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Overseas Security Advisory Council
Bureau of Diplomatic Security
U.S. Department of State

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Switzerland 2019 Crime & Safety Report: Bern

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Switzerland at Level 1, indicating travelers should exercise normal precautions.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

The U.S. Embassy in Bern does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizens’ Services unit (ACS) cannot recommend a particular individual or location, and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.

Review OSAC’s Switzerland-specific page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Crime Threats

There is a minimal risk of crime in Bern, and a moderate risk in Geneva. Non-violent petty crime, vehicle thefts (includes cars, bicycles, and motorcycles), and burglaries remain the primary concerns throughout Switzerland. Incidents of violent crime are relatively low compared to cities of similar size and demographics in neighboring countries. Drug-related offenses are common but generally do not involve violence. The highest rates of reported crime are located primarily in cities with high tourism traffic.

Bern is a relatively safe city, but criminal activity can occur day or night. Most crimes are non-violent and involve petty theft, pickpocketing or burglary. Concerning theft, including pickpocketing, for the Canton of Bern, 15,151 thefts, a decrease from 17,790 reported cases in 2016, were reported in 2017. Remain alert in public areas for pickpocketing and petty theft, which are the most common crimes against U.S. travelers in Switzerland. Areas with high incidents of petty theft and pick pocketing include:

  • Bern’s old town tourist area in the city center
  • Large shopping areas (such as the Westside Shopping Mall);
  • Bundesplatz and Barenplatz (open markets);
  • Train stations;
  • Belp International Airport; including the bus terminal at the airport;
  • Grocery markets;
  • Public transportation stops (trams, trains, buses);
  • Hotel lobbies and restaurants.

 

Additionally, the 2017 reported statistics of 6,463 thefts involving vehicles (cars, bicycles and motorcycles) down from 6,520 in 2016. Statistics show residential break-ins and pickpocketing as the most frequently reported crimes. In 2017, there were 4,392 reported residential break-ins, an increase from 4,240 in 2016.

Statistics in violent crime showed no change from 2016. Switzerland has a lower crime rate than the U.S. in both violent and non-violent crime. In 2017, the Canton of Bern recorded 6 homicides, equal to the number of homicides in 2016. Bern recorded a slight increase in the number of assaults/violence from 2,990 cases in 2016 to 2,992 in 2017. The number of reported rape cases increased from 72 in 2016 to 78 in 2017.

Switzerland still faces the challenges of organized crime. According to police publications, Switzerland has affiliates of organized crime from the following locations:

Italy, particularly in money laundering;

  • Southeast Europe (Macedonia, Albania, and Kosovo), particularly in cocaine trafficking, laundering money, migrant trafficking, extortion, and property crimes;
  • Russia, particularly in money laundering, break-ins, and thefts;
  • China, particularly in extortion, migrant trafficking, blackmail, credit cards, drugs, arms, prostitution, and illegal gambling; and
  • West and North Africa, particularly false documents, cocaine trafficking, and fraud.

 

Cybersecurity Issues

Cybercrime continues to be a concern, as hacking and data breaches have increased worldwide. Cybercriminals use spam and phishing e-mails to compromise victim’s online accounts and steal personal information. E-mails containing malware targeting banking applications are also common. Variations of the malware can also map keyboard entries and network traffic in order to steal usernames and passwords.

Cyber actors target business accounts for information on payment methods and outstanding invoices. Criminals use the information to send fake invoices demanding payment to a designated account. False advertisements, online auctions, classified advertising websites, and fictitious real estate advertisements also perpetrate fraud.

Cybercrime incidents have become increasingly professional; the grammar and spelling in phishing attempts and fraudulent e-mails are of a higher standard, and the layout and design are of a better quality. This makes it increasingly difficult for users to distinguish between genuine and fake content.

According to the latest cybercrime statistics issued by the Swiss Federal Police, fraudulent misuse of data processing system rose from 4,788 cases in 2016 to 4,956 in 2017, an increase of 2.6%. Additionally, unauthorized data collection (phishing) cases rose from 975 cases in 2016 to 1,063 in 2017 (up 9%), and hacking rose from 383 cases in 2016 to 404 in 2017 (up 5%). 

Transportation-Safety Situation

For more information, review OSAC’s Report, Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Switzerland offers a well-maintained network of roads. Switzerland has four official languages; travelers should be prepared for the signage to change languages throughout the country. Swiss highways are toll roads; drivers must purchase a vignette sticker (for 40 Swiss Francs), which is affixed to the inside of the windshield, to use the highway system. Vignettes are available for purchase at gas stations, post offices, or any manned vehicle border crossing.

