bern with a white sugar bear); Fasnachtküchli (sugar-dusted pastries eaten during Carnival), Gugelhopf (a type of sponge cake with a hollow centre) and Schaffhausen (cream-filled cakes) are also popular. Although there are many self-service snack bars, table service is normal.
A great variety of Swiss wines are available throughout the country. There are also spirits made from fruit, the most popular being Kirsch, Marc, Pflümli and Williams. Swiss beer of a lager type is also available. Bottled mineral water is an accepted beverage, with local brands including Henniez and Passuger. Bars/cocktail lounges have table and/or counter service.

Nightlife: Most major towns and resorts have nightclubs or discos with music and dancing, sometimes serving food. There are also cinemas and theatres, and some bars and restaurants have local folk entertainment.

Shopping: Special purchases include embroidery and linen, Bernese woodcarving, chocolate, cheese, Swiss army knives and luxury handmade clocks and watches. Shopping hours: Mon-Fri 0800-1200 and 1330-1830, Sat 0800-1200 and 1330-1600. Most shops are closed on Monday mornings.

Special Events: For more specific details, contact Switzerland Tourism (see Contact Addresses section). The following is a selection of special events occurring in Switzerland:

  • Jan - World Snow Festival, Grindelwald
  • Jan - Inferno Race, Mürren
  • Jan - Cartier Polo World Cup on Snow, St Moritz.
  • Jan - Prix de Lausanne (famous dance competition), Palais de Beaulieu
  • Mar - Basle Carnival, Basel
  • Mar - International Motor Show, Geneva
  • Mar - Berne International Jazz Festival
  • Mar - International Dog Sleigh Race, Les Mosses
  • Apr - Sechselaeuten (Six Chimes festival, where a straw effigy is burnt to ensure a good summer), Zürich
  • Apr - Visions du Réel Festival (film festival), Nyon
  • Apr - Europ'art Fair, Geneva
  • May - Warmer May Gay Festival, Zürich
  • Jun - Art 34 Basel (International Art Fair)
  • Jun - International Comics Festival, Sierre
  • Jul - Allianze Swiss Open (tennis), Bernese Oberland
  • Jul - Montreux Jazz Festival
  • Jul - Swiss Alpine Marathon, Davos
  • Aug - Swiss National Day (celebrations countrywide, but particularly in Basel)
  • Aug - Locarno International Film Festival
  • Aug - Lucerne Festival
  • Aug - Carhartt European Skateboard Championships, Basel
  • Sep - Omega European Masters, Sur-Sierre
  • Oct - Hermäss: Basel Autumn Fair Market
  • Oct - Expovina, Zürich
  • Nov - Nokia Snowboard FIS World Cup, Laax
  • Nov - Santa Claus World Championship, Samnaun
  • Nov-Dec - Christmas Markets, nationwide
  • Dec - Silvesterzauber (New Year’s Eve fireworks), Zürich

ROAD: Traffic drives on the right. Road quality is generally good. Many mountain roads are winding and narrow, and often closed in heavy winter conditions; otherwise chains and snow tyres may be necessary. Rail is often more efficient than driving.

Bus: Postal motor coaches (website: provide a service to even the remotest villages, but under the integrated national transport policy few long-distance coaches are allowed to operate.

Taxi: All taxis have meters for short and long trips, although it is advisable to agree the fare for longer distances out of town

Car hire: Available in all towns from hotels and airports and at all manned rail stations. All major European companies are represented. Regulations: The minimum driving age is 18. Seat belts are obligatory and children under 12 years must travel in the back of the car. Dipped headlights are compulsory during the day. Drink-driving fines are heavy. Speed limits: 80kph (50mph) on country lanes; max 120kph (75mph), min 60kph (37mph) on motorways; and 50kph (31mph) in towns.

Organisations: The AA and RAC in the UK are linked with TCS (Touring Club Suisse) (website: and ACS (Automobil Club der Schweiz).

Contact the Automobil Club der Schweiz (ACS), Wasserwerkgasse 39, CH-3000 Bern 13 (tel: (31) 328 3111; fax: (31) 311 0310; website:

In emergencies, there is a breakdown service offering assistance (tel: 140) throughout Switzerland. Motorway tax (vignette): An annual road tax of SFr40 is levied on all cars and motorbikes using Swiss motorways. An additional fee of SFr40 applies to trailers and caravans. The vignette (sticker) is valid between 1 December of the year preceding and 31 January of the one following the year printed on the vignette. These permits, which are available at border crossings, are valid for multiple re-entry into Switzerland within the duration of the licensed period. To avoid hold-ups at the frontier, however, it is advisable to purchase the vignette in advance: call the Swiss Travel Centre (tel: (00800) 100 200 30) for more details.

Documentation: A national driving licence is sufficient. Green Card insurance is advised – ordinary domestic insurance policies are valid but do not provide full cover. The Green Card tops the cover up to the level provided by the visitor’s domestic policy.


HOTELS: Hotels are of high quality and in high demand. Advance booking is advised. Bookings cannot be made through Switzerland Tourism. All standards from luxury to family hotels and pensions are available.

