Traveling Safely in Switzerland
Switzerland is one of those very rare destinations on our planet which is postcard picture perfect in reality. Spotlessly clean and well-organized, the trains run on time, the clocks run, well... like clockwork, and there is more natural beauty than one could ever imagine. Throw in some fondue and a glass of fine wine from neighboring France or Italy, and you might have the world’s most perfect place. What could possibly go wrong?
Switzerland does have a very well earned reputation for safety and security, and a very high standard of health care. The best in the world according to some World Health Organization metrics, in fact. However, visitors should beware of overconfidence. Travel to and within Switzerland is most definitely not without risk.
Driving the Alps
The well paved winding roads which twist through the Swiss Alps are some of the world’s best. Portrayed in several movies, including some of James Bond’s finest, Swiss motorways are romantic, exciting, and challenging. However, a word to the wise: proceed with caution, even (or especially) if you have a fancy European sports car convertible and a sexy companion.
Because of the inherent danger of driving on high mountain roads, the Swiss strictly enforce penalties for speeding drivers. Breaking the speed limit can actually land you in jail, even after you return to your home country. The Swiss take following the rules very seriously, and with good reason. Automobile accidents are the number one cause of injury and death for tourists worldwide. This is an often overlooked fact as news headlines focus on plane and train crashes, and violent uprisings, which are extremely uncommon, especially in Switzerland!
Switzerland is an outdoor sports lover’s paradise. Parasailing, rock climbing, bungee jumping, skiing, sledding, skating, snowshoeing, swimming, etc. The possibilities are endless, or at least numerous enough to fill your days, and it seems like new sports are invented all the time. Ever try “canyoning”?
While these outdoor sports are a lot of fun, they are often performed by tourists with little experience and, perhaps, a bit too much confidence. Before hitting the slopes, be sure that you have reached a certain level of fitness. Although it seems common and a lot of fun, do not ski after drinking alcohol – no matter how warm you think it will keep you!
For the record, Switzerland averages about 24 ski fatalities per year. Most of these come from tour groups, although even famous professional skiers perish on the slopes with alarming regularity. Do not ski “off piste.” In some countries, warning signs are often placed to protect the proprietor from legal trouble – this is not the case in Switzerland. When they say “danger” they mean it!
Switzerland has outdoor activities available year-round. While tourists are understandably more cautious during the winter season when icy roads and snowstorms can cause damage, you should also be aware that summer hikes in the Alps can lead to tick bites, and there have been cases of tick-borne encephalitis in the country. So don’t worry about looking cool – tuck your trousers into your socks and save yourself the hassle of worrying about tick-borne diseases.
Switzerland’s alpine lakes are very tempting during the warm summer months. Crystal-clear and cool, it is worth remembering that you are essentially swimming in slightly melted glacier and that hypothermia can set in very quickly. Limit exposure and never swim alone without a trained lifeguard around.
On the streets
Switzerland is one of the safest countries on Earth, but no place is entirely free from danger. Switzerland is very fortunate to have extremely low levels of violent crime, even in dense urban areas. The country’s police force is ubiquitous (and well-armed). With that being said, Switzerland is extremely wealthy, and wealth will always attract thieves. White collar embezzlers probably outnumber pickpockets in Switzerland to an exponential degree, but it pays to remain vigilant.
While you may wish to show off your expensive new Swiss timepiece while strolling the high streets of Zurich or Geneva, you may come to find out why the Swiss penchant for discretion comes in handy. Keep your look “low-key” and avoid being a target for crooks.
Now, this section is a bit of a stretch, as the Swiss food supply is probably among the cleanest in the world. In fact, the country’s image is partially a reason for the success of multinational foodstuff conglomerate Nestle. Switzerland is a gourmand’s paradise, with some of the world’s finest (and priciest) restaurants.
However, the Swiss diet is generally full of rich foods, such as fondue, which can wreak havoc on those with cholesterol issues and cardiovascular disease. Heavy cuisine combined with high altitude has resulted in some unfortunate health issues in Switzerland. Be sure to pace yourself and moderate your intake. Be aware that alcohol is more potent at high altitudes, and definitely do not drive after drinking any alcohol. In addition to the safety issues at stake, Swiss drunk driving penalties are very severe and usually involve serious jail time.
Also worth noting is that the most common time of day for ski accidents in Switzerland is after lunch, between 2 and 3 pm. So skip the schnapps and ski extra carefully after eating a big meal.
Swiss Health Care
Accidents will happen to even the most cautious tourists, but fortunately Switzerland has very high quality health care. The local health care system is divided into public, semiprivate, and private facilities, and the country has a very well staffed workforce of health care professionals.
Switzerland has over 300 hospitals with the capacity to treat nearly 40,000 patients simultaneously, so you’re in good hands. Just be sure you have your paperwork in order. Proof of immunization may be required if you’re coming from an at-risk area for certain communicable diseases.
Your level of health care coverage in Switzerland may vary, and it is probably worthwhile to speak to a health insurance advisor before departing on your trip. The Swiss tourism board strongly recommends that travelers take on some form of travel health insurance while visiting the country. Switzerland is expensive enough without getting stuck with a huge medical bill after a skiing accident!
This article was writen by: www.pacificprime.com for expatriates-switzerland.com. Expatriates-Switzerland.com is an independent consulting firm, so we have no business relationship to Pacific Prime Insurance.