Switzerland travel guide
Combining expansive greenery, slick cities and bucketfuls of fresh air, Switzerland is a stylish tourist destination that offers countless outdoor adventures and contemporary urban breaks.
Switzerland’s Alpine vistas are so picture perfect, they appear to have been plucked from a postcard or the pages of a storybook. But these disarming landscapes are alive and kicking, as the myriad spots for skiing, hiking or mountain biking can attest. Ski resorts like Zermatt (home to the lofty Matterhorn), Verbier and celebrity-studded St Moritz provide everything from big, bad Olympic runs to encouragingly gentle novice slopes. And when the snow melts at low altitudes, the white-tipped mountain peaks remain against a backdrop of blue skies, providing a superb setting for summertime hiking.
The ancient capital Berne provides almost endless opportunities for sightseeing, shopping and traditional folk entertainment, while Zurich leads the way in art, design and nightlife, from opera and world-class theatre to stylish bars and nightclubs. Geneva is the sleekest and most upscale of Switzerland's cities, acting as home to a thriving community of expats, many of whom work for the numerous international organisations that are headquartered there.
Yet Switzerland’s cultural offerings don’t stop there. When it comes to contemporary art, polished Basel reigns supreme, with more than 40 museums and galleries nestled in this compact city. For a few days every year, Basel takes centre stage for the eminent Art Basel fair. French-flavoured Montreux also steals a moment in the cultural spotlight when it becomes the centre of focus for the jazz world during the Montreux Jazz Festival. Elsewhere, dotted around green foothills, are countless spruce towns and folkloric villages, where ancient farm culture survives and cattle still loiter amid flower-filled pastures.
Small, mountainous and wealthy, Switzerland is renowned for its enviable quality of life, with public services ticking along like clockwork. Come for the creamy, complex cheeses, smooth chocolates and luxury watches; stay for the exquisite culture, incredible scenery and sheer sense of fun.
41,284 sq km (15,940 sq miles).
8,588,758 (UN estimate 2019).
208 per sq km.
Federal City Bern.
Ueli Maurer since January 2019.
Ueli Maurer since January 2019.
Last updated: 22 July 2019
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. 'We' refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
There’s a danger of flooding in lower regions. Many ski areas and hiking routes have been temporarily closed. For further information, you should contact the relevant train companies, local authorities and your tour operator. Before travelling, check the latest local weather forecast and check for information on any possible dangerous weather conditions.
If you plan skiing or hiking, check weather conditions and follow local advice before going. Take care and observe all written notices and warnings.
There has been an increase in reports of theft especially in larger cities, at Geneva airport and on trains to/from Geneva.
Terrorist attacks in Switzerland can’t be ruled out. You should remain vigilant and follow the advice of local authorities.
British nationals made 703,933 visits to Switzerland in 2016. Most visits are trouble-free.
If you’re living in or moving to Switzerland, visit our Living in Switzerland guide in addition to this travel advice.
If you’re travelling to Switzerland to do business or provide services, see further guidance on providing services in Switzerland after Brexit.
If you need to contact the emergency services, call 112 (general emergency calls), 118 (fire), 117 (police) or 144 (ambulance).
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission.
The Overseas Business Risk service offers information and advice for British companies operating overseas on how to manage political, economic, and business security-related risks.
You should apply for a free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) before you travel. If you already have an EHIC, make sure it hasn’t expired. Some medical costs aren’t covered by the EHIC so you should also take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance and make sure it covers winter/mountain activities.
The official website of Switzerland tourism provides useful information for travellers in a wheelchair or with impaired mobility.
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.
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 activities and adventure tourism
Hiking, mountaineering and other adventure sports are increasingly popular activities in Switzerland. Unfortunately each year there are incidents with visitors getting into difficulty and needing the help of the emergency services. There have been a number of tragic accidents involving British visitors, including during extreme sports activities.
