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Preface Last Updated: 10/23/2003 1:17 PM

Switzerland conjures up a fair swag of clichés: irresistible chocolates, kitsch clocks, yodeling Heidis, international bureaucracies, and an orderly, rather bland national persona. But Harry Lime was wrong on more than one account when, in The Third Man, he said 500 years of Swiss democracy and peace had produced nothing more than the cuckoo clock.

For a start, the Germans invented this timepiece; secondly, the Swiss have won more Nobel Prizes and registered more patents per capita than any other nation on earth. Muesli, DDT, and life insurance may not be the stuff of legend, but the country’s Alpine landscapes have enough zing to reinvigorate the most jaded traveler.

The fusion of German, French, and Italian ingredients has formed a robust national culture, which represents a stimulating variety of cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Goethe summed up Switzerland succinctly as a combination of “the colossal and the well-ordered.” The untamed majesty of the Alps and the tidy, just-so precision of Swiss towns prevent Switzerland from ever being as one-dimensional as some pundits like to try and make it.

The country does not have a strong artistic heritage, even though many foreign writers and artists (such as Voltaire, Byron, Shelley, James Joyce and Charlie Chaplin) have resided or settled in the country. In contrast, many creative Swiss such as Charles Le Corbusier, Paul Klee, Albert Giacometti and Jean-Luc Godard left the country to make their name abroad.

Switzerland is all the travel brochures say it is and more. The country’s natural beauty, the courtesy of its people, and the stability of the Swiss way of life make living here interesting and relaxing. Rugged mountains dotted with ski resorts, lakes set in rolling farmlands, and arcaded towns crisscrossed by narrow cobblestone streets are some of the sights that you will be pleased to discover.

Swiss cities, while retaining the charm of their age, offer a wide range of modern facilities and cultural opportunities.

The nation itself, while traditionally neutral, is active on the international scene. If you are interested in getting to know Switzerland and the rest of Europe, you will find ample opportunity. A tour of duty here is a pleasant and rewarding experience.

The Host Country

Area, Geography, and Climate Last Updated: 10/20/2003 2:28 PM

Switzerland covers an area of 15,944 square miles, which is about twice the size of New Jersey. A quarter of the country consists of glaciers, mountains, and lakes; another quarter is covered by forests. Because of the varied topography (from an altitude of 633 feet above sea level in the Ticino Canton to 15,203 feet — the Monte Rosa peak — in the Alps), climate and vegetation vary from Mediterranean to arctic. Bern does not have great extremes of hot or cold weather. Rain is common in summer as well as winter, with snowfalls in Bern occurring with more regularity in recent years. Humidity is high during spring and fall. Winter brings some warm spells, and all-day fog and cloudy weather are common. Often a 30-minute drive will get you out of the clouds and into sunshine. The Föhn, a dry south wind that passes over the Alps changing the air pressure, has an enervating and otherwise unpleasant effect on some people. Sinus problems are often aggravated by the dampness. The average high temperature in July is 30°C (86°F), and the average low for that month is 6.1°C (43°F). In February, the thermometer reaches 5.4°C (42°F) and dips to about -10°C (14°F).

Population Last Updated: 10/23/2003 1:19 PM

Switzerland’s population of 7.2 million (December 2000 estimate) includes 1.4 million resident foreigners. More than three-fourths of the people live in the central plain, which stretches between the Alps and the Jura Mountains from Geneva to the Rhine.

Switzerland has four official languages: German, French, Italian, and Romansch. A small portion of the people in the Graubunden Canton principally speaks Romansch, based on Latin. The Swiss version of German is spoken by about 70% of the population. Spoken Swiss German differs substantially from German taught at the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) and that spoken in Germany and Austria. It frequently varies from canton to canton, even from town to town. High German is the written language and is also used in most TV and radio shows, on the stage, and in university lectures. A 1995 Inspector General’s “informal recommendation” strongly suggested that junior language probation officers reach the required professional level in German at FSI prior to assignment to Switzerland, as there are not enough opportunities to converse in High German (Officers with good High German can pick up some of the local “lingo” but it is not easy.) French is the primary language in the cantons of Fribourg, Jura, Vaud, Valais, Neuchatel, and Geneva. Italian is the primary language of the Ticino Canton and in some areas of the Graubunden Canton. English is a common foreign language for most educated Swiss. The percentage of Protestants to Catholics among the Swiss is about equal. Confessional differences run across linguistic lines — there are both German — and French-speaking cantons that are predominantly Protestant or Catholic. The Italian-speaking Ticino Canton is Catholic.

Switzerland’s cantons differ in history, customs, and culture, as well as in size and natural setting. As a national group, the Swiss are generally serious-minded, forthright, and conscientious. Living patterns are similar to those in the U.S., although the Swiss are more formal and conservative than Americans; their practicality is reflected in their architecture, furnishings, clothing and food.

Public Institutions Last Updated: 10/23/2003 1:20 PM

Switzerland has a Federal Government structure with a bicameral legislature. Members of the National Council, the Lower House, are elected in the cantons by a complex system of proportional representation. Population apportions the number of seats per canton. Similarly, voting is by a complex proportional representation system. The Upper House, the Council of States, is composed of 46 members, 2 members from each canton (three are divided into “half-cantons” with 1 member each), who are elected by methods individually determined by the cantons. Executive power rests in the seven-member Federal Council, a unique Swiss political institution. Members of the Council are elected individually by both houses of the legislature for 4-year terms, though in practice Councilors are re-elected as long as they wish to serve. The President of the Federal Council is also the President of the Swiss Confederation. The office is filled by the Council members in rotation for 1-year terms. Each Federal Councilor heads one of the seven executive departments.

The four major political parties are the Free Democratic Party, the Social Democratic Party, the Christian Democratic Party, and the Swiss People’s Party.

Switzerland’s cantons historically preceded the Confederation, which was established when three cantons joined together against the Hapsburgs in 1291. Within the Federal System, each canton has its own constitution and active political life. Cantonal governments have primary responsibility for law and order, health and sanitation, education, and public works and are almost exclusively responsible for the implementation of federal law. The Federal Executive Branch ensures internal and external security, upholds the cantonal constitutions, and maintains diplomatic relations with foreign nations.

Under the Swiss judicial system, a single national code exists for civil, commercial, and criminal law. The only Federal court is the Federal Tribunal, which has final appellate jurisdiction. All courts of first instance, and all prosecutors, are cantonal. Military service is compulsory for physically able male adults and includes basic training and decreasing mandatory annual service until age 35 (longer for officers). Geneva is the seat of many international organizations, including the European Office of the UN, several of its specialized agencies and nongovernmental organizations such as the International Red Cross. Bern serves as host to the Universal Postal Union.

Arts, Science, and Education Last Updated: 10/20/2003 2:32 PM

Switzerland is well endowed with cultural institutions. The opera and theater play an important part in the life of the urban elite. In Bern, most stage performances are in German, some in Swiss dialect, and some in French; operas are usually in the original language. English-language amateur and professional stage productions are to be found occasionally in the larger cities. Music education is important and standards are high. Many musical groups perform in Switzerland, and the Geneva-based Orchestra de la Suisse Romande is world famous. Many cities, including Bern, have orchestras. Bern also has a Conservatory of Music with frequent concerts by students, which are open to the public.

Switzerland has a high literacy rate. Two Federal technical institutes and eight cantonal universities produce exceptionally qualified professionals in all fields. A well-developed system of apprenticeship training develops an unusually qualified labor force of technicians and craftsmen.

Commerce and Industry Last Updated: 10/23/2003 1:21 PM

Switzerland has a highly developed, internationally oriented, and open market. The economy is characterized by a sophisticated manufacturing sector, a highly skilled work force, and a large service sector. Per capita GDP is among the highest in Europe while unemployment is practically the lowest. About 40% of the Gross National Product is earned abroad, of which some 80% is from the sale of exported goods. Principal industries include machinery/machine tools, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, watchmaking and precision instruments. The key service sector branches are banking, insurance, and tourism.

After strong economic growth during the eighties, the Swiss economy was Western Europe’s weakest between 1990–1996, with growth averaging 0.0% per year. Since 1997, economic performance has been positive. While unemployment reached 5.5% during the height of the recession, it has fallen to below 2%, in line with historical levels. About 20% of the Swiss labor force is made up of foreign workers.

There are well-developed trade union organizations in most industries and trades, but strikes are very rare due to a unique peace agreement concluded decades ago between labor and management. Swiss provisions for property ownership and investment by foreigners are more restrictive than those in the U.S. The purchase of real estate by a nonresident or a company not incorporated in Switzerland is subject to individual review by cantonal authorities and is often permitted only in certain specified areas, usually recreational/tourist sites.

Some 70% of Switzerland’s trade is with the EU; Germany is by far the country’s most important trading partner. Switzerland is a member of the European Free Trade Area (EFTA), but the voters narrowly rejected membership in the European Economic Area (EEA) in 1992, over fears this would inevitably lead to full EU membership. A package of seven sectoral agreements with the EU, known as the “Bilaterals” will take effect once all EU member states have ratified them, probably by mid–2001 with them. This will allow greater worker mobility and mutual labor market access for EU and Swiss citizens.


Automobiles Last Updated: 10/23/2003 1:23 PM

Importation and Sale of Private Vehicles. A car in Switzerland is a convenience, but not a necessity. The costs for importing and maintaining a car in Switzerland tend to be high. Employees who bring in a privately owned vehicle may incur some charges for conversion to Swiss specifications as well as inspection and registration fees (at an average cost of SFr 310). Liability insurance, required by Swiss law, is expensive. Diplomats may buy duty-free gasoline at a cost somewhat higher than in the U.S. Annual toll road stickers (SFr 40) also add to the cost of operating a car in Switzerland. For these reasons, many American employees rely heavily on the highly developed and exceptionally convenient inter-city rail and bus and local public transportation systems.

When an employee imports a car, the Swiss authorities make a distinction between those vehicles that have been in the employee’s possession for at least 6 months prior to arriving in Switzerland and newly purchased vehicles (whether purchased in the U.S. for shipment to Switzerland or imported through a local dealer here). Vehicles that have been owned more than 6 months prior to shipment into Switzerland may be sold duty and tax free, but only after a period of 1 year. If such a vehicle is sold prior to the expiration of the 1-year period, customs and value-added tax (VAT) must be paid. The vehicle may be sold duty and tax free to a person with the same privileges. The General Services Office (GSO) Customs Assistant can clarify.

Inspection Requirements. All vehicles must pass the Swiss inspection before registration. Under regulations established in 1995, the Road Traffic Office will conduct an inspection limited to safety systems (steering, brakes, lights, etc.); check data for the circulation permit (previous registration, title, etc.) and register the car as a “diplomatic vehicle."

Diplomatic vehicles are exempt from noise and air-pollution tests as well as the antipollution service. Such “diplomatic vehicles” may be sold without having to adapt the vehicle to the requirements in force in Switzerland only to another person entitled to the same privileges. However, to be sold on the local economy, the vehicle must be converted to Swiss specifications and pass a more rigorous inspection.

A vehicle imported (and owned more than 6 months) undergoes an extended Swiss inspection, is registered under Code 179, and after 1 year may be sold on the local market as is. Such a vehicle must also be modified to meet Swiss regulations. The speedometer must read kilometers per hour (KPH). (Speedometers with both KPH and MPH markings are acceptable.) Headlights must be converted to a different angle from that of U.S. specification vehicles. Parking lights must be white and the turn signals yellow. The exhaust tailpipe must be at the rear of a vehicle. Tires must be rated to correspond to the maximum speed.

Cars must pass an antipollution service and obtain an antipollution certificate. This certificate can be obtained from the importer, a dealer, or garage and must always be available for presentation to the police upon request. Garages charge between SFr 100 and 200 for the test. This charge does not include parts that may need to be replaced (e.g., air filters, exhaust system parts).

If importing a car with U.S. specifications, personnel should, if at all possible, obtain a technical manual to help the Road Traffic Office Inspectors conduct their inspection, or obtain the following technical information in writing from the manufacturer or dealer: make and type, year of construction, displacement, bore, stroke, number of cylinders, torque, maximum speed of vehicle, overall gear ratio and gear ratios for each power or performance range, horsepower, type of motor, and factory guarantee of gross weight of vehicle GVMR (gross vehicle mass ratio). It is also useful to have documentation (such as a copy of original title or first registration) showing the date that the vehicle entered circulation.

Personnel should ship the documents in their airfreight or carry the documents in their luggage, rather than send them by surface shipment. Employees who ship cars with U.S. license plates can drive their cars with U.S. plates while waiting for the car to get through the inspection and registration process. Vehicles imported without plates must be registered before being driven. Employees should take one plate and put it in their airfreight or carry-on luggage, rather than shipping the plates on the car. U.S. license plates are collector’s items in Europe and often are stolen in shipment.

Repair Facilities. Repair service in Bern for American vehicles is adequate. Spare parts and servicing are available but very expensive. In general, automobile parts, repairs, and maintenance work are much more expensive in Switzerland than in the U.S. Some employees opt to use the U.S. military shopping facilities in Heidelberg, Germany, to obtain service, maintenance, and parts for their automobiles.

