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Frequently Asked Questions about Switzerland

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Table of contents:

  1. Is there another name for Switzerland ?
  2. How small is Switzerland compared to the size of California and L.A. ?
  3. Questions about the Swiss National defense system
  4. Searching for information on family history
  5. Can I determine the local language from the postal code ?
  6. Statistical data pertaining to the Swiss economy
  7. Can you provide a list with all cities of Switzerland with a population of at least 20'000 ?
  8. What time do the major shops and shopping centre open and close ?
  9. Swiss family name tradition
  10. Top of Europe: Information about the Jungfraubahn
  11. Job opportunities in Switzerland
  12. Can I pay with Euro (EUR) in Switzerland ?
  13. I heard there was a major change in the Swiss telephone dialing system. What is it ?
  14. Can I travel to Switzerland with my Identity Card or do I need a passport ? What other formalities are necessary ? How long can I stay ?
  15. Who is Switzerland's current prime minister or president ?
  16. Where can I find information regarding the Swiss Patrol who guards the Vatican and the pope ?
  17. Which tourist sites would you recommend ?
  18. What is the infant mortality rate in switzerland ?
  19. Where can I find pictures of traditional Swiss costumes ?
  20. Do automobiles drive on the right or on the left side of the road in Switzerland ?
  21. I understand it is a law that all households have a gun and all of age in the household is trained to use a gun.
  22. What is the crime rate in Switzerland ?
  23. How is the regulation for weapons in Switzerland ?

Please read also the student's frequently asked questions before you write an email. See also MySwissAlps.com.


Q1: Is there another name for Switzerland ?

A1: Yes, it is also called "Confoederatio Helvetica", therefore the abbreviation "CH".

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Q2: Is Switzerland the size of Los Angeles or bigger ? How small is Switzerland compared to the size of California ?

A2: Switzerland covers 41'285 square kilometers of land (equals to 15'940 sq miles), whereas L.A. covers approximately 1'202  square kilometers (equals to 464 sq miles). California is almost 10 times bigger than Switzerland, it covers 404'653 square kilometers (156'297 sq miles). There is no state in the U.S. that comes close to Switzerland in terms of size. Switzerland is nearly the size of Vermont and New Hampshire combined.

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Q3: Here are some questions about the Swiss National defense system: I have been told, that the Swiss army has erected many underground buildings in the mountains and that all Swiss citizens have a gun at home. Is this true ?

A3: It is true that in many mountains cave-like buildings have been erected to serve military purposes. They hold not only arms and all kind of things people may need in case of crises, but even fighter planes.
Every male citizen has to do military service. This starts at the age of 20 and ends when we become 42. During that time, soldiers keep their arms at home, an automatic rifle for simple solders like me, a pistol for officers, plus a couple of bullets in a sealed box. At the age of 42, we have to return the gun, the bullets and all the clothing etc.

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Q4: I am desperately searching for information on my family history. Can you help please ?

A4: Try Swiss Genealogy on the Internet, a huge source of information available in German and English.

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Q5: Can I determine the local language from the postal code ?

A5: Swiss postal codes consist of four digits. The numbers 1000, 2000 .. 9000 belong to the 9 major centers. From the first digit, one can actually determine the region and up to a certain degree the local language. However, there are some regions that are bi-lingual. The following table shows an approximate mapping:

Code Center Language(s)
1000 Lausanne French
2000 Neuchâtel French and German
3000 Bern French and German
4000 Basel German
5000 Aarau German
6000 Luzern German
6500..6999 Ticino Italian
7000 Chur German
8000 Zürich German
9000 St. Gallen German

If you are looking for the postal code of a particular town, see the website of the Swiss postal service.

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Q6: I am conducting research on the economy (past, present and future) of Switzerland and their role in the international market. I am currently in need of statistical data pertaining to the Swiss economy (such data includes macroeconomic indicators such as GDP, fiscal policy, monetary policy, and general welfare of the Swiss people). Through my research I have come across your name and am hoping that you may have further suggestions or ideas on finding such information.

A6: A very good source for statistical information about Switzerland is the Swiss Federal Statistical Office, see www.statistik.admin.ch.

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Q7: Can you provide a list with all cities of Switzerland with a population of at least 20'000 ?

A7: The numbers below are based on the census 2000.

