Study Abroad Student Handbook
Switzerland Switzerland
Center for Global Education

Basic Health and Safety

In this section, you will find information on how to stay well while in Switzerland and while traveling to other countries. The process of wellness starts before you go abroad with a visit to your doctor. You may need to get inoculations to protect you from various illnesses before traveling. You will also learn some tips about food and water safety.

1. General Travel Safety

Planning for a Healthy and Safe Time Abroad: Learn all you can about the health and safety issues of all the countries where you plan to study and travel. This includes reading about the cultural and political climate of those countries, as well as learning about how others view people from your country, race, ethnic group, religion, gender and sexual orientation.

2. Travel Safety in Switzerland

Planning for a Healthy and Safe Time in Switzerland: Preparation for your time in Switzerland should include an understanding of the current political, cultural and religious events of the country as well as the region, and an awareness of the social climate. Students are advised to be alert to their surroundings, and be particularly aware of any health and safety advisories for the areas in which they will be studying.

Getting a Balanced Perspective on Health and Safety in Switzerland: In order to gain a more objective perspective on how safe travel to in Switzerland is, view the health and safety reports on in Switzerland from a variety of sources. We have provided a table below with links (on the left) to the Australian, Canadian and British governments' country advisories on in Switzerland. On the right side of the table are links to those same governments' perspectives on safety in the United States, which you can use to compare health and safety issues in Switzerland and the United States.

3. Important Health and Safety Issues

Visit this page to see the top ten health and safety issues you should be aware of before you depart for in Switzerland and the other countries to which you may be traveling.