Locally Purchased Vehicles. Automobiles that meet all Swiss specifications can be purchased locally by all staff members at diplomatic discounts of about 20%. Among those available are Ford (European models), Peugeot, Renault, Opel, Volvo, Volkswagen, Mercedes, BMW, and all the major Japanese models. New duty-free vehicles purchased through local dealers must be ordered from the factory. Deliveries require 8 to 12 weeks. A good used car market exists and the condition of such cars is generally better than in the U.S., as cars must pass mechanical and safety inspections within a year prior to resale.

Registration, Licenses, Insurance, etc. Cars registered in Switzerland must have Swiss license plates and bear a sticker with “CH” (the international abbreviation for Switzerland). Additionally, all cars must carry a red reflector emergency triangle for use in case of traffic accidents or mechanical breakdowns.

Third-party auto insurance is compulsory and must be purchased from a company incorporated in Switzerland. Other types of coverage can be carried with a U.S. firm. The car’s horsepower determines the premium of a Swiss policy. Large, high-powered American cars are expensive to insure. Swiss companies give graduated safe-driving discounts for up to 10 years of accident-free driving.

Employees with a valid U.S. driver’s license are not required to carry a Swiss drivers license.

There are three Automobile Clubs in Switzerland that provide breakdown and towing services, which is important for people contemplating wintertime mountain driving. The annual fee is about SFr 100. Official vehicles are not available for personal use by Embassy personnel.

Local Transportation Last Updated: 10/23/2003 1:24 PM

Railway, Trams, Buses, and Taxis.

The Swiss Federal Railway system is entirely electric and connects the main cities and towns. Trains are clean and run on schedule; fares are reasonable, with special round-trip and holiday rates. It is possible to buy a year-long pass on the entire Swiss railroad network including the public transportation systems of all major cities. Another pass widely used by Embassy personnel permits use of trains at half fare (cost is SFr 150 per year or SFr 222 for two years). Discount fares (Junioren Karte) for families are also available. Porters are infrequent, charge a minimum of SFr 5 per bag and expect a small tip for handling baggage. Self-service luggage carts are available at all major train stations as well as airports.

Bern has excellent train and highway connections to all points in Europe.

Passenger buses operated by the postal system can reach most points not accessible by train. There are over 100 mountain funiculars and aerial tramways in Switzerland, and regular steamer services operate on major lakes in spring, summer, and autumn.

Local transportation systems — trams, buses, trolley buses, and taxis — are convenient and efficient. Taxi fares are comparable to those in Washington, D.C.; all taxis have meters, and drivers expect a 10%–15% tip.

Swiss roads are good though often narrow and winding. A network of freeways exists, with additions and expansions in progress. Many mountain passes are closed by snow in winter, but road tunnels and railway car ferries operate through the St. Gotthard and Lotschberg passes. Road directional signs are excellent and all traffic moves on the right. An annual SFr 40 autobahn sticker is required to drive on the highways.

Regional Transportation Last Updated: 10/23/2003 1:24 PM

Geneva and Zurich are major European flight centers. Daily flights to the U.S. are available from Zurich on American carriers. Bern has a small airport in the suburb of Belp with service in Switzerland to Basel and Lugano and in Europe to Amsterdam, Brussels, Elba, Stuttgart, London, Munich, Paris, and Vienna.

A direct train between Bern and the Kloten (Zurich) International Airport takes 1½ hours; Bern-Geneva by rail is about 1-2/3 hours. Airport railroad stations are located inside the lower levels of the air terminals in Zurich and Geneva. Escalators may be used to take luggage carts between the train platform and airline terminals.


Telephones and Telecommunications Last Updated: 10/21/2003 11:18 AM

Telecommunications systems are excellent. Direct dialing is possible to all parts of Switzerland, Western Europe, the U.S., and Canada. Major U.S. phone companies’ cards are also available and offer U.S. rates. Callback services are available. Both the Swiss phone company’s charges and callback system are competitive.

Mail and Pouch Last Updated: 10/23/2003 1:25 PM

International airmail to the U.S. takes 3 to 5 days, and surface post 10 to 20 days. Airmail letters to the U.S. cost SFr 1.80 ($1.20) for up to 20 grams. Customs duties are assessed on parcels to nondiplomatic personnel. Parcels for diplomatic personnel should bear the Embassy address, not the residence address; otherwise the post office automatically charges duty. International airmail may be addressed to:

Mr. John Adams Doe
Jubil„umsstrasse 93
3001 Bern, Switzerland

International mail usually provides the fastest and most efficient service between the post and the U.S. Personal letter mail, cassette tapes, exposed or processed film (up to 2 pounds), and medical items may be sent to and from post by Department pouch. Domestic (U.S.) postage is required. Pouches are sent by air between the Department and the post twice weekly. The proper address for pouch mail is:

Mr. John Adams Doe
Department of State
5110 Bern Place
Washington, DC 20521–5110

For personal pouch mail, the address is:

Mr. John Adams Doe
5110 Bern Place
Dulles, Virginia 20189–5110

Parcels over 2 pounds, magazines, and books may be sent from the Department to the post only by surface pouch. The pouch may not be used to mail outgoing parcels. Packages must be sturdy and well wrapped, no longer than 24 inches (or 62 inches length and girth combined), and no heavier than 40 pounds. Pouch mail generally takes 2–3 weeks to arrive.

Mail and Pouch — Mission Geneva
Official U.S. Government personnel on temporary duty or permanent assignment may use the diplomatic pouch for receipt of personal mail, including magazines and parcels. You may send, via air pouch, letters, exposed film, and videotapes. No parcels, except merchandise being returned, may be sent via pouch from Geneva. Insured packages or letters will not be delivered by the U.S. Postal Service to the Department of State’s pouch room. The pouch takes 1–3 weeks from U.S. point of origin to post. All mail should be addressed as follows:

Your name
Department of State
5120 Geneva Place
Washington, D.C. 20521–5120

Employees are also permitted to send letters and parcels at the APO facilities at the U.S. military bases in Germany.

The Swiss postal system is excellent although expensive. A letter to the U.S. costs CHF 1.80. Personal mail may be addressed to either your home or the Mission. Parcels arriving through international mail or shipment must carry your diplomatic title to facilitate Swiss Customs verification of duty-free privileges for addressees. The address for international mail directed to the Mission is:

Your Name
U.S. Mission 11,
route de Pregny
CH 1292 Chambesy/Geneva

Radio and TV Last Updated: 10/21/2003 11:20 AM

Swiss Radio broadcasts in the three principal Swiss languages with a few programs in Romansch. Programming is of good quality with more talk programs than in the U.S. Broadcasts from other European countries—such as AFN Stuttgart, VOA, Radio Luxembourg, and BBC—are available through cable radio in many areas.

Cable television is available, with transmissions from two British channels as well as from Germany, France, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, and CNN. The modest monthly charges are sometimes included in leases for apartments or houses, or payable through a PTT office. Satellite programming is available with the proper equipment. As in most of Europe, radio and TV in Switzerland are run by a public corporation. Children’s programs are broadcast every day and special programs are sometimes relayed from the U.S. by satellite. News and sports coverage on both radio and TV are good. Radios and European-standard TVs are available locally for purchase. Many employees have multisystem television sets purchased at military exchanges in Germany in order to receive local TV broadcasts (a multisystem television that includes hyperband tuning is necessary to receive the full range of Swiss cable channels) and to utilize U.S. standard video recorders and prerecorded tapes. Multisystem color television sets cost from $400 to $750 at military exchanges versus local prices exceeding $1,000. Good quality radios can be purchased locally starting at $50.

Newspapers, Magazines, and Technical Journals Last Updated: 10/23/2003 1:25 PM

Newspapers are available in the three principal languages. There are over 100 dailies and periodicals in Switzerland. They represent differing political viewpoints and come from various areas of the country. Several weekly and monthly Swiss magazines cover news, women’s fashion, television programs, and various hobbies. French, German, and Italian periodicals are also available at local newsstands.

The International Herald Tribune, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and international editions of Time and Newsweek are available at local newsstands or by subscription. Some employees have had success in changing their domestic news magazine subscriptions to the international editions by filing a change of address with the magazine’s European subscription centers in order to overcome surface pouch distribution delays. Other U.S. and British magazines are also sold locally. Prices are much higher than in the U.S. or the U.K. Several bookstores have English-language departments.

Health and Medicine

Medical Facilities Last Updated: 10/23/2003 1:26 PM

There are no U.S. Government medical facilities in Switzerland; however, Swiss medical facilities are excellent. Embassy personnel can obtain medical services from either of two English-speaking contract physicians. The Embassy maintains a list of English-speaking doctors in many specialties. Dental work is expensive, so personnel may want to have major dental work done before arriving in Switzerland. The Regional Medical Officer (RMO) is in Frankfurt and the Regional Psychiatrist is in London. Although the RMO visits post infrequently, he or she is readily available for telephone consultations and emergency visits. Additionally, the American nurse at the U.S. Mission in Geneva visits post once a month.

Medical Facilities — Mission Geneva

The Swiss health care system is excellent and comparable to American health care standards. The Mission has two Swiss doctors under contract who perform in-service medical examinations and consultations. A regional medical officer is stationed in Berlin and the regional psychiatrist is stationed in London. The Mission’s Health Unit has full-time nursing coverage and is available for advice and referral. Persons on long-term drug therapy need a pharmaceutical contact in Washington, D.C.

Community Health Last Updated: 10/21/2003 11:21 AM

Swiss public services are similar to those in other highly developed countries. The Swiss place a strong emphasis on environmental responsibility and recycling. In most jurisdictions, a fee is charged by volume for garbage collection. Trash is placed in bags purchased in grocery or hardware stores and must carry a surcharge sticker, also available in grocery and hardware stores. Paper and metal are collected periodically, with the schedule announced in the newspaper at the beginning of the year. Bins for the recycling of glass bottles, plastics, and aluminum are located at stores and other convenient locations.

The manufacture and sale of adulterated food and beverages are prohibited. Official cantonal inspectors enforce controls. They inspect water, milk, and meat on a regular basis, as well as other foods and containers on a random basis. Sterilization of food containers is good.

Preventive Measures Last Updated: 10/21/2003 11:22 AM

Switzerland has no endemic contagious diseases. Special measures to treat water or food are not necessary, and no special medical or therapeutic treatment is required before arrival.

Employment for Spouses and Dependents Last Updated: 10/23/2003 1:26 PM

Employment opportunities in the Mission are limited, with 7 part-time, intermittent, temporary (PIT) positions: one part-time slot in Public Affairs, one part-time executive secretary, two part-time Administrative/RSO secretaries, a part-time Community Liaison Office (CLO) coordinator position, and two part-time consular assistants. The staff at the international school is small, and vacancies in teaching/substituting positions are infrequent.

Spouses are permitted to work on the Swiss economy. However, employment with a private firm in Switzerland is difficult, unless one is fluent in German and/ or French. In addition, the American family member has to relinquish any claim to diplomatic privileges and immunities for actions relating to his/her employment.

Employment for Spouses and Dependents — Mission Geneva
Jobs outside the Mission are difficult to find, but they do exist. The Swiss Government allows adult dependents and dependent children (who arrive before their 21st birthday) to work on the local market. Frequently, a language in addition to English is required. Mission spouses are locally employed in positions ranging from senior level management to support staff. Securing a job is up to the spouse. Networking, review of the employment pages in the local papers, attention to vacancies in international organizations, and perseverance are required. The U.N. and almost all the international organizations have web sites with current listings of job vacancies.

Opportunities are available within the Mission and, on occasion, in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR). During the summer the Mission has, subject to funding, an active teen hire program.

American Embassy - Bern

Post City Last Updated: 10/21/2003 11:23 AM

Bern is a charming city built around a bend in the Aare River. Its “Old Europe” atmosphere is evident in arcaded walks along cobblestone streets, towering churches, fountains, clock towers, and bustling open markets. Yet at the same time Bern offers modern shopping facilities and ever-expanding suburbs with new apartment buildings.

The city lies in west central Switzerland, with the Alps to the south and the Jura Mountains to the northwest. Bern has a population of about 126,861 (January 2001 estimate) and is the seat of the executive and legislative branches of the Swiss Government. There are about 36,500 Americans living in Switzerland mostly concentrated in the major cities of Zurich, Geneva, and Basel.

The Post and Its Administration Last Updated: 10/21/2003 11:24 AM

The Chancery building houses the offices of the Chief of Mission; the DCM; the Political/Economic, Public Affairs, Consular, and Administrative Sections; and those of the Commercial, Defense, Legal, and Drug Enforcement attachés. The Embassy workweek is Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m to 12:30 p.m and from 1:30 p.m to 5:30 p.m. U.S. national holidays and Swiss holidays are observed. Marine Security Guards are on duty 24 hours daily in the Chancery, and one officer and one communicator are on call. The switchboard hours are from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday.

The closure of the Consular Branch Office in Geneva (August 1993) and the Consulate General in Zurich (September 1996) has required creative Embassy outreach programs to the large U.S. expatriate communities in Switzerland. There are American Consular Agencies in Zurich and Geneva, staffed by part-time local-hire Consular Agents and assistants. The Agencies provide limited American citizen consular services. The Consular Agencies are part of America Centers of Zurich & Geneva, innovative, multi-Agency (State and Commerce) initiatives that are run jointly with representatives of the private American communities. The Basel Resources Center, run by local American volunteers, assists the American community and keeps the flag flying in that city. It receives Embassy support.