If you’re taking part in extreme sports, check that the company is well established in the industry and that you’ve arranged for your travel insurance to cover the specific activity. For sports activities like skiing, potholing and mountaineering, and for sports classed as particularly dangerous (eg off-piste skiing, mountain biking, climbing, paragliding or BASE jumping), your insurance should include mountain rescue services, helicopter costs and repatriation to your country of residence or possible transfer to neighbouring countries for treatment.
Check weather forecasts and conditions and make sure you’re properly equipped for the worst-case scenario. A map, compass, GPS and telecommunication equipment should always be used when travelling outside urban areas. Don’t undertake any activity alone, and consider hiring a guide for expert advice. Always leave copies of your itinerary with someone.
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
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.
Terrorist attacks in Switzerland can’t be ruled out. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places visited by foreigners.
There’s a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals, from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time.
Local laws and customs
Smoking has been banned throughout Switzerland in the workplace and in most enclosed spaces accessible to the public, including bars, restaurants, cinemas, schools, shopping centres and sports centres. Exceptions can be made at a local level where smoking licences are sometimes granted to small restaurants, cafés and bars. Larger restaurants and bars have the option of providing separate areas for smokers.
It’s illegal to cover your face in public places in the Italian-speaking Swiss canton of Ticino. Failure to comply with the ban is punishable by a fine ranging from 100 CHF to 10,000 CHF. The law doesn’t provide any exemption for tourists.
The information on this page covers the most common types of travel and reflects the UK government’s understanding of the rules currently in place. Unless otherwise stated, this information is for travellers using a full ‘British Citizen’ passport.
The authorities in the country or territory you’re travelling to are responsible for setting and enforcing the rules for entry. If you’re unclear about any aspect of the entry requirements, or you need further reassurance, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
You should also consider checking with your transport provider or travel company to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.
If the UK leaves with a deal, travel to the EU will remain the same as now until at least 31 December 2020. You will not need to apply for a visa to travel or work in the EU during this time.
If the UK leaves the EU without a deal, the rules for travelling or working in Europe will change.
The European Commission has proposed that in a no deal situation, if you are a British Citizen, you would not need a visa for short stays in the Schengen area or elsewhere in the EU. You would be able to stay for up to 90 days in any 180-day period. Visits to the Schengen area within the previous 180 days before your date of travel will count against the 90-day limit.
If you are intending to stay in the Schengen area for longer than 90 days, or your stay would take you over the 90 days in the 180-day limit, you may need to get a visa before you travel.
Travel to EU countries currently outside the Schengen area (Romania, Croatia, Bulgaria, Cyprus) would not count towards the 90-day total.
On arrival in the Schengen Area, you may be asked to confirm that you have sufficient funds available for the duration of your stay. As non-EEA nationals, different border control checks will apply, and you may also be asked to show a return or onward ticket. UK nationals would not have an ongoing right to use the separate lanes provided for EU, EEA and Swiss nationals.
The 90-day visa-free period does not entitle you to work in the Schengen area. Most countries will require a visa and work permit.
You should check with the Swiss Embassy what type of visa, if any, you will need.
Your passport should be valid for the proposed duration of your stay. No additional period of validity beyond this is required.
If the UK leaves the EU with no deal, the rules for travel to most countries in Europe will change. If your adult passport was issued over 9 years ago, you may be affected. You should use this tool to check your passport is still valid for your trip before booking travel.
Adult and child passports should have at least 6 months’ validity remaining on your date of travel. If you renewed your passport early, extra months would have been added to your new passport. Any extra months on an adult passport will not count towards the validity requirement, so some passport holders will need to have more than 6 months remaining in order to travel.
You can check your passport here.
For information and advice about Swiss customs regulations, visit the official website of the Swiss Customs Administration.
UK Emergency Travel Documents
UK Emergency Travel Documents (ETDs) are accepted for entry, airside transit and exit from Switzerland.
At least 8 weeks before your trip, check the latest country-specific health advice from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) on the TravelHealthPro website. Each country-specific page has information on vaccine recommendations, any current health risks or outbreaks, and factsheets with information on staying healthy abroad. Guidance is also available from NHS (Scotland) on the FitForTravel website.
