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Switzerland: Doing business and staying in touch

Doing Business in Switzerland

Businesspeople are expected to wear suits. Punctuality is important and business cards are essential when visiting firms. During meetings, humor is considered inappropriate and does not cross cultural barriers easily. Business relationships and negotiations tend to develop slowly and visitors should adopt the local pace. A little introductory chitchat is usually expected but overly personal topics are best avoided.

Although English is widely spoken, it is always appreciated if a visitor attempts to say a few words in the language of the host and the usual form of greeting in both business and social settings is a firm handshake.

On first meeting it is always important to address Swiss colleagues by their surnames (including any academic or honorary titles) prefixed by Herr (for a man) or Frau (for a woman) and to use the polite Sie form, rather than the informal du, until familiarity has been established. If invited to a colleague's home, you should bring a small gift of flowers (these should be unwrapped) or chocolates. In Geneva, company structures remain hierarchical, particularly within the financial sector. It is therefore wise to approach those at the top.

Meetings are commonly held over lunch and dinner – rarely breakfast – and Genevans appreciate an invitation to a top restaurant. Suits should be worn but without ostentation. In Zurich, do not be surprised by the locals’ apparent brusqueness - they believe in speaking the truth, even if it is not always pleasant.

Office Hours

Business hours are typically Monday to Friday 0800-1200 and 1400-1700, while in Geneva the business day can start 30 minutes earlier.

Economy

Switzerland has a typical West European mixed economy with a bias towards light and craft-based industries: Swiss precision manufacturing such as watchmaking is renowned throughout the world. The country is highly industrialised and heavily dependent on exports of finished goods (including machine tools, printing and photographic equipment, electronics and medical equipment). There is also a substantial chemical industry, which continues to grow steadily. Switzerland lacks raw materials, so most of these must be imported.

Although half of the country's food is imported, the agricultural sector is a strong and major employer. The processed foods industry has a high international profile, particularly in such products as chocolate, cheese and baby foods.

The service sector, constituting over 70% of Swiss GDP and comprising 75% of the Swiss workforce, is dominated by banking, where the particular reputation of the Swiss banking community for discretion has attracted large deposits. Switzerland is one of Europe's major financial centres, with Zürich home to SIX Swiss Exchange, Switzerland’s stock exchange center. Among other service industries, tourism is of major importance and helps balance Swiss trade deficits.

Switzerland is not a member of the European Union, although nearly two-thirds of its exports are sold to EU countries. The neutrality, stability and conveniently central location of Switzerland make the country a favorite meeting place for conventions and international organisations. It has an extensive and highly developed network of conference destinations with all the major cities and many of the smaller alpine and lake resorts offering fully equipped business facilities.

Each of Switzerland's main cities has its own Convention Bureau, while the Association of Swiss Convention Centres, Swiss Congress, oversees meetings activity throughout the country. The organisation is made up of the 19 leading congress locations in Switzerland and can help with the organisation of a meeting in any region of the country.

GDP

US$678.887 billion (2017).

Main exports

Pharmaceuticals and chemicals, human or animal blood, gold, watches, machinery, metals, chocolate and agricultural products.

Main imports

Gold and precious metals, chemicals, textiles, electronics, vehicles, machinery and argricultural products.

Main trading partners

Germany, Austria, France, Italy, China, Netherlands, India, Japan, USA and UK.

Keeping in Touch in Switzerland

Telephone

Swisscom, the main telecom of Switzerland, decided to dismantle public telephones (Publifon) in Switzerland due to their declining popularity.

Domestic and international calls from public phones are made using phonecards, which can be purchased in newsagents, Swisscom Shops, post offices and at petrol stations.

Mobile Phone

Roaming agreements exist with most international mobile phone companies and coverage is good across Switzerland. Local SIM cards are readily available in newsagents.

Internet

There are more than 1,700 public Wireless LAN hotspots in Switzerland. Wi-Fi is ubiquitous in Switzerland with most hotels, restaurants; several train stations and various public spaces offering free access. Internet providers like Swisscom and Monzoon offer paid wireless Internet access.

Connections are also available in Internet cafés, which are found in most major town and cities.The airports in Zurich and Geneva also offer Wi-Fi-access; the first one-hour is free of charge. 

Tourists can purchase a Travelers Wifi Mobile Hotspot (travelerswifi.com) which gives unlimited 4G LTE data Internet access in all of Switzerland.

Media

The main broadcaster in Switzerland is the public Swiss Broadcasting Corporation. It operates seven TV networks (two in German, two in Italian, two in French and one in Romansch) and 14 radio stations.

Most of its funding comes from licensing revenues, while a smaller proportion comes from TV advertising. Private TV and radio stations operate in the regions. TV stations from France, Germany and Italy are widely available, thanks in part to the very high take-up of multichannel cable and satellite TV. Some German commercial broadcasters provide tailored versions of their channels for the Swiss market.

Post

Airmail within Europe takes three days. Package deliveries within Europe can take up to a week or more, depending on whether paying for economy or express shipping.

Post Office hours

Mon-Fri 0800-1200 and 1400-1700. Saturday hours in larger cities are 0830-1200.

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