The minimum driving age is 18. Traffic laws are strictly enforced; police can impose on-the-spot fines, which, for grievous violations, can reach up to 10% of the driver’s salary. Drivers must keep headlights on at all times. Vehicles must carry third-party liability insurance. All occupants must wear safety belts. Trams, police vehicles, ambulances, fire trucks, and buses always have the right of way, and pedestrians have the right-of-way at striped crosswalks.

Local police have the right to perform on-the-spot breathalyzer tests; the BAC limit is .05 grams/liter (approximately one beer). Police will charge drivers with a BAC between .50-.79 g/l with a fine and could take them to jail; police could fine and arrest drivers with BAC higher than .80 g/l, as well as confiscating their Swiss driver's license for a minimum of three months.

Comply with imposed safety restrictions (e.g. maintaining proper distance between vehicles and proper speed). The maximum speed limit (if not posted) is:

  • Highway - 120 km/h;
  • Open road - 80 km/h;
  • In town - 50 km/h;
  • Residential areas - 30 km/h.

 

Due to limited resources, police prioritize response to incidents that involve injuries.

As a training tool, visitors can test their knowledge of Swiss regulations for drivers and cyclists online. For more information on self-driving, review OSAC’s Report Driving Overseas: Best Practices.

Public Transportation Conditions

Public transportation throughout Switzerland is safe and reliable. However, the SBB IC trains running from Bern to Zurich and Bern to Geneva are frequent targets for luggage and electronic device thefts.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

Geneva International Airport (GVA) and Zurich International Airport (ZRH) adhere to international air-safety standards, as does management of flight operations. Security measures are on par with U.S. airports.

Terrorism Threat

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

There is moderate risk from terrorism in Bern and Geneva. Extremists have viewed Switzerland as a place for planning, funding, and logistical support for terrorist operations, but not as a target for attacks. Recent events across Europe, however, highlight a new paradigm of terrorist planning and attack execution. The Schengen agreement, to which Switzerland is party, allows free movement between member countries; this can make tracking cross-border movements of potential terrorists more difficult. Swiss authorities work well with neighboring countries to investigate and thwart potential attacks.

In 2015, the Swiss Federal Council adopted a counter-terrorism strategy with the main objectives of preventing attacks in Switzerland, preventing the export of terrorism from Switzerland, and preventing Switzerland from use as a breeding ground for terrorism. In 2017, Switzerland adopted a National Action Plan (NAP) to combat radicalization and violent extremism. The NAP expands police authorities and implements new measures to investigate those suspected of extremist activities. The 2017 Swiss Federal Intelligence Service annual security report is also available.

Anti-U.S./Anti-Western Sentiment

While there is no widespread anti-U.S./anti-Western sentiment in Switzerland, the global call for self-radicalization, whether disseminated on extremist forums or via social media, continues.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

Civil Unrest

There is minimal risk from civil unrest in Bern and Geneva. Protests do occur in Switzerland, but authorities monitor protest activities. Urban areas regularly experience demonstrations, mostly on global trade and political issues, and some occasionally sparked by U.S. foreign policy. Protests held during the annual World Economic Forum (WEF) occasionally draws protestors from several countries in Europe. Although there have been protests near the U.S. Embassy, the majority of the demonstrations are conducted in close proximity to the Bundeshaus (Parliament), which is about a 10-minute walk away.

Other known locations for demonstrations in the Bern area include the Bundesplatz, Israeli Embassy, Iranian Embassy, Indian Embassy, and the Old City area.

Historically, demonstrations have been peaceful, with protestors registering for police permits. Protestors have blocked traffic; spray-painted areas with graffiti, and on rare occasions, clashed with police. Political extremist or anarchist groups sometimes instigate civil unrest. Right-wing activists have targeted refugees/asylum seekers/foreigners, while left-wing activists (who historically have demonstrated a greater propensity toward violence) usually target organizations involved with globalization, alleged fascism, and alleged police repression. Swiss police have at their disposal tear gas and water cannons, which are rarely used.

