Overall Crime and Safety Situation
The U.S. Mission to the United Nations and other International Organizations in Geneva does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The ACS Unit cannot recommend a particular individual or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.
THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED GENEVA AS BEING A MEDIUM-THREAT LOCATION FOR CRIME DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.
Please review OSAC’s Switzerland-specific webpage for proprietary analytic reports, Consular Messages, and contact information.
The government of Switzerland releases annual statistics in April of the following year. Statistics for 2016 will not be released until April 2017. Reported statistics are from CY2015.
Non-violent, petty crime, vehicle thefts (includes cars, bicycles, and motorcycles), and burglaries remain the primary concern in the cantons of Geneva and Vaud. Incidents of violent crime across both cantons are relatively low compared to cities of similar size and demographics. Drug-related offenses are common but generally do not involve violence.
Visitors to Geneva are reminded that they should remain particularly alert for pickpockets, confidence scams, and other attempts to steal mobile phones, laptops, tablets, wallets, purses, bags or backpacks in public areas, such as:
Lake Geneva's promenade;
Vicinity of the Jardin Anglais/Mont Blanc Bridge;
Large shopping areas (such as Rue de Rive);
Plainpalais area (open market);
Gare Cornavin train station;
Geneva International Airport; including the train station at the airport;
Les Paquis area;
Public transportation (trams, trains, buses);
Checking into/out of hotels; and
In general, it is recommended that individuals 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, be aware of your surroundings, and avoid suspected trouble.
According to crime statistics for the canton of Geneva, there was a 19% decrease in the number of reported pickpocketing incidents (4,257 cases), a 3% decrease in the number of reported vehicle thefts (cars: 389, motorcycles: 1074, bicycles: 3028, other vehicles: 231), and a 19% decrease in the number of reported burglaries (5,747 cases). There was a 33% increase in the murder rate (4 cases), a 25% increase in the number of reported kidnappings (10 cases), and a 21% increase in the number of reported sexual assaults (517 cases). The total number of reported “thefts with violence” decreased by 4% (342 cases), and drug-related offenses decreased by 1% (9,250 cases).
According to crime statistics for the canton of Vaud, there was a 21% decrease in the number of reported pickpocketing incidents (2,320 cases), and a 2% decrease in the number of reported burglaries (7,529 cases). There was an 8% increase in the number of reported vehicle thefts (cars: 222, motorcycles: 455, bicycles: 2,544, other vehicles: 225), and a 28% increase in the murder rate (7 cases). Meanwhile, there was a 58% decrease in the number of reported kidnappings (7 cases), a 5% decrease in the number of reported sexual assaults (660 cases), a 33% decrease in the number of reports of “thefts with violence” (280 cases), and a 5% decrease in drug-related offenses (11,404 cases).
Switzerland faces the challenge of organized crime. According to police publications, Switzerland has affiliates of organized crime from:
Italy, particularly in money laundering;
Southeast Europe (Macedonia, Albania, and Kosovo), particularly in trafficking cocaine; laundering money, trafficking of migrants, extortion, and property crimes;
Russia, particularly in money laundering, break-ins, and thefts;
China, particularly in extortion, trafficking of migrants, blackmail, credit cards, drugs, arms, prostitution, and illegal gambling;
West and North Africa, particularly false documents, trafficking of cocaine and fraud.
The government of Switzerland has not released formal statistics on cybercrime since April 2015. However, a report by the Federal Police issued in May 2016 indicated that the Swiss Cybercrime Coordination Unit (CYCO) received approximately 11,000 suspicious-activity reports via their online reporting form in 2015.
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 e-banking malware are also common.
Business accounts are also targeted for information on payment methods and outstanding invoices. Cybercriminals 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 are also used to perpetrate fraud.
Cybercrime incidents have become increasingly professional; the grammar and spelling in phishing attempts and fraudulent e-mails were of a higher standard, and the layout and design were of a better quality. This makes it increasingly difficult for users to distinguish between genuine content and fake content.
Road Safety and Road Conditions
Switzerland offers a well-maintained network of roads. Switzerland has four official languages, so travelers should be prepared for the signage to change languages throughout the country. Swiss highways are toll roads, and it is necessary to purchase an annual "vignette" (40 Swiss francs) sticker, which is affixed to the inside of the windshield. It can be purchased from gas stations, post offices, or at any manned vehicle border crossing. The same vignette is required whether using the highways for one day or 365 days.
The minimum driving age is 18. Traffic laws are strictly enforced, and the police can impose on-the-spot fines; for grievous violations, fines can reach up to 10 percent of the driver’s salary. As of January 1, 2014, it is mandatory to drive with headlights on. It is also mandatory for vehicles to have third-party liability insurance. It is compulsory for all occupants to wear their safety belts. When driving in Geneva, trams, police vehicles, ambulances, fire trucks, and buses have the right-of-way, and pedestrians have the right-of-way at striped crosswalks. As a training tool, visitors can test their knowledge of Swiss regulations for drivers and cyclists by visiting Cool Driving.
Local police have the right to perform on-the-spot breathalyzer tests; the BAC limit is .05 grams/liter (approximately one beer). Drivers with a BAC between .50-.79 g/l will be charged a fine and could be taken to jail; drivers with BAC higher than .80 g/l could be fined, arrested, and have their Swiss driver's license confiscated for a minimum of three months.
Care must be taken to comply with imposed safety restrictions (maintaining proper distance between vehicles, 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 their response to incidents that involve injuries.
Public Transportation Conditions
Public transportation throughout Geneva and Switzerland is considered safe and reliable.
Geneva International Airport (GVA) is located approximately 6 kilometers (3.75 miles) from the city center and is easily accessible by train or bus. The airport adheres to international air-safety standards and management of flight operations. Security measures are on par with U.S. airports.
THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED GENEVA AS BEING A MEDIUM-THREAT LOCATION FOR TERRORIST ACTIVITY DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.
Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns
Extremists have traditionally viewed Switzerland as a place for planning, funding, and logistical support for terrorist operations but not as a target for attacks. Events in France, Germany, Belgium, and across the region, however, have highlighted a new paradigm of terrorist planning and attack execution. Also, the Schengen agreement, to which Switzerland and all neighboring countries are parties, allows free movement between member countries, which makes tracking cross-border movements of potential terrorists more difficult.
In December 2015, specific threats against Geneva resulted in increased police presence at major events, landmarks, the airport, train stations, and at the United Nations (Palais des Nations or simply “the Palais”). Although a threat did not materialize, police continue to remain on high alert for other potential threats.
While there is no widespread anti-American/anti-Western sentiment in Geneva, the call for self-radicalization, whether disseminated on extremist forums or via social media, continues to be a global concern.
Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence
THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED GENEVA AS BEING A LOW-THREAT LOCATION FOR POLITICAL VIOLENCE DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.
Geneva regularly experiences demonstrations, occasionally sparked by U.S. foreign policy and/or global trade issues. Although there have been protests at or near the U.S. Mission, the majority of the demonstrations are conducted in proximity to the UN, which is less than one kilometer (0.5 miles) from the U.S. Mission. Known locations for demonstrations in the Geneva area include:
World Trade Organization (WTO);
United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHRC);
World Economic Forum (WEF);
Israeli Mission to the United Nations;
Jardin Anglais/ Mont Blanc Bridge;
U.S. Mission to the United Nations;
Downtown area of Geneva.
Demonstrations are usually peaceful, but protestors will occasionally block traffic, spray graffiti, and burn effigies. All demonstrations must be approved by the police, who may deploy tear gas and water cannon to maintain order, if necessary. The last violent demonstration took place on December 19, 2015, when a group of approximately 500 demonstrators protested for more money from the Geneva government’s budget plan to be spent on cultural programs. The group spray-painted graffiti on buildings, resulting in significant damage to several historic statues and to the walls of the Grand Theater near the Place de Neuve in downtown Geneva. The damage was estimated to be several million Swiss francs. Furthermore, some protestors broke store windows and looted merchandise. Prior to this incident, there had not been a violent protest since 2009.
There is little religious/ethnic violence in Geneva, which is the second largest city in Switzerland behind Zurich. Geneva is said to be the most international city in Europe with over 40% of its population composed of foreign nationals, encompassing 192 nationalities. The number of refugees entering Switzerland has dramatically increased over the past couple of years, the majority of whom come from Eritrea, Afghanistan, and Syria. From November 2015 until November 2016, 68,626 asylum applications were processed, including 4,377 for the canton of Geneva and 6,657 for the canton of Vaud. To date, there have been no specific reports of crimes or violence associated with the refugees in Switzerland.
Switzerland is internationally recognized as being 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 firemen, police, sanitary services, and 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, assistance would be requested from other cantons. Earthquakes and floods have occurred in the Valais and Fribourg regions, both of which border Vaud.
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. Travelers should also protect their devices and personal information to avoid potential exploitation.
A market for marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and synthetic drugs exists within the cantons of Geneva and Vaud. Drug-related crimes decreased in Geneva from 9,374 incidents in 2014 to 9,250 incidents in 2015. In Vaud, drug-related offenses decreased from 12,014 incidents in 2014 to 11,404 incidents in 2015.
There were 10 cases of kidnapping in the canton of Geneva in 2015, representing an increase of 25% over 2014. The number of reported kidnappings in the canton of Vaud decreased by 58% (7 cases). Switzerland does not fully comply with the Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of International Child Abductions. Switzerland has a federal system of government with powerful and independent cantons, which are normally cooperative and responsive; there have been problems nonetheless with the cantonal courts and the child welfare agencies that have sided with a Swiss parent in some parental abduction cases.
Crime Victim Assistance
For police assistance, dial 117.
Police in the cantons of Geneva and Vaud are highly professional, but their response to requests for assistance may be delayed due to the limited availability of bilingual police officers or lack of severe injuries.
For medical emergencies, dial 144. If a heart attack is suspected, explicitly request cardiac assistance. Ambulance crews can include a cardiologist as needed and available.
Contact Information for Available Medical Services
For information regarding hospitals/clinics, visit the Geneva Welcome Center.
Available Air Ambulance Services
Swiss Air Rescue Rega can be reached at 1414. Rega is a non-profit foundation that operates 24-hours a day, 365 days a year. http://www.rega.ch/
Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance
The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Switzerland.
OSAC Country Council Information
The Switzerland Country Council currently meets twice a year and has approximately 50 members. Please contact OSAC’s Europe team with any questions or to join.
Consulate Location and Contact Information
The U.S. Mission to the United Nations in Geneva does not provide consular services.
Consulate Address and Hours of Operation
U.S. Mission Geneva
Route de Pregny 11
CH-1292 Geneva, Switzerland
Hours of Operation: General Embassy hours are 0900-1230 and 1330-1730, Mon- Fri
Times may vary according to section.
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 in Geneva, contact the U.S. Embassy Bern or the Consular Agency Geneva.
U.S. Embassy Bern offers a full range of consular services to U.S. citizens in Switzerland and Liechtenstein:
CH-3007 Bern, Switzerland
Embassy Bern: http://bern.usembassy.gov/.
Virtual Presence Post Liechtenstein: http://liechtenstein.usvpp.gov/.
Travelers should be familiar with the Department's latest Worldwide Caution.
Switzerland Country Information Sheet