Overall Crime and Safety Situation
U.S. Embassy Bern 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 BERN AS BEING A LOW-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 statistics included in this report are from CY2015. The government of Switzerland releases statistics for each calendar year in April-May of the following year. Statistics for 2016 will not be released until April-May 2017.
Switzerland has a lower per capita crime rate than the U.S. in both violent and non-violent crime. Non-violent petty crime, vehicle thefts (cars, bicycles, motorcycles), and burglaries remain the primary concerns throughout Switzerland. Authorities reported an increase in the number of criminal incidents involving residential burglaries. Drug-related offenses are common but generally do not involve violence. Incidents of violent crime are relatively low compared to cities of similar size and demographics in neighboring countries.
Crime statistics from the Canton of Bern show residential break-ins and pickpocketing as the most frequently reported crimes. In 2015, there were 4,332 reported residential break-ins, a decrease from 4,840 reported cases in 2014. In 2015, there were 2,613 reported cases of pickpocketing, a decrease from the 3,673 reported cases in 2014. Visitors to Bern are reminded that they should remain alert in public areas for pick pocketing and petty theft, which are the most common crimes against Americans in Switzerland. Areas with high incidents of petty theft and pickpocketing 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);
Bern Airport; including the bus terminal at the airport;
Public transportation stops (trams, trains, buses); and
Hotel lobbies and restaurants.
There were 5,595 thefts, a decrease from 6,609 reported cases in 2014. Additionally, the 2015 reported statistics of 7,477 thefts involving vehicles (cars, bicycles, motorcycles) also slightly decreased from t 7,579 reported cases in 2014. The Canton recorded four homicides, down from five in 2014. Bern recorded a slight decrease in the number of assaults from 2,913 cases in 2014 to 2,729 in 2015. The number of reported rape cases decreased from 65 in 2014 to 58 in 2015.
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% 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. 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 i.e. 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 Switzerland is considered safe and reliable. However, the SBB IC trains running Bern-Zurich and Bern-Geneva are frequent targets for luggage and computer device thefts.
Most individuals destined for Bern use Geneva International Airport (GVA) or Zurich International Airport (ZRH). Train transit from both locations is relatively easy. Both airports adhere 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 BERN 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 March 2014, Swiss Fedpol arrested three Iraqi immigrants residing in Switzerland for affiliation to ISIL/ISIS terrorist networks. In 2016, all three were convicted in Swiss Federal Court.
While there is no widespread anti-American/anti-Western sentiment in Bern, 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 BERN AS BEING A LOW-THREAT LOCATION FOR POLITICAL VIOLENCE DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.
Urban areas of Switzerland regularly experience demonstrations, mostly on global trade and political issues, and some occasionally sparked by U.S. foreign policy. 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 from the U.S. Embassy. Other common locations for demonstrations include:
Israeli, Iranian, and Indian Embassies; and
Old City area.
Demonstrations have been peaceful, with protestors registering for permits from the police. Protestors have blocked traffic; spray-painted areas with graffiti, and on rare occasions, clashed with police. Civil unrest is usually instigated by political extremist or anarchist groups. Right-wing activists have been known to target refugees/asylum seekers/foreigners, while left-wing activists (historically a greater propensity toward violence) usually target organizations that are involved with globalization (World Economic Forum, WEF), fascism, and alleged police repression. Police have at their disposal tear gas and water cannon, which are rarely utilized except for the protests held during the WEF that may draw protestors from across Europe.
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 Canton of Bern. In 2015, drug-related crimes increased by 1% in Bern to 13,608 cases, the majority of which were possession-related incidents.
There were no reported kidnappings involving adult U.S. citizens in 2016. Since January 1, 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 kidnapping cases, are normally cooperative and responsive. However, problems have arisen when cantonal courts and child welfare agencies ruled in support of a Swiss parent in parental abduction cases.
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 can slow assistance.
Crime Victim Assistance
For police assistance, dial 117. You can also call the U.S. Embassy 24-hours a day for immediate assistance. During non-business hours, contact the Embassy Duty Officer. To contact Bern's Regional Security Officer outside of Switzerland: +41 (0) 31 357-7296 or within Switzerland: 031 357-7296. To contact U.S. Embassy Bern's Duty Officer, dial: 079 709-2715. For emergency situations after business hours or during the weekend, dial: 031 357-7777. For questions regarding consular issues, dial: 031 357-7011
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 by dialing 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.
U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information
Embassy Address and Hours of Operation
U.S. Embassy Bern
Embassy Hours of Operation: 0830-1230, 1330-1730, Mon-Fri; times may vary according to section. Closed on American and Swiss holidays.
Embassy Contact Numbers
Outside of Switzerland: +41 (0) 31 357-7011
Inside Switzerland: 031 357-7011
Regional Security Officer- 7296
Embassy Operator - 7900
Marine Post One – 7777
Consular Agency Zurich: https://ch.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/ca-zrh-contact/
Consular Agency Geneva: http://bern.usembassy.gov/service/locations/consular-agency-geneva.html.
Virtual Presence Post Liechtenstein: http://liechtenstein.usvpp.gov/
U.S. citizens traveling in Switzerland are encouraged to register in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). STEP is a free service that helps the U.S. Embassy disseminate information about safety conditions and contact travelers in an emergency.
Switzerland Country Information Sheet