Before Taylor and I travel we research the heck out of a particular place! We use tools like Google Maps, Pinterest, Instagram, and blogs to understand exactly what we need when traveling to a specific location. For Switzerland, we did a good amount of research before arriving but struggled to find a solid article explaining exactly what to know before we go, to help us prepare.
Here are things you need to know before going to Switzerland, especially if you are flying into Zurich International Airport.
10 Things You Need to Know Before Going to Switzerland
If you’re planning a trip to Switzerland, check out our post on how to spend a day in Zurich, Switzerland.
1. Customs is a breeze (coming from the United States)
Customs is a breeze in Zurich International Airport Switzerland (at least from our experience). It only took roughly 15-20 minutes from the time we got off the plane to the time we got our passport stamped and left the airport.
However, I should disclose we flew in business class so we were among the first group of people to leave the plane.
Time spent waiting to get through customs is dependent on how fast you get off the plane. First class or business class can expect to be out in 15-20 minutes while wait time for economy passengers will take longer.
If you have any interests in flying business class for less than $100, check out our Travel Course where we teach you how to travel for pennies on the dollar using credit cards strategically.
2. You have to pay to use the bathrooms (in major cities)!
In Switzerland, the term for bathrooms is “Toilets”. There are also signs that say “WC” which are also public toilets. In major cities like Zurich, Luzern, Bern, and others, you have to pay to use the bathroom or toilet. So if you’re flying into Switzerland, you should use the bathroom before you leave!
We learned the hard way that once you leave the airport, bathrooms in major cities aren’t free! Unfortunately, this is due to excessive drug use and Switzerland’s way of combating it.
Even if you do not have to use the bathroom, but need a private space to freshen up or change your clothes, use the airport.
We took a red-eye flight from Philadelphia to Zurich and wanted to change our clothes once we landed. We should have got changed in the airport bathrooms, but since we left the airport immediately we had to pay to use the bathroom.
What’s the price to use a toilet?
Bathrooms range in cost, but if you’re in Zurich train station there is an Mc Clean (the cleanest public restroom ever) which charges 2.00 CHF (roughly $2.00 USD) for a sit-down toilet and 1.50 CHF for a standing toilet.
The good news is that bathrooms in smaller towns or cities are free.
3. Where to find FREE Bathrooms (Toilets) in Major cities
Although most public bathrooms (toilets) require money to enter, you can find free public bathrooms/restrooms. The bathrooms (toilets) we utilized the most are in Manor stores. Do a quick search on google maps while you have WiFi to find the nearest Manor stores and pay attention to its location.
If you have “to go”, knowing where the nearest Manor is a pro-active action you will not regret! Most, Manors has a mall type atmosphere with a food court, the bathrooms are located near the food court.
Also, Manors are in major cities, but it is unlikely to find one in a small mountainous town.
4. Bring physical bills to exchange for Swiss Franc
If you are in a pinch and need to use a bathroom in a city, then you must pay using Swiss Franc coins. You can get these at any money exchange and we recommend converting $20 in coins to be safe when you first arrive in Zurich.
You cannot use Swiss Franc bills for the bathrooms! There’s no exchange for Swiss Franc bills at the toilets, they are strictly coined operated.
US dollars are also accepted in many locations, however, if you plan on using cash, it may make sense to exchange bills for Swiss Franc.
We decided to use credit cards as much as possible, especially since it’s how we travel for free. Most places accept credit cards, even American Express. This was a huge win for us since we use credit cards to travel for free.
5. If you plan on traveling by train, consider buying a Swiss or Eurail pass
Public transportation in Switzerland is state of the art and the views make it even better. If you want to utilize public transportation and eliminate your worry about purchasing tickets for specific routes, then consider purchasing a Swiss Rail or Eurail pass.
We bought an 8-Day Swiss Rail pass since we were only visiting Switzerland. With the pass, we had unlimited access to public transportation on trains, buses, boats, and even cable cars (when in the Swiss Alps) for the 8 days while we were there. It was amazing and we highly recommend it!
In addition to the unlimited travel, you get 25%-50% discounts on transportation to desired locations like Mt. Titlis and Jungfraujoch (Top of Europe). Some locations are even free of charge with the Swiss Rail Pass like Schilthorn.
How much does a Swiss Rail Pass cost?
The 8 Day Swiss Rail pass cost CHF 418. Below is a table of the costs associated with the Swiss Rail Pass.
Swiss Rail Pass
Yes, the Swiss Rail pass looks expensive, however, it can save you money. We loved it because it’s stress-free. You don’t have to worry about purchasing a ticket beforehand and you can take unlimited trains back and forth each day. So for example, if you visited Lauterbrunnen, you could see Wengen, Murren, Schilthorn, Gimmelwald, all in one day and it’s all included in the pass (it would cost roughly $115 each person just to go from Gimmelwalk to Schilthorn).