Rank Name Canton Population
1 Zürich ZH 343000
2 Basel BS 176200
3 Geneva GE 171700
4 Bern BE 129400
5 Lausanne VD 117200
6 Winterthur ZH 87100
7 St. Gallen SG 72400
8 Luzern LU 59900
9 Biel BE 51800
10 Thun BE 38700
11 La Chaux-de-Fonds NE 37100
12 Köniz BE 36500
13 Schaffhausen SH 34000
14 Fribourg FR 32700
15 Neuchâtel NE 31700
16 Chur GR 30500
17 Vernier GE 27800
18 Emmen LU 26200
19 Uster ZH 25800
20 Sion VS 25700
21 Lugano TI 25400
22 Kriens LU 23700
23 Grand-Lancy GE 23300
24 Yverdon-les-Bains VD 22600
25 Zug ZG 21900
26 Dietikon ZH 21100
27 Dübendorf ZH 21100
28 Montreux VD 21000
29 Frauenfeld TG 20200
30 Riehen BS 20000
31 Meyrin GE 20000
32 Wädenswil ZH 19300
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Q8: I would like to know at what time do the major shops and shopping centre open and close, and on what day they are opened and closed ?

A8: Very generally speaking, the shops open between 08:00 and 10:00 (8 AM and 10 AM) and close between 18:00 and 20:00 (6 PM and 8 PM) Monday to Friday. On Saturday, they close around 16:00 or 17:00 (4 PM or 5 PM). On Sunday, the shops are usually closed.
Some cities know a thing called "Abend-Verkauf" - "evening shopping" literally translated. Shops are open until 21:00 (9 PM) on one evening per week - in Zürich, this happens on Thursday.

Now, there are a lot of exceptions to these basic rules, such as:

And finally, we shall not forget the fast growing number of CyberStores on the Internet, which are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week !

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Q9: I have a question regarding Swiss names. I have heard that there was a Swiss tradition ca. 1900, that a man would add his wife's family name to his last name when he married her. For example, if a man named Karl Schwartz married a woman named Petra Jung, the man would use the name Karl Schwartz-Jung. Is this true ?
Is the opposite possible, that the woman might use the name Petra Schwartz-Jung, while the man remained simply Karl Schwartz ?

A9: I'm not sure since when this naming convention became a tradition, but it is true that a couple can add the name of the wife to the husband's name. As of January 1, 2000, the law has been changed and a couple has now even more options:

  1. Use either just the man's or the women's last name as the family name.
  2. Use the partner's last name as the family name, but keep your own name and put it in front of the family name, separated with a space.
  3. If the couple chooses option 1, they can add the other name separated with a dash.

If we stick to your example, a couple could choose one of the following naming schemas:

option wife husband children
1a Petra Jung Karl Jung Jung
1b Petra Schwartz Karl Schwartz Schwartz
2a Petra Jung Karl Schwartz Jung Jung
2b Petra Jung Schwartz Karl Schwartz Schwartz

If they choose option 1a, they may also use the family name Jung-Schwartz.
If they choose option 1b, they may use the family name Schwartz-Jung.
By default, a couple gets the man's last name as its family name. If they chose a different naming schema, they have to announce this to the local administration BEFORE they get married. The children get the family name of their parents.

The department of justice provides a number of publications related to marriage, including one about names.

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Q10: I need some information about the train from Kleine Scheidegg to Junfraujoch, time of departure and principally prices. I can't find information anywhere.

A10: Please see www.jungfrau.ch for general information about the region and the cog railway.
Use the website of the Swiss railroad for time table information (Type "Lauterbrunnen" as "From:" and "Kleine Scheidegg" or "Jungfraujoch" as "To:")

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Q11: I would like to know about job opportunities in Switzerland.

A11: Generally speaking, it is very difficult to get a job in Switzerland and it is especially difficult and cumbersome to get a working permit.
For more information and online job searching, see for example www.careerjet.ch, www.jobpilot.ch, www.jobs.ch, www.jobscout.ch etc.

For admission policies, Visa regulations and so on, please check with the Federal Office for Migration.

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Q12: Can I pay with Euro (EUR) in Switzerland ?

A12: Switzerland is not part of the European Union and therefore the Euro (EUR) is not an official currency in our country. It is widely accepted but you cannot count on the fact that a particular hotel or shop will accept Euro. However, you can exchange Euro (EUR) for Swiss Francs (CHF) and vice-a-versa at every bank, at the airports and at most railway stations. You may also get Euro at some post offices with your postcard or from most cash machines (ATM) - in Switzerland known as "bancomat" - with your credit card (Mastercard and Visa).

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Q13: I heard there was a major change in the Swiss telephone dialing system. What is it ?

