As a prosperous, highly developed democracy, Switzerland’s business customs and practices are like those of other western European countries. While some American business representatives may find their Swiss counterparts somewhat conservative and formal, business customs in Switzerland correspond generally to those of the United States. Punctuality is important, particularly in German-speaking areas. Allowing ample lead-time in setting up business appointments is expected, and one should not expect to drop in without an appointment.
Data privacy and control over sensitive information is important for Swiss businesses. U.S. businesses should be prepared to address any related concerns by Swiss businesses when envisioning partnering with these companies.
Switzerland is generally a very safe country for travel, with a low rate of violent crime and an absence of significant terrorist attacks in recent history. However, pick pocketing and purse snatchings occur, especially during peak tourist periods and during major conferences, shows, and exhibits. Loss or theft of a U.S. passport should be reported to the local police immediately and then to the American Embassy in Bern at +41 31 357 7011. Under most circumstances, a replacement can be issued quickly.
Switzerland is at the lowest possible security Travel Advisory Level of 1, which instructs travelers to exercise normal precautions. Note, however, that conditions can change in a given country at any time, and that Switzerland maintains open borders with its neighboring European countries of the Schengen Area, allowing potential terrorists to enter and exit the country anonymously. For travel advisory updates and general information on traveling to Switzerland, visit the State Department’s consular information sheet on Switzerland.
Countrywide emergency telephone numbers are: Police 117; Fire 118; and Ambulance 144.
A valid passport with at least 90 days of validity beyond the day of departure from the Schengen area is required to enter Switzerland from a non-Schengen country such as the United States. The U.S. Embassy recommends traveling with a passport valid for at least six months. No visa is required for individuals who travel to Switzerland for tourist or business purposes for a duration of less than 90 days, but visas are required for stays exceeding 90 days. If you are traveling to other Schengen zone countries, please note that you may stay for a total of 90 days in the Schengen area (regardless of country). Please review the U.S. Department of State’s guide to traveling in the Schengen zone.
Swiss residency and work permits for longer stays or employment are difficult to obtain, as the Swiss government, at the cantonal level, imposes limitations on immigration and the country’s foreign workforce. Foreign citizens must have a work permit before commencing employment and the complicated process of obtaining a work visa can take several months.
For more information on visa requirements, visit the website of the Swiss Embassy in the United States. The Consular Section of the Swiss Embassy in Washington, or the Swiss Consular Offices in Atlanta, Boston, New York, or San Francisco can offer more information on the process.
U.S. Companies that require travel of foreign businesspersons to the United States are advised that security evaluations are handled via an interagency process. Visa applicants should go to the following link: State Department Visa Website.
Switzerland’s currency is the Swiss franc (CHF). Though some shops, restaurants, hotels, and ticket machines in larger cities may accept euros on occasion, travelers should expect to use Swiss francs for transactions. Most hotels, businesses, and shops will accept credit cards. American Express, MasterCard, and Visa are the common cards that American travelers use in Switzerland. It is recommended to notify your bank in advance of overseas travel so that they do not mistake transactions abroad as fraudulent charges.
Many ATMs are connected to international systems such as Cirrus or Maestro for cash withdrawal. Using an ATM is generally cheaper than exchanging dollars for Swiss francs at a currency exchange booth in a train station or airport.
Telecommunications are modern. Visiting U.S.-based business travelers may operate GSM-based cell phones in Switzerland. The 4G network is widely used, and several providers have rolled out 5G services, often based on their 4G networks. Cell phones are easily rented from vendors in Swiss airports and short-term sim cards are widely available. Wifi is available in most hotels as well as in public spaces such as train stations and airports.
The standard voltage in Switzerland is 230V with a frequency of 50Hz. Type C (2-pin) and type J (3-pin) sockets are used (type C plugs will fit type J sockets).
Swiss transportation infrastructure is excellent. The major international airports are in Zurich, Geneva, and Basel. Despite the country’s mountainous terrain, road and rail networks are very well maintained, reliable and efficient, though snow chains are required on some mountainous roads during the winter. High-speed trains link all major cities very well. Tickets can be purchased online from national railway operator SBB, with the SBB smartphone app, or at train stations. The public tram and bus systems in urban areas are punctual and safe.
Switzerland is a multilingual country with four official languages: German, French, Italian, and Romansch. Swiss German is spoken by the majority of Swiss in the central and northeast portions of the country (e.g. Zurich, Bern, and Basel). French is the principal language of Geneva and the western cantons. Italian is spoken in the south, especially in canton Ticino, where the cities of Lugano and Locarno are located. About one percent of the population speaks Romansch; it maintains official status in the easternmost canton of Graubünden. In business and tourist centers throughout the country, people will likely be able to communicate in English.
Switzerland has excellent health care facilities. Like many European countries, Switzerland has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. For the latest travel advisory related to COVID-19 in Switzerland see the State Department’s Country Information page on Switzerland. Health services are expensive, and U.S. medical insurance may not be valid outside the United States. Very few health insurance companies pay for medical evacuation back to the United States.
If traveling with prescription medication, check with the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health to ensure the medication is legal in Switzerland. Always carry your prescription medication in original packaging with your doctor’s prescription. U.S. prescriptions cannot generally be filled in Switzerland, so bring enough medication for your trip. A Swiss physician can write Swiss prescriptions, but the available drugs may differ from those in the United States.
Lastly, consult the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommended list of vaccinations before traveling abroad to Switzerland.
Local Time, Business Hours, and Holidays
Switzerland is located in the Central European time zone. Local time in Switzerland is Central European Standard Time (CET, GMT+1). In the summer months Switzerland observes daylight savings time (GMT+2).
Generally, business hours during the week in Switzerland run from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. and from 1:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., with a lunch break in between. Except for restaurants and filling stations, most businesses and stores are closed on Sundays unless located in major train stations or airports.
Only the Swiss National Day on August 1 is designated a national holiday, although Easter, Christmas, and New Year’s Day are celebrated throughout the country. Other holidays are determined at the cantonal level. For a list of holidays by canton, visit https://publicholidays.ch/.
Temporary Entry of Materials and Personal Belongings
Traveling provisions, fuel already in the tank of a vehicle, and personal effects, including laptop computers, do not need to be declared and can enter Switzerland freely. However, goods in excess of CHF 300 must be declared at customs and will be charged duty and value-added tax (VAT). Additionally, certain sensitive foodstuffs (primarily meat, butter and cream), alcoholic beverages, and tobacco products have duty-free allowances that may be less than CHF 300, and must be declared.
There are four possibilities for declaring goods in tourist traffic:
- Verbal customs declaration at border crossing
- Use the red channel in airports to declare goods to Swiss Customs
- Customs declaration with the QuickZoll smartphone app
- Written customs declaration
- All information for individuals entering Switzerland can be found on the Federal Office for Customs and Border Security’s website.