This is an annual report produced
in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Bern.
OSAC encourages travelers to use
this report to gain
baseline knowledge of security conditions in Switzerland. For more in-depth
information, review OSAC’s Switzerland
country page for
original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of
which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC
The current U.S. Department of
Advisory at the date
of this report’s publication assesses Switzerland at Level 1, indicating
travelers should exercise normal precautions. Review OSAC’s report, Understanding the Consular Travel Advisory
Overall Crime and Safety Situation
The U.S. Department of State has assessed Bern
as being a LOW-threat location for
crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. Non-violent petty crime, vehicle
thefts (includes cars, bicycles, and motorcycles), and burglaries remain the
primary concerns throughout Switzerland. Instances 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 occur primarily in cities
with high tourist 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. In 2019, there were 16,153 thefts, including pickpocketing, were
reported in Bern, a 10% increase from 14,685 reported cases in 2018. 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;
- Bern-Belp International Airport (BRN), including the bus terminal
at the airport;
- Grocery markets;
- Public transportation stops (trams, trains, buses); and
- Hotel lobbies and restaurants.
Statistics show residential
break-ins and pickpocketing as the most frequently reported crimes. Instances
of pickpocketing remains stable with 1,388 cases reported in 2019. Review OSAC’s report, All That You Should Leave Behind.
Statistics show a 10% increase in violent
crime in 2019. However, Switzerland has a lower crime rate than the U.S. in
both violent and non-violent crime. In 2019, the Canton of Bern recorded three homicides, down from seven
in 2018. There was an increase both in reported assaults (3,264) and rape (73)
throughout the Canton of Bern.
Switzerland still faces the
challenges of organized crime. According to police publications, Switzerland is
home to active organized crime elements from:
- Italy, conducting money laundering;
- Southeast Europe (e.g. Serbia, Macedonia, Albania, and Kosovo),
conducting drug trafficking, money laundering, trafficking of migrants,
extortion, and property crimes;
- Russia, conducting money laundering, property crimes, and thefts;
- China, conducting extortion, human trafficking, blackmail, credit
card fraud, drug trafficking, weapons, prostitution, and illegal gambling; and
- West and North Africa, conducting
document fraud, drug trafficking, and fraud schemes.
In general, travel in groups, carry only enough money/credit cards
to make a purchase, maintain copies of credits cards and identity documents in
a safe location, and remain aware of your surroundings. Review
OSAC’s reports, The Overseas Traveler’s
Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud and Taking Credit.
The Swiss Government has not released formal statistics on
cybercrime since 2015, but newsletters and other information on cyber trends
are available through the Reporting
and Analysis Center for Information Assurance (MELANI).
Hacking and data breaches continue to be a concern in Switzerland,
as cyberattacks continue to become more sophisticated and increase worldwide.
Cybercriminals use spam and phishing e-mails to compromise victim’s online
accounts and steal personal information. E-mails containing e-banking malware
are also common. Variations of the malware can also capture 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. Criminals also perpetrate
fraud through false advertisements, online auctions, classified advertising
websites, and fictitious real estate offerings. Cyber actors also target
businesses to gain unauthorized access to business networks and proprietary
Cybercrime incidents have become increasingly professional; the
grammar and spelling in phishing attempts and fraudulent e-mails are of a
higher standard than they once were, and the layout and design are of a better
quality. This makes it increasingly difficult for users to distinguish between
genuine and fake content. Review OSAC’s reports, Cybersecurity Basics.
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. Review
OSAC’s report, Best Practices for
Maximizing Security on Public Wi-Fi and Traveling with Mobile
Devices: Trends & Best Practices.
Road Safety and Road Conditions
Switzerland offers a
well-maintained network of roads. Switzerland has four official languages;
travelers should prepare 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 drivers affix 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. Authorities
enforce traffic laws strictly; police can impose on-the-spot fines, which, for
grievous violations, can reach up to 10% of the driver’s annual 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 levy a fine on drivers who have a BAC
between .50-.79 g/l, 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 120 km/h on highways, 80 km/h on open
road, 50 km/h in town, and 30 km/h in residential areas.
