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Safe and Sound: Expats in Switzerland
At a Glance:
- Switzerland’s crime rates are among the lowest in the world, with the main offences being pickpocketing and property crimes.
- Switzerland, along with the rest of Europe, has upped security in the face of terrorist threats.
- Extreme weather conditions in the mountains can lead to trouble for expats, so always check the weather forecast.
- Although violent hate crimes are rather uncommon, Switzerland’s anti-discrimination laws are falling behind the rest of Western Europe’s.
The historically neutral country of Switzerland is famous for its safe environment, coming in sixth place in the Expat Insider 2016 Safety & Security subcategory. The low crime rates are one of the main reasons why expats decide to move to Switzerland in the first place. While Switzerland has a reputation for being one of the safest countries in Europe, do bear in mind that it is not entirely free of crime.
As said above, it is fairly uncommon that crime in Switzerland will pose a threat to your wellbeing while you are living there. “Hard crime” — such as murder, manslaughter, aggravated assault, and rape — is fairly rare in Switzerland, with a total of 41 murders across the whole of Switzerland in 2014, compared to 14,250 in the United States.
Petty crime, such as pickpocketing and minor property offences, is more common in Switzerland, especially in central city districts. Like in many other big cities, you are advised to watch personal belongings closely while you are in and around main train stations and on public transportation, as pickpocketing can be a relatively prevalent offence.
The area around the main train stations is also where general crime is most common in Switzerland, like in many other countries. You are advised to keep a hold of your valuable belongings at all times in these areas and try not to linger alone at night as a precaution.
Extremism and Terrorist Threats
Although Switzerland hasn’t fallen victim to a terrorist attack in a number of years, the alert level was raised in December 2015, due to reports of a possible extremist attack in Geneva. Police presence was increased at all major events, main train stations, and airports, as well as at major landmarks. Although the alert level has since been reduced, the police presence remains heightened as a precaution, like in many other countries across Europe at this time.
Extremism in Switzerland is rare; however, radical environmental and animal rights groups have grown in numbers. Expats are therefore advised to avoid large public gatherings and political demonstrations.
Who to Call
Should you find yourself as a victim of a crime in Switzerland, you are advised to report it right away. The number for the emergency services across the whole of Switzerland is 112. You can reach the ambulance service, the fire brigade, and the police through this number. For a direct connection to the police service, you can ring 117.
When the Fans Get Rowdy…
Although this is not common, there have been times in the past when rivalry between fans at soccer matches has turned violent. In Zurich and Basel especially, the fans have a reputation for being fairly competitive, and in previous years this has led to necessary police intervention. This is a problem which is not limited to Switzerland. However, all expat soccer fans are advised to avoid any situation where tensions appear to be heightened. Large crowds are also to be avoided when possible.
Sunshine, Avalanches, and the Odd Snake: Safety in the Mountains
Extreme Weather Conditions
For expats moving from countries with a relatively mild climateto a mountainous area in Switzerland, the constantly changing weather may come as quite a shock. Avalanches and extreme conditions are not uncommon in the mountains and the area surrounding them. The best way for expats to stay safe in these unfamiliar conditions is to do their research — talk to the locals and always check the weather forecast: you never know what you’ll wake up to.
Switzerland has some incredibly beautiful hiking trails and it’s easy to lose track of time and wander along them, but for those not familiar with the Swiss mountains, here are some tips on what to watch out for.
As mentioned above, the weather is far from predictable in Switzerland. Make sure you check the weather before you set out on your hike and keep an eye on reports all day, always knowing the way back should the conditions become too treacherous. Stick to the recommended routes if you aren’t with a guide and, where possible, do not stray from the path. Although they aren’t common, there are some poisonous snakes in the Swiss mountains, so staying on the paths ensure that you avoid any unwanted encounters.
Altitude sickness is another threat to hikers in the Swiss mountains. Taking your time ascending a mountain is key and should you start to feel queasy, dizzy, or have difficulty breathing, it is recommended you take a break and consider making your way back down. If you get into difficulty in the mountains, call 1414 for the Swiss mountain rescue service.
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