Living in Switzerland

    1. Emergency Assistance
    2. Swiss Center of North America
    3. Swiss-American Organizations
    4. Swiss Information Links
    5. Banking Resources
    6. Judicial Information
    7. Marriage

    Please note: The Department of State assumes no responsibility or liability for the professional ability or reputation of, or the quality of services provided by, the entities or individuals whose names appear on the following lists. Inclusion on this list is in no way an endorsement by the Department or the U.S. government. Names are listed alphabetically, and the order in which they appear has no other significance. The information on the list is provided directly by the local service providers; the Department is not in a position to vouch for such information.

    The following information has been prepared in response to inquiries concerning moving to and living in the Embassy’s consular district. While the information is believed to be current and reliable, it is furnished without liability of any kind.

    Automobiles of U.S. citizens entering Switzerland to establish a residence are free of duty provided evidence can be shown that the car has been in the applicant’s possession and has been driven for at least six months. A tourist, whose permanent domicile is outside Switzerland, can temporarily import his motor vehicle without customs documents, provided it is for his own personal use. Automobiles of temporary residents may be imported duty-free upon application to the local customs authorities for duty-free customs plates. Such plates are valid for a maximum period of one year. Foreign plates may be kept on the car for one year provided that proper liability insurance is maintained on the car. After this period, Swiss plates must be obtained from the cantonal road traffic office (Strassenverkehrsamt/Service des automobiles).

    Banks are open Monday through Friday from 08:00 – 18:00 in cities. In suburbs, towns, and villages banks close for lunch. Banks throughout Switzerland are closed on Saturdays, Sundays and Swiss holidays. Change counters at airports and railway stations are usually open daily from 6:30 – 22:00.

    Please also visit our Banking Resources Site for further information.

    Of the total population of 6,908.000 (last census end of 1992), 49 percent are Catholic, 48 percent Protestant, 0.4 percent Jewish, with the remaining percentage having various other religious affiliations or none. English language services are held regularly in some churches in large cities and tourist resorts.

    Temperatures are about the same as in the northern United States, but without extremes of heat and cold. During the winter it frequently snows. In the cities the summer temperature rarely exceeds 80 Fahrenheit and the humidity is low. Winter temperatures vary between 20 and 30. The southern part of Switzerland has subtropical vegetation and a mild climate the year through.

    The general cost of living in Switzerland is higher than in the United States and is, at the time of writing, approximately 15 percent higher than that of Washington, DC (the difference varies in accordance with the respective inflation rates and fluctuation of currency exchange rates).

    The monetary unit in Switzerland is the Swiss Franc. The rate of exchange varies but is usually between 1.10 and 1.30 Swiss Francs to the dollar. There are no restrictions with regard to import, export and exchange of Swiss Francs. Travelers checks and bank notes are exchanged by banks, official exchange offices at airports, principal Swiss railway stations, border stations and sometimes travel agencies. Personal checks are not normally cashed by Swiss banks.

    Persons entering Switzerland may import duty-free personal effects, sports equipment, tools and a limited amount of food. Every person aged 17 and over is entitled to enter Switzerland with 2 liters of wine, one liter of spirits, 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 250 grams of pipe tobacco, as well as gifts up to a total value of 100 Swiss francs. More detailed information may be obtained from the: Swiss Federal Customs Administration, 40 Monbijoustrasse, 3003 Bern

    You may drive in Switzerland with your valid U.S. license for up to one year after your arrival; then you must obtain a Swiss permit. Swiss licenses are only issued on the basis of valid U.S. licenses. Holders of expired U.S. licenses must take the Swiss driving test when applying for a Swiss license. The minimum age for driving or learning to drive is 18. Liability insurance on motor vehicles is compulsory in Switzerland and must be provided by a Swiss insurance company.

    There are two kinds of gasoline in Switzerland, unleaded premium gasoline (“Bleifrei 98”) and regular gasoline (“Bleifrei 95”). Diesel fuel is also available. Prices average somewhat higher in mountain regions. Gas stations are normally open from 08:00 to 22:00 but may close earlier on Sundays. U.S. gasoline credit cards are generally not accepted at European gas stations but most major credit cards are accepted.