General information on travel vaccinations and a travel health checklist is available on the NHS website. You may then wish to contact your health adviser or pharmacy for advice on other preventive measures and managing any pre-existing medical conditions while you’re abroad.
The legal status and regulation of some medicines prescribed or purchased in the UK can be different in other countries. If you’re travelling with prescription or over-the-counter medicine, read this guidance from NaTHNaC on best practice when travelling with medicines. For further information on the legal status of a specific medicine, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
While travel can be enjoyable, it can sometimes be challenging. There are clear links between mental and physical health, so looking after yourself during travel and when abroad is important. Information on travelling with mental health conditions is available in our guidance page. Further information is also available from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC).
If the UK leaves the EU without a deal, access to healthcare for British nationals travelling or living in the EU, European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland is likely to change. More information about healthcare for UK nationals living in and visiting Switzerland is available on the NHS website.
You should still get a free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) before leaving the UK. UK-issued EHICs remain valid, but this will change if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.
The EHIC entitles you to state provided medical treatment that may become necessary during your trip. Any treatment provided is on the same terms as Swiss nationals. If you don’t have your EHIC with you or you’ve lost it, you can call the Department of Health Overseas Healthcare Team (+44 191 218 1999) to get a Provisional Replacement Certificate.
The UK government has or is seeking agreements with countries on healthcare arrangements for UK nationals after the UK leaves the EU. The NHS website and this travel advice will be updated with further information on travelling to Switzerland as the circumstances change.
Whether you’re travelling before or after the UK leaves the EU, it is important to take out comprehensive travel insurance that includes cover for emergency medical treatment and associated costs. The existing EHIC arrangements are not an alternative to travel insurance, as some health-related costs, including for medical repatriation, ongoing medical treatment and non-urgent treatment, are not covered. Read more about what your travel insurance should cover.
If you’re living in Switzerland, you can also find more information on healthcare for residents in our Living In Switzerland guide.
If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 112 or 144 and ask for an ambulance. If you are referred to a medical facility for treatment you should contact your insurance/medical assistance company immediately.
There is an increased risk of tick bites from April to October. The Ministry for Health warns of a significant number of Lyme disease and tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) cases annually. For more information read insect and tick bite avoidance
Travel advice help and support
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission. If you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad, contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London on 020 7008 1500 (24 hours).
Foreign travel checklist
Read our foreign travel checklist to help you plan for your trip abroad and stay safe while you’re there.
The FCO travel advice helps you make your own decisions about foreign travel. Your safety is our main concern, but we can’t provide tailored advice for individual trips. If you’re concerned about whether or not it’s safe for you to travel, you should read the travel advice for the country or territory you’re travelling to, together with information from other sources you’ve identified, before making your own decision on whether to travel. Only you can decide whether it’s safe for you to travel.
When we judge the level of risk to British nationals in a particular place has become unacceptably high, we’ll state on the travel advice page for that country or territory that we advise against all or all but essential travel. Read more about how the FCO assesses and categorises risk in foreign travel advice.
Our crisis overseas page suggests additional things you can do before and during foreign travel to help you stay safe.
Refunds and cancellations
If you wish to cancel or change a holiday that you’ve booked, you should contact your travel company. The question of refunds and cancellations is a matter for you and your travel company. Travel companies make their own decisions about whether or not to offer customers a refund. Many of them use our travel advice to help them reach these decisions, but we do not instruct travel companies on when they can or can’t offer a refund to their customers.
For more information about your rights if you wish to cancel a holiday, visit the Citizen’s Advice Bureau website. For help resolving problems with a flight booking, visit the website of the Civil Aviation Authority. For questions about travel insurance, contact your insurance provider and if you’re not happy with their response, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
Registering your travel details with us
We’re no longer asking people to register with us before travel. Our foreign travel checklist and crisis overseas page suggest things you can do before and during foreign travel to plan your trip and stay safe.
Previous versions of FCO travel advice
If you’re a British national and you have a question about travelling abroad that isn’t covered in our foreign travel advice or elsewhere on GOV.UK, you can submit an enquiry. We’re not able to provide tailored advice for specific trips.