New arrivals will be met at the airport and should advise the Embassy of their arrival time well in advance. The Embassy will help you get acquainted and find suitable housing. The Embassy “sponsor” system aids new personnel in getting settled and in becoming familiar with available facilities.

Personnel coming to Bern may land at either Zurich or Geneva airports; there is also the option of arriving at Bern’s Belp Airport via European connections.

The Chancery is in a residential area roughly 5 minutes by car or bus from the center of town. The address is Jubilaeumsstrasse 93, phone (country code 41, city code 31) 357 70 11 (357 72 18 after hours). The phone number and address are listed in the Bern telephone directory under Ambassade des Etats-Unis and Amerikanische Botschaft.


Temporary Quarters Last Updated: 10/21/2003 11:25 AM

Newcomers are usually booked into one of the transient apartments in the government-owned Chancery Annex, a former hotel located next to the Embassy. The size of the apartment assigned depends on family size. All are equipped with the necessary furnishings to make temporary life comfortable. The average time spent house-hunting varies between 6 weeks and 3 months. Pets of employees permanently assigned to Switzerland and waiting for their permanent housing are allowed subject to a damage deposit.

There are a few restaurants located near the Annex; however, a 5-minute bus ride downtown offers many restaurants of differing specialties to choose from. Dinner can cost SFr 80 per person at a first-class restaurant, and as little as SFr 16 at simpler establishments. Daily luncheon specials are available from SFr 16 to SFr 25 at restaurants catering to office workers and shoppers, with a la carte items somewhat more expensive.

Permanent Housing Last Updated: 10/21/2003 11:28 AM

The U.S. Government owns the Ambassador’s residence and Annex and leases houses or apartments for the DCM and most heads of agency. The post’s Interagency Housing Board makes housing assignments.

In addition to available temporary quarters, the Annex contains eight permanent apartments and the Marine House, spread out over four wings. Apartments vary from one to four bedrooms and are attractive, well appointed, and quite spacious by Swiss standards. All units come with a stackable washer/dryer, separate freezer, and storeroom space. It is Mission policy to keep these apartments fully utilized. Incoming personnel may be assigned permanent apartments if an appropriate vacancy is available at the time of arrival. Pets are permitted in the permanent apartments with a deposit required for each pet.

The Annex is in an attractive residential area on the Aare River. It is next door to the Chancery and 5 minutes by bus to downtown. The Annex houses a library/TV room, along with a special workout room of free weights, weight machines, and other miscellaneous equipment with changing rooms and showers. There is also an enclosed garden with playground equipment for the younger residents of the Annex. Close to the Annex is a swimming pool/ice skating rink/hockey facility and tennis club. The Ambassador’s residence, built in 1913, was owned by a prominent Bernese family until its purchase by the U.S. Government in 1947. It occupies 3½ acres with extensive gardens and a nature preserve. The residence has 21 rooms and 10 bathrooms.

The DCM’s residence was built in 1964 for the family Kindler. The residence is called the Aarhus. This name reflects the location of the nearby running River Aare. The shape of the house is unique for Bern. Some have described it as mildly reminiscent of southern California. The current owner made major alterations in 1988. The house has four bedrooms, an elegant smaller living room, a dining room, and a larger family/library room.

With the exceptions noted above, staff housing is by private lease. Newcomers are assisted by the General Services Section in locating housing. Good housing is available, although it may take some time to find the right place. Generally speaking, spacious quarters (other than the Annex) close to the Embassy are very difficult to find.

Most Embassy personnel can reach the Embassy by car within 30 minutes due to the relative small size of Bern. The downside to living outside the center is that good shopping is limited, and children have long commutes to school. The best times for house and apartment hunting are several weeks before the Bern moving days of May 1 and November 1. Most Swiss leases are renewed or expire on those days. All leases should contain a Diplomatic Clause, providing for 2 (in rare cases 1) months’ notice of termination in the event that the lessee is transferred from post before the end of his/her tour. Landlords are very particular about damage done to apartments and furnishings and a moderately priced insurance policy is required to cover final inspection damage claims. Noise regulations are in force in apartment buildings with quiet hours between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. People entertaining outdoors at private homes must also respect these times.

Military attachés and personnel usually occupy the quarters leased by their predecessors if approved by the Interagency Housing Board. For specific information, write to the Embassy Defense Attaché‚ Office.

Furnishings Last Updated: 10/21/2003 11:29 AM

The Ambassador’s, DCM’s and MSG DET Commander’s residences are furnished, as are the Annex apartments. All other government-leased quarters and all private leases are unfurnished. Furnished private-lease houses and apartments are difficult to locate.

Most employees on private leases bring their own furniture. Unfurnished houses and apartments include a kitchen range, basic bathroom fixtures, and refrigerators and ovens that are small by U.S. standards; rooms are usually smaller than those in the U.S. as well. In most cases, light fixtures must be provided by the tenant as well as clothes closets/wardrobes, which can easily be purchased in and near Bern. Most apartments have small, locked storage rooms in the basement that can accommodate excess luggage, original packing cartons, and small items. Before packing all of your furniture, remember that apartments tend to be smaller here and that storage can be a problem.

Low-pile, wall-to-wall carpeting is becoming a standard feature of newer construction but is not normally provided in older houses or apartments. Older homes may have wooden or tile flooring, and area rugs can be useful. Curtains and draperies are seldom provided in unfurnished apartments. Patio furniture is available here but at significantly higher prices than in the U.S. Limited selections of furniture and furnishings are available at some of the military exchanges in Germany. One should not purchase curtains and material in advance without knowing the exact size of the area to be covered.

Window sizes and shapes vary considerably, and curtain hanging hardware is quite different from that in the U.S. All types of furniture are available but are usually expensive. Carpenters and cabinetmakers are good but expensive.

The Embassy will make a Welcome Kit available on loan to new arrivals who locate housing prior to receiving household shipments. The Kit contains basic kitchen equipment, dishes, and linens. A basic set of furniture can be made available for personnel who occupy quarters prior to the arrival of their household effects.

Utilities and Equipment Last Updated: 10/21/2003 11:30 AM

All normal facilities are available and dependable. Air-conditioning is extremely rare. Heating may be oil, gas, or electric. Electric current in Bern is 220v and 50 cycle. Modern houses and apartments have two types of indoor outlets: a two or three-wire, single-phase, 220v system (for light fixtures and appliances with a maximum of 2.2 kilowatts, 10 amps or up to 2000w). Personnel can bring lamps and light fixtures with them (screw base of 220v is standard here; three-way 220v bulbs are available in Germany). A freezer or second refrigerator may be desirable for personnel on private lease or those with larger family or entertainment responsibilities. American freezers can be operated using a stepdown transformer (110v, not 120v).

In general, appliances that need a 60-cycle “system” (appliances with motors) will not function properly (fire hazard, damage to appliance) in Switzerland. One should not bring the following equipment: electric or gas stove, automatic washer, clocks and clock radios, or stereo sets that would require an entire new motor for adjustment. American clothes dryers are unusable. The electrical outlets in Switzerland are hexagonal in shape. Many are recessed in the wall requiring multiple adapter plugs for appliances with U.S.-style plugs.

Most apartment buildings have common laundry facilities with washers and dryers. Buildings have either an assigned laundry schedule or a sign-up system, and it is common that wash day is only once a week, or even biweekly. Most privately leased homes are furnished with washers and either a dryer or a room for hanging laundry. Transformers are useful. They are sometimes available from those departing the post and can also be purchased at military exchanges in Germany.

A TV/VCR with only the American NTSC system can be used at post to view videotapes (utilizing a stepdown only transformer). In order to receive local broadcasts, the system must have PAL (K) capability.

Food Last Updated: 10/21/2003 11:32 AM

Shopping facilities are very good, although much more expensive than in the U.S. Markets and specialty shops, such as bakeries, milk/cheese shops, grocery stores, and butcher shops are entirely satisfactory. Several supermarkets exist, and a shopping center (mall) can be reached in about 15 minutes by car from Bern. However, shopping hours are not as convenient as in the U.S., with stores closing at 6:00 or 6:30 p.m. except for one weekday evening when the stores are generally open until 9 p.m. On Saturdays shops stay open until 1 or 4 p.m. depending on each individual store or town.

Fresh fruits and vegetables, chocolates, dairy products, breads and pastries, dried soups and sauces, and jams and preserves are excellent. Butter and meat are of good quality, although some meat cuts differ from those in the U.S. Many varieties of canned goods are sold locally. Frozen foods are available in an increasingly wide selection. In general, Swiss prices are about 50% higher than in the U.S. Some foods are only available in the few stores that feature imports, for example, maple and other flavorings, Knox gelatin, baking soda, molasses, and syrup. Good baby food products are available.

Personnel requiring special dietary foods should inquire whether they are available here or need to be imported with household effects. Because of the high cost of products in Switzerland, some employees import food with their HHE shipment. Personnel also buy food, liquor and other American products at the military facilities in Germany. The closest facilities, located in Heidelberg or Stuttgart are a 3- to 4-hour drive from Bern. Some Embassy employees travel an hour-and-a-half to either France or Germany for grocery and specialty shopping.

Clothing Last Updated: 10/21/2003 11:58 AM

Bring clothes suitable for a temperate U.S. climate. It is advisable to bring complete winter clothing, good footgear for hiking and good raingear for constantly changing weather.

Business suits are commonly worn for official receptions and dinners. Women wear business suits or dresses for these events. On rare occasions a special evening invitation may be received calling for tuxedo dress for men and cocktail or long dress for women, but such an invitation is usually for the Ambassador and spouse or other senior officers. The annual Marine Ball, however, brings out the tuxes and long ball gowns for many.

For social occasions, Swiss dress informally, though still conservatively. Younger Swiss are much more casual than older Swiss. Women’s styles can range from jeans, slacks, and pant suits to dresses; while men range from jeans and sweaters to jackets.

Good-quality men’s, women’s, and children’s clothing can be purchased in Switzerland, but prices are much higher than in the U.S. Men’s tailoring is excellent but dressmakers are hard to find. Shoes are of excellent quality; however, individuals with narrow or extra-wide feet should bring a good supply because these widths are extremely hard to find. Made-to-measure shoes are available.

Catalog shopping through the military exchange is available with reasonably priced items, but selection is very limited. Shopping from U.S. catalogs is another option.

Both English-speaking schools require smaller children to wear slippers indoors and white-soled gym shoes in gym. The International School of Berne (ISB) requires black gym shorts and red shirts. (See Education, Dependent Education.)

Supplies and Services

Supplies Last Updated: 10/21/2003 11:59 AM

The usual consumer goods, toiletries, cosmetics, and household supplies are sold in Switzerland but prices are much higher than in the U.S. One should bring highly specialized drugs, as it is sometimes difficult to find the exact equivalent.

Basic Services Last Updated: 10/21/2003 12:00 AM

Community services are good. Laundry, dry cleaning, shoe repair, equipment repair, and beauty and barber services are all available and good, but the cost for these services is much higher than in the U.S.

Domestic Help Last Updated: 10/21/2003 12:00 AM

A need for domestic help depends on one’s job, obligations, and expectations. The cost of hiring a cleaning person on an hourly basis is SFr 20–25. Swiss household staffs are rare. The current wage for a live-in maid is a minimum of SFr 1,500 a month, plus room and board and uniform. Added to this are social security (17%), half paid by the employer and half by the employee, and health and accident insurance (about 3.8% of salary).

Efficient but expensive catering services are available. Reliable waiters and maids may also be hired as needed. Swiss babysitters start at SFr 10 per hour plus transportation and are difficult to find. Teenage babysitters, usually children of Embassy employees, are often available for evenings, but virtually impossible to get in the daytime during the school year. Rates usually start at SFr 7 per hour for one child, and SFr 10 per hour to watch two children.

Religious Activities Last Updated: 10/21/2003 12:00 AM

Bern has many Protestant denominations, the dominant one being the Reformed Church. Other groups include a Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints, a Christian Science church, a Seventh-day Adventist church, and others. The city also has several Roman Catholic churches, a Jewish synagogue, an Islamic center, and a Russian Orthodox Church. Most services are conducted in German. One of the Catholic churches (Bruder Klaus), however, has one Sunday Mass in English. In addition, a small Anglican church near the Embassy serves as the parish church for the U.S., British, and Canadian Protestant communities. All of its services are in English.


Dependent Education

At Post Last Updated: 10/23/2003 1:28 PM
Most Embassy children attend either the International School of Berne (ISB) or the British School of Bern. In 1993–94, one family at post sent its three children to the L’Ecole Francaise de Berne, with instruction in French. This was the family’s third year in Bern, and their French instruction at ISB was strong enough for the students to make the transition to an all-French instructional program. L’Ecole runs from prekindergarten through grade 9. The British School goes from preschool to grade 4 and the ISB from preschool through grade 12.
English-speaking teachers staff ISB and the British School. Both schools are modern with adequately sized rooms, a library, and an outside play area. ISB also has a gym, computer lab, science lab, and an arts center. Both schools provide bus services to many areas of Bern. ISB uses numerical grades from 1 to 7 and the British School uses a letter system. Teacher comments, and parent conferences are used at both schools, and standards of achievement compare favorably with those in the U.S. The British School uses a trimester system, with 2-week holidays at Christmas and Easter, a 1-week fall vacation, and the traditional Swiss 1-week “ski holiday” in February. Summer vacation is from the last week of June to the last week of August. The ISB has a quarterly calendar, and its holidays are about the same as those of the British School. Holiday calendars however are not synchronized; therefore students at one school may be on holiday when the other school is in session.