How to determine if it makes sense to purchase a Swiss Rail Pass?
Put a spreadsheet together to plan your expected train routes and use the SBB website (the best website to figure out public transportation costs and schedules) to get a general idea of how expensive the trains costs prior to buying the Swiss Rail Pass. If the costs of your total trips is greater than the cost of the Swiss Rail Pass then your decision is easy!
This helped my decision knowing in confidence that the pass saved us money for our trip.
6. How to navigate the Swiss Rail and Public Transportation system
The Swiss make life easy when using public transportation.
For ease of use, you should download the SBB Mobile App for looking up routes and timetables for any form of public transportation. You can also use their website, but the app is super convenient when you’re not in an environment to pull out your computer.
We used this in a combination with google maps since you can’t utilize the SBB app offline. Instead, we used Google Maps to track where we were while traveling with no service.
If you aren’t a fan of apps, you can get a timetable book of all of the train routes to and from a particular station, however, this may only be available in major cities.
7. Use Luggage Lockers at train stations
If you’re planning on utilizing the Swiss train stations, then luggage lockers are your friend! Luggage lockers allow you to store your luggage in a secure manner for the day while you’re exploring a city.
This is useful if you’re visiting a city but not staying there overnight, instead of carrying or dragging your luggage around all day, simply put it in a locker and off you go.
Taylor and I used the large locker size in Zurich to fit two carry-on suitcases in it with additional room for our snow jackets. It costs CHF 9 and an additional CHF 6 for 8 hours.
In Zurich, you can find the storage lockers one floor below the ground level next to the MC Clean (a toilet/restroom where you have to pay).
You can find luggage lockers at most decent size train stations.
8. Most free WiFi points require a phone number to gain access
If you visit Switzerland be prepared to have limited wifi. There’s plenty of public wifi hot spots but many require a phone number for access. In short, you’re expected to provide your phone number and then you receive an access code you must enter to log on.
If your phone is on airplane mode, you will not be able to receive the access codes and will not be able to connect to the WiFi. This may not seem like a big deal if you quickly turn on your cell service and then receive the code but expect to get charged international rates with your carrier.
You can find free wifi where you do not have to enter your phone number at hotels, Starbucks, and other random restaurants.
9. The languages in Switzerland
Four different languages are used in Switzerland in addition to English. Swiss-German is the most popular, then French, then Italian, and lastly Romansh. The main language in Zurich is Swiss-German and here are some common phrases.
- Hello – Hallo
- Thank you – Danke
- Good Morning – Guten Morgen
- Good Day/Afternoon – Guten Tag
- Good Evening – Guten Abend
- Good Night – Gut Nacht
Interestingly if you’re in the Bern county or Geneva, then you’re more likely to use the French language. You will notice this when you hear “Merci” for thank you instead of “Danke”!
Luckily, English is widely used and you can get by just fine if you do not know a lick of Swiss-German or French! However, it is always polite to greet and end your conversation in the local language!
10. Tipping is NOT expected in Switzerland!
Tipping at restaurants or bars is not the norm in Switzerland and don’t fall for this mistake. In big cities like Zurich or Luzern (spelled Lucerne in the US) if you use a credit card, the machine will often prompt you to enter a tip. This doesn’t occur anywhere else, so unless you had amazing service or would like to tip, it is not the norm. You can simply select no and finish the payment without a tip.
However, when you pay using a card in Switzerland they bring the handheld credit card machine to you and stand over you while you finish the payment. Just be aware that they will be standing over you while you’re finishing your payment, but do not feel guilty selecting no!
Below is a short list of the 10 things you need to know before going to Switzerland.
- Customs is a breeze (coming from the United States)
- Use the bathroom before you leave the airport (You have to pay to use the bathrooms!)
- Where to find FREE Bathrooms (Toilets) in Major cities
- Bring physical bills to exchange for Swiss Franc
- If you plan on traveling by train, consider buying a Swiss or Eurail pass
- How to navigate the Swiss Rail and Public Transportation system
- Use Luggage Lockers at train stations
- Most free wifi points require a phone number to gain access
- The main language in Zurich is Swiss-German
- Tipping is NOT expected in Switzerland!
If you have anything to add to the list of things you need to know before going to Switzerland, please let us know by dropping a comment below.
If you have any interest in visiting Switzerland but think it’s out of your budget, check out our travel course that teaches you how to travel for next to nothing, like how we flew business class from Philadelphia to Switzerland for only $5.60.