  • NeedlesIllnesses, Diseases, and Inoculations: Find out about the various illnesses that might be more common in Switzerland or the regions and countries to which you will be traveling. Get the appropriate shots and pills, and take the appropriate medications with you if your doctor thinks it's necessary. Find out about any potential side–effects of shots and pills that you may take. For information on illnesses that may be prevalent in Switzerland, please see the CDC link in the Resources section of this Handbook.
  • Physicals and Check–ups: Get a complete physical, eye exam and dental check–up before going to in Switzerland. While health care is generally good in Switzerland, the quality of dental and medical care might be different in the various countries or regions you may visit. Also, they could possibly be more expensive than similar care in the United States.
  • WaterCan You Drink the Water?: Find out if water is generally safe to drink in different regions of in Switzerland and in the countries to which you will be traveling. To avoid diarrhea and other bacteria, purify questionable water before you drink it. Make sure water bottles come sealed when you buy them. Remember that ice can also be unsafe, as well as the water you use to brush your teeth.
  • Food Safety: If you get diarrhea or food poisoning, remember to drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated. As with any illness, consider seeing a doctor if your condition worsens. Give your body time to adjust to new types of foods you will be eating.
  • Laws and Codes of Conduct: Make yourself aware of both the rules and regulations of your study abroad program sponsor, and the local laws and customs of in Switzerland and the countries which you will be visiting. Understand that you will not only have to conform to the legal system of in Switzerland, but also obey the codes of conduct required of program participants. Also recognize that certain laws may vary from region to region or even city to city.
  • Mental and Physical HealthMental and Physical Health: Consider your own mental and physical health issues when applying for a study abroad program, and make all your necessary health information available to your program's administrators in the U.S. and abroad so they can assist you with any special needs, or advise you on the risks you might face. Study abroad may include both physical and mental challenges for students, so make sure you establish a support network of program administrators, family and friends who can help you. According to the U.S. Department of State, "Good medical care is widely available."
  • First Aid KitPrescriptions: To be cautious, get a doctor's signed prescription for any medication you have to bring with you to in Switzerland, and get it translated into in Switzerland. However, if you can, take a supply large enough to cover your stay while abroad, just in case you can't fill your prescription while abroad. Contact the U.S. Embassy in Switzerland or your program administrator/advisor to find out if and how much U.S. prescription medication is allowed into in Switzerland. Also include a copy of your prescription for your glasses or contact lenses. Bring an extra pair of glasses.
  • First–Aid Kit: Consider a well–stocked first–aid kit as a first line of defense. Some items to include are: sunscreen, bandages, flashlight, sterile pads, insect repellent, adhesive tape, aspirin, antacid, anti–diarrhea tablets, anti–malarial medication, extra bottled water, feminine protection, condoms, rubber gloves, etc.
  • FitnessFitness and Exercise: Try to get fit in the time you have before departing for in Switzerland. A healthy body can help you fight off illness and recover faster if you do get sick. Even though it may be harder to follow a structured workout routine, try to stay fit while in Switzerland. Exercise also helps to increase energy levels and combat depression. Get a good pair of comfortable walking shoes. Without access to a car or public transportation in Switzerland, you may have to do quite a bit of walking. Break in your shoes before you go.
  • Emergency Contacts: Keep your program staff and your emergency contacts at home and in Switzerland well informed of your whereabouts and activities, and provide these people with copies of your important travel documents (i.e. passport, visa, plane tickets, traveler's checks, and prescriptions, etc.).
  • Air Travel: When you travel by air, drink a lot of non–alcoholic fluids, stay away from caffeine, eat light, and stretch often to avoid jetlag. Many airlines are now required to show an in–flight video of stretching exercises you can do on the plane in order to avoid the potential formation of blood clots, which can be caused by cabin pressure. A direct flight is usually easier for most travelers, but flights broken up by stops can also lessen jet lag.
  • Transportation: Accidents involving in–country travel, whether by air, bus, train, taxi, car, etc., are a major cause of injury to students abroad. It is important to understand what the safe modes of travel are in Switzerland and in the countries to which you plan to travel. For more information on transportation in Switzerland, please visit the U.S. Department of State.
    • bus: Bus service varies across Switzerland. The public bus transportation is fairly easy to understand in the city; however, the bus should not be your only means of transportation. Since the Swiss transportation system is interconnected, you may find that some metros will lead to bus stops and vice versa. The bus system is most utilized for inter-city travel universally throughout Switzerland. For example, journeys of one to twenty hours in length will be serviced by buses, as the Swiss ground transportation system is an easy way to travel around the country. Yellow 'postal buses' links towns to the more inaccessible mountain regions and are extremely timely. There are also Nightbuses that run on weekends.
    • train/metro: The train network in Switzerland extends to nearly every region and across the borders of its neighboring countries. A train journey proves most efficient and affordable, especially between France, Italy, Austria, Germany, The Netherlands and Belgium. Switzerland boasts an excellent, interconnected rail transport system that is known for being clean and punctual. You can also purchase a Swiss Half Fare Card, Swiss Card, Swiss FlexiPass, Swiss Transfer Ticket, and the most popular, the Swiss Pass which allows unlimited traveling between train, bus, and boat, in addition to discounts on gondolas and mountain trains.
    • air: Switzerland has both international and domestic airports. The main international airport is located in Zürich. Domestic airports are scattered throughout the country in several major Swiss regions, namely Geneva, Basel, Graubünden, Bern, and Lugano. Air travel is not generally a convenient way to travel throughout Switzerland, and can be pricey on a student budget. If traveling within Europe, it is highly recommended to take the train to Switzerland.
    • cars: Exercise extra caution when driving in any foreign country because unfamiliar laws, roads and customs can increase your chances for an accident. Some roads may become dangerous in the winter due to snowfall, ice or avalanches. In this case, roads may be closed or you may be required to use snow chains. Drivers are required to carry an International Driving Permit, in addition to their U.S. Driver’s License. You will also need an “Motorway Vignette” which is a decal affixed to the inside of your windshield that shows you’ve paid the tax required to use the roads. If you rent a vehicle, be cautious about leaving the country with it, as some rentals companies prohibit travel to Eastern European countries. You should obtain full coverage insurance when renting vehicles in Switzerland. The age requirement for cars is 18 years, 16 for motorbikes, and 14 for mopeds. The alcohol limit is very strict in Switzerland, with the limit of 0.5 g/l, with random testing and even speeding tickets mailed to you (at home).
    • boats: Waterways within Switzerland serve mainly touristic purposes and are no longer considered a regular means of transportation. Twelve major lakes, including include Geneva, Constance, Lucerne, Lugano, Neuchâtel, Biel, Murten, Thun, Brienz and Zug are navigable by steamers operated by Swiss Federal Railways or private companies. The Swiss Boat Pass gives you a 50% discount on travel on the country's 14 largest lakes.
    • bicycle: Foreign cycling in Switzerland requires the purchase of a yearly cycle insurance vignette, which indicates payment of the road tax and third party liability insurance. You can find bicycle parking at most train stations. You can also find bikes to rent at many railway stations in Switzerland, as well as SYHA Hostels that will rent bikes to even non-guests. The prices depend on what kind of bike and how late you will return it. Geneva is one of nine Swiss cities that lends out bicycles for free for up to four hours at a time with a deposit and ID, the others being Bern, Lausanne, Neuchâtel, Renens, Sion, Thoune, Vevey and Zürich.