The ISB is a nonprofit, coeducational private school run by a Board of Directors of up to nine persons elected by the Parents Association. An Embassy parent has usually been on the Board. It is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges and the European Council of Independent Schools and successfully completed its 10-year reaccreditation in 1994. Its 270 students come from the diplomatic corps and multinational business and industry, with over 30 nations represented.

The curriculum is international in nature. At the high school level, students may pursue the International Baccalaureate program. This is broader and deeper than most U.S. high school curricula. Instruction is in English, but French and German are offered as foreign languages in grades 1 to 12. German can also be offered as a first language. Home languages instruction can be organized if an external teacher is available but this is not funded by the school. English-as-a-Second-Language instruction is available for students whose mother tongue is not English. The school has a comprehensive special education program for learning disabled students and for highly gifted students. It is an Optimal Match school working with the Center for Talented Youth at Johns Hopkins University.

The school’s testing program includes the International Baccalaureate, the College Board SAT and Cambridge IGCSE examinations. Recent U.S. Embassy high school graduates have been accepted at Boston University, Colby College, Elon College, Florida Institute of Technology, U.S. Naval Academy among others. Other graduates have gone to Stanford, Goucher, New York University, and Connecticut College in the U.S., as well as English, Japanese, Swiss, Indian, South African, Canadian, Australian, and Spanish universities. The school is supported by a grant from the Office of Overseas Schools of the Department of State. More specific information may be obtained from that office or from microfiche files available at overseas posts.

Founded in 1988, the British School is an independent, nonprofit day school located in Gumlingen, a suburb of Bern. The school provides a modern British curriculum. The teaching allows each child to develop to his/her particular need through both same-age and cross-age groupings. Present enrollment is about 72 students in prekindergarten through Grade 4. Embassy parents with children at the school have, on the whole, been very satisfied with their involvement and the care and attention given to their students.

The English Speaking Playgroup takes children aged 3 to 5 years who speak English or, in limited numbers, who wish to learn English. Activities include singing, art, music and movement, stories, and poems as well as supervised games and play. The groups have a maximum of 12 children. There is also an English Montessori School in Bern for children 3 to 6 years old. The L’Ecole Francaise de Berne also provides a preschool for ages 2½ to 5 years old. Occasionally it is possible to enroll in a Swiss neighborhood nursery school; classes are conducted in Swiss German. Some families have recently found adequate day-care facilities near the Embassy, but these are generally expensive and often have limited English instruction.

Tuition charges from kindergarten on up, at both the British School and ISB, fall within the State and Defense Department education allowances. Pre-kindergarten expenses have to be paid by the parents.

Away From Post Last Updated: 10/21/2003 12:03 AM
Most Swiss boarding schools may be reached from major cities by car or train within a few hours. Swiss boarding schools for secondary school children are private. Scholastic standards are generally high, and tuition fees (which are high) vary yearly. Two teenage dependents are currently attending boarding schools in Switzerland outside of Bern. Personnel considering such a school should consult a professional educational adviser. The schools at post are considered adequate; thus the post allowance for schooling is the same at post as away from post.

Higher Education Opportunities Last Updated: 10/23/2003 1:29 PM

The University in Bern, one of the largest in Switzerland, offers courses in seven areas of study to undergraduate and graduate students. English literature classes are given in English, all others in German. Specific information on this and other universities may be obtained from each institution or from the Rectors’ Conference of the Swiss Universities, Sennweg 2, 3012 Bern. The American College of Switzerland at Leysin (a campus of Schiller International University) is about 1½ hours away from Bern by car. It is a fully accredited (by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools) 4-year college in Switzerland. It offers five programs leading to a B.A., B.S., or M.B.A. degree. More information may be obtained from the Office of Admission, 1854 Leysin, Switzerland.

The Zurich Campus of City University of Bellevue, Washington, is 1½ hours from Bern by car (slightly faster by train). It is an accredited English-speaking college and offers both undergraduate and master’s programs in business administration. More information can be obtained from the college at the Educational Programs of City University, AG, Raemi Str. 71, 8006 Zurich.

Webster University of St. Louis in Geneva, 1¾ hours from Bern by car, offers both undergraduate and masters of arts programs. Further information can be obtained from the college at the Center for International Reform, John Knox, 27 Chemin des Crets de Pregny, 1218 Grand Saconnex/Geneva.

Franklin College in Lugano, 5 hours from Bern, is an accredited English-speaking college offering A.A., B.A., and M.B.A. degrees. More information can be obtained from the college, 6902 Lugano, Switzerland.

There are also several campuses of the European University specializing in a B.A. or M.A. in business with instruction in English. Information can be obtained at Route de Fontanivent CH-1817, Fontanivent-Montreux, Switzerland.

There are also several noted hotel schools, including one run by Schiller University. For information, write Hotel Europe, CH-6390, Engelberg, Switzerland.

Night classes in Bern are offered in a wide variety of subjects including business skills, hobbies and crafts, sports, home economics, and the arts. All classes are in German. Several language schools have group lessons taught in German, but private lessons with English-speaking instructors are available. The International School of Bern offers beginning and intermediate courses in German and French; and the English-speaking social clubs (see below) have ongoing conversational classes in both languages. Music lessons are offered at the Bern Conservatory, as well as by private teachers.

Recreation and Social Life

Sports Last Updated: 10/21/2003 12:05 AM

Many opportunities are available for individual sports. Tennis, hot-air ballooning, windsurfing, sailing, rafting, hang gliding, golf, riding, skiing, skating, boating, fishing, hunting, swimming, climbing, and hiking can all be enjoyed in or near Bern. Lessons are given in many of these sports. Although no public tennis courts exist, staff members can join private clubs where lessons are offered by licensed instructors, some of whom are English speaking. Several riding stables in and around Bern offer indoor instruction to groups and individuals. Sailing lessons are given on nearby Lake Thun, and mountaineering is taught by the Swiss Alpine Club. The lessons are nearly always in German and/or French.

Skiing is Switzerland’s major sport. There are many ski areas near Bern, and all have English-speaking ski instructors. Both group and private lessons are cheaper than in the U.S.

The nearest golf club is a 25-minute drive from Bern. Diplomats and nondiplomatic personnel can join at a reduced fee, but the green fees are expensive. A number of excellent golf courses can be found throughout Switzerland.

Hunting is an expensive sport, and a difficult annual examination must be passed to obtain a license. The Swiss are avid shooters, and rifle and pistol ranges are widespread. Stream fishing for trout, graylings, and pike is popular and fishing equipment is available, but a license must be obtained and strict rules adhered to.

A public outdoor swimming pool near the Embassy is converted into an ice-skating rink during winter. Occasional ice hockey matches are held there. Other public swimming pools are located throughout Bern and the surroundings.

The most popular spectator sports are ice hockey, soccer, track and field events, and ski competitions. Horse shows and bicycle and motorcycle races and rallies also take place in or near Bern. Sports equipment is generally more expensive than in the U.S., but items are available at the military exchange at reasonable prices. Good used equipment is also available at the beginning of each ski season.

Touring and Outdoor Activities Last Updated: 10/21/2003 12:05 AM

Bern is centrally located for travel to all parts of Switzerland by car or train. The city is within a few hours’ driving distance of France, Italy, Germany, and Austria. Magnificent scenery and charming restaurants and hotels add to the local color.

Countless opportunities exist for camping and hiking near Bern and all over Switzerland. Wooded areas that are perfect for picnics surround the city. Bern itself boasts a botanical garden, a rose garden overlooking the old town, an outdoor zoo with play areas for children and the famous bear pits.

Bern has several museums and a number of small art galleries, plus occasional exhibitions and fairs. Outstanding museums are also found in other Swiss cities.

No restrictions are placed on photography except where posted, such as in military areas.

Entertainment Last Updated: 10/21/2003 12:06 AM

The variety of entertainment in Bern is impressive though little cosmopolitan nightlife exists.

About 20 film theaters show American, French, German, and Italian movies. Many American movies are shown in Bern in English (subtitles are in German and French). The City Theater offers operas, plays, ballets, and operettas, while smaller theaters offer plays and cabarets. Guest performances by Swiss and international classical and jazz musicians are common. An excellent international jazz festival takes place every spring. Lectures, travelogues, etc., are given frequently. Most of the performances are presented in German, although some nightclub acts are in French. Bern has four nightclubs, several bars, and many restaurants featuring Swiss specialties. In general, Swiss law prohibits young children from attending film theaters at night.

The principal local festivities are Swiss National Day (August 1), the Onion Market Day, held on the last Monday in November, and Sammi Klaus Day (December 5). The Onion Market features hundreds of market stalls selling onions and handicrafts. The Fasnacht (Carnival) celebration is held in late winter at the beginning of the Lenten season.

Social Activities Last Updated: 10/21/2003 12:06 AM

The American community in Bern consists mostly of Embassy staff members and their dependents, resident American business community members, and Americans married to Swiss. Social life can be as full and varied as one desires through one of the clubs, the AEA or Marine Corps functions, or friends made in Bern.

English-speaking clubs in Bern are the American Women’s Club, the International Club of Bern, and the Swiss American Society. A German/French-speaking Club (GAD) is also available for spouses of all Embassy employees as well as spouses of Swiss Foreign Ministry personnel to meet. Clubs often have programs specifically for children as well as events for families. Girl Scout, Boy Scout and Cub Scout units are also available, but often depend on family member involvement.

Official Functions

Nature of Functions Last Updated: 10/21/2003 12:07 AM

The Ambassador, DCM, PAO, and military attachés have many diplomatic functions to attend. Additionally, the Councilors of the Embassy attend several official functions, and since the Embassy is relatively small, other Embassy officers (as well as junior officers) have opportunities to attend official functions in Switzerland. The Bern Consular Corps offers regular social contacts for the administrative officers of a number of embassies to meet once a month over lunch to discuss common administrative issues of concern affecting the diplomatic community in Bern. Official diplomatic functions are generally rather formal cocktail receptions.

Standards of Social Conduct Last Updated: 10/21/2003 12:07 AM

Standards of social conduct are similar to those in the U.S., though a bit more formal. Generally, Swiss say goodbye individually to all persons when leaving a gathering. Officers will need calling cards on arrival in Bern. Printing is more expensive than in the U.S., and an order takes about 2 to 3 weeks to complete. The format and size of locally printed cards are slightly different from the standard type most officers have printed.

Special Information Last Updated: 10/21/2003 12:08 AM

No particular hazards or restrictions exist regarding living and traveling in Switzerland.

Each new employee and dependent should bring eight photos (about 1.5" x 1.75") for the Swiss and Embassy Bern identification cards.

Post Orientation Program

The CLO Coordinator (CLOC) oversees the Orientation Program. He/she finds social sponsors to assist work sponsors. CLOC provides a Welcome Kit for new arrivals that includes information on community services, maps, shopping, schools, the myriad of tourist attractions, and general information on living in Bern. CLOC also helps develop formal newcomer briefings in both substantive and administrative areas. The American Women’s Club of Bern, the GAD (a German- and French-speaking club for spouses of diplomats), and the International Club of Bern provide additional opportunities to experience Switzerland, and some Mission members belong to these clubs or to the Swiss-American Society.

Consular Agency - Geneva

Post City Last Updated: 10/23/2003 1:31 PM

Center of International Activity

Geneva is one of the world’s leading centers of international activity. In addition to the European Office of the U.N. more than 175 international government and nongovernment agencies and 188 permanent national missions are located here. Although Geneva is not the capital city (Bern is the Swiss capital), it is considered the center of more international activity per capita than any other city in the world. The city itself has a population of about 173,000. Greater Geneva — the city and all surrounding communes, which make up the Canton of Geneva — has about 440,000 residents. More than 45,000 diplomats, international civil servants, and their families reside here.

The main focus of international activity is the Palais des Nations. Once the home of the League of Nations, it is now the seat of the U.N.’s European Office. More than 300 conferences a year, attended by more than 25,000 delegates, make the Palais des Nations the world’s busiest international conference center.

Geneva is often a front-page dateline during a summit conference or high-level political meeting. But even when the diplomacy occurring in Geneva does not make headlines, it works steadily to improve international relations and to make the world a better place. International activity in Geneva includes developing programs for combatting disease, expanding trade, helping refugees and migrants, training people in industry and agriculture, and developing the maximum use of weather and communications satellites.

The following are among the major intergovernmental organizations headquartered in Geneva: International Labor Organization (ILO); World Health Organization (WHO); International Telecommunications Union (ITU); World Meteorological Organization (WMO); World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO); U.N. Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD); U.N. Economic Commission for Europe (ECE); World Trade Organization (WTO); Human Rights Commission (HRC); U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR); and Intergovernmental Organization for Migration (IOM).