    The electric current used throughout Switzerland is 220 Volts, alternating current (AC), 50 cycles. Prongs for outlets differ from those in the United States. However, 110 Volt electrical equipment can be operated with the use of a transformer. Lamps are easily converted by using 220 Volt Swiss bulbs and changing of plugs, or by using inexpensive plug adapters.

    A valid U.S. passport but no visa is required of a U.S. citizen entering Switzerland as a tourist for a period of three months maximum. Information on residence, student visas, etc. should be obtained from the Swiss Embassy in Washington or one of the Swiss Consulate Generals located in Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, New York, and San Francisco. Switzerland has no vaccination requirements.

    Holidays

    The following are legal holidays observed throughout Switzerland:

    • New Year, St. Bartholomew
    • Good Friday
    • Easter
    • Easter Monday
    • Ascension Day
    • Pentecost
    • Pentecost Monday
    • Swiss National Day
    • Christmas Day
    • St. Stephen’s Day

    Various other holidays may be observed by individual cantons. Please check the U.S. and Swiss holidays observed by the U.S. Embassy and Consulate Agencies.

    Like many other countries, Switzerland experiences a shortage of housing in most larger cities. Moderately-priced living quarters are usually difficult to find. Rents are higher than in most U.S. cities and vary according to location, neighborhood and type of building. Both houses and apartments are usually smaller than their U.S. counterparts and contain smaller rooms.

    A furnished house is rare and very expensive: furnished apartments are seldom available. On the whole, it is easier to find an apartment in a suburb than in the downtown area of a city. Purchase of a house or apartment by foreigners is restrictively regulated in Switzerland.

    Light fixtures, draperies and closets are an added expense, since these items are not included in Swiss apartments and houses when rented. Newer apartments may have a small deep freeze and dishwasher. Stoves are almost always furnished. Almost all also have washing machines, rarely dryers, and these must often be shared with other tenants. Hot water is not always unlimited, so check on your hot water supply.

    Apartments and houses can be found either through advertisements in newspapers or through rental agencies. The following agencies can assist you in choosing the proper newspaper to advertise for vacant apartments throughout Switzerland:

    Publicitas AG, 8 Seilerstrasse, 3011 Bern, Tel. 031-384-1111, Fax 031-384-1330

    Professionelle Personalberatung AG, Rennweg 42, 8001 Zurich, Tel. 01-211-7700, Fax 01-211-7718

    Further information is available from local tourist offices and real estate agents. Also the official Swiss tourist offices below have a list of contacts:

    • Switzerland Tourism
      Swiss Center
      608 Fifth Ave.
      New York, NY 10020
      Tel. 212-757-5944
      Fax 212-262-6116
    • Switzerland Tourism
      150 N. Michigan Ave.
      Chicago, IL 60601
      Tel. 312-630-5840
      Fax 312-630-5848
    • Switzerland Tourism
      222 N. Sepulveda Blvd.
      Suite 1570
      El Segundo, CA 90245
      Tel. 213-335-5985/5988
      Fax 213-335-5982
    • Schweiz Tourismus
      Toedistrasse 7
      8027 Zurich
      Tel. 01-288-1111
      Fax 01-288-1205

    Of inestimable importance is a basic working knowledge of the language of the region in which you plan to work and/or reside. No one will expect you to speak the Swiss dialect, but a crash course in German, French or Italian or, once in the country, enrollment in one of the many language courses offered, will help you to feel more a part of the community in which you live. The national languages of Switzerland are German (Central and Eastern Switzerland), French (Western Switzerland), Italian (Southern Switzerland) and Romansch (Southeastern Switzerland). German is spoken by 69 percent of the Swiss population, 20 percent speak French, 10 percent Italian and 1 percent Romansch.

    English is spoken in most hotels, restaurants, shops, etc. in all larger cities and resort areas.