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.
Review OSAC’s reports, Road Safety Abroad, Driving Overseas: Best Practices, and
Evasive Driving Techniques; and
read the State Department’s webpage on driving and road safety abroad.
Public Transportation Conditions
Public transportation throughout
Switzerland is safe and reliable. Be
aware of pick-pockets and do not leave bags unattended. Most reported thefts
occur on public buses, trams and trains, and at major railway stations. The SBB
IC trains running from Bern to Zurich and Bern to Geneva are frequent targets
for luggage and electronic device thefts.
Travelers must purchase train, bus or tram
tickets and validate them by punching them in validating machines prior to
boarding (machines can be found near the entrance of train stations or tram and
bus stops). Tickets cannot be bought on the train, bus, or tram. Failure to
follow this procedure may result in an on-the-spot fine by an inspector. If the
violator does not pay the fine on the spot, it will automatically double.
Review OSAC’s report, Security In Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.
Security measures are on par with
U.S. airports. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) assessed the
government of Switzerland’s Civil Aviation Authority as compliant with
International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for
oversight of Switzerland’s air carrier operations.
The U.S. Department of State has assessed Bern
as being a MEDIUM-threat location
for terrorism directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.
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
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
2019 Swiss Federal Intelligence Service annual
security report is also available.
In 2018, Moroccan authorities
arrested two Swiss citizens with origins in Geneva for having been involved
into the murders of two Scandinavians tourists in Morocco.
Since September 2016, police have
reported 28 suspicious cases, none of which resulted in a Federal (FedPol)
While there is no widespread
anti-U.S. 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
The U.S. Department of State has assessed Bern
as being a LOW-threat location for
political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.
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 draw protestors from across Europe. Although there
have been protests near the U.S. Embassy, the majority of demonstrations occur
in close proximity to the Bundeshaus
(Parliament), which is less than a kilometer away.
Other known locations for demonstrations in
the Bern area include the Bundesplatz, Israeli Embassy, Iranian Embassy, Indian
Embassy, Turkish Embassy, and the Old City area.
Historically, demonstrations have been
peaceful, with protesters registering for police permits. Protesters 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, and foreigners, while left-wing activists (who historically have
demonstrated a greater propensity toward violence in Switzerland) usually
target organizations involved with globalization and law enforcement. Swiss
police have at their disposal tear gas and water cannons, which they rarely use.
Review OSAC’s report, Surviving a Protest.
Relative to its small size, a
significant number of refugees have also come to Switzerland. However, the number
of refugees applying for asylum in Switzerland has decreased over the two
years. To date, there have been no specific reports of major crimes or violence
associated with refugees in Switzerland.
Switzerland is a leader in
response to natural and man-made disasters. In the event of a natural disaster,
the commune or the canton takes charge and manages assistance from fire,
police, sanitary, and other civil-protection authorities. In case of extreme
weather or serious earthquakes, the national alarm center is responsible for
sending the alerts of the Swiss Meteorological Office or the Swiss
Seismological Service to the affected cantons, the military, the Federal
Police, and all other concerned parties. Resources are limited, however, and if
multiple locations succumb to a disaster, a single canton would request assistance
from neighboring cantons. Earthquakes and floods have occurred in the Valais
and Fribourg cantons. Download the “AlertSwiss” app for real-time information.
