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The 12 strange laws in Switzerland you need to know

For new arrivals from most places on earth, Switzerland can appear suspiciously orderly.

The 12 strange laws in Switzerland you need to know
A law-abiding Swiss citizen. FRANCK FIFE / AFP

How do they do it? Switzerland’s meticulous neatness and obsession with order comes down to culture, but this is set in stone by an impressive framework of laws. 

All in all, there are around 4980 ordinances and laws in force in Switzerland federally, in addition to more than 17,000 at a canton level. 

We’ve spent the best part of a week trawling through Swiss statues and reading over regional regulations to bring you some of the weirdest and wackiest Swiss laws. 

Eating dog and cat meat (as long as it’s your pet)

Perhaps the most surprising of these laws is that man’s best friend and kitty is welcome on the menu in Switzerland – provided it’s actually your dog or cat. 

While the sale of meat from a cat or a dog – or selling a dish containing dog or cat meat – is illegal, those wanting to raise and cook their own dogs or cats will find no legal barriers to doing so. 

You will come into trouble with the law however if you invite someone over for a dog döner or a cat curry – while you might also encounter a few social barriers as well. 

The Federal Veterinary Office has said there is no reason to ban the private eating of dog meat, saying it is simply a matter of culture. Just make sure that tasty, tasty culture doesn’t go past your four walls. 

Any prizes for guessing what’s being said? Photo: MATTI BJORKMAN / LEHTIKUVA / AFP

Sensible names

These days, it’s not just celebrities who seem to have a penchant for ruining their child’s life by bestowing him or her with an odd moniker. Fortunately, Swiss authorities have the same attitude to the rest of us. 

They specifically prohibit giving your kid a name which will damage his or her “well-being”. Names aren’t allowed to be offensive either. 

If you’re looking to emulate Chris and Gwyneth or Kim and Kanye – Apple Martin? North West? Seriously? You’re going to have to head to LA already. Let’s face it, you were probably going to end up there as it is. 

EXPLAINED: Why so many baby names are banned in Switzerland

No fish selfies

Along with chowing down on dogs and cats, this is another one which might trouble animal lovers. In Zurich, you’re not allowed to take a picture with a fish you caught – or release it back into the water – if it is above the minimum size. 

Instead, you’ll need to take it home with you (maybe for a dog/cat/fish casserole?)

Wanted: For taking a fish selfie. Photo: Depositphotos

Wash your car

Washing your car from home is illegal in Switzerland if you use a hose, which pretty much makes washing your car illegal in Switzerland. 

There is method to the madness however, with authorities concerned that the soap will contaminate ground water. 

You’ll however never see a dirty car in Switzerland – so how do they do it? Paid car washes dot the landscape, so if you want to get your car all shiny and clean – without ending up in the slammer – they’re your best bet. 

Peeing standing up (after 10 in the evening)

While a judge in Germany recently ruled that men had the right to stand up to urinate in a country notorious for its sitting to pee norms, men do not have the same permissions in Switzerland – at least not through the evening. 

After 10pm, peeing standing up is considered to be a noise-based nuisance to other apartment building residents – so much so that it’s been outlawed. 

We’ve also heard that in certain apartment blocks flushing the toilet after 10pm at night is banned, although not allowing flushing throughout the evening doesn’t exactly seem to square with Switzerland’s reputation for cleanliness – so unless you’ve heard otherwise, flush away!

Put your lights on

Technically speaking, anytime you are behind the wheel of your car you need to have your lights on – even if it’s the middle of the day in summer. 

Switzerland changed the rules in 2014 to make it illegal to drive without your lights on at any time in the day. 

The rule applies to motorcycles and to all forms of cars, trucks and other vehicles. You can use your running lights or your actual lights, but not your high beams, says Switzerland’s TCS automotive organisation

The rule has been passed in order to reduce accidents, with evidence suggesting lights provide a benefit even during the day. 

“That’s why I’m incredibly difficult, like Sunday morning”

Sacred Sundays are a day of rest for the Swiss – although not if you’re in charge of enforcing the law. So much so that we’ve given Sunday its own category. 

Here is the list of things you cannot do on a Sunday in Switzerland: No recycling, no cutting or mowing your grass, no hanging out your laundry (really), no drilling and no hammering. 

We’ve even come across a bunch of specific rules that don’t apply nationwide, some apartment blocks will restrict gatherings and even using a vacuum on Sundays, which pretty much limits you from doing anything and everything. 

If in doubt, if it makes noise, it’s probably illegal. And then there’s the case of laundry – which is banned because it doesn’t look neat and tidy. 

Best stay in bed, then. 

Hiking in the buff

Although Switzerland has a more progressive attitude to nudity than some other parts of the world, a line has to be drawn somewhere – and that somewhere is naked hiking. 

The mountainous canton of Appenzell recently fined a naked hiker, saying that doing so breached ‘decency customs’. So if you’re on your way to Switzerland to do some naked hiking, best stay in Germany (let’s face it, anyone looking to hike naked is bound to be German). 

Image: Depositphotos

Dance, Dance… Revolution?

Not only in the Hollywood town of Bomont, Utah, is dancing illegal – it’s actually forbidden in certain parts of Switzerland (on specific days of the year). 

