Switzerland Travel Basics

Below is some basic information you need to know about Switzerland before visiting.

 

Visa Requirements

Prior to travelling to Switzerland check your passport and make sure that it’s valid for the duration of your visit. Tourists need the following documents to be authorized for touristic stays of up to 3 months:

  • Citizens of Western European countries need a valid ID or a passport that didn’t expire more than 5 years ago.
    • This applies to nationals of: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, UK, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, Norway, San Marino, Spain and Sweden.
  • Citizens of the following countries need a valid passport and will receive a visa on arrival:
    • Africa / Middle East: Israel and South Africa
    • Americas: Argentina, Barbados, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, USA, Uruguay, Venezuela.
    • Europe: Andorra, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia.
    • Far East: Australia, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea
  • Nationals of all other countries need to apply for a visa to enter Switzerland.

As always, visa requirements can change. Make sure that you double check the visa requirements with your local Swiss consulate prior to booking your trip.

 

Best Time To Visit

When is the best time to visit Switzerland?

Well, that depends on your plans. This is country that has plenty to offer during the winter and summer seasons.

If you are looking for winter sports then December to February is the best times to visit.

If you are looking for outdoor/hiking activities then you should visit between June to September.

The remaining months are considered shoulder months, and the weather may be chilly. During the Zwischenzeit (“between time” — that is, between summer and ski seasons, roughly April, early May, late Oct and Nov), the cities are pleasantly uncrowded, but mountain resort towns such as Zermatt and Mürren are completely dead (most hotels and restaurants are closed).

 

Currency

Switzerland’s official currency is the Swiss Franc (abbreviations CHF), and is divided into 100 Rappen [Rp]. The conversion rate fluctuates from (1 CFH = 1 USD)  to  (1 CFH = 1.15 USD).

Switzerland consistently tops the list of most expensive countries in the world. So you need to plan ahead regarding: how long you’ll be staying, where you’ll be going and what you’ll be doing.


Transportation

Hands down the best way to get around in Switzerland is by train. All the main cities have an excellent metro systems and the rail service between cities is extensive. The only down side? It’s expensive.

There are some passes available that are worth considering to help cushion the cost of traveling within Switzerland:

  • Swiss Pass, entitles you to unlimited travel on consecutive days throughout the rail, bus and boat networks. The Swiss Pass is available for 4, 8, 15 or 22 days or one month.
  • Swiss Flexi Pass, entitles you to unlimited travel throughout rail, bus and boat networks during 3, 4, 5 or 6 days of your choice within 1 month.
  • Half Fare Card, allows unlimited purchase of train, bus, boat and some cable car tickets at half price within the one month validity.

If you’re planning to travel between cities, I strongly urge you consider purchasing one of these passes. AT VERY LEAST the Half Fare card. These passes will pay for themselves quickly, usually with one round trip ticket between cities.

For more information on these passes checkout the following link.

Regional train passes are for scenic mountainous routes that are not covered by with Swiss Passes. Even so, the Swiss Pass will get you 50% discounts off most regional tickets, including:

  • Golden Pass Line, one of the most picturesque train rides in Switzerland. It links Lucerne with Lake Geneva and Montreux.
  • Jungfrau Travel Pass, this pass services the Berner Oberland region, which is one of the most visited areas in Switzerland. It’s blessed with one of kind natural beauty of snow capped mountains, bright green meadows, serene rivers and countless breathtaking hiking trails. This pass gives you unlimited use on the main train lines that you’ll want to use during your stay in this region. It’s way more cost effective than buying tickets individually (see single ticket prices here).
  • Glacier Express, the world famous Glacier Express covers 300 km across the Swiss Alps. A trip on the Glacier Express will give you a full day of magnificent views between Zermatt and St. Moritz.

 

Accommodations

Below are some suggestions for accommodations available to you in Switzerland:

  • Hostels: You’ll find a good selection of hostels throughout the country. Of course rates are higher than average. A hostel dorm room averages 50 CHF per night, and private rooms start around 85 – 95 CHF a night.
  • Couchsurfing: While in Zurich I had my first couch surfing experience. It’s a great way to meet locals, experience Swiss culture and you score free accommodations. Obviously, you need to have a backup plan in place, in case you don’t secure a host by the time you arrive in town.
  • Private Homes: In Swiss mountain and rural areas, a list of private accommodations can be obtained from most local tourist offices. Look for the following signs advertising such accommodations (generally, a single room): ZIMMER FREI in German, CHAMBRE A LOUER in French, and AFFITASI CAMERA in Italian.
  • Farm Vacations — A unique way to get to know Switzerland. This program lets you experience firsthand the working world and home life of a Swiss farming family. A brochure called Swiss Farm Holidays tells exactly how it can be done; it’s available from the Swiss National Tourist Office (www.myswitzerland.com).

 


Food

Seriously, I’m not sure how to even approach this subject. I just don’t understand how a Big Mac meal can approach $17. Food in Switzerland is unjustifiably expensive. While I was in Zurich, I had access to a fridge at my couchsurfing host’s home. So I thought I’d save some money grocery shopping.

Let me tell you, it wasn’t fun.

I felt like the price of fruit was marked to the price of gold. I had to think hard about every item I was buying. There were no impulse purchases. So how can you minimize your food expenses?

  • First off, unless you have a strong budget, avoid eating in restaurants. Basic meals with drinks will range from 40 – 50 CFH.
  • To eat out on a budget, buy your meals at markets, such as Coop and Migros. Some have delis where you can buy prepared food. A modest sandwich might cost you about $5 or $6.
  • Obviously the cheapest meals are the ones you prepare. If you’re looking added discounts, then shop in grocery stores after 5 pm. Many stores add 25 -50% discounts on perishable items toward closing times.
  • Finally limit your drinking to the water fountains. Coke costs $5. Beer (shockingly) sell for reasonable price of $7 – $8. Still, if you cut out these liquid expenses you can stretch your budget.

 

Related Articles