Switzerland is a popular
destination for outdoor sports enthusiasts, including skiing, hiking, and
mountain climbing. Alpine hazards such as avalanches and snowdrifts, landslides
and flooding, glacial crevasses, falling rocks, sun exposure, and sudden
weather changes are common year-round. Although safety standards are excellent,
be aware that public safety warnings are not comparable to those found in the
United States. While hiking paths and ski slopes are clearly marked, not all
possibly hazardous situations will have clear warning signs. Use common sense
and caution when enjoying the outdoors. Stay on designated paths or slopes, follow
the advice given by local authorities and guides, take note of weather
forecasts and conditions, stay in a team of at least two when participating in
mountain activities, and inform someone of your plans and anticipated time of
Critical Infrastructure Concerns
Switzerland has a highly developed
telecommunications infrastructure with extensive domestic and international
services. The country has one of the highest broadband penetration rates in
Europe. Although it is not a member of the EU, Switzerland follows the EU's
telecom framework and regulations.
Switzerland is a major international financial center vulnerable to the
layering and integration stages of money laundering. Despite significant
legislation and reporting requirements, secrecy rules persist and nonresidents may
conduct business through offshore entities and various intermediaries. In recent years, Switzerland has responded to
increasing pressure from neighboring countries and trading partners to reform
its banking secrecy laws, by agreeing to conform to OECD regulations on
administrative assistance in tax matters, including tax evasion. The Swiss
Government has also renegotiated its double taxation agreements with numerous
countries, including the U.S., to incorporate OECD standards.
Extremists, including skinheads, who express
hostility toward foreigners, ethnic and religious minorities, and immigrants
continue to be active based on media and police reports.
Violence against women remains a serious
problem. The law penalizes domestic violence and stalking. A court may order an
abusive spouse to leave the family home temporarily. A 2019 study commissioned
by Amnesty International Switzerland found that 12% of Swiss women had been
forced into nonconsensual sexual intercourse, while 59% experienced sexual
harassment in the form of unwanted physical contact. Review the State
Department’s webpage on security for female travelers.
The law does not specifically prohibit
discrimination in housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to
government services based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression,
or sex characteristics. According to media, there were multiple reports of
societal violence or discrimination based on opposition to LGBTI+ status. The
umbrella organization for gay men, Pink Cross, stated that violence against
LGBTI+ individuals remains a significant problem, and that the organization’s
helpline received on average four calls per week regarding violent attacks
against LGBTI+ persons in 2019. In May several men trashed an awareness-raising
stand to mark the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia, and
Biphobia; and in June, three men attacked and physically injured a gay couple
following Zurich’s Pride Parade. In September, five men beat up two young men
kissing in public in Zurich, leaving them with broken teeth and several facial
hematomas. Authorities arrested one perpetrator involved in destroying the
awareness stand, while investigations continued in the other two cases.
Pink Cross and the NGO Transgender Network
reported that bullying in the work place remains a problem for LGBTI+ persons. Review
the State Department’s webpage on security for LGBTI+ travelers.
The 2018 Anti-Semitism Report, produced
jointly by the SIG/FSCI and the Foundation against Racism and Anti-Semitism
(GRE), cited 577 anti-Semitic incidents, including 535 cases of anti-Semitic
online hate speech, in the German-speaking part of the country in 2018. The
report documented one incident of assault against Jews involving a man
following a group of Orthodox Jewish men, threatening them with a knife, and
yelling anti-Semitic insults. In 2018, the Geneva-based Intercommunity Center
for Coordination against Anti-Semitism and Defamation reported 174 anti-Semitic
incidents, including approximately 111 cases of online anti-Semitic hate speech,
including insults and Holocaust denials on social media sites such as YouTube,
in the French-speaking region. The report noted a resurgence of right-wing
extremist activities and anti-Semitic incidents. The report also observed a
continued rise in anti-Semitic incidents online from right-wing, left-wing, and
Islamic groups, 21% of which were motivated by the myth of a global Jewish
conspiracy controlling the world. The report further mentioned the growing
trivialization of the Holocaust under the guise of “childish jokes.” Review
OSAC’s report, Freedom to Practice, and
the State Department’s webpage on security for faith-based travelers.
Many sidewalks are narrow and uneven, and
cobblestone streets can make access difficult, but most major tourist areas
have better facilities. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for travelers with disabilities.
