The currency used in Switzerland is the Swiss Franc (SFr) and one is divided into 100 centimes (known as Rappen in German speaking Switzerland). Bills come in denominations 10, 20, 50, 100, 500 and 10000SFr and coins are divided into 5, 10, 20 and 50 centimes and 1, 2 and 5SFr.
The three principal languages spoken in Switzerland are German in the centre and east of the country, French in the west and Italian in the south. But if you don’t speak any of the above don’t worry, English is the most widely spoken second language in all regions.
Switzerland is one hour ahead of GMT and six ahead of EST. Summer time adds an hour at the end of March.
Shops are usually open between 8.00am and 12.15pm and again from 1.30pm until 6.30pm from Monday to Friday and from 1.30pm until 4.00pm on Saturday. In larger towns and cities, however, most shops do not observe a lunch hour and are also open all day Saturday. Office hours are from 8.00am until 12.00pm and 2.00pm until 6.00pm from Monday to Friday and banks are usually open between 8.30am and 4.30pm from Monday to Friday.
Swiss electricity is currently 220 volts.
The good news for all you budget travellers is that there is no VAT in Switzerland which makes a pleasant change from most other European countries.
For US, Canadian, EU, New Zealand, South African or Australian nationals, all that is required for a holiday in Switzerland for under 90 days is a current passport. For stays longer than three months and for residents of all other countries, you are advised to contact the Swiss consulate in your area. If you are hoping to work in the country you should also contact the Swiss embassy in your home country before travelling.
You will find a tourist office in almost every town in Switzerland. Easily recognised by the blue ‘i’ which hangs outside, they usually have at least one English speaking attendant but in more remote areas where this may not be the case, you will usually find multilingual brochures to help you out.
While banks are generally the most reliable place to exchange foreign cash and travellers’ cheques, there can also be changed at any of the main train stations or post offices where the exchange rate is usually almost the same as in any of the banks. ATMs can also be used to obtain foreign currency.
All major credit cards are also widely accepted and if you have the PIN you can use these to receive cash in compatible bank machines. The same applies to bankcards which are members of any of the international banking networks or Eurocard.
The country code for Switzerland is 41 so if you are calling from abroad you need to dial 00, followed by 41, the local area code and the local number. The same instructions apply when you are making an international call from within the country. You should also note that you need to omit the 0 from the local code where applicable.
Public phone booths are widespread, particularly in the main towns and cities. They accept 10c, 20c, 50c, Sfr1 and Sfr5 coins but the minimum amount for a call is Sfr0.60. Many public phones now also use telephone cards which you can purchase at any railway station, post office and most newsagents. International calls can be made from most public telephones by either dialing 00 followed by the relevant country code or calling the international operator on 114. If a public phone can’t be used to make an international call make your way to the nearest post office where they should be able to help you out.
Because the service charge is included in the prices of most the principal services; hotels, restaurants and taxis, tipping is entirely at your discretion. If the service you receive is particularly good, however, you can leave a small additional amount. Where a service charge is not included a tip of between 10 and 15% is sufficient.
It is worth noting what the public holidays are before you travel to a country as the majority of businesses, banks and shops usually shut for the day. In Switzerland they take place on January 1st and 2nd, Good Friday, Easter Monday, May 1st and 24th, first Monday in June, August 1st and December 25th and 26th. It is a good idea to check the particular area too as certain towns and cities also shut down during special events.