Switzerland Travel Guide
Culturally, Switzerland has many comfortable similarities with most of Europe, and by extension, the United States. Yet, it is important to remember that it is a foreign country with laws, customs, and practices that can differ quite significantly from what you are used to. To avoid any potential confusion or misunderstandings, and navigate the land with ease, here is a short Switzerland travel guide.
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Visa and Entry
Switzerland is part of the Schengen area – a large region of continental Europe that has limited forms of passport or border control, allowing for generally free passage for all. Thus, if you are coming to Switzerland from the United States and have a valid tourist passport, you can freely stay in Switzerland for 90 days out of a 180 day period without worrying about applying for, or obtaining, a Schengen Visa This being said, having some documents stating both your reason for travel (such as a travel itinerary) and proof that you can financially support yourself when in the Schengen area, are required.
From 1st January 2021, all US visitors to the Schengen zone will need to apply for an ETIAS (ETIAS – European Travel Information and Authorization System) visa.
Cash and Currency
Unlike its neighboring countries, and indeed most countries in Europe, the official currency of Switzerland isn’t the Euro, but the Swiss Franc. So, if you are planning on visiting other European countries prior to arriving in Switzerland, it is important to keep this in mind. This doesn’t mean you won’t be able to use any of your remaining Euros at all; in many larger shops, hotels, and train stations, Euros are sometimes accepted, but this is the exception rather than the rule.
As such, if you are only planning to spend a couple of hours in Switzerland, perhaps passing through on your way to another country, you may not need to worry about exchanging any of your money into Francs. However, if you are planning on spending any length of time there (or money), then getting your hands on some Swiss Francs is essential.
Interestingly, Switzerland has four national languages:
- German (mostly spoken in cities like Zurich, Bern, and Basel)
- French (in Geneva and Lausanne)
- Italian (in Lugano and Bellinzona)
- Romansh (in The Grisons)
However, like most countries in Europe, a large percentage of the population speaks English, particularly in the larger cities. So, although Switzerland is linguistically complex, you are unlikely to have any issues communicating with people. If you speak French, German, or Italian, you may notice some interesting little differences between the standard version of the language to the version spoken in Switzerland, as the dialects sometimes use aspects of the other national languages. For example, the German spoken in Germany may be different from what you hear in Switzerland.
Although it’s the least spoken language in Switzerland, Romansh is the closest thing the country has to a nationally exclusive language. It is a curious mix of the casual spoken version of Latin, brought to the area by Roman Soldiers, the language of the Rhaeto people, an ethnic group that came to Switzerland at around 500 BC, and German. Although it’s an official language, all Romansh speakers tend to speak fluent French or German as well.
Switzerland is a remarkably safe and welcoming country, but, as ever, being mindful of potential (though very unlikely) problems is a good idea.
Although Switzerland can proudly claim to have one of the best healthcare systems in the world, the CDC advises that travelers be fully immunized against measles, hepatitis A and B, rabies (although Switzerland has been declared to be rabies-free since 1998, it has occasionally been found in bats), the MMR vaccine, as well as your yearly flu shot.
Switzerland is famous for its beautiful and boundless mountainous terrain. However, this scenery could present some problems for the unwise and unready traveler. So, before going on a hike, check the weather, the terrain, and important mountain safety advice. On some hikes, it could be beneficial to hire an experienced guide.
In case you need to contact the Swiss emergency services, be sure to note down these numbers:
- 112-Emergency (fire, ambulance, and police)
- 118 -Fire
- 144-Medical services
- 1414- Rega Mountain Rescue
As Switzerland is a relatively small country, traveling around is a breeze.
While public transport in the cities can be relatively expensive, especially taxis, the entire country is connected by a brilliant network of trams, trains, and buses. In fact, Switzerland boasts a large section of the most scenic railway journeys in the world, including the fabulous Bernina Express, which takes you through the Alps from Poschiavo in Switzerland, to Tirano in Italy. Otherwise, there are plenty of inter-city or inter-region trains connecting all the major cities in Switzerland.
If you prefer to travel by car or bus many companies offer services where you can comfortably travel from city to city, or from city to mountain. Given its size, cross country flights are unnecessary and best avoided.
In the cities, almost universally public transport is reliable, clean, and efficient. In addition, if you want to explore Swiss cities at your own pace, car and bicycle sharing is popular with many options for visitors to enjoy. Also, although they aren’t present in every city in Switzerland, Basel, Lausanne, Zurich, and Geneva have quality tram networks. In fact, Basel’s tram network is over a century old and can take you across the border into Germany or France. If you prefer a more personal and direct experience, public and private taxi services operate in every major city, and Basel, Zurich, Geneva, Lausanne even have Uber drivers.
Now, some of these services may be more expensive than you are used to, however, you are paying for quality as the public transport in Switzerland is almost uniformly excellent.
The vast majority of restaurants in Switzerland include a service charge in their final bill, so tipping is not necessarily expected. However, if you feel compelled to pay an additional tip of either 5% – 10% of the overall cost, it will always be welcomed.
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