When the naturalists, poets and painters of the 18th century began to see the alps in a new light and curiosity replaced fear, tourism was born in Switzerland. The picturesque lakeside towns of Interlaken, Lucerne, Lausanne, Montreux and Vevey were the starting points for trips to the alpine scenery.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries English tourists showed Switzerland its attractions and invented sports like mountain-climbing and skiing. Swiss engineers developed all sorts of devices to bring guests to the peaks without own efforts - from cogwheel-railways and cableways to ski-lifts.
Swiss customs officers are correct, polite and efficient. Never try to cheat or to bribe them - their sense for duty is even stronger than their sense for politeness and efficiency. Security checks at airports are taken more seriously than in most other destinations - but that does not mean that you have to queue up and wait for hours.
Entry RequirementsTourists to Switzerland need the following travel documents for a stay of up to three months:
Please note that stricter regulations apply for persons that intend to stay in Switzerland for more than 3 months or for other purposes than tourism, education, medical treatment or airport transit.
As passport and visa requirements may be subject to change at short notice, travellers are advised to check the official passport & visa website of Switzerland's Federal Administration. For additional information on visa, permanent residence, work permits and business matters, please contact the nearest Swiss Consulate General or Swiss Embassy.
Switzerland's official currency is the Swiss Franc (abbreviations CHF, sFr, Fr.), and is divided into 100 Rappen [Rp] / Centimes [cts], but the smallest coin in use is 5 Rp. It is recommended to have a small amount of cash (50 CHF) on hand upon arrival in Switzerland or to change at the aiport / railway station for immediate expenses (taxi, city transportation etc.).
Under Swiss laws, tourists may import and export any reasonable amount of Swiss or foreign currency to and from Switzerland in cash or traveller cheques. Please note that other countries do have severe restrictions and check with the regulations applicable in your country of origin and in countries you may visit in transit.
The exchange rates of Swiss Francs against other European currencies have been stable almost for decades: The Euro and its major predecessor German Mark at a rate of 1 CHF = 0.6 to 0.7 € (Euro) and the British Pound at a rate of 1 CHF = 0.4 to 0.5 £ within roughly 15%. The current weakness of the Euro following the financial crisis and the "strenght" of the Swiss Franc do not reflect basic economic facts and are therefore both speculative and unlikely to last for a longer period. Meanwhile the US Dollar has been oscillating between rates as different as 1 CHF = 1 $ and 1 CHF = 0.5 $ within one decade. Over the last 40 years, the US $ has dropped from 5 CHF to 1 CHF.
Current Exchange Rates
To buy one Swiss Franc at a Swiss bank, you have to pay
For one unit of foreign currency you get this amount of Swiss Francs:
Exchange rates are as of October 2011 and subject to daily changes!
You can get daily exchange rates for 18 currencies here (site in German language)
(Translation: Einheit = unit of foreign currency, Ankauf = you get this amount of Swiss Francs,
Verkauf = exchange rate to change back to foreign currency)
The electric current used throughout Switzerland is 230 Volts AC, 50 cycles (continental European standard). Wall outlets are unique to Switzerland, however. There is a limited compatibility with other continental European plugs: the standard continental type hexagonal plugs with two round pins (Euroconnectors, pin distance 19 mm [3/4 inch], pin diameter 4.0 mm [1/6 inch]), applied for many electrical travel products, may be used without problems. Adaptors for other plugs are available in most hotels and in supermarkets. Please note that German / French / Austrian plugs with thick pins (diameter 4.8 mm [1/5 inch]) and Italian plugs with three thin pins in a row are not compatible with Swiss wall outlets, despite of the equal distance of their two main pins.
Flat type wall outlet for dry rooms
Deep type wall outlet for wet rooms (bathrooms, kitchen)
Swiss hexagonal three pin plug
European hexagonal two pin plug
Please be careful with equipment designed for 100/110/120 Volts AC (as used in America and some parts of Asia). While some notebook computer and mobile phones mains adaptors are explicitly designed for automatic adaptation to a wide range of input voltages (100 to 240 Volts), some travel products like hair-dryers must be switched from 110 to 230 Volts before use in continental Europe and other equipment (for example most AC adaptors for small electronic equipment like radios and cameras) may be completely incompatible and these equipments could be damaged if used with doubled voltage! So never try to connect a device designed for 110 Volts to a 230 Volts outlet! Devices designed for 220 Volts (used to be continental European standard some years ago) or 240 Volts (UK, Australia) will work without problems at 230 Volts, however.
Switzerland is probably really the "safest place on the planet", considering both technical safety standards and security aspects (low rate of criminality, cautiousness of the population). But nobody and no system is perfect. Be cautious of pocket thieves, especially in crowded places.
Statistics tell us that next to smoking, eating too much, drinking alcohol excessively, climbing chairs to reach the ceiling and using electrical devices in bathrooms, there are two major risks for Switzerland's inhabitants: sports and traffic accidents.
Though Switzerland may have more detailed laws than other countries to ensure that everybody may enjoy the same very high level of liberty without being restricted by reckless mighty people, authorities expect that you take responsability for yourself. For example, no signs are telling you that you are using hiking paths at your own risk, but if you do, you should be reasonably equipped with solid shoes and know your physical condition.
Tourists often underestimate the dangers of thin air above some 2500 m [8000 ft] which can result in altitude sickness [AMS] or hypothermia if you do not take enough time to accomodate. Therefore all mountain peaks over 3000 m [9800 ft] are usually reached in two days: first day ascent to a cottage operated by Switzerland's Alpine Club (SAC) and accommodation at about 2500 m, second day climbing the peak in the early morning, before the surface ice is starting to melt. For tours above 2500 m [8000 ft] even Swiss inhabitants take an experienced moutaineer to guide them safely. Tourist offices in Swiss alpine destinations will help you to find a certified professional guide.
Other unexpected risks are sudden floods in dry or almost dry little
brooks: Due to a thunder-storm or to operational changes of hydroelectic
power plants, water level in apparently harmless brooks may rise from
below one to several feet within a few minutes.
Believe it or not: the gravel on the picture (left) was taken there by wild waters. The Swiss are much too thrifty to invest in hydraulic engineering (like in the background) without good reasons ...
Finally, skiiers might get buried under an avalanche when skiing outside marked ski runs. All official ski runs are carefully designed to avoid all risky spots (some runs may have a small risk on some days, however, and will be closed when dangerous). Skiing outside official ski runs, though not prohibited by law, is often reckless with regard to scaring away wild animals and it causes more than a dozen mortal accidents per year. Famous Swiss St. Bernhard's dogs are trained to find people under avalanches and modern radio direction finding equipment provides additional help, but all too often helpers are too late to find buried skiers still alive.
While nobody needs to believe in medieval legends of dragons living in mountain lakes any longer, a sound mix between excitement over the staggering beauty of the alpine scenery and awe of the forces of nature in the mountains is still a good choice.
See also: Traffic rules and speed limits in Switzerland
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