The major nongovernmental organizations in Geneva include the International Committee of the Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the World Council of Churches, and the International Commission of Jurists. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Worldwide Fund for Nature are in nearby Gland.

United States Mission to the U.N. Office and Other International Organizations

The U.S. Mission, which is headed by a Permanent Representative with the rank of Ambassador, represents the U.S. in its dealings and communications with the United Nations and other international agencies in Geneva, as well as with the 186-plus countries that also maintain permanent missions in Geneva. The Mission staff consists of about 225 U.S. and FSN employees.

The U.S. Mission promotes U.S. Government policies and interests in all of the many multilateral organizations based in Geneva. Mission officers regularly serve as key channels of communication, report on developments, make policy recommendations, and promote management reforms and enhanced effectiveness of the U.N. organizations. The U.S. participates in most of the 300 conferences that meet in Geneva each year. In some cases, Mission officers serve as the sole U.S. Government participants in the meetings. In other cases, a delegation comprises representatives from the Department of State, other U.S. Government Departments or agencies, nongovernmental organizations and the private sector participates in these meetings. Mission officers are then integral members of the delegation.

Geneva is also the site of numerous arms control negotiations and discussions. The Conference on Disarmament (CD), the world’s primary multilateral arms control negotiating forum, meets in Geneva. The head of the separate U.S. Delegation to the CD also has the rank of Ambassador. In addition, other arms control discussions pertaining to existing treaties, such as START and the ABM agreement, take place in Geneva. Separate U.S. Government delegations to these talks come to Geneva for weeks at a time.

Office of the U.S. Trade Representative

The Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) represents the U.S. at the World Trade Organization (WTO) and is constituted as the U.S. Mission to the WTO. The Deputy U.S. Trade Representative heads the U.S. delegation, and has the rank of Ambassador. With about 20 employees, the Office promotes U.S. trade interests, monitors implementation of existing multilateral trade agreements, enforces U.S. rights through dispute settlement, and participates in multilateral trade negotiations.



Situated on the banks of the largest lake in central Europe, at the foot of the Jura Mountains and the gate of the Alps, Geneva has a unique charm. Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Europe, is visible on clear days. On the edge of the city, the Rhone River emerges from Lake Geneva to continue its flow to France. The Canton of Geneva is located in the extreme southwest corner of Switzerland, and is surrounded on three sides by France. No matter where you are in the Canton, you are never more than a few minutes drive from the French border.

Today, Geneva has some 400,000 inhabitants. Its international face can be seen in its population, one-third of which is from abroad, representing 157 nations. Geneva, more than most cities of its size, is multilingual. French is both the official and everyday language, but English, German, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, and Arabic can be heard in the streets. Despite its large international representation, Geneva takes its character from its Swiss heritage. It welcomes foreigners, but expects privacy and respect for its traditions in return.

Geneva’s climate varies. It is temperate from April to October. Winters are damp, with overcast skies, but a trip to the nearby mountains will usually reward you with sunshine. Snow covers the mountaintops throughout winter, but Geneva remains temperate with minimal snowfall. Temperatures rarely stay below freezing during the day.

Summers are pleasant with only occasional hotspells. Temperatures are cool and crisp in both spring and autumn. Rain is frequent during spring and early fall. Two characteristically Swiss winds affect the seasonal weather. The “bise” is a north wind that blows in across Lake Geneva, bringing a chilling cold bite to the winter and clear cool skies in the summer. The “foehn,” a south wind, is surprisingly humid and warm. Geneva has no serious climatic changes or extremes of temperature.


The word “Geneva,” Celtic in origin, means “at the water’s edge.” Archeological findings attest to its habitation as early as 12,000 BC. Ruins of a large village, constructed of wooden pile dwellings and set along the edges of the lake, date from 2,500 BC. The first fortified settlement, on the hill of the old town, is thought to be Celtic in origin. In the Middle Ages, the town was a city of the Holy Roman Empire.

Later, Geneva became a part of the territory of the princes of Savoy, which finally extended from the Mediterranean to the borders of Bern and Burgundy, and as far as the Valais. Official links with the Swiss Confederation began in the 16th century when Geneva undertook alliances with Fribourg and Bern to protect its independence.

With the Protestant Reformation, Geneva became the seat of Calvinism, providing a Europe-wide haven for Protestant refugees. The Reformation and the period of Calvinist rule have had deep and lasting effects on the city’s political, cultural, and economic life. Incidentally, it was French Protestant refugees who introduced watchmaking to Geneva, thus establishing one of Switzerland’s most important export industries.

Geneva was closely associated with the 18th century French liberal movement. Rousseau and Voltaire lived in and near Geneva for long periods before the French Revolution. Their ideas had profound repercussions both in Geneva and throughout the Western World, setting off a wave of revolution against traditional monarchies.

In 1815 Geneva joined the Swiss Confederation, thus completing present-day Switzerland.

The vogue of tourism in the beginning of the 19th century marked Geneva’s first urban changes. Modernization of hotels, the lure of pleasure boats along the lake and down the Rhone, transformed the city. In the last century Geneva has developed into a prosperous and flourishing center of commerce, tourism, and international politics.

Geneva’s general appearance belies its long, distinguished history. The Old City, on the left bank of the Rhone, keeps its charm from the 16th to 18th centuries. Within its maze of narrow streets you will find remnants of ancient times, as in the diggings under the Cathedral, as well as fine antique shops. The rest of Geneva is a modern city that reflects its growth in population, and expansion of commercial and international organizations. Always, there are splendid cafes and tea shops.

Geneva is a small, manageable city. It is quick to get to know and easy to move around in. It has the ambience of a town, rather than a city. Its residents and guests spend much of their leisure time in the well-tended parks, the gardens, and the lakeside promenades. From the town’s center you can walk to most important landmarks within 20 minutes.

Lake Geneva is a focus of activity year round. It attracts both the tourist and the local population to its waterside cafes, marinas, and yacht races. The Jet d’Eau, literally, a jet of water spurting 495 feet out of the Lake, is a unique Geneva attraction.

The Post and Its Administration Last Updated: 10/22/2003 11:57 AM

The U.S. Mission reports directly to the Department of State through the Bureau of International Organization Affairs. Although the Mission is headed by an Ambassador and DCM, it is atypical in structure and organization. Its major sections are: Public Affairs, Political and Specialized Agency Affairs, Refugee and Migration Affairs, and International Economic Affairs. The Administrative Section, which includes Conference Services and Communications, supports all visiting Mission delegations, as well as the Geneva Offices of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) and the Conference on Disarmament (CD).

The Mission and USTR offices are located in a modern, U.S. Government-owned building at 11, Route de Pregny, telephone: 41–22–749–4111. CD offices are located in the Mission building. Geneva’s international airport and main railroad stations are each about 10 minutes away by car. The administrative workweek is Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., with 1 hour for lunch. USTR hours differ slightly.

Mission personnel, CD, and USTR employees permanently assigned to Geneva (except those of the Foreign Agricultural Service) are payrolled by the Charleston Finance Center in liaison with the Regional Administrative Management Center, Paris. The Union de Banques Suisses, with a branch at the nearby World Health Organization (WHO), is one of the banks that provides a full range of services for Mission staff and official visitors.

Housing Last Updated: 10/22/2003 11:58 AM

As a result of Geneva’s new attraction to the business world, permanent housing is currently in great demand and short supply. Prepare for a permanent housing search that may last 1–3 months. The Housing Office is up-to-date on the tight housing market and will assist in every possible way. To facilitate your search, contact the Mission Housing Office (41–22–749–4386) and, if at all possible, visit the post beforehand.

Temporary Quarters Last Updated: 10/22/2003 12:00 AM

Upon arrival, personnel should expect to stay in temporary quarters for the duration of their housing search. Organize your packing and your airfreight to accommodate your stay in temporary quarters. Plan for seasonal weather changes, and at the same time, keep in mind that temporary quarters offer little or no storage space.

There are a number of choices for temporary quarters:

The first includes residential hotels, that is, hotels which offer an apartment or studio facility along with a small kitchen. These include the Residence Mont Blanc, the Motel Mon Repos, and the Laffitte. The advantage is the kitchenette and the separate bedrooms. The disadvantage is the plain decor and the threadbare ambience.

A second option is a hotel room with kitchenette. These include the Carlton, Ascot, the Autuil, and a list of others.

The third option is a fine, European style hotel with no kitchen facilities, of which there is an abundance. They are small but fresh and well-tended. Self-service restaurants such as the Manora offer a change from restaurant eating, providing a large selection of fresh vegetables and fruits, as well as lighter meals.

Because of funding limitations, employees wishing to stay in a hotel without kitchen facilities for more than a week should obtain post management approval in advance. Limitations on per diem payments may apply.

During tourist season and when there are large conferences in town, hotels of all kinds are fully booked. Be sure to request your reservations as soon as you can.

All of the recommended temporary quarters fall within the temporary quarters allowance, even for families with three or more children. You may request a more complete or up-to-date listing from the Housing Office.

Pet rules vary and there is usually a pet fee, so be sure to inquire when you write or cable the Mission.

Washers and dryers, located in the Mission basement, are available for your use while you are in temporary quarters.

Permanent Housing Last Updated: 10/22/2003 12:03 AM

Under the Interagency Housing Policy of the Mission, only Ambassadors and their deputies have U.S. Government-leased housing. An exception is made for the Marine Security Guard Detachment, including the detachment commander. All other employees occupy privately leased housing.

Geneva is an LQA post which means you are provided a monthly housing allowance and you have the opportunity, rare in the Foreign Service, to choose your own housing. The Housing Office will assist you in every way possible to find a residence and to work through the details with the lessor. In the end, you will be responsible for signing your lease and for paying your rent and utilities, just as you would in Washington.

Be aware that housing is extremely tight in Geneva. The key to finding satisfactory housing is flexibility. Consider that the house you find may not be the house of your dreams, but rather what you need to live adequately. Assess what is most important for your housing needs, then prioritize just as you would in Washington, D.C. Expect significantly higher costs and less floor space than you would find in Washington, D.C.

Geneva proper is a city of apartments. For some personnel, apartment living, in the heart of town, is what they prefer. Large apartments are hard to find and houses are rare in the downtown areas, but efficient, smaller apartments are possible. Several modern apartment complexes near the Mission on the right bank of Lake Geneva draw both American and international personnel. They are well organized and usually contain a shopping center or small grocery store. Washers and dryers are normally found in a common laundry room. Specific times for their use are assigned. Underground parking is the norm and access to public transport is easy. Parking in the historic old town area may not be available.

Many families with children choose suburban homes located along the northern shore of Lake Geneva in the Canton of Vaud. These homes have gardens or yard space and are within a reasonable driving distance (20 minutes) of the Mission. Those with children look for housing in areas close to selected schools. These homes are increasingly rare, however, and require extensive efforts to locate.

Housing along the southern lake boundary is popular and equally lovely. It may require a longer commute should you choose to drive rather than take the bus.

Shopping is always available and is often within walking distance. There are some European-style shopping malls in the suburbs. Prices for goods and services are high by American standards, but the Department provides an adequate cost-of-living allowance.

In Geneva, the Diplomatic Clause included in the lease requires 3 months’ notice for termination of the contract. It would therefore be extremely difficult to break the lease for any reason other than diplomatic orders. The General Services Office (GSO) reviews all leases and keeps copies on file.

Immediately after signing a lease and again on its expiration, an inventory/ survey, called a “walk through” is made by the real estate agent, the lessee, and a representative of the Mission. The “walk through” details with great specificity the condition of your quarters. It lists all items furnished by the agent and their condition.

You must purchase Household Third-Party-Liability insurance from a Swiss insurance company. This insurance covers any accidental damage to rented property. Its primary purpose is to cover damage to your residence caused accidentally by you, your family, guests, or pets. Damage due to negligence is not covered. When you leave Switzerland and are negotiating a check-out with your landlord, this policy will immediately prove its value and permit a peaceful exit from your home. Local leases contain a clause which requires this insurance, and owners will often cancel the lease and evict you if you do not provide them with proof of insurance. Insurance payments are normally covered by LQA. The Housing office assists you with this insurance policy.

The Mission has Welcome Kits for use until your household effects (HHE) arrive. These include beds, folding chairs and a table, lamps, as well as bed linens, towels, and kitchen utensils.

Furnishings Last Updated: 10/22/2003 12:05 AM

The Mission does not provide any furniture or furnishings. In Geneva, personnel bring their own HHE. Furniture used in Washington, D.C., is suitable in Geneva. A rule of thumb in selecting your furniture is that Geneva houses and their rooms are smaller than Americans are used to. For example, a queen-sized bed is a better fit for the master bedroom than a king-size. Living rooms and dining rooms are often not divided into separate rooms but form one large open area. Only about half the kitchens have room for a table and chairs; thus, it is rare to find an “eat-in” kitchen. Most houses have a yard or garden space. Most apartments have balconies and indeed these are one of the joys of apartment living.

Quite often the flooring is wood parquet or ceramic tile. To reduce noise and also to observe some city regulations, bring floor coverings. Rugs and carpets of all types and quality are available but costly.

