Local Laws and Customs in Switzerland: How to Stay Safe

It seems there are rules and laws for almost everything in Switzerland. Here's what travelers need to know to avoid embarrassment from the Swiss.

The Jesuit Church and Mount Pilatus from the banks of Reuss river in Lucerne, Switzerland Photo © Getty Images/Marco Bottigelli

Switzerland is one of the safest countries to travel in Europe, despite a few minor scams and pickpockets, there's generally nothing to worry about.

In each Swiss canton (state) there are different traditions and ways of doing things, and the mountain villages all have a unique set of rules. Similar to the way laws differ between states in the USA, and even Australia.

Swiss law states general things that each of the cantons must follow, but each canton might do things a little differently. From drug laws to jaywalking, these are the laws you need to know before you got to Switzerland.

National security in Switzerland

For a neutral country, they take security pretty seriously, and you'd be well advised to be respectful of that. Citizens and visitors in Switzerland must carry identification with them at all times. If you are stopped without valid identification (a driver's licence or photocopy of your passport) there is a possibility that you may be taken in for questioning by police.

One of the most well known regulations in Switzerland relates to National Service, where each Swiss male has to spend time each year in a training camp which forms part of the military. Swiss men also have a gun in their home, which is a part of the military framework in readiness for potential conflict.

Similar to common laws elsewhere around the world, don't take photos of military installations or activities, unless you want to spend a few hours explaining yourself to authorities.

During the Cold War, Switzerland was famous for stating that each house must have a nuclear fall out shelter. These are still around, and each citizen has a list of emergency items that must be kept in the home at all times in readiness for a civil emergency.

Some Swiss laws to get you started

The Swiss have a number of quirky rules and customs that must be obeyed if you want to stay out of trouble and enjoy your time traveling the country. Here's what you need to know.

  • It is forbidden to jaywalk or cross the street on a red light. If you are caught by the police, a fine for jaywalking will be imposed on the spot
  • Drug possession is also taken very seriously and there are heavy penalties, jail sentences and fines depending on the type of narcotic found
  • Taking drugs across an international border automatically constitutes drug trafficking and has a heavy penalty
  • There is a mutual respect for neighbors in Switzerland. This can be taken to extreme lengths, for example, many towns have special party houses in woodlands where people can host events to avoid making noise where they live and disturb their neighbors
  • Sundays are taken as particularly sacrosanct, and it is forbidden to use a washing machine or a lawnmower so that the neighborhood is not disturbed. Many who work as concierge at hotels or hostels have become frustrated when foreign travelers ask to wash their clothes on a Sunday – so keep this in mind
  • The Swiss like the neighborhood to be tidy, and each citizen must keep their home in order. The police have been known to visit homes where washing is not hung out tidily enough on the line
  • Good Samaritan laws are in place in Switzerland, so if you see something bad happen or someone is in trouble, the least you must do is call the police (dial 117). If you do not even try to help out, you could be in trouble
  • During winter it is a citizen's responsibility to clear ice and snow from their paths so that people do not fall or slip. If the neighbor is elderly or ill, it is the responsibility of the other neighbors to clear their paths.

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8 Comments

  • Ariane said

    Very interesting.

  • Terry said

    Spent a week in Switzerland and loved every minute, the people were very helpful with directions and an absolute joy to chat with, America can learn a few things from the Swedish.

  • Brier Rose Smith said

    Switzerland is a beautiful place to go to, and full of delicious treats!!!!!

  • Tina said

    The Swiss, not the Swedish!!!

  • Bryan said

    Don't really know why Switzerland has a bad reputation when it comes to the people, every person I've talked to or asked something to, responds in the nicest way possible and always with a smile, anyone here is always willing to help. And the jaywalking one, I always see people doing this ???? weird

  • Gary said

    Typical American, spent a week in Switzerland and still thought the locals were Swedish.
    I heard that you cant was your car in Switzerland, its against the law.

  • Tired of London said

    Hi, This sounds like heaven. I wish to be somewhere where party in woodland instead of outside making noise at all hours also where deal with drug taking etc etc Will be checking out for sure.

  • Arjunan said

    Switzerland is a very nice place. People response others wellness. It's great.

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