    Even though you are a U.S. citizen, in Switzerland you are under its laws and jurisdiction, not those of the United States. Where U.S. citizens are involved in private disputes (with foreign nationals or business enterprises) and the controversy cannot be settled amicably between them, the normal recourse is to the remedies provided by law of the appropriate jurisdiction. U.S. diplomatic and consular officers may not act as attorney, agent or in a fiduciary capacity in private matters. The Embassy does, however, furnish a list of English-speaking attorneys. Only attorneys licensed to practice at the courts in Switzerland may officially represent a client.

    While living overseas, it is generally a good idea to have important documents and/or records at hand in case of an emergency or an evacuation. It is suggested that you keep the following items easily available:

    • Signed and notarized general power of attorney executed by each spouse on behalf of the other spouse;
    • Joint checking account;
    • Current copy of will(s);
    • List of family members’ Social Security numbers, bank account numbers, insurance policies, passport numbers along with the date of issuance;
    • Medical records, prescriptions needed by family members, immunization records and eyeglass prescriptions;
    • Up-to-date household inventory;
    • Prior tax year records and other records necessary for filing the current year;
    • List of credit card numbers (separate cards for each spouse is also a good idea);
    • Copies of birth and marriage certificates and passport biographical page;
    • Employment records, resumes, and letters of recommendation;
    • Children’s school records;
    • List of doctors, dentists, lawyers and other professional providers or services;
    • Mortgage records, deeds, bonds, etc.;
    • Updated address books, both business and personal;
    • Travelers’ checks, bank books, check books, cash – both local and U.S.;
    • List of assets and liabilities.

    Excellent medical assistance is offered in all larger cities. Many physicians and dentists also received training in the United States. Emergency medical assistance may be obtained by calling number 144 from any phone anywhere in Switzerland. For a list of English-speaking doctors in Switzerland, please visit our section on medical information.

    Swiss newspapers represent various political viewpoints and are published in the four language-areas of Switzerland. French, German, and Italian periodicals are available at local newsstands. The International Herald Tribune and international editions of Time, Life, and Newsweek are available at local newsstands or by subscription. Other U.S. and British magazines are also sold locally. Prices are somewhat higher than in the U.S. or the UK.

    Dogs and cats brought into Switzerland from abroad will require a veterinary certificate stating that the animal has been vaccinated against rabies and is in good health. The pet must be vaccinated at least 30 days but not more than one year before being brought to Switzerland. The certificate is accepted in the following languages: English, French, German, Italian. Information on importing other kinds of pets can be obtained from the Swiss Veterinary Office, 17 Thunstrasse, 3000 Bern 6. A small duty charge for your pet is paid on arrival, and a dog license must be obtained upon reaching your final destination. Most veterinarians can sell you one. In some areas you must obtain your dog license from the local authorities. The fee varies, but is around SFr. 50.00.

    “Die Post” is the federal postal company. Most post offices are open from 07:30/08:00 – 12:00 and from 13:30/14:30 – 18:00, Saturday 07:30/08:00 – 11:00. Letters to or from the United States by international airmail usually take about 5 days. Surface mail takes approximately 20 days but may take as long as six weeks for parcel post. Airmail postcards and airmail letters weighing up to 20 grams cost SFr. 1.80 to mail to the United States; airmail letters from 20 grams to 50 grams SFr. 3.00.

    The postal check is the most common method used to pay bills. This system allows you to pay bills through the post office by filling out green or white postal payment cards which are normally enclosed with your bills (electricity, phone, insurance, etc.). Holders of a postal check account can effect their, usually, monthly payments by mail; others go to the post office and make their payments at the appropriate counter.

    Swiss radio broadcasts in the three principal languages. Programming is of good quality with more talk programs than in the U.S. Broadcasts from other European countries – such as AFN Frankfurt, VOA Munich, Luxembourg, and BBC – are fairly good but reception varies. As in most of Europe, radio and TV are run by a public corporation. Broadcasting is in German, French and Italian. Special programs are sometimes relayed from the U.S. by satellite. News and sports coverage on both radio and TV is good. There are several private radio and TV stations as well. There is a radio and TV tax charged on your quarterly bill. It must be noted that the TV system is different in central Europe; U.S. TV sets do not function satisfactorily on the Swiss system, nor can turntables without adjustment.