In Aargau, Glarus, Uri, Obwalden, Solothurn, Thurgau and Appenzell Innerrhoden, dancing is banned on certain Christian holidays, a law justified on the fact that pleasure should be secondary when celebrating the life of Christ. 

So if you’re gonna dance, make sure you’re not having fun. 

READ MORE: Why dancing is banned on public holidays in Switzerland

No lonely pets

Most people get pets to counter their own loneliness – but what happens if the pets themselves get lonely? 

Like the clown who entertained the village but never laughed, the lonely pet is a sad tale – but fortunately in Switzerland, loneliness among pets has been outlawed. 

Certain animals which are considered to be ‘sociable’ – i.e. guinea pigs, goldfish and budgie birds – cannot be kept alone, nor can they be kept in small cages or enclosures. 

A lonely, illegal guinea pig. Photo: HANDOUT / SWISSAID / AFP

So if you’re getting one of these animals, it’s illegal not to give them a buddy – although the buddy must be of their own species, lest of course you know an inseparable goldfish and budgie pair. 

An extensive list of animals can be found here. 

READ MORE: Which pets can’t be kept alone in Switzerland?

Access to a nuclear shelter

Switzerland’s commitment to neutrality may have won it few enemies, but the Swiss are afraid of nuclear war.

So much so that for a long time it was illegal for a house not to have – or have access to – a nuclear shelter.

Some homes still have this requirement. 

READ MORE: What are Switzerland’s nuclear bunkers and does each home need one?

Eating behind the wheel is an offence

Several years ago, a Zurich driver made news when she was slapped with a 250-franc fine for eating a pretzel while driving.

While this may seem petty, many cantons do sanction drivers caught snacking in traffic.

That’s because eating or drinking hot beverages is considered a risk to road safety, as it interferes with the driver’s control of the vehicle.

There are, however, nuances. According to a report in Blick,  “snacking on an empty highway is more tolerated than in city traffic at rush hour.”

So if hunger strikes while you are driving, resist the urge to eat. Because a hefty fine you could get may be hard to digest.

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For members


How to save money by changing your Swiss health policy

Switzerland’s compulsory health insurance is notoriously expensive, but you can lower the cost of premiums substantially by changing your company or coverage.

How to save money by changing your Swiss health policy

The cost of health insurance premiums usually represents at least 7 percent of a typical household budget.

An adult spends nearly 4,600 francs a year on average on the mandatory basic coverage (KVG / LaMal) alone – covering only medical care, not dental. If any extra policies are taken out, the cost is even higher.

Not only that, but premiums have been rising practically each year, and look set to go up again in 2023, possibly by as much as 10 percent — the sharpest hike in 20 years.

READ MORE: Why Swiss health premiums are set to rise — and what you can do about it

Even though these costs are high and climbing, many people keep the same health insurance for years.

However, significant savings — to the tune of thousands of francs a year — could be made simply by switching carriers or plans, from the more expensive to the cheapest ones, according to a new study by the cost comparison site Comparis.

How much and where

The amount of the savings varies depending on policyholder’s place of residence, because rates are determined by cantons.

However, Comparis calculated that over a 10-year period, people living in Zurich could have saved 33,396 francs in premium costs and for those living in Bern this amount is 30,064.

Lausanne residents could cut their costs by 36,494 francs over 10 years, 31, 032 in Geneva, and 33,490 in Basel-City.

“With the strong premium increases expected this fall, the savings potential is even greater,” said Felix Schneuwly, health insurance expert at Comparis.

So how can you save money? Here are some of the ways:

Increase your deductible

In Switzerland, the deductible (franchise) ranges from 300 to 2,500 francs – this represents the medical costs that you have to pay out of your own pocket before your health insurance kicks in.

As with most types of insurance, the lower your deductible, the higher your premiums, and vice-versa.

If you are young, healthy, and are not on any long-term medication then you can save substantially with the highest franchise.

Keep in mind, however, that if you choose the highest deductible and end up having an accident or falling sick and needing medical care, you will have to pay a greater proportion of the costs.

Switch to a less expensive plan.

The standard model for healthcare in Switzerland is that you can consult any medic that you want, and you do not need a referral to see a specialist.

However, there are some types of health insurance plans that have cheaper premiums, but impose certain limits on your access to non-emergency medical care.

For instance:

Health maintenance organisation (HMO)

Under this model, policyholders are required to consult a particular HMO practice. Two disadvantages of this alternative is a limited choice of doctors and you also need a referral to see a specialist.

However, the benefit is a premium reduction of up to 25 percent compared to the conventional insurance.

Family doctor model

Your family doctor, a general practitioner, will be designated by your insurance company and will be in charge of all your non-emergency medical treatment.

He or she will refer you to a specialist if necessary. 

If you opt for this option, you could save 20 percent on your insurance.

READ MORE: Five tips for getting cheaper health insurance in Switzerland

The Telmed alternative

If you choose this option, you have to call a telephone service and get a referral to a doctor or hospital.

This does not apply to medical emergencies and there are other exceptions, such as eye exams and annual gynaecological check-ups.

Total savings could range between 15 and 20 percent. 

Cancelling or changing your policy

If you want to cancel your current insurance policy and take up a cheaper one , you have to do so by registered letter before November 30th.

By then, you will know what your premiums will be in 2023 because your carrier must notify you of the new rates by October 31st.