If you have curtains and draperies and would like to alter them to fit, bring them. Locally made draperies are possible, but costs are high. An option is to wait, then special order draperies from the U.S. after you assess your needs. Drapery costs can be partially covered in the foreign transfer allowance. Consult the Financial Management Office for details on reimbursable expenses.

A sofa bed will extend your guest capacity. If you have one, ship it. It is particularly useful if you will be living in a one-or two-bedroom apartment.

Bring lamps. U.S. lamps can be used here by simply attaching a plug adapter and changing the bulbs. At least two household centers, IKEA and Interio, offer a large selection of household items, as well as reasonably priced assembled and unassembled furniture. Both are within easy driving of Geneva. Antique shops abound and are great places to browse and to find a special piece of furniture.

Departing personnel often have household goods and furniture for sale. The Mission newsletter, Geneva Talks, publishes these listings weekly and is available through the CLO at 41–22–749–4750 or IVG 493–4750. New arrivals can also advertise their needs.

Basic items, such as light fixtures and permanently installed hardware, can frequently be bought from previous occupants. In most cases, storage space is limited. Most apartments have small storage rooms in the basement that can accommodate luggage and storage boxes. Houses have small bomb shelters that are useful for storage. Closets are scarce, but wardrobes are available locally.

Utilities and Equipment Last Updated: 10/22/2003 12:09 AM

Overall, Swiss housing is excellent. Building quality is superior; windows are installed to let in light and seal out cold. Gardens and balconies are the norm. As in all of Europe, space is less available and more efficiently used.

Kitchens: You can expect Swiss housing to have efficiently designed, smaller kitchens. When stoves and refrigerators come with the house/apartment they are of European size. If you have a medium- to large-size family or entertainment responsibilities, you might want to consider renting locally an additional refrigerator/freezer that will fit the size constraints of Swiss residences.

Washers and Dryers: American-made washers and dryers cannot be adapted to accommodate local plumbing, water and electrical regulations. Do not bring them. Washers and dryers, although basic needs for Americans, are not always included in individual rental units, particularly those providing access to a general laundry room. Installation of a personal washer and dryer is often not permitted. Check before signing the lease. You can lease/purchase refrigerators, freezers, washers, and dryers. Consult with Housing in drawing up an appliance lease. The cost for the appliance rental can be included in your housing budget if its cost is within your total allowance. It is also possible to rent furniture. Central heating, usually oil, and hot water are adequate. These expenses are reimbursable.

Telephones: Telephone lines take 3 to 6 weeks for installation. A Swiss net/ ISDN line, which can be split into 2 or more phone numbers, is possible. Phone line installation is reimbursable out of the foreign transfer allowance, but full coverage is possible only if you submit an itemized voucher for the travel allowance. Consult the Financial Management Office for details on reimbursable expenses as well as vouchers. The usual local phone company is Swisscom. You can choose your own provider for international calls. American telephones can be installed with the use of a local cable and adapter.

TV’s: American TV’s do not work in Europe. Sets can be purchased or leased locally. The military exchanges and bases carry such equipment for very reasonable cost. Guarantees and warranties are honored at the store of purchase. Cable television hookup is available to all but those who live in the most rural or mountainous areas and for those rugged few, a satellite dish can be bought.

Electricity: American electrical appliances will work with a transformer and an adapter. Geneva has 220 volt/ 50 Hz electricity and Swiss specific three-hole wall outlets. Mission personnel are provided up to two transformers.

Administrative Services available to Non-Mission Personnel. Non-Mission U.S. Government employees assigned to international organizations in Geneva may be provided certain administrative services. Check with the Financial Management Officer (41–22–749–4692, or IVG 493–4692.)

Food Last Updated: 10/22/2003 12:12 AM

In Geneva, chocolate is considered a major food group. A complete selection of fresh and imported food is also available. Almost anything can be found including tropical fruits, eastern spices, and Mediterranean specialties. Throughout the week and especially on weekends there are open-air farmers’ markets offering everything from cheese to table linens. Private farms often sell produce in season, and these farms are one of the pleasures of Swiss living. The availability of American-brand foods is limited. If you have a favorite product, bring a supply to ease your transition. Bring baby food and baby supplies to last until you find a suitable equivalent. Should your baby have special needs, ship extra cases with your household effects (HHE).

The Mission has a small store run by AGEA, the American Government Employee Association. A small selection of toiletries, snacks, light foods, breakfast cereals, cookies, and cake mixes, as well as duty-free alcohol and cigarettes are obtained from the military bases in Germany and are available to Americans with diplomatic privileges. Greeting cards, stamps and a few guidebooks are also available. There is a video rental service. All U.S. Government American employees permanently assigned to Geneva are automatically members of AGEA. A board of directors is elected annually. AGEA is one of the sponsors of a regular season of events for employees and their families, including the Hail and Farewell barbecues and seasonal children’s parties.

Diplomatic personnel may import purchases from the European Post Exchanges and Commissaries. Although the nearest PX is a 5-hour drive away, many find an occasional PX shopping trip economically prudent. A Mission wide order for turkeys and hams for the holiday season is filled once a year.

Clothing Last Updated: 10/22/2003 12:13 AM

Geneva’s climate resembles that of the mid- and northern U.S. so clothing needs are similar. However, in Geneva all attire, even for a casual weekend dinner or a trip to the market, is more formal than in the U.S. During the winter, wool sweaters, coats, hats, and warm socks are essential. Long silk underwear and thermals make light clothing usable year round. Bring your winter clothes and boots. Houses and offices are amply heated in winter. Summer is very pleasant with warmer weather and little humidity. A light jacket or sweater is handy year round. Fall and spring are pleasant months of temperate weather. Rain is frequent, however, and can last for days. Bring waterproof office shoes and a raincoat with a warm zip-in lining.

You will probably walk more in Geneva than in D.C. Bring excellent walking shoes with thick soles and sturdy cushioning. Weekend walks through the vineyards are easily made in good walking shoes, but for anything more rigorous you are well advised to bring a sturdy pair of hiking boots and good socks.

Both clothing and shoes are readily available in Switzerland, but quality tends to be truly excellent or just plain sad, with little in between. Shoes are very expensive.

Men Last Updated: 10/22/2003 12:14 AM

Year-round wool suits do nicely. Sweater vests are acceptable and comfortable in the office for those early fall days. If you have representational responsibilities, you may use a tuxedo during the year.

Women Last Updated: 10/22/2003 12:14 AM

Washington business attire does well in Geneva. Hem length varies. Trousers are common. Almost all receptions are held immediately after work; business dress is the norm. Dinner dresses are simple, not frilly.

Children Last Updated: 10/22/2003 12:15 AM

Children’s clothing is available, with quality leaping from excellent to poor with little in between. Many employees rely on the military bases and catalog shopping for their children. If you have children with growing feet, bring extra sizes.

Supplies and Services Last Updated: 10/22/2003 12:17 AM

Just about anything you could want is available on the local market. Bring a supply of personal items for the first months while you familiarize yourself with the different brands and packaging. Cosmetics, toiletries, and pharmaceutical items are all here. Pharmacists are especially helpful in recommending similar products or a suitable remedy. All medications, prescription and nonprescription, are especially dear, one tablet often costing 1 CHF. Bring a supply of your most frequently used pharmaceuticals.

European cleaning supplies, detergents, soaps, etc., are abundant and work well.

Paper products can be very expensive. Bring a supply of stationery, cocktail napkins, and specialty items. American thank-you notes are a nice touch. English language books, magazines, and newspapers are easily found but expensive. A paperback costs about 30 CHF. Bring a good supply of reading material for all the family.

Computers and computer supplies are available. Most paper is European size, so if your printer takes only U.S. letter size, bring what you need, shop at a military base, or consider locally purchasing an inexpensive printer. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU), as a service to the staff at international missions, provides free Internet access.

Craft and party supplies for children are especially expensive and very limited in variety. Bring a supply of crayons, markers, coloring books, drawing paper, paints, glue, and stickers. Bring party decorations and favors as well as Halloween costumes or their makings. An assortment of small children’s gifts will also come in handy.

Supplies Last Updated: 10/22/2003 12:18 AM

Just about anything you could want is available on the local market. Bring a supply of personal items for the first months while you familiarize yourself with the different brands and packaging. Cosmetics, toiletries, and pharmaceutical items are all here. Pharmacists are especially helpful in recommending similar products or a suitable remedy. All medications, prescription and nonprescription, are especially dear, one tablet often costing 1 CHF. Bring a supply of your most frequently used pharmaceuticals.

European cleaning supplies, detergents, soaps, etc., are abundant and work well.

Paper products can be very expensive. Bring a supply of stationery, cocktail napkins, and specialty items. American thank-you notes are a nice touch. English language books, magazines, and newspapers are easily found but expensive. A paperback costs about 30 CHF. Bring a good supply of reading material for all the family.

Computers and computer supplies are available. Most paper is European size, so if your printer takes only U.S. letter size, bring what you need, shop at a military base, or consider locally purchasing an inexpensive printer. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU), as a service to the staff at international missions, provides free Internet access.

Craft and party supplies for children are especially expensive and very limited in variety. Bring a supply of crayons, markers, coloring books, drawing paper, paints, glue, and stickers. Bring party decorations and favors as well as Halloween costumes or their makings. An assortment of small children’s gifts will also come in handy.

Basic Services Last Updated: 10/22/2003 12:20 AM

Same-day and 24-hour drycleaning are possible though unusual. One week is the norm. While services are usually efficient, drycleaning is costly and the chemicals used are harsher than in Washington. Choose wash-and-wear clothing whenever possible. Laundry services, including those for men’s shirts, are good but expensive. Well-managed, self-service laundry facilities exist. There are also washers and dryers in the Mission basement available for use until you are fully installed in your home.

Beauty and barbershops are not only plentiful but excellent.

Furniture repair is well done.

Automobile repair is excellent. It is quick and easy to find parts and services for European makes. Services for U.S. vehicles are also available. American auto parts, however, are difficult if not impossible to find on the local market. Have a U.S. contact for ordering special parts.

Tip: All services are costly, but Mission employees receive a cost-of-living allowance which fluctuates with the exchange rate but generally provides support.

Domestic Help Last Updated: 10/22/2003 12:20 AM

Geneva is not a post where one easily finds affordable live-in help. Many families hire a cleaning person on an hourly basis. Rates are currently 20 CHF an hour. Kitchen help is available for cocktail and dinner parties: rates range from 20-25 CHF. Families with children often hire high-school-aged babysitters for an evening out. The Mission will provide guidance on local laws should you wish to engage live-in or full-time help. Do not bring any domestic help with you unless you have contacted the personnel officer first. Financial requirements are steep and should be considered before any decision is made.

Religious Activities Last Updated: 10/23/2003 1:31 PM

English-language services are held in many places of worship including: the American Church, Church of Scotland (Presbyterian), Crossroads of Evangelical Church, Evangelical Baptist Churst, First Church of Christ Scientist, Holy Trinity Church (Anglican), International Christian Fellowship, Islamic Cultural Foundation, Jewish Liberal Community, Lutheran Church of Geneva, Pope John XXIII Center (Roman Catholic Church), Society of Friends Quaker House, and the Westlake Church.

Most other major faiths are represented in Geneva. Several Synagogues, an Orthodox center, Mormon center, and a Mosque are here. The Liberal Synagogue has services in English.

Many groups offer religious instruction for children. You can expect a fee of up to 100 CHR per child. InterYouth, a division of “Youth for Christ,” is active in Geneva. It has an active program for young people ages 11–18, including public service activities and social events. Bible studies, seminars, and fellowship activities are available for adults as well as children.

Education Last Updated: 10/22/2003 12:32 AM

Geneva offers a wide choice of schools and educational philosophy.

The Mission’s education allowance is based on the tuition and fees for the College du Leman (CDL). Not all fees at CDL are covered but, as with all other posts worldwide, Geneva relies on the Standardized Regulations for allowable expenses. Some expenses which you may experience in Geneva that you may not see in the U.S. include ski trips, fieldtrips, hot meals, and afterschool activities. Fees which exceed the allowable expenses are the responsibility of the family. Waiting lists for enrollment currently exist in all Geneva schools. CDL has agreed to accept all Mission dependents qualifying for admission.

Dependent Education

At Post Last Updated: 10/23/2003 1:33 PM
College du Leman (CDL). Established in 1960, CDL is an internationally recognized and accredited boarding and day school. It is a short block from public transportation and tram service. CDL is divided into the Anglo-American section which is taught in English, and the Swiss-French section, taught in French. The Anglo-American section prepares for either the American College Board Examinations (SAT, Achievement Tests and Advanced Placement Exams,) or the GCE exams of Cambridge. The Swiss-French section follows programs for the Swiss Federal Maturite and the French Baccalaureate.

CDL offers a complete academic program, American-accepted AP courses, as well as some extracurricular programs.

CDL includes grades K to 13. To be admitted to grade 1, a student must be 6 years old no later than December of the school year. Admission to grades 9 to 12 and 13 is dependent upon submission of school transcripts showing successful completion of courses in English, math, science, social studies, and foreign languages. An initial placement testing is possible.