Switzerland is a
transit country for and consumer of South American cocaine, Southwest Asian
heroin, and Western European synthetic drugs, with domestic cannabis
cultivation and limited ecstasy production.
Since 2011, individuals
in Switzerland can legally purchase and consume cannabis containing up to 1%
tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) - the component that produces the psychotropic
effect of being high. Despite the lower levels of THC, locally procured
cannabis contains higher levels of cannabidiol (CBD) that may produce other
side effects. If police suspect that the cannabis does not comply with local
drug laws, they can require a laboratory test for THC levels and issue fines
for illegal possession if it is above 1%. Legal cannabis is available for sale
in shops licensed to sell the product. Cannabis sold on the street is likely
illegal and may result in the arrest of anyone who possesses it.
A market for marijuana, cocaine,
heroin, and synthetic drugs exists within the Canton of Bern. Drug-related
crimes decreased by 1% in Bern to 12,043 cases, the majority of which were
Since 2010, police have developed a rapid and
comprehensive alarm system, using electronic road signs, text alerts, and
radio/television airtime 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 United States.
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.
Canton of Bern reported 42 false
imprisonment/abduction cases in 2019, an increase from 25 in 2018. Review OSAC’s report, Kidnapping: The Basics.
The police emergency line in Switzerland is 117. Police are highly professional,
but their response to requests for assistance may be delayed due to the limited
availability of bilingual police officers or based on the severity of the incident
(e.g. severe injuries, weapons involved).
The federal police maintain
internal security. The army is responsible for external security but also has
some domestic security responsibilities. Police report to the Federal
Department of Justice and Police, while the army reports to the Federal
Department of Defense, Civil Protection, and Sport. For local first
responders, refer to the U.S. Embassy Bern’s Emergency Assistance page. Download the State Department’s Crime Victims Assistance brochure.
The medical emergency line in Switzerland is 144. If you suspect a heart attack,
explicitly request cardiac assistance. Ambulance crews can include a
cardiologist or stroke unit as needed and available. Outside of a major
metropolitan center, it may take more time for first responders and medical
professionals to stabilize a patient and provide life-saving assistance. Additional
information regarding hospitals/clinics is available online. Find contact information for available medical services and available
air ambulance services on the U.S. Embassy website.
The U.S. Department of State strongly
recommends purchasing international health insurance before traveling
internationally. Review the State Departments webpage on insurance overseas. Mountain rescues can be extremely expensive. Maintain sufficient
insurance coverage that includes coverage for mountain search and rescue. The
non-profit foundation Swiss Air Rescue Organization (REGA)
offers a membership that waives the costs of rescue missions; many Swiss
citizens are members; U.S. citizens are able to join as well.
encephalitis (TBE) is common. Travelers planning high-risk activities (camping,
adventure travel) should take precautions. A vaccine for TBE exists but is unavailable
in the United States. For
additional information on vaccines and health guidance, visit the CDC page on Switzerland.
Review OSAC’s reports, The Healthy Way, Traveling with Medication, I’m Drinking What in My Water?, Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad, Health 101: How to Prepare for Travel, and Fire Safety Abroad.
OSAC Country Council Information
Country Council is active and alternates meetings between Bern and Geneva. Contact
OSAC’s Europe team for more information
or to join.
U.S. Embassy Contact Information
Embassy Bern offers a full range of consular services to U.S. nationals in
Switzerland and Liechtenstein.
U.S. Embassy Bern, Sulgeneckstrasse 19, Bern 3007
Regular hours: 0830 – 1230 and 1330 – 1730, Monday – Friday.
Security Officer: +49 (0) 31 357-7296
Officer: +49 (0) 79 709-2715
situations after business hours or during the weekend: +49 (0) 31 357-7777
issues: +49 (0) 31 357-7011
U.S. Diplomatic Posts In Switzerland
Before you travel, consider the following