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Everything that changes in Switzerland in February 2020

Everything that changes in Switzerland in February 2020
In February the Swiss will vote in a referendum to reject a proposed ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation. AFP
From Brexit to the Schengen visa system, this list covers everything which is set to change in February in Switzerland.

A new month brings with it the chance to turn over a new leaf – particularly for anyone who still uses a paper calendar. But February 2020 has a few more changes than most, starting with the big one – Brexit – as well as two very significant issues discussed at February’s referendum. 

February means Brexit

As of February 1st, 2020, the United Kingdom will no longer be a member of the European Union. While the change has huge symbolic value, the impacts on people’s day-to-day lives will be rolled out relatively slowly. 

As we’ve discussed all week here at The Local Switzerland, nothing will change immediately on February 1st in relation to citizenship and other aspects such as driving licences

The implementation period, which runs until December 31st, 2020, keeps existing rights in place until the end of the year – although it is probably best to get started early and prepare. 

READ: How will Brexit impact British cross-border workers in Switzerland?

READ: What Brits in Switzerland need to know about Brexit

Schengen visa rules

Although Switzerland is not a member of the EU, it is a part of the Schengen arrangement. On the first Sunday in February – February 2nd – applicants for a Schengen visa will have to comply with new rules.

A Schengen visa is a short-stay visa that allows a people from non-EU countries  to travel to any members of the Schengen Area, for stays up to 90 days for tourism or business purposes.

The new system, which was approved in 2018, seeks to “ensure a better balance between migration and security concerns, economic considerations and general external relations.”

There are a number of specific changes including higher fees for most applications, electronic application forms, longer timeframes in which to make applications and benefits for frequent travellers. More specific information (in English) can be found here.

The new framework also includes a mechanism that uses Schengen visa pricing as a way to encourage non-EU countries to comply with curbing illegal migration. 

While it’s of course less relevant to people who live in Switzerland, the changes may be relevant for friends or family looking to visit. 

February 9th referendum: Homophobia and affordable housing

Two things that may change in February will be up for a vote on February 9th, the next round of Swiss referenda.

They are the decision on whether to push forward with the criminalisation of homophobia – bringing it in line with other forms of discrimination based on race and gender – and a bid to make housing more affordable across the country. 

Early polls can be unreliable, but it appears as if the criminalisation of homophobic discrimination will be approved, while the initiative on affordable housing – with 51 percent against and 48 percent in favour – could go either way. 

We’ve done up explainers on each, so read on for more information. 

EXPLAINED: What is Switzerland's referendum on affordable housing all about?

EXPLAINED: The Swiss referendum that could criminalise homophobia 

Safety first 

The annual siren test will take place across Switzerland on Feb. 5th. As usual, sirens will sound at 1:30 p.m. At the same time, the cantons will broadcast an alarm on the Alertswiss App.

The winter gets a little longer

February 2020 contains an extra day – the elusive February 29th – thanks to 2020’s status as a leap year. 

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While we really don’t know who decided that the extra day should be in February – we would’ve preferred an extra day of Swiss summer thank you very much – at least this year it falls on a Saturday. 

Bye, Bye WhatsApp (for some users)

The popular messaging service, which is owned by Facebook, has been the most-used chat service in Switzerland and much of Europe for years. Now, however, some users will have to say goodbye to WhatsApp from the beginning of February.

The reason: from then, the messenger can no longer be installed or used without restrictions on some smartphones with outdated Android and iOS operating systems. 

The following two versions are affected: Android-Version 2.3.7 and all older models, and the iPhone iOS 8 and all older models.


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