International School of Geneva. The International School of Geneva has three branches: Pregny, located just across from the Mission, starting at age 3 and continuing though American grade 5, which is called class 6; La Chataigneraie, “La Chat,” located in Coppet, offering education for grades K to 13; and La Grande Boissiere, “LGB,” located on the southern side of the lake, grades K to 13. The International School of Geneva is based on a British curriculum and offers graduation with the International Baccalaureate Certificate after grade 13.

The I.B. is a strong comprehensive academic program well recognized in the U.S. A certificate of graduation, which meets admission criteria for U.S. universities, is possible for students choosing to graduate after grade 12. The U.S. Government does not reimburse for grade 13. The International School is 5% or 10% more expensive than CDL, and this additional amount is not reimbursed.

Other Schools

The Swiss public schools offer free neighborhood education. The language is French with tutoring initially provided in some Cantons. Starting age is 4 years.

The Florimont School offers a rigorous, parochial education in French. It provides substantial support for non-French speakers and a special class for children over age 10 starting French for the first time. Costs are covered by the educational allowance.

The Geneva English School is for primary grades only. It is a small, well-focused school based on British curriculum. Costs are covered by the educational allowance.

There are no day care centers in Geneva. The Swiss educational system is oriented to stay-at-home moms or live-in help. Half-day preschools are possible to find for children about age three. There are a good many Mom and Tot programs. Montessori schools exist.

Kindergarten is available in either French or English, English-speaking kindergartens being fewer in number.

Should your child have special needs or be working at an exceptional level in a gifted and talented program, speak directly to the school, and call or e-mail the CLO, (41–22–749–7450 or IVG 493–7450).

As at all posts, dependent education is a matter for careful attention. Parents should request up-to-date specifics through the CLO, and directly from the schools.

Special Educational Opportunities

Language. Good French-language classes, both private or in groups, are easily found. The Mission offers French to personnel and their dependents, subject to availability of funds. Language lessons are also offered at reasonable cost by the U.N., city-funded universities, and large private corporations. Personnel and eligible dependents are strongly encouraged to take the intensive language instruction offered by the Foreign Service Institute.

Higher Education. It is possible to begin or complete, in English, a college degree, or to sign up for individual classes. Webster University, an American college, has a campus in Geneva and holds both day and evening classes. A British program, Open University, offers an independent study program with tutorials scheduled locally throughout the year.

Superior facilities for those fluent in French are available at the University of Geneva and the Institute des Hautes Etudes Internationales. For more information, write to the institution of your choice.

Recreation and Social Life

Sports Last Updated: 10/22/2003 12:44 AM

Geneva is an outdoor lover’s paradise. Excellent skiing is just 40 minutes away by car, and the walking trails are right outside the door. Cross-country skiing is popular and available in Geneva’s immediate environs. Other recreational pastimes include: tennis, squash, and all manner of ball sports, trekking, mountain climbing, and bouldering; cycling of all kinds; fishing; horseback riding; hang gliding, water sports including sailing, canoeing, and kayaking. There are joggers on the roads and on the trails all year round. Golf courses exist in Switzerland as well as France, although golf is quite expensive. Sport and fitness clubs are well-staffed. Trainers provide exercise classes as well as personal coaching. Fitness clubs may have weight rooms, pools, saunas and steam baths. Some have indoor squash and tennis courts. Membership is possible for the day or the year. A few clubs offer a membership discount to Mission personnel.

Sports activities for children are different from those found in the U.S. Cricket is commonly played, not baseball. Soccer and rugby are popular, not American football. As extensive sports programs are not offered by the schools, parents often transport their children to and from activities.

There are excellent indoor swimming pools in town, one Olympic size. Swim teams for children and teens are of the highest caliber. There are small beaches on the Lake.

All sports equipment is sold at prices comparable to those for goods of excellent quality in the U.S. Ski apparel can be rented by the day or the season. Rental prices are reasonable. Ski boots for the very large foot and ankle, both cross-country and alpine, are very difficult to find. Bring your special order needs. Hiking boots are available and of excellent quality.

Tip: Think snow.

Touring and Outdoor Activities Last Updated: 10/22/2003 12:46 AM

Geneva is ideally located for convenient travel to a host of cities and sites. Bern, Switzerland’s capital and location of the American Embassy, is 98 miles away. You can get anywhere in Switzerland in a day’s travel by car or train.

Very pleasant day trips include boat excursions to Lausanne, Montreux, and other Swiss cities along Lac Leman, or voyages out to Evian, Annecy, or Chamonix in France. You can sign up at the tourist office for a group tour or venture out on your own by train or bus. Most major cities in Western Europe are within 2-days traveling, by car or train. Southern France is but 4 hours away by car, Paris only 3¾ hours by fast train.

Geneva is proud of its many parks and gardens that are beautifully designed and meticulously cared for. Every year Geneva prepares 40,000 rose bushes to be admired and sniffed in their three rose gardens. Besides roses, you will find paths for strolling, benches placed just for the view, and coffee houses. Many parks have playground areas for children, which contain sandboxes, merry-go-rounds, and swings. The Batie Woods, located at the junction of Lake Geneva and the Rhone, is a vast park featuring a small zoo with goats, deer, pigs, and peacocks.

Entertainment Last Updated: 10/22/2003 12:48 AM

Geneva offers a rich artistic and cultural life. Concerts, all kinds of shows, and exhibitions of the highest quality take place throughout the year. Of special note is Geneva’s music and opera. Geneva is home to the Suisse Romand Orchestra, which has both a summer and a winter series. Victoria Hall, with 1,850 seats, exceptional acoustics, and a unique decor in rococo style, is Geneva’s pearl of concert halls. It is devoted to classical music and its Orchestre de la Suisse Romande. Although larger productions are held downtown, smaller performances of fine quality take place in the surrounding villages, monasteries, and churches.

International annual jazz festivals are held in Montreux and nearby Lugano. For the younger at heart or age, the annual week long Paleo concert, held in nearby Nyon, is a great hit, attracting thousands of young people from throughout Europe.

The Grand Theater, an opera house built with the Opera Garnier of Paris in mind, is the focal point of operatic life in Geneva. Tickets are offered by event or by the season. Excellent programs including opera, ballet, concerts, symphonies, and jazz are all staged here. Nightclubs and large hotels offer yet another series of programs and performers.

For the art lover, there are many fine, smaller exhibits both in the larger museums and the smaller galleries. Geneva has its own Museum of Natural History, Museum of Art and History, and Museum of Ethnography.

Large stage productions are in French. There is a local English-speaking group, the Geneva English Drama Society, which you can attend or join as a performer.

Geneva has more than 1,100 restaurants, many of excellent quality. Cuisine is largely French, Swiss, or international, but a wide range is to be found. You will also find McDonald’s and Pizza Hut. Many choose to sample the fare in nearby France as well.

There are several large libraries in town, with most collections in French. A small English-language library of mainly British titles, The American Library, is located in the heart of the city, and has a branch in a nearby suburb. It has an extensive children’s section.

Bring a solid supply of reading material and subscribe to your favorite magazines. Mail-order book service is offered on the Internet.

Tip: Bring books.

Check out the Geneva Tourism web site:

Social Activities

Among Americans Last Updated: 10/22/2003 12:50 AM
The American International Club is a civic and speakers organization which hosts regular luncheons and a major Fourth of July celebration. Membership is open to both men and women.

American women can join several clubs, notably the American Women’s Club of Geneva, and the U.N. Women’s Guild, both of which are international in membership. The Nyon Women’s Club is popular with women in that area. These clubs offer a choice of scheduled activities, including conversational French groups, cooking classes, regular cross-country skiing and hiking outings, as well as volunteer and charitable work. They also sponsor evening activities and gala events.

Teenagers find fewer organized social activities than one would expect in the D.C. area. Consequently, teen activities are usually hosted by families or the teens themselves. Most schools offer ski weeks during their winter holiday. School vacations are long enough for families to travel together. Organized team sports are found in local clubs rather than the schools. The minimum age for a Swiss driver’s license is 18. Many young people buy monthly public transportation passes at reasonable rates in order to get around on their own. Intercity transportation is safe and reliable. Geneva is connected to the suburbs and environs by convenient, frequent bus and rail service.

International Contacts Last Updated: 10/22/2003 12:52 AM
Geneva affords many opportunities to meet people of other nationalities. Meeting the Swiss is more difficult. The constant flow of visitors and the natural reticence of the Swiss make any strong sense of community spirit elusive. One international organization that promotes contacts among diplomats, international civil servants, and Swiss residents is the Diplomatic Club. The club sponsors periodic luncheons, mostly in English. The membership fee is modest. Mission personnel find their social life determined by their own initiatives and interests.

Official Functions Last Updated: 10/22/2003 12:53 AM

Senior officers attend many official international functions. Business lunches or after work receptions are the most usual events. Normal protocol is observed. Social dress and customs are similar to Washington, D.C. International conferences afford many receptions, but invitations are reserved for those working with the group. Most entertaining is done at receptions and informal dinners.

Bring a large supply of calling cards. Local printing facilities are good, but expensive.

Special Information Last Updated: 10/23/2003 1:34 PM

Post Orientation Program

The Mission’s annual orientation program is open to employees and family members. It is held in the fall and acquaints new arrivals with the purpose and operation of the Mission as well as with many of the key Mission staff. A tape of the program is available throughout the year. Also, upon arrival, the Mission provides you with a “sponsor,” an employee or Mission family to show you around in a more personal manner.

The American Women’s Club has an excellent information and orientation program for life in Switzerland. It is held over a period of 6 weeks, 1 day a week. It is a good way to become familiar with the ins and outs of Switzerland, as well as to meet newly arrived English speakers from all over the world. The program is offered twice a year and is always fully booked. Call the AWC upon arrival and inquire as to dates and registration. Cost is 100 CHF per person or 150 CHF a couple.

Notes For Travelers

Getting to the Post Last Updated: 10/23/2003 1:34 PM

No special problems arise in traveling to Switzerland. One does not need to bring Swiss money. Airports and railway stations all have exchange offices and all hotels will change American money and travelers checks.

Airfreight usually arrives 1–2 weeks after delivery to the carrier in the U.S. However, longer delays are possible. Arrival time for surface freight depends on the shipping point and usually takes 4–6 weeks from the U.S.

Getting to the Post — Mission Geneva
Personnel and their families can review the schedules of American carriers, which depart daily from the U.S. connecting in London, Paris, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, and Zurich. Direct flights are available from Washington, D.C., and New York.

Visas are not required for Americans entering Switzerland; a valid passport is enough. Bring 12 passport-sized photographs of yourself and each family member. They will be needed for your Swiss identification and other cards.

There are no visa requirements to enter France unless the travel is for official business. However, a passport is required whenever you enter France and return to Switzerland.

Customs, Duties, and Passage

Customs and Duties Last Updated: 10/23/2003 1:36 PM

Diplomatic personnel have complete duty-free customs privileges for personal articles. A written clearance validated by the Embassy is usually required. Nondiplomatic personnel may import a “first installation” of new or used personal and household effects within 1 year of their arrival.

Nonofficial travelers to Switzerland are allowed to bring with them duty-free 2 liters of wine plus 1 liter of spirits and 400 cigarettes or 100 cigars or 500 grams of tobacco. Shipments of effects and unaccompanied baggage are normally cleared easily and promptly, and no special arrangements are necessary before departure. Transportation of effects through other European countries en route to Bern usually presents no problems.

Money, travelers checks, and other money instruments may be imported and exported freely.

Customs and Duties — Mission Geneva
The port of entry for surface shipments is Antwerp. Normal packing standards are required, with no restrictions on the size of cartons or lift vans. The customary shipping documents issued by the U.S. Despatch Agent, or forwarding agents of other countries, are all the documentation necessary. Surface shipment of goods from the U.S. takes about 4 weeks once it is loaded on the ship. Air shipments take about 2 weeks. Local movers are competent and neither breakage nor pilferage is a serious problem. Send the Mission General Services Office a copy of the packing lists. They will be translated into French and submitted to Customs authorities. There are no initial import prohibitions for diplomatic personnel. If you are planning any future shipments, contact the post for guidelines.

Check to see that your cases are numbered and marked with the appropriate address as given below:

Surface shipment
Your Name
U.S. Mission
11 route de Pregny
CH 1292 Chambesy/Geneva

Air shipment
U.S. Mission
(employee’s initials)
11 route de Pregny
CH 1292 Chambesy/Geneva
Switzerland c/o Interdean/Treyvaud

Cars. All accredited employees of the Mission are entitled to the duty-free importation of one new vehicle, plus any number of used vehicles owned by the employee for 6 months before their official accreditation in Switzerland.

Temporary plates for vehicles are not issued. To register your car you will need your plates and your registration from the country in which it was last registered. These must be current and valid for at least 3 months after the car arrives in Geneva. If possible, remove the license plates before shipping your car and hand carry them, along with your registration. Should you need a license plate on the car for driving it to the ship, leave one on the car and hand carry the other.

If your license plate is valid when your vehicle arrives, and you have acquired local third-party liability insurance, you can drive it out of customs and begin using it. Otherwise, the process of clearing and registering your vehicle is much longer and you will not be able to drive it during the processing time. You are permitted to drive your vehicle for 90 days before obtaining Swiss license plates, provided you have valid foreign plates.

