Switzerland explained For Members

Five Swiss laws that foreign residents are bound to break

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
Five Swiss laws that foreign residents are bound to break
Some Swiss laws may seem odd to foreigners. Photo by AFP

To foreigners, some of Switzerland’s laws— whether national or local – may appear strange, or even overly persnickety. But it's important to know them or you could end up with a hefty fine.


Orderly and organised trash

In August, The Local published an article about how to throw your rubbish away in an environmentally correct manner.

Though this may seem trivial to some people, for the Swiss, garbage disposal is a serious matter.

In nearly all towns and villages, trash must be segregated and placed in special bags or in bags that have a special sticker on them, and placed in a designated collection point on assigned days.

Not segregating your trash — for instance, throwing out PET bottles with tin cans or paper, or not putting it out on correct days — can result in heavy fines, the amount of which is determined by each individual commune.

Municipal workers have the right to go through trash bags to identify garbage offenders — and they do.


For the Swiss, garbage collection is not just pure rubbish. Photo by AFP

The offenders then receive fines by mail, which they should not toss randomly in the trash, as they may be breaking the law again.

READ MORE: Trash talk: What are the rules for garbage disposal in Switzerland?

Sundays are sacred

This is not just because many people like to go to church on this day.

Under the law, Sunday is a day of rest in Switzerland, which means you should do nothing to disturb your neighbours, either sonorically or visually.

This means no loud noises like lawn mowing, vacuuming, or recycling. Also, you cannot hang your laundry out to dry, as the sight of your undies may be offensive to your neighbours on a Sunday.

Mowing the lawn on Sundays is not allowed. Photo by AFP

You can’t give your child a ‘ridiculous’ name

It's important to keep in mind that the cantonal registry offices, where new births must be announced, don't have to accept very unusual names.

This doesn’t mean you have to name your newborn Heidi or Hans to satisfy local officials. But anything that is bound to distress the child in the future is a ‘no-no’.

Several years ago, for instance, a Zurich court ruled that parents can't name their infant daughter ‘J'.

In another case, a couple in the canton of Bern were ordered to change the name of their newborn son because their choice – Jessico – was considered too feminine.


Not having a Swiss health insurance is a law-breaker

Health insurance is compulsory in Switzerland for all legal permanent residents.

Anyone who moves here must get health coverage within three months of their arrival. 

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about health insurance in Switzerland

After that date, you will likely receive a letter from the government asking you to provide proof that you took out a policy.

If you fail to do so, your local authority will choose a plan on your behalf and you will have to pay the premiums.

If you don't, you'll be placed on a blacklist. Sooner or later (probably sooner) you'll be caught and will have to pay arrears— the Swiss are very organised and efficient.

You can’t drive without a vignette

If you use Swiss motorways, even if it's only for a short stretch, you must purchase a 40-franc sticker to affix to the inside of your window shield.

Unlike many other countries, Switzerland has no tolls on their highways, so the vignette compensates for the cost of maintaining the roads.

Swiss vignette: What you need to know about Switzerland’s motorway charge sticker

Vignettes are valid for one year, from January 1st to December 31st, and can be purchased at petrol stations, post offices or online.

If you drive on the motorway without a vignette or if it is not stuck on correctly, you risk getting a 200-franc fine.




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