    For more health and safety information about driving abroad, the Association for Safe International Road Travel offers road travel reports, seasonal hazards, safety tips and common driver behaviors for travel abroad.

  • Alcohol and Drugs: Use and abuse of alcohol and drugs abroad can increase the risk of accident and injury. Many study abroad accidents and injuries are related to the use and abuse of alcohol and drugs abroad. Violating drug laws in Switzerland may result in very serious consequences. In some countries you may visit, being found guilty of violating drug laws can result in consequences as serious as death.
  • Setting an Example: Set a good example. Remember you are like an ambassador for your U.S. college or university, as well as your culture and country. Behave in a way that is respectful of others' rights and well–being and encourage others to do the same.

4. Relevant Questions

  • Who among the program staff should be informed of your travel plans, or who can serve as an emergency contact for your family back home?
  • Who are your emergency contacts in the United States? Do they have copies of your important documents? Can they make decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so yourself (do they have power of attorney)?
  • What health recommendations has the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently made for the country of your choice and the countries to which you will be traveling?
  • Do you have any dietary restrictions? If so, do they pose a problem while in the country of your choice?
  • How much walking will you be doing in the country of your choice? How can you prepare yourself for higher levels of physical activity?
  • What should you carry in a first aid kit?
  • What are the general sanitary conditions in the country of your choice? What kinds of precautions are necessary when drinking water or eating local food?
  • Are there any specific immunizations you must get before entering the country of your choice and the countries to which you will travel?
  • If you have any pre–existing health conditions, or you need to carry special medications abroad, what should you do before you go abroad?
  • With whom can you leave copies of your important health–related documents?
  • Will your prescription drug(s) be legal and/or available in the country of your choice?
  • What is the generic name, and a citizen of the country of your choice for your medication?
  • Does the staff speak English, a citizen of the country of your choice, and other indigenous languages fluently to communicate the nature of any medical conditions? (Remember, many indigenous groups in the country of your choice might not speak a citizen of the country of your choice or English.)
  • Can your program provide for any special needs you may have (wheelchair ramps, un–timed tests, etc.)?
  • Do you have access to adequate medical facilities?
  • What is the cost of typical medical services?
  • What specific travel advisories has the U.S. Department of State recently issued for the country of your choice and the other countries to which you will be traveling?
  • What types of crimes are common in the area/city where you will be studying and living?
  • What activities increase the risk of accidents and injury abroad?
  • How extensive, safe, and reliable is the public transportation system in the country of your choice and the others countries to which you will be traveling?

5. Checklist

  • Before leaving, I have gotten a complete physical from my doctor.
  • I have received all necessary immunizations required/recommended for entry to the countries I will visit, and I know where to obtain other inoculations abroad if needed later.
  • I know who the emergency contact will be at the U.S. and in the country of your choice.
  • I know who my emergency contact will be at home.
  • I have asked whether or not the drinking water is safe to drink in the country of your choice.
  • I know what precautions to take when eating local food.
  • I have researched where to buy food that suits my dietary needs/restrictions (i.e. for vegetarians, diabetics, etc...).
  • I know how extensive, safe and reliable the public transportation system is in the country of your choice.
  • I am aware of the laws and codes of conduct that are likely to impact me.
  • I understand that the use of alcohol and drugs increases my risk of accident and injury.

6. Resources

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