Customs and Inspection. The Transportation Office will guide you through importation, inspection, and registration. (Tel. 41–22–749–4393 or 4643, or IVG 493–4393) It will direct you to a local insurer. Upon arrival at post pick up the Transportation Office Information Handbook for Newcomers.

You will need to provide the following papers:

American passport
The importation documents, approved by the customs authorities
Your vehicle registration certificate from the country where the vehicle was previously registered or a copy of the title if it has never been registered
Your previous license plates. Note that without license plates a car cannot be driven out of the customs bonded warehouse until the day of the inspection.
The manufacturer’s Technical Data Manual
Letter of good driving record from your insurer (see below)
Swiss ID card
Swiss third-party liability insurance
Inspection authorities require that your car’s engine and chassis be clean on the day of the inspection. Car engines must therefore be steamcleaned for the inspection. Steamcleaning costs CHF 120–140.

Cars older than 5 years have a greater difficulty passing inspection. Should you intend to import an older car, call the Transportation Office before shipping to discuss your options.

The vehicle inspection is similar to the safety inspection standard in the U.S., which is to say all safety equipment (i.e., shock absorbers, brakes, and tires) should be in good condition. When your vehicle passes inspection, it will be registered and you will receive new license plates.

Insurance. Third-party-liability vehicle insurance is mandatory and must be purchased in Switzerland. The insurance policy must be valid in any European country where you might normally drive during a vacation. Without the policy the Swiss will not license your vehicle and the vehicle cannot be driven out of the Customs warehouse. Premiums can be reduced up to 60% when you provide letters reporting accident-free driving. With a 10-year accident-free record, you can claim a full discount.

Comprehensive insurance for the vehicle can be purchased from anywhere in the world. However, some employees have had complications collecting on their claims. Check with your insurer regarding specifics on coverage. Be sure your policy remains valid in countries outside of Switzerland.

Insurance and registration procedures require the size of your engine in cubic centimeters. Your manufacturer can provide this information.

All types of foreign-made cars are sold and repaired in Geneva; however, it is easier and quicker to find spare parts and service for European cars. Also, although many families bring vans and sports vehicles to post, remember that European cars, and therefore roads, parking spaces, and garages are smaller than U.S. models.

Upon leaving post your imported car can, without duties or fees, be sold to another member of the diplomatic service, or be exported. Sales to nondiplomats may require substantial costs for meeting Swiss vehicle specifications.

Contact the Transportation Office before you buy a car or make shipping arrangements. (Tel. 41–22–749–4393 or 4643, or IVG 493–4393)

Drivers License. Members of diplomatic missions are not required to obtain Swiss driving licenses as long as their foreign licenses remain valid. If the foreign license is not in English, French, German, or Italian, an International license may be requested. Swiss drivers licenses are valid for life.

Gasoline. Gasoline costs about CHF 1.30 per liter. Gas cards for the purchase of duty-free gasoline are available to accredited personnel only. Gas cards are accepted at specific gas stations throughout Switzerland, reducing the cost of gas significantly. This tax-free privilege also applies to home heating fuel.

Arriving in Switzerland by Car. If traveling to Switzerland by car, you must have international third-party liability insurance and the green insurance paper (Carte International d’Assurance). This insurance must be with a Swiss or foreign company accredited by the Swiss Federal Government. If you do not have third-party insurance and the green insurance paper, you must buy insurance at every European border you cross. American or other valid license plates may be used to bring your car into Switzerland, but you must have Swiss plates within 1 year of arrival. U.S. plates may be used for 1 year or until the plates expire, whichever comes first.

Passage Last Updated: 10/21/2003 12:09 AM

Visas are not required for Americans entering Switzerland; a valid passport is sufficient. American diplomats stationed in Switzerland do not need diplomatic visas.

If traveling to Switzerland by car, one must have international third party liability insurance and the green insurance card (Carte Internationale d’Assurance). Without this card, one must buy insurance at each European border crossing.

Pets Last Updated: 10/23/2003 1:36 PM

Dogs and cats may be brought to Switzerland with a veterinary certificate of good health and rabies vaccination. The vaccination must be given no less than 30 days and no more than 1 year prior to date of entry. The Embassy Administrative Section has information on the importation of other animals.

Pets — Mission Geneva
Dogs and cats may be imported into Switzerland without a permit, and a veterinary inspection is not required for accompanied arrivals, unless there are more than three of them. Whether they arrive with their owners or as unaccompanied air baggage, dogs and cats have to have health and rabies vaccination certificates (in French, Italian, German, or English) issued by a licensed veterinarian. These certificates should be dated at least 30 days, but no more than 6 months, before entry. For more detailed information, contact the shipping office at the Mission (41–22–323–4393) or the Federal Veterinary Office, Tel: 41–31–323–8517, or fax 41–31–323–8522). After arrival, license fees are required for all animals except birds and cats. Before a license is issued for a dog, local third party liability insurance must be purchased.

Other pets — birds (except parrots and parakeets) — may be imported without certification. For parrots and parakeets, turtles and other reptiles, rodents, and other species, contact the Federal Veterinary Office at: 41–31–323–8509.

Firearms and Ammunition Last Updated: 10/23/2003 1:37 PM

Firearms and related ammunition may be imported only with the express permission of the Ambassador. Personnel shipping firearms must comply with U.S. and Swiss export license requirements. Personnel wishing to import weapons should consult with the Embassy’s administrative officer.

Firearms and Ammunition — Mission Geneva
Sporting and hunting guns may be brought to post. If you plan to import firearms of any kind, contact the GSO/RSO prior to shipment to determine if they comply with Swiss laws. If they meet requirements, you will need to provide make, model, serial number, caliber, and intended use.

Currency, Banking, and Weights and Measures Last Updated: 10/23/2003 1:37 PM

The Swiss franc, divided into 100 Rappen or centimes, is the basic unit of currency. The abbreviated notation SFr precedes the amount. The Swiss National Bank issues the currency, supervises its circulation, and handles discount and clearing operations for commercial banks. No currency restrictions exist in Switzerland.

Currency, Banking, and Weights and Measures — Mission Geneva
The Swiss franc, divided into 100 centimes, is the unit of currency. The abbreviated notation is CHF preceding the amount. The exchange rate fluctuates, but as of January 2002 is US$1 = CHF 1.66.

The Swiss national bank issues currency, supervises money circulation, and handles discount and clearing operations for commercial banks. No currency restrictions exist. Personal bills can be paid in cash at the Post Office, through automatic debit arrangements with banks, through the Internet, or at automatic teller machines open 24 hours a day.

Employees are strongly urged to bring either a bank card or credit card which can access one of the international processing centers (PLUS, Cirrus, VISA, MC, etc.). ATM facilities are available throughout Geneva and nearby France.

The metric system of weights and measures is used throughout Switzerland.

Tip: Before you leave the U.S., get a pin number for your credit card.

Taxes, Exchange, and Sale of Property Last Updated: 10/23/2003 1:38 PM


All American Embassy personnel are exempt from Swiss Federal and Cantonal personal taxes. Diplomats (“CD” personnel who are on the Diplomatic List) can receive an exemption from the VAT for purchases with an invoice price greater than SFr 100. To obtain the exemption, diplomats should obtain a “Form B” from the Budget and Fiscal Office and present the form, along with their diplomatic identification card to the vendor at the point of sale. Because of the relative newness of this exemption for diplomats (July 1, 1995), many vendors are unwilling to accept the Form B, or to issue an invoice with the VAT deducted. When such a rejection occurs, personnel should keep their invoice and payment receipt. Once per year, the Embassy will collect bills and receipts from Embassy personnel, and submit the collected invoices and receipts to the Swiss Government for reimbursement.

Despite an aggressive effort by post management to obtain an exemption for administrative and technical (A&T) staff, the Swiss Government requires A&T personnel assigned to the Mission to pay VAT on all products and services.

Personal and household effects can be sold without payment of duty after 3 years from the date of importation. If items are sold upon the owner’s transfer from Switzerland but before the 3-year period ends, reductions in duty rates are granted. Special post regulations govern the sale of personal effects by assigned personnel. Post adheres to the 3 FAM 620 restrictions on the sale of personal property. All Embassy and Consulate personnel must have any intended sale of dutiable personal goods or their automobile approved by the administrative officer. Fire insurance on household furnishings is compulsory for Swiss or Embassy personnel. This insurance can be extended to cover water damage, theft, etc. Insurance covering damage to leased houses is recommended and can easily be arranged at the Embassy through GSO when you are arranging your third-party auto insurance.


U.S. dollars and travelers checks may be imported and exported freely, and international currencies can be bought or sold at free market rates in local banks. All Swiss banks accept travelers checks and U.S. dollars. Employees who wish to cash U.S. Treasury checks and cashier’s checks in a Swiss bank need to have an account with the bank. The Embassy Cashier cashes personal travelers and U.S. Treasury checks daily for employees and also accepts checks from temporary duty employees. The Embassy can accept dollar checks for conversion to Swiss francs (up to $500 a day) and also for up to $200 in U.S. currency.

Checking and savings accounts can be opened easily in any Swiss bank. Interest (at a lower rate) is paid on checking as well as savings accounts. Checking accounts in Swiss francs are rarely used, because local bills are paid through the postal system, where one can open a postal account.

Taxes, Exchange, and Sale of Property — Mission Geneva
U.S. Mission personnel and their families are exempt from local personal taxes and from Swiss Federal Cantonal income taxes. No exemptions exist for indirect taxes included in bills for public service and luxury sales tax, but taxes on goods costing over CHF 100 are refundable, either at point of purchase or through the Mission. The general exemption does not apply to servants or personal employees of official personnel.

Personal property may be sold only after approval of the Administrative Counselor. Personal and household effects may be sold without duty after 3 years from the date of importation. If items are sold within a shorter period because of transfer from Switzerland, duty rates are reduced. Guidelines governing sales are set by the Department of State.

Recommended Reading Last Updated: 10/21/2003 12:15 AM

These titles are provided as a general guide to material currently available on Switzerland. The Department of State does not endorse unofficial publications. We also encourage individuals who have access to the Internet to try the Embassy’s Web Site:; Internet news about Switzerland is also avail-able at http://, and on the CD/ROM “Swiss Click Encyclopedia” available at the Overseas Briefing Center.

Fodor’s. The Complete Guide with Mountain Drives, Alpine Hikes and City Walking Tours.

Dicks, Diane, ed. Ticking Along Too, Stories About Switzerland. Bergli Books Ltd.: 1990.

Hampshire, David. Living and Working in Switzerland — A Survival Handbook, 1998.

Survival Books. Trade Fair Services CH-8437 Zurzach, Switzerland 1989.

Honan, Mark. Lonely Planet Switzerland.

Kane, Robert S., Switzerland at its Best. Passport Books: 1989.

All About Switzerland. Swiss National Tourist Office.

Off the Beaten Track, Switzerland, Out-of-the-Way Places to Tour and Explore. Moorland Pub. Co. Ltd.: 1989.

Switzerland Guide: Michelin.

Switzerland — A Phaidon Cultural Guide (with over 600 color illustrations and 34 pages of maps). Prentice-Hall, Inc.: 1985.

History, Politics, and Cultural History
Hughes, Christopher. Baedecker. Guide to Switzerland: 1981.

McPhee, John. Place de La Concorde Suisse, Farrar Straus Giroux. New York: 1983.

Milivojevic, Marko & Pierre Maurer, eds. Swiss Neutrality and Security, Armed Forces, National Defense and Foreign Policy. Berg Publishers: 1990.

Sauter, Marc R. Switzerland from Earliest Times to the Roman Conquest. Thames & Hudson Ltd.: 1976.

Treichler, Hans Peter. L'Aventure Suisse. Migros Press.

Vuilleumier, Marc. Immigrants and Refugees in Switzerland. Pro Helvetia Arts Council of Switzerland: 1987.

The following listed “Pro Helvetia” brochures may be obtained from the Swiss Embassy in Washington, D.C.:

Piere Dominice, Matthias Finger: Adult Education in Switzerland.

Dieter Fahrni: An Outline History of Switzerland. From the Origins to the Present Day.

Rene Levy: The Social Structure of Switzerland.

Oswald Sigg: Switzerland’s Political Institutions.

Marc Vuilleumier: Immigrants and Refugees in Switzerland. An Outline History.

Bernhard Wenger: The Four Literatures of Switzerland.

Alfred Wyler: Dialect and High German in German-Speaking Switzerland.

Local Holidays Last Updated: 10/22/2003 2:09 PM

The Embassy closes for the following holidays:

New Year’s Day January 1

Barzelistag January 2
Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday January 18
President’s Day Febtruary 15
Good Friday April 2
Easter Monday April 5
Ascension Day April 13
Whit Monday May 24
Memorial Day May 31
Swiss National Day August 1
Labor Day September 6
Columbus Day October 11
Jeûne Genevois (Geneva Thanksgiving) November 9
Veterans Day November 11
Thanksgiving Day November 25
Christmas Day December 25
Boxing Day December 26
St. Stephen’s Day December 26
Restoration Day December 31

Adapted from material published by the U.S. Department of State. While some of the information is specific to U.S. missions abroad, the post report provides a good overview of general living conditions in the host country for diplomats from all nations.
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