    Swiss schools maintain high scholastic standards. There are boarding and day schools in Switzerland offering British and/or U.S.-based curriculum. For more detailed information on particular schools, you may wish to write to the Swiss Federation of Private Schools (FSEP, Fédération Suisse des Écoles Privées/Verband Schweizerischer Privatschulen), Advisory Office, Christoffelgasse 3, CH-3011 Bern, tel. 031-328-4050 and fax 031-328-4045. Publications on private schools, summer schools and camps, universities, children’s homes and specialized schools are available from the Swiss National Tourist Office.

    Quality is the byword in Switzerland. You may be sure that anything you buy will stand up, if you can afford it. Prices are rigid, no bargaining. Clothing is more expensive that in the United States, but there is a good selection. Shopping hours vary (Monday through Friday from 08:00 – 19:00; Saturdays from 09:00 – 17:00 is common in cities). In suburbs, towns, and villages, shops close for lunch. In some cities, stores close on Monday mornings. All stores are closed on Sundays and national and local holidays except for food stores in the larger train stations, which are in most cases open late at night as well.

    U.S. Taxes

    Although U.S. Citizens are responsible for reporting their annual worldwide income, the IRS permits the exclusion of a significant amount of foreign earned income. You may wish to consult your tax preparer on how the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion applies to your tax situation. More information is available here

    Swiss Taxes

    Any person residing or working in Switzerland must pay tax at local, cantonal and federal levels. Since the tax structure varies from canton to canton, it is not possible to give a general estimate what various taxes may be. There is a treaty between the United States and Switzerland to avoid double taxation on income, which means that taxes paid to Switzerland by a resident of this country must not necessarily be paid to the United States. In general, a U.S. citizens employed in Switzerland can expect to pay at least as much tax to the various Swiss government levels as he would have to if he were paying tax in the United States. Specific inquiries can be directed to the local tax office or to the following federal authority:

    Swiss Federal Tax Office

    Section for International Fiscal Law and Double Taxation Matters
    Eigerstrasse 65
    3003 Bern

    An English language copy of the U.S.-Swiss double taxation agreement can be obtained from the Swiss Government Printing Office:

    Bundeskanzlei
    Eidg. Drucksachen-und Materialzentrale
    21 Fellerstrasse
    3003 Bern

    Or from the Swiss Embassy in Washington, under “Bilateral Agreements.”

    Swisscom” is the semi-federal Telephone Company. The rate for a call to the United States is 0.12 Swiss francs per minute Monday-Friday, and 0.10 Swiss francs Saturday and Sunday. For calls made at hotels, substantial service charges may be levied. The telephone code for Switzerland to the United States is 001; from the United States to Switzerland it is 01141. There are also a number of private long distance carriers operating in Switzerland.

    A service charge of 15 percent is included in the bill in Swiss hotels and restaurants, also in taxi fares and hairdressers prices. Additional tipping is allowed.

    Switzerland’s intercontinental airports of Zurich and Geneva can be reached in approximately 7 hours from the East Coast of North America. The train and postal bus systems in Switzerland are excellent and reliable, as are local (in-city) transportation systems.

    Should you need information about countries that you are planning to visit, ACS can provide you with a copy of the State Department’s current travel warnings and public announcements. The Embassy in Bern only receives information sheets for Europe; these can be requested in person or by mail. This information is easily available at no cost if you consult the Department of State’s Consular Affairs Bureau website.

    This site contains, among other information, the following:

    Also, if you wish, you can subscribe to an Internet service that provides State Department travel information free or charge. To do this, send an e-mail and write “subscribe” in the body of the e-mail message. To cancel the service, write e-mail again writing “unsubscribe” in the body of the message.