Health Advice for Switzerland

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Health and Safety Advice for Switzerland

Staying Healthy

Generally there is no problem with food and water in Switzerland. Restaurants are controlled by strict rules. Water is drinkable everywhere, even out of public fountains unless specially marked (Kein Trinkwasser - Non potable). There are many organic food stores and restaurants available and it's currently illegal to sell any genetically modified food.

Staying Safe

Switzerland is not surprisingly one of the safest countries in Europe, but anywhere that attracts Rolex-wearing bankers and crowds of distracted tourists will also bring out a few pickpockets. Obviously, keep an eye on belongings, especially in the midst of summer crowds.

Quite a few Swiss establishments will print your entire credit card number onto the receipt, thus raising identity theft concerns when shopping with a credit card in Switzerland. Therefore, visitors using credit cards should carefully review the information printed on all receipts prior to discarding them. This happens, for instance, in some book and clothing stores and even at the ubiquitous K-Kiosk. This list is obviously not exhaustive; therefore, the visitor must beware whenever using a credit card.

Women traveling alone should have no problems. The younger Swiss tend to be very open with public displays of affection - sometimes too open, and some women may find people getting too friendly especially in the wee hours of the club & bar scene. Usually the international language of brush-offs or just walking away is enough.

Swiss police take on a relatively unobtrusive air; they prefer to remain behind the scenes, as they consider their presence potentially threatening to the overall environment (practice of deescalation). Unlike some more highly policed countries, officers will rarely approach civilians to ask if they need help or merely mark their presence by patrolling. However, police are indeed serious about traffic violations. Jaywalking (crossing a red pedestrian light), for example, will be fined on the spot. The upside to stringent traffic rules is that automobile drivers are generally very well-disciplined, readily stopping for pedestrians at crosswalks, for example. Generally, you are safe anywhere at any time. If, for any reason, you feel threatened, seek a nearby restaurant or telephone booth. The emergency phone numbers in Switzerland are:

  • Police emergency call: 117
  • Fire station: 118
  • Medical emergency, emergency rescue service: 144
  • International emergency call: 112 (for international compatibility), operators are generally English-speaking.


  • Car break-down service (Strassen-Pannenhilfe): 140
  • Personal crisis line (Telefon Seelsorge, Dargebotene Hand): 143
  • Toxin information (Giftinfos, Notfall-Beratung): 145
  • Children, youth emergency (Kinder-Jugend Notruf): 147
  • Road condition (information only): 163
  • Avalanche/all-points bulletin (information only): 187
  • Rega, air rescue: 1414
  • Air-Glacier: 1415
  • Parents emergency call (Elternotruf): 044 261 88 66
  • Tropes institute (Tropeninstitut Basel): 061 284 81 11
  • Animal rescue service (Tierrettungsdienst): 044 211 22 22

Football (soccer) games are the only notable exception to the above rule. Due to the potential threat of hooligan violence, these games (especially in Basel or Zurich) are generally followed by a large contingent of police officers with riot gear, rubber bullets, and tear gas, in case of any major unrest.

Switzerland has very strong Good Samaritan laws, making it a civic duty to help a fellow in need (without unduly endangering oneself). People are therefore very willing and ready to help you if you appear to be in an emergency situation. Be aware, though, that the same applies to you if you witness anyone in danger. The refusal to help to a person in need can be punishable by law as "Verweigerung der Hilfeleistung", i.e. refusal of aid. The general reservation of Americans to avoid entanglement with strangers due to possible future civil liability does not apply in Switzerland, for it would be practically impossible to wage a civil suit against anyone providing aid.

The drinking age for beer, wine and alcoholic cider is 16 (but not in all cantons, so make sure to ask before buying) while the age for any other alcohol (e.g. spirits, "alcopops", etc) is 18. The public consumption of alcohol in Switzerland is legal, so do not be alarmed if you see a group of teenagers drinking a six-pack on public property; this is by no means out of the ordinary and should not be interpreted as threatening.

Switzerland is not a country of insane civil lawsuits and damage claims; consequently, if you see a sign or disclaimer telling you not to do something, obey it! An example: in many alpine areas, charming little mountain streams may be flanked by signs with the message "No Swimming". To the uninitiated, this may seem a bit over the top, but these signs are in fact a consequence of the presence of hydroelectric power plants further upstream that may discharge large amounts of water without warning.

In mountain areas, be sure to inquire about weather conditions at the tourist information office or local train station as you head out in the morning. They should be well informed about severe weather conditions and will advise you about possible avalanche areas.

There have been problems with police assuming that any Black, East European, or Arab person without an ID card or passport is an illegal immigrant, and treating them accordingly. That could be a considerable problem if you are travelling alone.

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