A13: There used to be an area code and a local phone number as in most countries. Since May 1st 2002, we have to dial the area code even if we call somebody within the same area. That basically means, the area code has become part of the local phone number. There are a number of reasons for this, but the main idea is that phone numbers will no longer change when we move. Over time, we will no longer be able to tell where a particular person or business is located just from the area code. The area code in its true sense has gone.
At the same time, Zürich got new area codes. For historic reasons, Zürich had the area code 01, whereas all other areas have a 3 digits area code. Zürich got the area codes 043 and 044.
The bottom line is: If you do a phone call within Switzerland, always dial the area code first, regardless of whom you call. See also Telephony in Switzerland for more information.

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Q14: Can I travel to Switzerland with my Identity Card or do I need a passport ? What other formalities are necessary ? How long can I stay ?

A14: The Federal Office for Migration provides all information about Switzerland's admission policies, Visa regulations plus various forms on-line.

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Q15: Who is Switzerland's current prime minister or president ?

A15: Switzerland has neither a prime minister nor a president. Our country is lead by the seven members of the Federal Council, for details see Swiss Federal Council.

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Q16: Where can I find information regarding the Swiss Patrol who guards the Vatican and the pope ?

A16: There is plenty of information about the Swiss Guard at the official website of the Vatican.

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Q17: Which tourist sites would you recommend ?

A17: No matter how many sites we mention here, the list would never be complete. Besides, based on taste, preferences and experiences, every person has her or his very own list of favorite places. Nevertheless, we list a couple of places here that we think, are always worth a visit (in alphabetical order):

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Q18: What is the infant mortality rate in switzerland ?

A18: Back in 1969 it used to be 1.5%, since then, it has gradually lowered to 0.4% by 2005.

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Q19: Where can I find pictures of traditional Swiss costumes ?

A19: These two sites have pictures of traditional costumes:
- www.trachtenvereinigung.ch
- www.trachtenstube.ch (see "Männertrachten" and "Frauentrachten")

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Q20: Do automobiles drive on the right or on the left side of the road in Switzerland ?

A20: We drive on the right side of the road as people do in all continental European countries. In Europe, only people in the United Kingdom, in Ireland and on Cyprus drive on the left side of the road.

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Q21: I understand it is a law that all households have a gun and all of age in the household is trained to use a gun.

A21: It is not true at all that there is a law that households in Switzerland must have a gun nor do people get generally trained using guns. Fact is, that male Swiss citizens have to serve in the army usually when they reach the age of 18 years (women may serve but don't have to). Usually, they get trained for about four month and then they have to serve again eight times for about three weeks per year. There are a number of other options and exceptions and it is also possible to complete the service in a row. This is true for soldiers, officers have to serve more. If a person choses to serve year by year, then she or he usually takes the gun home and she or he has to practice shooting once a year until she or he has finished serving. This is why there is a gun at some households for some time.

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Q22: What is the crime rate in Switzerland ?

A22: The crime rate in Switzerland is considered very low. Less than 70 people got killed in 2011, little over 100 got badly injured. Incidents with the gun provided by the army are extremely rare. Nevertheless, it is under ongoing debate whether members of the army shall take their gun home or not.

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Q23: How is the regulation for weapons in Switzerland ?

A23: Regulation for weapons in Switzerland - this is NOT a legal statement:
The following objects are considered weapons: Firearms such as pistols, revolvers, guns, pump actions, lever actions, compressed-air guns, any kind of imitations, knifes with a sliding or folding blade, any device designed to hurt people such as brass knuckles, tasers or sprays etc.
The following weapons and accessoires are strictly forbidden in Switzerland: Machine guns, laser or night vision sighting devices, daggers with symetrical blade, knifes with a sliding or folding blade etc.
Requirements to buy a weapon: Buyer must be at least 18 years old, must not be under disability, must not have any records of violance or crime and must be trustworthy. Aquiring a firearm requires permission; application forms are available from the office of arms.
There must be a legal contract between seller and buyer. Deals involving firearms must be reported to the office of arms.
Regulations for non-Swiss citizens are more restrict. Special regulations apply for hunters, policemen and members of the army.

These information are based on the document "Waffenbroschüre" published by the Swiss government at www.fedpol.admin.ch/fedpol/de/home/themen/sicherheit/waffen.html. For further information check with the "Bundesamt für Polizei" (Federal Office of Police, www.fedpol.admin.ch/content/fedpol/en/home.html) or the local "Waffenbüro" (office of arms).

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