Most hotels in Switzerland are affiliated to the Schweizer Hotelier Verein (Swiss Hotels Association) (SHV), Monbijoustrasse 130, Postfach 3001 Bern (tel: (31) 370 4111; fax: (31) 370 4444; website: Around 75 per cent of all overnight stays in the country are at SHV member hotels. A service charge of 7.6 per cent is included in hotel bills, and an additional local tax may be payable (depending on the location). Grading: The SHV classifies all its hotels according to a 5-star rating system, which stipulates a range of facilities as follows:

  • 5-star (luxury): Very high standard of comfort and facilities including all rooms with private bath, colour television and 16/24-hour room service. Minimum size of hotel: 35 rooms. There are approximately 81 SHV-classified 5-star hotels in Switzerland.
  • 4-star (first class): High standard of comfort and facilities including all rooms with private bath and 16/24-hour room service. 60 per cent of rooms with colour television. Minimum size of hotel: 25 rooms. There are approximately 436 SHV-classified 4-star hotels in Switzerland.
  • 3-star (good middle-class): Very good standard of comfort and facilities including 75 per cent of rooms with private bath. Minimum size of hotel: 10 rooms. There are approximately 1100 SHV-classified 3-star hotels in Switzerland.
  • 2-star (comfortable): Good standard of comfort and facilities including 30 per cent of rooms with private bath. There are approximately 382 SHV-classified 2-star hotels in Switzerland.
  • 1-star (simple): Simple, clean accommodation offering basic amenities. There are approximately 82 SHV-classified 1-star hotels in Switzerland.

Note: Membership of the SHV is voluntary, and there may be some first-class hotels which do not have a star rating. There are 167 hotels with no actual star classification that are recognised by, and members of, the SHV as well as 86 Country Inns, 22 Unique hotels, 10 Aparthotels, 18 Mountain Inns/Traveller's Lodges and 2 Low Service hotels.

Any SHV hotel can apply for a maximum of three of the following specialist categories: Family Hotel, Historic Hotel, Bike Hotel, Golf Hotel, Congress Hotel, Eco Hotel, Health Hotel, Drive-in Hotel, Holiday Hotel, Tennis Hotel, Business Hotel, Seminar Hotel and Wellness Hotel. Prices vary slightly according to the popularity of the resort.

The SHV (see above for address) issues an annual guide of around 2500 member hotels and pensions. This shows the rates, addresses, telephone/fax numbers, opening dates and amenities of the various hotels. Also included are lists of spas, resorts, sports facilities and climate. A list of hotels and restaurants catering for Jewish visitors is available from the SHV, as well as a hotel guide for the disabled, the elderly and a list of hotels especially suitable for families. All lists are available from Switzerland Tourism.

CHALETS & APARTMENTS: Information regarding the rental of chalets, houses, flats and furnished apartments is available from local tourist offices and estate agents in Switzerland. A list of contacts is available from Switzerland Tourism.

SPAS: Switzerland has about 22 different mineral springs for the treatment of various health conditions. A guide to Swiss spas, including hotels, is available from Switzerland Tourism.

PRIVATE CLINICS: Details of accommodation in private sanatoria and clinics is included in the publication Private Clinics in Switzerland, available from Switzerland Tourism.

CAMPING: There are approximately 450 campsites in Switzerland. Camping on farmland is not permitted. Local area laws and fees vary. It is advisable to make advance reservations in the summer. Camping guides published by the Swiss Camping Association and the Swiss Camping Federation can be purchased from Switzerland Tourism. The Swiss Camp Site Owners Association (VSC/ASC) can be contacted at 3800 Interlaken-Thunersee (tel: (31) 852 0626; fax: (31) 852 0627; e-mail:; website: A list of campsites (produced in conjunction with the Swiss tourist board) is available online (website:

YOUTH HOSTELS: Visitors holding membership cards of a national organisation affiliated to the International Youth Hostels Federation are entitled to lower prices. To avoid disappointment, wardens of youth hostels should be given prior notice (at least 5 days) of arrival. An International Reply Paid Postcard (Youth Hostel Edition) should be used if confirmation is required. For further information, contact Swiss Youth Hostels, Schaffhauserstrasse 14, 8042 Zürich (tel: (1) 360 1414; fax: (1) 360 1460; e-mail:; website:
A list of Swiss youth hostels is obtainable from Switzerland Tourism.

Health Care

Switzerland does not have a centralized health care system. Individual cantons are responsible for determining levels of service and administering and delivering health care services. The private sector also plays a significant role in providing health services.

Most hospitals in Switzerland are public institutions that receive public funding. There are also about 100 private clinics that receive little or no public funding. Non-hospital health care facilities include spas, homes for the elderly, institutions for those with addictions or disabilities, convalescent and dietetic clinics, and preventive and psycho-social treatment centres. Home care is also an important component of the Swiss health care system.

Hospitals and medical home care services are highly subsidized by the municipalities and cantons. The purchase of health insurance is compulsory for all Swiss citizens. Subsidies are available for those with low incomes. Approximately 70% of the cost of a visit to a physician is covered by insurance and 30% by the patient. Nearly all dental costs are directly paid by individuals. As a result, most Swiss families spend about 10% of their budget on doctors, dentists, health insurance and medicine. The Swiss social welfare system for the poor includes subsidized health care, old age pensions and long-term nursing care.

Alternative forms of health care, including acupuncture, homeopathy and Shiatsu massage are popular. People can pay an additional insurance fee to cover these services.

Emergency Contacts
General emergency calls 112
Fire service 118
Police 117
Ambulance 144
REGA (helicopter rescue service) 1414
Vehicle breakdown service 140
Toxicological Institute (in case of poisoning) 145
Toxicological information centre 044 251 51 51
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