Religious/Ethnic Violence

To date, there have been no specific reports of major crimes or violence associated with refugees in Switzerland.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Switzerland is an internationally recognized leader in response to natural and manmade disasters. In the event of a natural disaster, the commune or canton manages assistance from fire, police, sanitary, and civil-protection services. In case of extreme weather or serious earthquakes, the national alarm center is responsible for sending the alerts from the Swiss Meteorological Office or the Swiss Seismological Service to the affected cantons, military, Federal Police, and all other concerned parties. Resources are limited, however, and if multiple locations succumb to a disaster, authorities would request assistance from other cantons. Download the “AlertSwiss” app for real-time information.

Privacy Concerns

Switzerland has very stringent laws protecting personal privacy. However, travelers should always use good security practices when communicating on mobile devices or other electronic media. Protect devices and personal information to avoid potential exploitation.

Drug-related Crimes

A market for marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and synthetic drugs exists within the Canton of Bern. Drug-related crimes increased by 1% in Bern to 13,608 cases, the majority of which were possession-related incidents.

Kidnapping Threat

There were no reported kidnappings involving adult U.S. citizens in 2017. Since 2010, police have developed a rapid and comprehensive alarm system, using electronic road signs, text alerts, and radio/television air time in cases that involve a suspected kidnapping or threat to the life of a minor. This system functions much like the Amber Alert System in the U.S.

Switzerland is a member of the Hague Convention on Child Abduction. The cantons, which have almost autonomous authority in such cases, are normally cooperative and responsive. Challenges have sometimes arisen when cantonal courts and child welfare agencies ruled in support of the Swiss parent in parental abduction cases.

Police Response

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

Police are professional and harassment is rare.

Crime Victim Assistance

For police assistance, dial 117.

If you are arrested or detained by the police in Bern, contact the U.S. Embassy’s American Citizen Services section during business hours. During non-business hours, contact the Embassy Duty Officer.

Crime Victim Assistance

Victims of crime should immediately contact the police by dialing 117. Call the U.S. Embassy for immediate assistance.

Police in the canton of Bern are highly professional, but their response to requests for assistance may be delayed due to the limited availability of bilingual police officers or strict privacy laws that can slow assistance.

Medical Emergencies

Contact Information for Recommended Hospitals/Clinics

For medical emergencies, dial 144. If a heart attack is suspected, explicitly request cardiac assistance. Ambulance crews can include a cardiologist or stroke unit as needed and available. Additional information regarding hospitals/clinics is available online.

Recommended Air Ambulance Services

Reach Swiss Air Rescue Rega by dialing 1414 around the clock.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

For additional information on vaccines and health guidance, visit the CDC page on Switzerland.

OSAC Country Council Information

The Switzerland Country Council is active and alternates meetings between Bern and Geneva. For programing information on the Switzerland Country Council, please contact the Regional Security Office at U.S. Embassy Bern or U.S. Consulate Geneva.

The points of contact for Switzerland's OSAC Country Council are:

Bern:               Todd E. Healey, RSO Bern, +41 31 357-7296, HealeyTE@state.gov

Geneva:          Terrie B. Lora, RSO Geneva, +41 22 749-4479, LoraTB@state.gov

To reach OSAC’s Europe team, email OSACEUR@state.gov.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

U.S. Embassy Bern offers a full range of consular services to U.S. citizens in Switzerland and Liechtenstein.

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation:

U.S. Embassy Bern, Sulgeneckstrasse 19, Bern 3007

General Embassy hours: 0830-1230 and 1330-1730, Monday through Friday; times may vary according to section. Closed on U.S. and Swiss holidays.

Embassy Contact Information:

Regional Security Officer: +41 (0) 31 357-7296

Duty Officer: +49 (0) 79 709-2715

Emergency situations after business hours or during the weekend: +49 (0) 31 357-7777

Questions regarding consular issues: +49 (0) 31 357-7011

http://bern.usembassy.gov/

Nearby Posts

Consular Agency Zurich

Consular Agency Geneva

Virtual Presence Post Liechtenstein

Note: These agencies have limited operating hours. Please see website.

U.S. Mission Geneva, Route de Pregny 11, CH-1292 Geneva

The U.S. Mission to the United Nations in Geneva does not provide consular services.

Consulate Contact Numbers

If you are a U.S. citizen with an emergency, please call U.S. Embassy Bern at: +41 31 357-7011 (during business hours) or +41 31 357-7777 (after business hours, including weekends and holidays).

In case of a lost/stolen passport, contact the U.S. Embassy during business hours.

Consular Guidance

U.S. citizens traveling to Switzerland should register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to ensure they receive pertinent security updates and notices.

Additional Resources

Switzerland Country Information Sheet

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